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Altimexis

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About Altimexis

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  1. I was already in a foul mood when I entered the gymnasium. It was only days before the start of the Winter Break, and I was not looking forward to that. As much as I disliked school, home was worse. Much worse. Winter Break meant spending two weeks with my family… two weeks of constant abuse. The one saving grace was that both my older brothers would be home for the holidays. With luck, Dad would be on his best behavior. Like me, Dad was a big SOB who more often than not settled his arguments with his fists. I guess that’s where I got my temper. I guess that’s why I got in trouble all the time. Picking on littler kids and fags was the only way I knew how to react. It was the only way I could get back at my dad for what he did to me. I wasn’t sure if it was ’cause I was the youngest of the litter, but I seemed to catch the worst of it from Dad. Joseph, the oldest one of us, used to tell me he had it bad too, but by the time he was my age, he was even bigger and stronger than Dad and could hold his own in a fight. He saw to it that Dad left the rest of us alone, but that didn’t stop Dad from pounding on me when Joseph wasn’t around. Dad slapped all of us around, but he never took his fists to the girls. He never used his belt on them either. No, the belt he saved for the boys, Joseph, Scott and me, but then Joseph got to be big enough to fight back, and Scott learned early on how to stay out of trouble, and how to blame me for it. When Joseph left for college, things really got bad for me. With Scott still in the house, anything bad that happened got blamed on me. Whereas Joseph had held Dad in check, Scott made sure I took the brunt of Dad’s anger, right up until he left for college. Sarah had already gone off to college, and Kristin soon followed, so that left five of us O’Malley’s still in the house, plus our parents, but I was the only boy. Yup, all together there were eleven of us – Mom, Dad and nine kids. Dad would never touch the girls, so even with Scott out of the house, I was still blamed for everything and ended up getting beatings and whippings, pretty much every day. I wondered why no one ever reported Dad for abuse, but the nuns at school always seemed to look the other way. Only more recently did I come to understand the connections Dad had, with the politicians in the city government, with the Church, and with the mob bosses that seemed to run things where he worked, in the Department of Sanitation. Dad knew all the right people and by the time I came along, he was already a shift supervisor and a major player in the union. When the Mayor ran for his first term, Dad was quick to support him, even though he was a dark horse candidate – one of many running in the Democratic primary. I wondered why Dad would support an ultra-liberal Democrat when we were staunch Republicans, but when I asked Scott, he told me it was none of my fuckin’ business and if I couldn’t figure it out on my own, I was too dumb to understand it. So I did the next best thing and asked Mom. “Clarkie,” she replied, “You have to realize that your dad’s a union boss, and the support of the Sanitation Workers can help to make or break a candidate’s chances of winning an election. Sooner or later you’ll understand that politics is more about who you know than what you believe in. It’s a thousand times better to have the ear of a Democrat in power than a Republican on the sidelines. It’d be great to have another Rudy Giuliani, but he only won because of Dinkins’ incompetence, and because Dinkins was black. Bloomberg was a Democrat who switched parties, and he only won because all the Jews all voted for him. Once he was in office, he acted like a Democrat in every way, and he was the biggest fag-lover of them all, perhaps next to Koch, who everyone knows was a faggot. “So the bottom line is that in New York, the only way you can become the mayor is if you’re a Democrat or if you know how to exploit race and religion to divide and conquer. Your father saw right away that a liberal white Democrat with a black wife would be a winner. The fact that he has nothing between the ears was a bonus. Your father knew it meant that he could easily be manipulated into doing our bidding, and he was right.” It was a while before I really understood what Mom meant by all of that, but as I entered my teens, I slowly began to understand just what she was talking about. We weren’t poor by any means, but with Mom staying home to raise all of us, even with Dad’s supervisory and union positions, it had been a struggle to make ends meet. We lived in a very narrow house in West Brighton, a traditionally Irish Staten Island neighborhood. We had no front yard and the entire back yard was taken up by an above-ground pool. When I was old enough, I got stuck with the yard-work, which amounted to little more than taking a weed-wacker to the green stuff that grew wild along the sides of the house. We had five bedrooms, which meant I had to share a bedroom with Scott until he went away to college. Sharing a bedroom with Scott was pure Hell. Anything an older brother could do to a younger brother, he did to me. He jerked off with me in the room, all the time, and he even made me blow him once – it was the stuff of nightmares. Thank God he left just as my hormones were beginning to kick in. When the mayor won the election for his first term, both my parents were rewarded for their support with positions in his inner circle, so money was no longer a problem and we could afford a much nicer house. We moved into a large house nearby in Randall Manor, with a real yard and a large in-ground swimming pool in the back. It might have been only a few miles from where we used to live, but it was a world away, even if it still was in a traditionally Irish Catholic neighborhood. I still had to share a bedroom with Scott at first, and I still went to Catholic schools, but that was more because of where we lived and who we were than because of our religion. Personally, I was a Catholic in name only, attending services only when my parents told me I had to go. Had it not been for Dad, I woulda never thought of taking the exam for admission to the city’s elite specialty high schools. My brothers and sisters all went to Catholic schools through high school, and Joseph even went to a catholic university, having won a football scholarship to Notre Dame in Indiana. Although I was big for my age, I wasn’t nearly as big or strong as my brothers, nor my dad, which was why he was still able to beat me and why I couldn’t fight back. The one thing I had going for me was my smarts. In spite of everything, I’d always been a straight-A student, and so Dad thought that maybe I could amount to something more than being someone else’s punching bag. My ticket would be an Ivy League education, but I sure as fuck wasn’t gonna get an athletic scholarship like my brothers, and my parents couldn’t afford to pay for a full ride, so the only way I’d be able to go was if I got an academic scholarship. Attending one of the top high schools in the nation was the best way to do that, and I could do it for free if I could just get into one of the elite public high schools. Dad was pretty sure the mayor could pull some strings if my score on the entrance examination was at least in the upper half. I even got a letter of support from the Mayor’s office, but I didn’t need it. The exam was difficult, and I was certain I’d failed it, but when the results came out, I’d not only done well, but my score was high enough for me to get into Stuyvesant High School, the most prestigious of them all. Situated at the north end of Battery Park City, right on the Hudson and a short walk away from the World Trade Center, Wall Street, and the most important financial institutions in the world, Stuyvesant High School was akin to an Ivy League university, but it was a public school. Rich folks spent tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to elite private schools like the Phillips Academy, Regis, or Trinity, but you couldn’t buy the kind of education I was getting at Stuyvesant. Entering the locker room, I was reminded of just how much I was an outsider though. Kids were undressing and getting into their gym clothes, and everything was on display. More than half of them were Asian, and many of them were young, and I don’t mean young the way Asians look young for their age… no, they really were young. Some of them were only twelve or thirteen and still hairless where no teen wanted to be… and they were all freshmen, just like me. And then there was Freak. Well, his real name was Francis, but he liked to go by Freck, ’cause he has lots of freckles, but Freak suited him much better. The kid was only eleven, but he looked more like he was ten, and he was a sophomore. How the fuck did a ten-year-old get into Stuyvesant anyway? Admission here was based entirely on an entrance exam, which was why I guess there were so few black kids that I could count them all on my fingers with fingers to spare… and there was one of them right in front of me, standing next to Freak. His name was Asher White, and he was half-black and half-Asian, and one hundred percent faggot. His boyfriend, Seth, was right by his side, no less. Asher was one of the few kids who was as big as me, but the coward was an absolute sissy. We were paired up yesterday in gym for wrestling, but he couldn’t keep me from pinning him to save his life. I might as well have been wrestling with a girl. Asher’s so pathetic… the sight of him literally made me sick. I was in a bad enough mood even before I saw him. With a frown on my face, I headed to my own locker and spun the combination. Assailed by the smell of my own body odor, I realized I hadn’t washed my gym clothes in quite some time… maybe even since the start of the semester. I guess I was gonna hafta take them home and wash them over the winter break. Stripping out of my jeans, T-shirt, and boxers, I quickly slipped on my jock and gym shirt and shorts. Slamming the locker shut, I headed back out to the gym, where the teacher’s assistant had laid out a bunch of mats for wrestling. As we slowly filed out of the locker room, the teacher told us to form up into the same groups we’d used yesterday and to spend the first half of the class practicing our takedowns from each of the three starting positions. Oh joy! That meant I’d be spending the day with the three fags, Asher, Seth. and Freak. Well, I knew for sure about Asher and Seth, and since Freak was their friend… I’m just saying, you know? So I was gonna be sparring with Asher again, if it could be called that. Frankly I’da gotten more of a challenge from my eight-year-old sister. “Wanna go first, Freck?” Seth suggested. “It don’t matter to me,” I answered as I shrugged my shoulders. Seth and Freak took that as a yes and squared off with each other as Asher and I sat down and watched. I had to admit that even though they were two of the smallest boys in the class, and in spite of their two-year age difference, they were surprisingly well-matched. For an eleven-year-old… or maybe he was twelve by now, Freak had decent muscles. As they circled each other, neither one could seem to knock the other one down until finally Freak managed to swipe Seth’s left foot out from under him and down they both went. They tried it from the standing position again and this time it was Seth that managed to catch Freak off-guard. They practiced from all three starting positions and both boys were pretty good – not as good as me, but decent. Then the teacher blew his whistle and it was time for me and Asher to have our shot, for what it was worth. We faced off against each other and then we were flying at each other. Predictably, Asher moved right, just like he did yesterday, and so I took advantage of his momentum to catch him off-guard. Sweeping with my left leg, I went to trip him over his own two feet… except his legs weren’t there. At the last second, he switched directions and moved left and so my left leg hit only air, and I went down hard on my butt. Fuck, where’d he learn to do that? The Asher I’d played yesterday couldn’t do that, so I knew it couldn’ta been planned that way. “Lucky move, asshole,” I chided the boy. “You won’t get any more of those. Let’s see what you can do when you’re on top,” I added. I got down on all fours and Asher got down over me with his right arm around my waist. The objective was for me to get out from under him and then take him down, and he was supposed to keep me from braking out, but it didn’t go that way at all when we sparred yesterday. Asher hadn’t offered any resistance at all, and I managed not only to break away, but to flip him onto his back straight away. I had him pinned in less than a second… it was a piece of cake. But this time when I shoved to the left, attempting to flip the boy onto his back, instead I found nothing but air. Next thing I knew, I was on my back with Asher on top. He damn near pinned me too, the fucker. “Nice try, faggot,” I said as we got up, making sure the gym teacher was nowhere near enough to hear me. But then Asher said something I’d never forget so long as I lived. He said, “Just like your daddy,” and something inside me just snapped. Maybe it was ’cause there was more truth to what Asher said than even I was willing to admit, or maybe it was because I had my own secrets hidden so deep within me that not even I knew they were there. Whatever the reason, the rage built within me so fast that I couldn’ta stopped myself if I’d tried. Before I knew what was happening, my right fist was connecting with Asher’s left eye, and then my left fist rocketed upward, connecting with Asher’s chin and knocking him out cold. Freak and one of the other kids held me while Seth checked on his boyfriend, but the fight had already gone out of me. The teacher rushed over from the other side of the gym in a flash. “Clarke, what the hell was that about?” he shouted. Before I could answer, the teacher went over to Asher, who was beginning to come around. and he asked him how he was doing. Asher was still pretty dazed but was able to answer, “Other than feeling like my head’s gonna explode, I’m okay.” “What happened?” the teacher asked, and Seth answered, “Yesterday, Freck and I showed Asher some moves to help him do better in wrestling. It worked too. He bested Clarke, twice, and Clarke didn’t like it. He called Asher a faggot.” “And then he punched him?” the teacher asked. “After I told him, ‘Just like your daddy,’” Asher answered. The teacher actually chuckled and said, “Good one.” Were teachers actually allowed to say things like that to their students? “Do you think you’re up to walking, or should I call an ambulance?” the teacher asked Asher. “I think I’m okay,” Asher answered again. “I can walk.” “I’ll make sure he gets to the nurse,” Seth suggested. “And I’ll help,” Freak agreed. As the three boys made their way outta the gym, the teacher got back in my face and practically shouted at me, “What the hell were you thinking, Clarke? I warned you yesterday what would happen if you screwed up this time, and yet you still got into a fight. You know there are words you cannot use, and yet you used them and then hit a kid when he threw them back at you. Soon you’ll be old enough to be tried as an adult, and you know what they call it when you hit someone like you did? It’s called battery, and because it was a hate crime, you’d do double the time. You can’t solve problems with your fists!” I should’a just kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t help it. I answered, “Works for my dad.” “And someday he won’t get away with it,” the teacher countered. “Someday he’ll bully the wrong person and not even his connections will get him out of it. You can’t go through life expecting other people to get you out of trouble Clarke, and you won’t always have your dad to clear the path ahead of you. Frankly, I think you should be expelled. You don’t belong at Stuyvesant. Being here is a privilege everyone else had to work for, but a call from your daddy to the mayor and from the mayor to the head of the school board, and you’ll probably get another chance.” There it was again – the suggestion that I didn’t deserve to be here – that the only reason I got into Stuyvesant was because of my dad’s connections and with the help of the mayor. It made me so angry to hear people say that. But like always, my temper got me in trouble. Then turning to his assistant, the teacher said, “Simon, would you keep everyone busy while I take Clarke to see the vice-principal?” And so we marched down to the administration offices. At least the teacher didn’t grab ahold of my arm and forcefully drag me there the way the nuns did in my last school. Still, he could have at least let me change back into my clothes. Instead, it was like I was being paraded through the halls in my smelly gym clothes. And since it was almost winter, I really felt self-conscious as the few other kids in the hallways were wearing warmer clothes… like the hoodie I’da been wearing if I’d been allowed to change. Instead, I was in nothing but gym shorts, a flimsy T-shirt and sneakers. Of course I was still wearing a jock strap. The teacher marched me right into the office and sat me down into one of the seats, forcibly, and told me to stay put while he spoke with the vice-principal. The steely stare of the secretary, Mrs. Fong, made me think twice about leaving. Her stare was just plain scary. Finally, the door opened and the teacher walked out, and he motioned for me to go inside. He had to get back to his class, so I was left alone with the vice-principal, Dr. Epstein. I’d always thought of her as the Jew bitch, ’cause that’s the label my old man woulda given her, but grudgingly I had to admit that she’d always been fair. Actually, she’d had more than enough problems with me in my first half-year of high school to have booted me out long ago. Fearfully, I realized that she probably had reason to do just that today. I couldn’t tell her why I acted out the way I did, ’cause I really didn’t know it myself. My only defense was to continue my act of being belligerent, yet I knew I needed to tone it down. I was skating on thin ice, and I’d never hear the end of it from my old man if I wound up getting expelled. Besides which, I really liked Stuyvesant High School. For the first time in my life, I felt I was getting an education that challenged me to do my best. Stuyvesant was my last best hope for breaking out of the thuggish life I was born into. Stuyvesant High was gonna be my stepping stone to an Ivy League school and a better life. Yeah, even more than the educational opportunity Stuyvesant was offering me was the opportunity it represented – the opportunity to get free of my parents and to live my own life. But that would never happen unless I managed to find enough contrition within me to stay at Stuyvesant. I had to suck it up, ’cause like it or not, I was stuck with my parents for the next three-and-a-half years. Dr. Epstein was on the phone when I entered, and I knew the drill. She was trying to contact my dad to have him meet with her and me per some protocol, and then Dad would take me home and beat the living shit outta me. But it was evident from hearing her end of the conversation that Dad wasn’t gonna be able to come meet with her, let alone take me home. With a sigh, she hung up the phone and said, “Well, it seems the mayor can’t be without his chief labor relations advisor today. Never mind that the previous three mayors didn’t even have such a person that I know of and before that, I was in high school myself. So it looks like I’m going to have to call your mom and ask her to schlep her way in from Staten Island.” Mom worked in the Parks Department and oversaw labor relations with the Parks Department employees. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what credentials my mom had that qualified her for such a role, other than the fact she was my father’s wife. She needed a job and the mayor provided one that had never existed before. She was able to work out of an office not far from our home, but I remembered her saying something about needing to spend the day in Queens, so I told Dr. Epstein, “I think my mother’s in Queens for the day.” “Do you know how to reach her?” she asked. “I’ve no idea, but her secretary will know,” I replied. “Or I could send her a text. She always responds if I text her it’s urgent.” Then reaching down to grab my phone, I realized it was still in my jeans pocket, in my gym locker. “Crap, my phone’s in my gym locker with my clothes. Can I go get it?” Softening her appearance somewhat, Dr. Epstein replied, “And I bet sitting in your gym clothes makes you feel pretty uncomfortable too.” “More than you know,” I responded. “I can’t let you wander the halls on your own between classes, but perhaps I can have Carl take you to your gym locker to change out of your gym clothes, and then to your hall locker to get your things, but first let me try to reach your mother.” Picking up the phone, Dr. Epstein called the number she had on file for my mother and was informed that Mom was in a vital committee meeting for the rest of the afternoon and that the best her secretary could do for us was to send her a text, just as I would’ve. As vital as that meeting may have been, Mom called back scarcely five minutes after Dr. Epstein had made the call. I couldn’t tell much from hearing just the vice-principal’s side of the conversation, but the scowl on her face told more than I needed to know. After hanging up the phone, Dr. Epstein turned to me and said, “Your mother’s tied up in a committee meeting in Ozone Park for the rest of the afternoon, but has agreed to leave at three, and then it’ll take her about an hour-and-a-half to get here in traffic, so she won’t be here until around 4:30 or possibly even 5:00. It’s too early to put you in detention while we wait for her to get here, so I guess you’ll just have to be my guest until then.” Well that was fuckin’ great. “You know, Clarke,” she began, “I could have expelled you a long time ago for all the trouble you’ve gotten into. We may not have a zero-tolerance rule for fighting in school, but you certainly qualify for the three strikes rule in any case. The only reason I’ve let you stay is because of your family’s connections… the principal would have my hide if the mayor himself came down here… but even more than that, I believe in you, Clarke. I see a lot of potential inside that thick skull of yours, and I’d really like to see you succeed. But today you’ve left me with no choice.” My heart ached on hearing those words. It sounded like this was gonna be the end for sure. Then lookin’ me right in the eyes, she asked, “Clarke, just give me one good reason to give you another chance. Show me one ounce of compassion and a willingness to get help, and to change. You can’t keep blowing off the counseling sessions we arrange for you at school. I can arrange counseling sessions off site if that would help, but you have to go to them. But the main thing is that you have to give me reason to believe this time will be different.” I was desperate. I had to say something to change her mind, but what came outta my mouth was a surprise, even to me. Before I could even think to stop myself, I blurted out, “I think maybe I’m gay.” Where the fuck did that come from, and why the fuck did I tell her? Did I really think I was gay? There was no way I could be gay – Dad would kill me. But now that I’d said it, I pretty much had to stick to my story. Shocked by the excuse I’d come up with, I looked down at the floor, but then thinking about how it could get back to my dad, I looked up and said, “You can’t tell my parents. You just can’t. If my father knew, he’d kill me, and I don’t mean that figuratively. My mom wouldn’t be much better. You mustn’t tell my parents.” “Well, that was unexpected,” Dr. Epstein responded, “but it might explain a lot about your behavior. Clarke, I know how difficult that admission must have been. Some of the worst homophobic bullies are boys who are having issues with their own sexuality, and sometimes it takes something like today’s incident to force the issue. But in telling me I can’t tell your parents, you put me in a very difficult position. By all rights I should expel you. I can’t justify not expelling you without explaining why I didn’t in your file. And if your parents request access to your file….” “You might as well expel me,” I interrupted, “’cause if you don’t my dad’ll figure it out, and then I’ll be dead.” “There may be an alternative, Clarke,” Dr. Epstein suggested, “but it will be very hard on you. There is precedent for excluding personal information given in confidence from a student’s permanent record, but only when it is believed that revealing the information could put the student in danger. That may well be the case here, but I’ll have to document that you’re being referred for counseling and the psychologist who sees you will have to be informed of the true nature of the situation. You’ll have to attend the sessions without fail, or you’ll be expelled.” Nodding my head, I replied, “My father won’t like it, and I’ll probably get a severe beating, but I’ll get to stay at Stuyvesant. I can live with that.” “Does your dad often beat you, Clarke?” Dr. Epstein asked, and I realized I’d said too much. “As my father would say, I will neither confirm nor deny my statement, but if someone should ask if this conversation took place, I’ll categorically deny it.” Laughing, Dr. Epstein responded, “You’re definitely the son of a politician. Okay, Clarke. Fair enough. Now since we can’t tell your parents that you’re gay, we need a viable alternative to expulsion, and your gym teacher actually had some suggestions about that. The bottom line is that your parents have to think the intent was to expel you, and that in letting you stay, I’m bending over backwards because they intervened. I think they’ll have no problem accepting your counseling sessions if they become one of the conditions for not expelling you. However, you’ll still be suspended until the start of the new year, and you’ll still have to get a failing grade in gym, and that’ll be a permanent stain on your record. You’ll also be put on probation, and that’ll remain in effect until the end of the school year. Those conditions should be sufficient to make your parents think they were instrumental in preventing your expulsion, don’t you think?” Swallowing hard, ’cause the conditions were gonna hurt, I agreed, “Yes, I think that’ll work.” “I think I’ll also take up your gym teacher’s suggestion to have you write an essay on the effects of bullying on society,” she added, “but twenty-thousand words would be a bit much. That’d be like maybe a hundred pages, double spaced. I think you still need to recognize the effects your bullying has had on the other students here at Stuyvesant, but four thousand words should be sufficient. “Now let’s see if we can get Carl to take you back to the gym to change your clothes, and then to your locker to get your things.” She pressed a button on her phone and said, “Carl, can you come here?” An adolescent boy’s voice came out of the speakerphone and replied, “Sure thing, Dr. Epstein.” The kid who entered was a really tall Asian boy. No, he wasn’t Asian, even though he kinda had the eyes. His features were more rugged than with most Asian kids, and his skin was darker. He wasn’t black or even close to bein’ that dark, but he wasn’t exactly white either. He looked like he might be Hispanic… maybe Puerto Rican or Mexican or something. He had jet-black hair that was pulled back into a pony tail, and brown eyes so dark, I could barely make out the pupils. He had a pencil-thin mustache and an incredible smile that made him look utterly cute. What? Did I just refer to a boy as cute? Yes, he was cute. I wasn’t really gay or anything… I don’t think… but there was something about his smile that really made me want to get to know him. “Would you take Clarke to get his street clothes from his gym locker, and then to his locker to get the rest of his things?” she asked the boy. “C’mon, let’s go get your stuff,” he replied as he nodded toward me. I followed him out of the office and down the hallway. He had a staff ID hung from a lanyard around his neck, which I guess let him be in the halls between classes. Again, I couldn’t get over how tall he was, particularly compared to me. “So I gather you and Dr. Epstein are no strangers,” the boy asked with a disarming smile as we walked. Laughing, I replied, “I guess you could say that. It’s not like I set out to get in trouble, but I have my father’s temper and sometimes I act before I think.” “That could certainly be a problem,” he laughed along with me. “You a freshman?” he asked. “Yeah, and you?” I asked the boy. “I’m a sophomore,” he answered, “but I’m a year ahead, so I’m still only fourteen.” “Shit, you’re fourteen?” I stated more than asked. “But you have a mustache, and you’re so tall! How tall are you anyway?” “I’m six-foot, three-inches and still growing.” “Damn!” I responded. “I bet you’re good at basketball.” “I’m a forward on varsity,” he answered. “You should come to the home games sometime. Not to brag, but I’m one of the leading scorers on the team.” “And you’re a sophomore and on varsity!” I responded as I shook my head in wonder. He just smiled back at me. “Your name’s Carl?” I asked. “Carlos actually, but I grew up being called Carl. I guess my mom thought it would make me sound less Puerto Rican, but I look Hispanic, so it really doesn’t matter. But Carl’s what I’m used to.” “You live very far, Carl?” I asked. “Actually, I live quite near here,” he replied. “The Two Bridges neighborhood, right between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges on the Lower East Side. It’s less than a mile from here, so I usually just walk to school.” “You live in Manhattan?” I exclaimed. “You must be rich!” Carl responded with a full-bodied belly laugh and answered, “You’ve gotta be kidding. I live in the cheap seats. The Two Bridges neighborhood consists of housing projects, moderate income apartments, and a slice of Chinatown. Rich, we’re not. My mom’s a single mother, and she had me when she was about our age. Fortunately, she had the good sense not to get pregnant after that, or we’d really be poor. We lived with my nana while my mom finished high school, and then we got a place of our own.” “What’s your mom do?” I asked. “Since she never went to college, her opportunities are limited,” he answered. “When I went into pre-K, she started cleaning apartments, and then when she thought I was old enough to be left alone, in the second grade, believe it or not, she got a second job as a private duty aide taking care of old people. I was a latch-key kid. And now I have a job too.” “Man, I can’t imagine what that’s like, but at least you don’t have an SOB father beating on you,” I responded. Stopping and putting his hand on my shoulder, Carl replied, “I never had much, but I never lacked for love. I always wished I could have met my dad, but he was in a gang and got shot dead when I was just a baby. No kid should have to go through being beat up by your own father. No kid should have to go through being in a gang either. Of course, I’d be dead meat if I ever got involved like that. Kids in gangs aren’t very accepting of alternative lifestyles.” “What do you mean by that?” I naïvely asked. “If you’re gay and you’re in a gang, you either kill or be killed, and I could never live like that. It’s one of the reasons we moved away from where my mom grew up. We still live a housing project, but there’s not much gang activity around Two Bridges. Maybe it has something to do with being right by One Police Plaza,” he added with a laugh. “Anyway, with a lot of hard work, I got good grades and I got into Stuyvesant. Now it looks like I could get a full-ride scholarship to a top school. If not an academic scholarship, then a basketball scholarship. The future’s bright, man.” “Wait a minute… you’re gay?” I asked incredulously. “But you’re a jock!” “So what?” Carl responded. “There are plenty of gay jocks… maybe even more than in the general population. Perhaps it’s because so many of us think we have to prove something, you know? “You got a problem with me being gay?” he asked. “Is that why you punched out Asher White? Because he’s gay?” I guess he must’ve overheard. Hangin’ my head, I replied, “Yeah, I guess. I called him a faggot. And he answered with, ‘like your daddy’ and something inside me just snapped, you know? But it wasn’t like I hit him for being gay or anything like that. I didn’t even call him a faggot because of that. It’s just that my father calls anyone who’s weak a faggot, and I kinda picked it up from him.” Then lifting my head and looking Carl in the eye, I added, “I’d never call you a faggot, Carl. You’re nothing like Asher. You’re a jock.” “Oh, so being gay is okay, as long as you don’t look gay,” Carl countered. “No, that’s not what I meant!” I responded. “It’s just the way my father talks, you know? It’s not like I look up to him… not the way he’s always pounding on me. If he thought I was gay, he’d prolly kill me.” “Clarke, are you telling me you’re gay?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied, then added, “I can’t be gay. My father really would kill me.” Taking a deep breath, I replied, “Let’s just say I have a pretty shitty home life and leave it at that.” “But if he’s abusing you, you gotta report him,” Carl admonished me, “and of course you must know you can’t choose not to be gay. It’s not a choice you can make.” “I know it’s not a choice, and I don’t think I am but, regardless, I can’t report my father. With his connections, I’d only end up worse off,” I replied. “You don’t know that, Clarke.” Just then, the bell rang, and kids poured out into the hallway. “We’ll talk later,” Carl said over the din. “We’d better go to the gym and get your things.” The second bell rang as we entered the gym, and inside the locker room, boys were in all states of undress as they changed into their gym clothes and headed out into the gym. This class was a different year from mine but even so, I recognized some of the kids, and even more of them seemed to recognize me. I guess I’d developed a reputation in the short time I’d been here. “Maybe you’d like to shower before changing?” Carl suggested. Shaking my head, I said, “Nah, I didn’t wrestle long enough to get sweaty.” “But you stink, man!” Carl responded with a bemused expression on his face. “Yeah, I know,” I responded. “It’s the clothes. I guess it’s been a while since I took them home to wash them.” “Oh, that is so gross,” Carl replied, and then reiterated, “Maybe you better shower anyway.” “You just want to see me naked in the shower, you perv,” I answered. “I’ll wait out here if it’d make you feel better,” Carl replied. “It don’t matter to me if you wanna look,” I suggested as I undressed. “You’re welcome to join me.” Where the fuck did that come from? Did I really invite a fag to join me in the shower? A cute fag? But there it was again… my admitting I thought he was cute. Laughing, Carl responded, “As tempting as the offer might be, I’d really rather not get punched out today.” Ouch! “I’ll wait right here while you shower” Realizing it probably would be a good idea to shower, I threw my gym clothes into my gym bag, threw it and my bookbag into my locker, grabbed my soap and shampoo and a towel, and headed to the shower room. Because it was the beginning of the period, the shower room was empty and so I had time to think. Was I just flirting with a gay guy? I mean, I’d been showering with Asher and Seth all semester, and they were gay and out, but did that really bother me? But the thought of showering with Carl made me hard. Why was that? Yeah, he was tall, lean and muscled, and dammit, he really was cute. Had I ever felt that way about a girl? Had I ever felt that way about anyone? One thing was for sure – I couldn’t go back out into the locker room looking like I did right then, so as I finished shampooing my hair, I thought of what my dad would do to me at home. That certainly did the trick. No more embarrassing hard-on. I quickly finished washing, shut off the water, and dried myself. Wrapping the towel around my waist and tucking it in, I headed back out to the locker room, where Carl was waiting for me. Ordinarily, I would keep the towel around my waist and remove it only after I had my boxers on, but for some reason, I dropped the towel and gave Carl a sheepish smile as I did the combination on my locker, got out deodorant and applied it under my arms. I splashed on a little cologne and only then did I get out my boxers and pull them on. What had gotten into me? At least Carl had the good sense not to say anything. I quickly finished dressing, grabbed my gym bag, and slammed the locker shut. We headed out of the gym and I led Carl to my locker, where I quickly stuffed all of my books into my bookbag, grabbed my winter coat, and slammed the door shut. When we got back to the office, I dumped my bookbag and winter coat on one of the seats in the waiting area and plopped down in the seat next to it, stowing my smelly gym bag underneath. Looking up, I saw Carl look at me from the other side of the reception desk, and he smiled that killer smile of his. I couldn’t help but smile back. Man could that boy smile. “You wanna talk about it?” he asked. “You’ll probably be waiting a while, and I’ve got a few minutes before I have to leave for my next class.” Shaking my head, I said, “Not right now, Carl. Maybe later, when we get back from winter break, but maybe I’ve got a lot of thinking to do first.” “Tell you what,” he replied, “could I have your phone for a minute?” I couldn’t understand why, but I did something I would have never done with anyone else – I unlocked it and handed it to him. For some reason I knew I could trust him, and when he handed it back to me, the address book was open to a listing for Carl Rivera, with his phone number and his e-mail address. “Call me when you have a moment,” he said. “I think we really do need to talk. Call me if you have any questions or anything you’d like to discuss, and don’t wait until after the break. Perhaps we could meet somewhere for coffee or whatever… someplace closer to where you live if you can’t get back to Manhattan. “And I meant it about reporting your father. You can’t go on like this, okay?” “I will call you,” I promised, “if my father doesn’t take away my phone.” Then swallowing, I added, “Maybe we can get together sometime too. If I’m not totally grounded, that is. The Staten Island Ferry doesn’t cost anything so, either way, we can get together.” “That’d be great,” Carl replied, and shortly after that, the bell rang and Carl said, “Gotta go. Give me a call when you have a chance, okay?” “I’ll try,” I replied sincerely, but as I watched Carl leave, I realized that the thought of getting together with him had made me hard. Getting together with a friend from school was one thing, but Dad’d freak if he thought I was going on a date with a boy. So would I. I just couldn’t let myself go there. For my survival, I needed to put Carl out of my mind. Sitting back down, I still had time to kill and so I opened up my bookbag and got out my laptop, a shiny new MacBook Pro that my father requisitioned from his job, and I started working on my homework. When Dad gave it to me at the start of the school year, I looked up the model on Apple’s website. Even with the educational discount, it woulda cost me close to $6,500 to buy it. But he didn’t pay one red cent for it – not that I ever understood what the difference was between a red cent and any other kind of cent. No, my father simply requisitioned it from his budget. So in effect, it was the taxpayers of the city of New York that ended up paying the cost of my totally-decked-out laptop. Not that I didn’t appreciate having the latest and greatest phone and laptop and from Apple, but I had mixed feelings, particularly with how I got them. I was reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the classic Jules Verne sci-fi novel, for a comparative book report for English. When I finished, I would read Michael Crichton’s book, Sphere, and then I’d compare the two and write a book report on how Verne’s book might have influenced Crichton’s. The report would be due when I returned from winter break… as would my paper on bullying. What fun! I opened the New York Public Library site on my laptop and picked up reading Twenty Thousand Leagues, picking up where I’d left off. I soon became so engrossed in the story that I lost track of the time and even forgot about going to detention while I waited for Mom to arrive. Mom’s entry into the office brought me outta Captain Nemo’s submarine, real fast. Mrs. Fung announced her arrival, and Dr. Epstein ushered both of us into her office. Dr. Epstein did such a good job making my mom believe I was really gonna be expelled that I almost thought she’d changed her mind. Mom just about hit the roof when she heard it too, and predictably, she even threatened to get the mayor involved. In the end, Dr. Epstein was very convincing in making it look like Mom had talked her into giving me yet another chance – another chance with conditions. The price was gonna be suspension, a failing grade in gym class, probation through the rest of my freshman year, and weekly counseling sessions for as long as the psychologist thought I needed them. On top of all of that, I was gonna hafta write a humongous essay on bullying. I didn’t like any of it, nor did Mom, but we thought it was fair. I really was gonna hafta change. The one wild card was my father. I knew I’d wind up getting a beating, but I had no idea just how bad the beating would be. And in spite of it all, I couldn’t seem to get Carl Rivera outta my mind. The trip home was tedious and quiet. I guess Mom was gonna leave it to Dad to deal with me. It would’ve been faster to take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but both of them had hefty tolls, and so we took the Holland Tunnel into Jersey City, and then NJ Route 440 through Bayonne to Staten Island, even though it took twice as long and probably used more than twice as much gas. Mom’s silence only gave me more time to think – something I didn’t have riding to and from school every day. What I didn’t realize when I accepted admission to Stuyvesant was that, with my father working in the mayor’s office, he and I shared the same commute. I’d figured I’d just take the Staten Island Ferry. It meant takin’ a couple of buses and it woulda taken me over an hour each way, but it was an hour I could use for catching up on homework and just chilling out and listening to music on my iPhone. I’da had to get up at an ungodly hour in the morning, but my commute woulda been my own personal time to myself. My father didn’t see it that way. Why should I spend an hour or more getting to and from school when he was driving practically to the same place? Sure, with traffic and all, it often took just as long by car, and I had to wait hours for Dad to finish work at the end of the day, but there was no standing out in the rain and snow waiting for the bus, which never was on time, and no wasting time on the ferry. Sure, there were lotsa times when I couldn’t ride with my father ’cause he had an important meeting somewhere else, but most of the time we’d ride together and that meant spending ‘quality’ time, one-on-one with each other. Instead of my commute being productive, personal time for myself, it was an ordeal of listening to endless, racist rants by my dear old dad. To listen to him, there was nothing worse in the world than a Jew, a black, a Latino, an Asian, or a gay person, although he didn’t use such polite terms. Hardly a day went by that he didn’t rail against all the faggots that were ruining the world, so I knew I could never be gay. So what’s a boy to do when he’s taught from early on to hate just about everyone? Obviously, the most appropriate response is to lash out at everyone else who’s different, especially those remotely perceived to be gay. I did so in the vain hope that by bullying other gay kids, I would somehow prove to everyone else, and especially to myself, that I wasn’t gay. Of course, all I managed to do was to end up hating myself, which only made things worse. I was angry all the time, which made me do really stupid things and get in trouble. That only made my father’s anger at me much worse, and the beatings became that much more severe. But once I started high school at Stuyvesant, the beatings stopped. Dad couldn’t control the people who might report me to CPS, and then I learned firsthand what he could do to me without even laying a finger on me. With one or even two hours every day in which I was his captive, he showed me just how effective a verbal onslaught could be. What had been physical abuse became mental abuse, which only caused me to hate myself even more. Of course, I dared not talk back to my father, and so the only outlet I had for all my anger was to take it out on kids who couldn’t or wouldn’t defend themselves. And then there was Asher White. Asher was not only Asian, but he was black and he was gay, so that was three strikes against him. He was as big as I was, but he wasn’t at all athletic, so from the start I considered him to be a pansy, and I responded accordingly. From day one, I subjected him to my bullying. I pushed him, shoved him, and tripped him whenever I had the opportunity and thought I could get away with it. But I couldn’t get away with it in gym, and so being paired with him for wrestling was just about the worst thing that could happen. And when he actually surprised me, I snapped. My temper flared, and before I could stop myself, I threw a right hook to Asher’s left eye followed by an undercut to his jaw, and Asher went down like a sack of potatoes. He was out cold. I immediately realized I’d gone too far. Hell, Asher couldn’t help being gay. Sure, he was black and Asian, but then so was Tiger Woods, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time. What’s more, Asher was nice. Shit, since when did I ever give a flying fuck about someone being nice? Since I’d realized just how much of an asshole I was… how much of an asshole my father was. And now my dear old dad was gonna let me know just how much of a failure I was. With the winter break ahead of us, he’d beat me to a pulp – just enough that I’d heal before going back to school in January. One thing was for sure… I was fucked. When we got home, my mother made me go straight to my room. I couldn’t get a snack, nor could I eat dinner with the family. I’d long ago learned to keep some food in my room, and so I polished off a bag of Doritos and a jar of salsa. My father didn’t come home ’til late, but when he arrived, he came straight to my room and locked the door. He made me strip completely, and then he made me turn around and put my hands on the edge of my desk and spread my legs. For a moment I thought he was going to rape me, but then the first lashing came, and I cried out in pain and in shock. In the past he’d taken his fists to me, and he’d hit me with a belt, but this was something new – something way worse. Only later would I discover that he’d used a wooden yardstick. In effect, he caned me. It was a form of corporal punishment that was banned in most countries, and it definitely was illegal in New York. The second strike was even worse, and he kept right on going. I lost track of the number times he hit me after the first ten blows – it was just too painful to count. He was screaming at me the whole time, but I barely heard him at all. I was a bawling, howling, screaming mess by the time he was through his torturous attack. When he finished, he just walked out my door and slammed it behind him. As he left, I saw the yardstick in his hand. It was quite a while before I could get hold of myself. He had struck me on the back, on the shoulders, on my butt, and on my bare thighs. I was convinced I must be standing in a pool of my own blood, but when I finally got the courage to look, the hardwood floor under my feet was bare. Getting hold of myself, I gingerly made my way to my bathroom and looked in the mirror as best I could. I was shocked by what I saw as it came into view. Although there were no open wounds, there were dozens of red slashes across my body, some of them rather angry-looking, and everywhere my skin was red and swollen. My father might have been counting on the prolonged suspension to give them time to heal, but there was no way these would be fully healed by then. Maybe he thought the yardstick would only leave red marks that’d heal, and maybe he figured there’d be no telltale bruising, but already there were welts, and the welts would form scars. But what if my father decided to pull me outta Stuyvesant? He could do that and stick me back in a Catholic prep school where he had enough clout to buy silence. No way, no how was I gonna let him do that to me. But if CPS got involved, my father would probably go to jail, and maybe my mother too, and my sisters and I would end up in foster care. No, I hadta find a way to get my revenge on him without tearing the family apart. I needed to make sure he didn’t pull me outta Stuyvesant, and that he’d never hit me again. I needed a plan. First, though, I needed to clean myself up so the welts wouldn’t get infected when they opened. My bathroom had a nice shower with body jets all around and a rain shower overhead. First thing I did was turn the rain shower off, ’cause that woulda killed me for sure. The body jets produced a fine mist, and I set the temperature to what I figured was body temperature, and I got into the shower. Even with the fine gentle mist, the feel of the water on my raw skin just about made me pass out from the pain. Rather than using soap, I used baby shampoo to cleanse myself, gently washing the welts clean. I let the gentle warm water numb my skin, and even as I washed myself, I plotted my revenge. When I was done washing, I turned off the water and grabbed a clean white bath towel. I slowly and gently dried myself, and when I was through, I rinsed the towel out in the shower with cold water to keep any stains from setting. What I really shoulda done was to apply an antibiotic ointment to the welts to keep them from getting infected, but I only had a tiny tube of Polysporin, which wasn’t nearly enough. I was gonna hafta have Mom get me some more. In the meantime, I had a jar of Eucerin cream, and so that’s what I smeared all over my shoulders, back, butt, and thighs, at least as much as I could reach with my hands. Perhaps by moisturizing them, some of the welts would heal without opening up, and maybe the cream would ease the pain. There were some rolls of gauze and some Ace wraps in the linen closet, but not enough to wrap myself up like a mummy. I’d need some help with that and was too embarrassed to ask my mother or my sisters. It was still too early for bedtime, but I was way too sore to sit down. The snack I’d eaten earlier wasn’t nearly enough, but I wasn’t all that hungry anyway, thanks to the pain. With nothing better to do, I took a couple of extra strength Tylenol and lay prone on top of the bed covers. Finally sleep came, and I got some badly needed rest. I awoke well before dawn. Unfortunately, my body’s internal clock still thought it was a school day, and with my going to bed so early, my brain just wasn’t gonna let me go back to sleep. The pain from my beating was now more of an intense ache all over my back and thighs, and any kind of movement only made it much, much worse. Gingerly, I made my way to my bathroom and took a look at my backside in the mirror. Sure enough, the red marks had coalesced into a single angry, striated fiery redness from my neck to knees, with many welts that had opened and were oozing a thin yellowish fluid. I was still working on a plan to get back at my father, but before I did anything else, I needed to document what he’d done to me. I needed proof. Using my phone with the aid of the bathroom mirror, I took a series of photos of my backside from head to toe, making sure to include the profile of my face where I could, so there’d be no doubt that the pictures were of me. When I was satisfied that I had enough evidence, I grabbed my laptop and placed it on top of my desk, but I was still way too sore to sit down. I tried moving it to the top of my bedroom chest, but that was way too high to reach, so I stacked several of my textbooks on top of the desk and put the laptop on top of them. That put it at just the right height for me to use it while standing. Opening the Photos app on my laptop, the pictures I’d just taken on my iPhone were already loaded from the cloud. Seeing them on my computer made them look even more horrible than just looking in the mirror. I quickly selected the ones that showed the damage most clearly, and then I exported them to the desktop and packaged them in an encrypted Zip file. For the password, I used the combination to my locker at school. Even if my father somehow learned that I’d used the combination, the only way he could get it would be to call the school. Grabbing one of my thumb drives, I copied the encrypted Zip file to the drive as a backup, just in case my father took my phone and the laptop from me. I hid the thumb drive behind one of my dresser drawers, and then in a fit of paranoia, I grabbed a second thumb drive, copied the Zip file to it, and hid it in an old pair of sneakers that was too small for me. But what if my father sent me away before I had a chance to get my things? I needed a strategy to ensure those photos would still be seen, but who could I trust? I had no real friends at school, or in the neighborhood. I’d managed to alienate just about everyone at one time or another. Then I thought about Carl. He knew about my reputation, but in spite of that, he wanted to get together. That wasn’t something that was gonna happen – at least not over the winter break for obvious reasons – but he seemed to be willing to trust me, and I trusted him. He wasn’t someone my father would know about either. I knew that if I sent the file to Carl, he’d be sure it got to the right people if anything happened to me, but could my father trace my e-mail to him? With Dad’s connections in the Mob, I might inadvertently be putting Carl in danger, and I couldn’t have that. I wondered if there was a way to send an e-mail in such a way that it was untraceable. A quick Google search gave me a list of dozens of anonymous remailers – sites to which I could upload a message and that would send the message to my recipient without any record of where it was sent. Most of them charged a fee, and not all of them were all that secure. I read all the on-line reviews and finally settled on a free remailer that had a good reputation. In order to prevent its use for sending spam, it only allowed one recipient per message, but that was fine with me. Logging onto the site, I composed a simple message addressed to Carl, explaining the attached file and that he should forward it to Dr. Epstein if I failed to return from the winter break. I also asked him to forward copies of it to anyone he knew he could trust, just in case he couldn’t follow through with my request for whatever reason. My first attempt to upload the file; however, failed because the site had a limit on file size. I therefore went back into the Photos app and exported the images with a lower-quality JPEG setting, which dramatically reduced the file size compared to using the highest quality setting. I then re-encrypted them in a Zip file, and uploaded it with my e-mail message, and sent it on its way to Carl. Next, I attached the same set of pictures, unencrypted, to a blank e-mail with the subject, “What Frank O’Malley did to his son.” This one I was gonna send anonymously to the mayor’s wife’s chief of staff. The mayor might have shit for brains, but his wife was smart. She was the real brains behind the office, and she’d know what to do with the pictures I sent her. She’d surely realize just how damaging the pictures could be if they got out, and she was savvy enough to know that a half-baked cover-up would be far worse. But then I thought, what if the mayor fires my father? Sending the pictures anonymously wouldn’t make a difference – he’d still blame me. No, I had to give this a lot more thought, and so I deleted the e-mail from the remailer and closed my browser window. Finally, I sent a brief message to Dr. Epstein using the same remailer and telling her that if she received an encrypted file from me via a friend, that the password was my locker combination. The reason I didn’t just send the Zip file directly to Dr. Epstein was that if I did, she’d have been obligated to pass the images on to CPS, and I didn’t want that. My hope was that I could come up with a way to make my father pay without breaking up the family and without putting my future life at risk. Sending the pics directly to Dr. Epstein would have forced her hand – and more than likely, my father would have gone to prison. It might have been what he deserved, but my mother was no better. In the end it would have only torn the family apart, and me and the girls might well have ended up in foster care or in group homes. There had to be a better way! Turning the shower on, I set it to a warm, fine mist from the body jets, and when I was ready, I carefully stepped inside. I nearly screamed from the pain and again used baby shampoo to cleanse the welts, and then I shampooed and washed my hair, and then my entire body. Once again, I dried myself with a white towel that could always be bleached if it stained, but I rinsed it out with cold water to prevent it from happening, just in case. Finally, I applied Eucerin cream to my entire backside, and I grabbed a very oversize, loose-fitting plain white T-shirt and slowly pushed my arms through the sleeves and my head through the neck, and let it fall down my body. Even the light touch of the shirt sliding down hurt like fuck, but once it had stuck to the cream, it hardly hurt anymore. The shirt was just long enough to cover what needed to be covered, at least while I was standing. It would hafta do, ’cause there was no way I was gonna have boxer briefs rubbing over my sore bottom. Figuring this was probably as good a time as any to get some breakfast, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. As I expected, I was up before anyone else, but that would probably change once the smell of my cooking wafted upstairs. I knew I needed protein, both to heal my injuries and to make up for what I was losing through my open welts. The fact that I’d skipped dinner last night didn’t help things either. Getting out a large skillet, I placed it on the stove and melted some butter in it until it was sizzling. I threw in a package of ground sausage and browned it, and poured off the excess fat. I chopped up a green pepper, a red pepper, and a small onion and added them to the skillet, along with a minced clove of garlic. I turned down the gas ’til the meat and seasonings were at a slow simmer, and then I added a package of frozen hash-browns and stirred it into the mix. Finally, I broke open a half-dozen extra-large eggs and whipped them before adding them to the skillet, along with a dash of paprika and some fresh ground pepper. I covered the skillet and left it to simmer a while longer. It was enough only for me and the girls, but then our parents usually skipped breakfast anyway. So’d I, for that matter, grabbing a bite in the cafeteria once I got to school. No sooner did I get the coffee maker going than my father came down. He was the last person I wanted to see, but I needed to confront him. I was working on a plan, and I needed him on edge, so he’d panic when the time came. “You caned me,” I said in an even voice. “I only hit you with a ruler, and not all that hard either,” he countered as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Turning so my back was to him, I grabbed the hem of my shirt and lifted it over my head before dropping it back down. When I turned back around, I could see that my father’s face had drained of color. The one thing I didn’t see was concern. Regaining his composure, he said, “Maybe someday you’ll learn to control your anger.” It took all my willpower to keep from laughing at that. Where did he think I got my temper from? He wasn’t exactly a role model when it came to anger management. And even worse than that, he took all his anger out on his kid! He then turned around, grabbed his heavy coat from the closet, and exited through the door to the garage. Soon, the sound of his Mercedes SUV starting up could be heard, followed by the sound of it backing out of the garage, and the sound of the garage door closing. With that, my father was gone, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I had to get even with him for what he’d done, but I needed time to think. Jasmine was the first of the girls to make an appearance. She was one of my two younger sisters and at nearly thirteen, was beginning to look like a young woman. “Would you like some of the frittata I made?” I asked her. “Since when do you take the time to eat breakfast, let alone make it?” she asked as she took a seat at the table, where I placed a plate with a serving of the frittata, as well as a small glass of orange juice. “Since I got suspended for fighting,” I answered, and she rolled her eyes. “Is that why dad gave you a whipping?” she asked. “If only it was just a whipping,” I answered. “He caned me,” I corrected her. “He actually took a yard stick to my entire back side and hit me until there was nothing left to hit.” Noticing what I was wearing for the first time, she asked, “You got anything on under that shirt?” Shaking my head, I answered, “You don’t want to know. Let’s just say it’ll be a while before I can sit down.” Jasmine winced in response, just as my youngest sister, Ellen, entered the kitchen. Ellen was eleven and just beginning to show signs of entering puberty. With three older sisters still at home and two more in college, she was well aware of what to expect and had acted like a teenager for the past few years. “So who’d you beat up this time?” she asked as she sat down, and I placed a plate of frittata in front of her. “Not that it’s any of your business,” I answered, “but it was a boy named Asher White.” “Why the fuck did you beat him up?” Connie asked as she entered the kitchen, drawing giggles from Jas and Ellen. Connie was fifteen and just a year ahead of me in school. None of us would’ve used that kind of language when our parents were in earshot, but there wasn’t anything that wasn’t fair game otherwise, even for Ellen. Sighing, I replied, “Asher’s a real sissy if you know what I mean. Not that he’s effeminate or anything, but he’s not at all athletic,” I added as I handed a plate to Connie and she sat down. “But yesterday he actually beat me at wrestling, so I called him a faggot. It was really stupid, especially with his boyfriend standing right there.” “So he really is gay,” Ellen said, and I nodded in return. “He’s a really nice kid,” I added. “He’s half-black and half-Asian, and incredibly good looking in a Tiger Woods sort of way. But he’s out and proud, and so I called him a faggot. And you know what he said? He responded, ‘Just like your daddy,’ and that’s when I hit him.” “Who’d you hit?” Francine asked as she entered the kitchen. Francine was seventeen and a senior. Like me, she usually ate at school, and I was kinda counting on that, but I figured I’d better offer her some of the frittata, even if it meant I had to make more for myself. “Would you like some of the frittata I made?” I asked. “I’d love to take you up on it,” she replied, “but my figure wouldn’t. I’ll grab my usual yogurt at school.” “Gees, starvation can’t be good for you,” I responded. “I won’t starve,” she answered. “You’re just blessed with a teenage boy’s metabolism.” “There are plenty of overweight boys at school,” I replied. “I’m just a lot more active than you… and I’m still growing.” After a pause, Francine asked, “It sounded like you had a rough time last night. Are you alright?” “It’ll be a long time before I can sit down,” I responded, drawing a flinch from all of my sisters, “and there are some physical wounds that need to heal, but otherwise I’m fine,” I added with a smile. “It’s so unfair that you have to get the brunt of Dad’s anger,” she commented. “Better me than any of you,” I agreed. With all of my sisters accounted for, I poured myself a mug of coffee and began eating what was left of the frittata, right out of the skillet. “He beat up a boy and called him a faggot,” Ellen threw in, apparently in answer to Fran’s first question. “The kid really is gay,” Jasmine added, “and his boyfriend was right there.” Shrugging my shoulders, I responded, “He beat me at wrestling… and he responded to my calling him a faggot by saying, ‘Just like your daddy.’” “You and Dad are such ’phobes,” Connie challenged, “but then you know what they say about the worst homophobes.” “What do they say?” I asked, kinda knowing the answer, but wanting to hear her say it anyway. “That the worst homophobes are secretly gay themselves.” She didn’t disappoint me with her answer. “I’m not saying that I am, but what if I were gay,” I asked. “You’re our brother,” Connie answered, “and we’re all about as religious as you. I don’t give a fuck if you like girls… or boys… or both.” I noticed that all three of her sisters were nodding their heads – even Ellen. “So are you?” Ellen asked. Just a couple of days ago, there’d have been no question about my answer. Fuck no, I wasn’t gay! But since hitting Asher and especially since I told Dr. Epstein that I thought I might be gay, I wasn’t so sure anymore. And then there was Carl. The mere thought of him made me insanely hard. But did I want to kiss him? My dick twitched just thinking about it. He’d already seen me in the nude, and my heart beat faster thinking of him in the altogether. The sound of Ellen’s giggle brought me back to reality, and the fact that my insanely hard dick wasn’t constrained by anything – it was literally poking out from under my shirt. Shit! I was mortified, but there wasn’t anything I could do. They’d all seen it and even though it quickly wilted in my embarrassment, the dick was outta the bag, so to speak. As a few tears rolled down my reddened cheeks, Jas said, “It’s okay, Clarke. Your being gay has nothing to do with our love for you. You’re our brother, no matter what.” It was nice to know my sisters could accept me, but could I accept being gay. Wait – had I just come out to myself? “The old man really is gay, you know,” Jasmine added. “You probably noticed that he reads several men’s fitness journals, even though he doesn’t work out.” Actually, I had noticed, and I’d sometimes wondered about it, but it was quite a stretch to say that that made him gay. “You think that makes him gay?” I asked. “Not just that, but he looks at on-line gay porn,” Jasmine answered. “How the fuck do you know that?” I asked, but just then Mom entered the kitchen. “Clarke, you already got one whipping. How’d you like another,” she challenged. “Sorry, Mom,” I responded. Obviously, that put an end to discussion of my father’s sexuality, but I had no doubt that Jasmine had good reason to know. When we lived in the old place, we all shared a computer. Obviously, Jas had used the computer after our father did and followed his internet history. At that age, any gay porn wouldn’t have been mine. If my father was gay, maybe that explained a bit of why I was too. The one thing I knew for sure was that I was not going to wind up like him. If I was gay, I was gonna get married – to a man – and adopt a couple of kids – not father a bunch of them, just to prove I was straight. I actually smiled thinking of raising a family with Carl. I could picture the four of us – Carl and me and our two sons, or maybe a son and a daughter, playing three-on-one basketball. Carl would tower over the rest of us, and it would take all three of us to keep him in check. God, I was acting more like a schoolgirl, thinking of Carl that way. I had a goddamn crush on the boy, and if I wasn’t careful and let it slip in front of our parents, they’d never let me see him again. “You girls ready?” Jas announced more than asked. All four of the girls went to the Notre Dame Academy, a well-regarded Catholic kindergarten through twelve girls’ school. The four of them usually walked the mile there together every morning. After the three younger sisters quickly finished off their breakfasts and placed their dishes in the sink, the four of them donned their winter coats and were on their way. “Are you in a lot of pain, Clarkie?” my mother asked, showing a bit of sympathy for the first time. Rather than answer her, I turned my back to her and lifted my shirt over my head, then let it slide back down. Turning around, I could see how much my mother was affected by what she saw. “He went too far this time, Mom… not that it’s ever okay to hit your kid. He should go to prison for what he did to me, but we’d all pay a price for that. We’d hafta move, and it might even break up the family.” “You can’t tell anyone about it, Clarke….” she admonished me. “I don’t intend to,” I interrupted. “Not as long as he leaves me alone from now on.” “I wish I could tell you he won’t,” she replied, “but if you breathe a word of this to anyone, it would destroy everything we’ve worked for. Our jobs, this house, maybe even the relationships he built up with the union… they’d all be gone.” “Place the blame for that where it belongs, with Dad,” I countered. “Don’t force me to choose between you and your father,” Mom challenged, “or between you and the rest of the family.” “Then you’d damn well better make sure he never touches me again,” I replied. “You know I can’t do that, Clarke,” Mom responded. “You won’t have a choice,” I countered, “not if you want to keep his abuse under wraps.” Then for good measure, I added, “And from now on, I’m taking the ferry to school.” Remembering what we’d been talking about before Mom entered the kitchen, I didn’t see how Mom couldn’t have helped but overhear. My curiosity getting the better of me, before she could respond, I asked her, “Did you know about Dad being gay?” Sighing, she replied, “I’ve known since before we got married,” which shocked me to no end. “I told him that so long as he remained faithful, it didn’t matter, and as far as I know he’s kept his promise.” “But what about his looking at gay porn?” I asked. “That’s no different than straight men looking at straight porn,” Mom answered. “Women have long put up with their husbands reading Playboy, and this is no different.” Swallowing hard, I asked, “What if I turn out gay?” Looking me right in the eyes, she replied, “You’ve always reminded me so much of your father, both good and bad. If you’re like him in that way too, I’ll just have to accept it. But there’s a reason I’ve always spoken negatively about homosexuality. Thinking about boys is one thing, but acting on it is quite another. The church is very clear about how it views homosexuality. It’s wrong, and for you to do anything with a boy is unacceptable.” “But it’s okay if a priest does it with a boy,” came my uninvited retort, which was met immediately with a very painful slap to my face. “There are a few bad apples in every profession, but that doesn’t give you the right to denigrate the Catholic Church!” Mom shouted at me. “Committing a crime is bad enough,” I responded, “but conspiring to cover it up magnifies it a thousand-fold. For decades, the Catholic Church fostered a system which allowed a handful of priests to rape young boys repeatedly… kids like me. Lives were forever ruined. Finally, we have a pope who’s willing to at least talk about it, and yet his predecessor is still trying to hush everything up. How can you justify such evil in Christ’s name?” “You don’t even believe in God,” Mom countered. “No, I don’t,” I responded, “but I’m a much better Christian than a lot of people. At least I live by Christian ideals, which is more than I can say for either you or Dad.” “How can you say such a thing?” Mom countered. Again, I just snapped. Not enough to actually hit my mom, but what I did was just as shocking. I lifted my shirt over my head and tossed it on the floor. I didn’t care if she saw my junk. I just didn’t care anymore. “I can say it when my dad does something like this to me,” I replied as I turned to show her my back once again. Then turning back around, I added, “And I can say it when my mom cares more about saving face than about the fact that her husband injured and tortured her son… and that she expects her husband and her son to spend their lives living in a closet, denying who they really are because a man in fancy garb says it’s wrong.” Shit, did I just admit that I’m gay? “Never mind that Christ never once said anything against homosexuality.” “He may not have said it directly,” Mom countered, “but his intent was clear. We must respect the teachings of the church. For more than two millennia they have spoken God’s word.” “Since when have you given a flying fuck about God’s word?” I asked. Maybe I’d gone too far, and the look of shock on Mom’s face said that maybe I had, but I was livid. “Did God tell you guys to get in bed with organized crime and to use their influence to get jobs in the mayor’s office?” “I didn’t hear you complain when we moved into this house,” Mom responded. “I was only nine years old at the time, for Christ sake,” I replied. Then remembering that I was still standing naked in front of her, and that there was a reason I wasn’t dressed, I changed course and said, “Look, Dad beat the living shit outta me. I have welts all over my back. I need medical attention. The sooner, the better. Now if I go to Emergency at Saint Vincent’s, as well I should, it would blow the whole thing wide open. If I go back to gym class after the winter break, for that matter, there’s no way CPS won’t get involved and neither of us wants that.” Mom turned pale as she quietly said, “No you can’t go back there. I guess we could send you to Saint Peters instead.” Saint Peters Boys High School was decent, but it was not in the same league as Stuyvesant. It was where I would’ve gone if I hadn’t gotten into one of New York’s elite specialty high schools, bit there was no way I was gonna go there now. In a cold, steely voice, I said, “Stuyvesant High School is my future, Mom. It’s my ticket to getting into an Ivy League school, maybe on a full scholarship. You can’t take that away from me. I’m willing to keep quiet for the sake of the family… not for you or him, but for my sake and the sake of my sisters… but it’ll be on my terms.” “You think you can dictate your terms to me?” Mom asked defiantly. “You really think you have a choice?” I asked. “I’ve already made arrangements to have pictures of my back sent to the right people if I don’t return to school after the break. Give me ten seconds, and I’ll see to it that those pictures are sent right now.” “Your father should’ve taken your phone from you,” Mom replied. “Even now, you’re more concerned with what might happen to you than with what has happened to me,” I responded sadly. “How pathetic. “So here’s what’s gonna happen,” I continued. “I can’t very well go to the emergency room at Saint Vincent’s, so you’re gonna have to take me to see Dr. McHenry. You’ll make arrangements for me to see him today. I know he’ll keep quiet about this as he has in the past, and I’m sure he’ll write a letter to get me outta gym class until I’ve healed.” “But I can’t, Clarke,” Mom replied. “I’m already late for work, and I have an important meeting this afternoon.” “Reschedule it,” I said. “My health is more important. If you don’t, I’ll have no choice but to call 911. This can’t wait.” “You’ll do no such thing,” Mom challenged. “You’ll have to wait until I get home this afternoon. That’s all there is to it. I’ll finish my meeting as soon as I can and come right home.” “You’re going into work and leaving me here?” I asked incredulously. “You brought this upon yourself when you attacked that boy,” she replied. “Just remember that. And we’ll deal with things when I get home, so there’s no need to call 911. Like you said, you’d only be hurting your sisters if you do.” What could I say? I stood by in stunned silence as I watched Mom put on her winter coat, grab her car keys, and leave the house. Even though I was naked and injured with welts all over my back, she just left me there, all alone to fend for myself. And she was right – if I called 911, it would be the end of my family. I’d end up in foster care or worse yet, a group home, and who knows what’d happen to my sisters. Mom had called my bluff, and I was truly fucked. I’d barely touched my frittata, but I ate the rest of it, even though it was cold and I wasn’t at all hungry. I knew I needed the protein if I was gonna heal. I then rinsed all the breakfast dishes off and loaded them into the dishwasher. I had some assignments to work on, and there was that humongous paper on bullying I had to write, so I headed upstairs to my bedroom to get to work on them. Miraculously I still had my phone. I thought for sure that my mother was gonna take it from me after my father didn’t, but keeping her job I guess took priority. Flipping it on and unlocking it with my ugly mug of a face, I saw that I had several messages and several voicemails from Carl Rivera. Reading the first text just about gave me heart failure, as it read, “photo mem. tried ur combo. saw ur pcs. call me asap.” Holy shit, Carl had a photographic memory and remembered my locker combination. He actually saw what my father did to me. I read the rest of the texts and listened to his voicemails, and he was becoming more and more frantic with worry about me. In the last message, he said that if he didn’t hear from me by lunch, he was gonna give the pictures to Dr. Epstein, regardless of what I felt. Fuck, it was already almost time for the first lunch period, and I had no idea when his lunch period was. I didn’t wanna take a chance on calling him while he was in class, so I sent him a text telling him to call me as soon as he was between classes. Scarcely a minute passed after I hit send before my phone was ringing. “Clarke! Man, I saw your pictures. You need to get to the hospital.” All that was before I’d even said ‘hello’. “I’d tell you it’s not as bad as it looks, but that’d be a lie,” I replied. “I’d tell you it doesn’t hurt much, but that’d also be a lie. Actually, it’s not too bad right now, ’cause I’m standing here naked, ’cause it hurts too much to put any clothes on. And I can’t sit down.” “You need to get to the hospital, man,” Carl reiterated. “You should call 911.” “I can’t, Carl,” I answered. “Not without wrecking my whole family. My father’d go to jail for sure, and he’d deserve to, but so would my mother. They both went to work, if you can believe it, leaving me here alone. Yeah, I need to see a doctor. I told Mom I’d hafta call 911 if she didn’t take me, but she had an ‘important’ meeting she couldn’t miss, so she said she’d take me when she gets home. She’s just as fucking guilty in her own way as my father. If they both go to prison, what would happen to me? What would happen to my sisters? They’d probably have to split us up. Who would be willing to take four girls and a boy?” “How many of there are you?” Carl asked. “Nine of us altogether… six girls and three boys,” I replied, “but only five of us are still at home, and Fran’ll be graduating this spring,” I added. “Are you at home now?” Carl asked. “Where else would I be?” I asked. “It’s not like I can go anywhere in the nude, you know.” “I dunno, Clarke,” Carl responded. “Your body’s a work of art.” “You might think so,” I replied, “but right now I look more like a Soutine than a Renoir.” “Renoir was a painter, right?” Carl asked. “He was one of the greatest impressionist artists of all time,” I answered. “His paintings were beautiful. Chaim Soutine, on the other hand, was an outstanding expressionist artist. His portraits of people were distorted, as if to show the ugliness inside.” “You really know your shit,” Carl responded, but then interrupted himself, saying, “but that’s irrelevant right now. We need to get you to a doctor. If you’re not willing to call 911, are you at least willing to go to the hospital?” Shaking my head, even though Carl couldn’t see it, I replied, “No way, man. The result’d be the same. It would wreck my family.” “Do you have a family doctor who’d be willing to see you in confidence?” Carl asked. “Dr. McHenry,” I answered. “I asked my mother to take me to see him, but she had to go to work.” “What the fuck,” Carl responded. “A mother’s supposed to put her children first. But that doesn’t matter now. Go ahead and make an appointment to see him, and I’ll find a way to get you there.” “And how are you gonna do that?” I asked. “Call me when you know your appointment time, and I’ll figure something out,” he replied. “Hopefully, I’ll be there in time to help.” “Whadaya mean?” I asked. “I mean that I’m on the ferry right now, and we’ll be docking soon,” Carl answered. “But how… even if you left school the moment I messaged you, you still wouldn’t have reached the ferry terminal yet,” I pointed out. “I coulda taken an Uber or a taxi,” Carl pointed out, “but I was already on the ferry when you called me.” “You were coming to see me, even before I texted you?” “I was,” he answered. “I was worried. I was getting frantic, man….” “I could tell from your texts and voicemails,” I interrupted. “I get the impression you care about me.” “More than you know, Clarke. I just hope having a gay boy who likes you doesn’t freak you out.” “I can’t believe you like a boy who beat up another kid because he’s gay,” I replied. “Yeah, but that was in response to other things going on in your life, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, but how’d you know?” I asked. “Working in the office, I meet a lot of kids, and I get to see a lot of kids sent to the principal’s office for their fuck-ups,” he answered. “Right away with you, I could tell just how much you regretted what you’d done. You honestly felt bad for what you did to Asher and wanted to make amends. That doesn’t happen very often. Yeah, you’re a bully, but you’re a bully because you’re being bullied at home. Bullying starts in the home, and it can end in the home.” He was right, and we both knew it. I’d actually been thinking about using that very theme in writing my paper on the effects of bullying on society. “The ferry’s just pulling into the Staten Island terminal now, and the bus’ll be leaving in less than ten minutes. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m settled on the bus.” “Don’t bother,” I replied. “It’s a short ride, and you might miss your stop…” Then I realized he might not even know which bus to take, let alone where to get off. “Wait, do you know where I live and how to get here?” “You forget I work in the office and have access to everyone’s addresses. I did ask Dr. Epstein for permission to come visit you, though, so I’m not AWOL. I put your address into Google Maps, and let Google show me the way. Gotta go now.” “See you soon,” I responded before he hung up. Then looking down, I realized that once again I was hard. Even with all my pain, the mere thought of seeing Carl again had made me aroused. Insanely so. While waiting for Carl to arrive, I decided I’d better try calling Dr. McHenry’s office to schedule an appointment. How we’d be able to get there, I hadn’t a clue. Maybe by lying prone across the back seat of an Uber, but would a driver even be willing to take me that way? Dialing the phone, I was put on hold right away and was still on hold when Carl arrived. With my phone in one hand and on speaker, I used the other hand to open the door for Carl, blissfully forgetting my state of undress. At least I was no longer sporting a boner. The perpetual chatter of the on-hold messages, telling me about all the wonderful services my doctor offered, was more than enough distraction. It used to be you could put the phone down and listen for the music to be replaced by a voice, but no more. Carl couldn’t help but stare at me when I opened the door, but then he regained his composure and said, “Nice house, Clarke.” Motioning for him to come in, I replied, “You can thank the taxpayers of New York for it. God knows my parents didn’t do anything to earn it.” “I’m sure there’s a story there,” Carl acknowledged, and then he walked around and looked at my back. “Oh my fucking God!” he exclaimed. “It looks even worse in person. Clarke, you have to call 911!” “Not gonna happen,” I responded. “It would mean the end of my family, and it’d be particularly hard on my sisters. And what would happen to me? Besides which, if my doctor’s office ever answers the phone, I’m sure Dr. McHenry will figure something out.” “How long have you been on hold?” Carl asked. Looking at the call clock on my phone, I replied, “Sixteen minutes, thirty-eight seconds.” “What’s the number there?” he asked. “Won’t do you any good,” I replied. “You’ll only get a menu of options, and a message to call 911 if it’s an emergency.” “Do you have your doctor’s cell number?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied. “I bet your father does,” Carl suggested. “Let me see your iPhone.” “How will that help you?” I asked as I handed it over. “Apple makes it difficult, but there’s a work-around for people on the same family iCloud account,” Carl answered, speaking in terms that might as well have been in Urdu for what I could understand of them. “All I need is your dad’s Apple ID and password, and he made that way too easy to guess. Your street address is the password!” After tapping on my phone a bit, he continued, “All right, here it is,” he said. “I found Dr. McHenry’s cell number. I’m gonna hang up your current call and dial the good doctor directly.” “Hello, Dr. McHenry,” Carl began. “I’m calling on behalf of Frank O’Malley’s son, Clarke. His dad beat him pretty bad, and he needs medical attention right away, but he refuses to call 911 or go to the hospital… Yes, I understand that Frank would want to avoid that too, but you have to see what he did to his son….” After a pause, Carl continued, “She made an appointment for first thing tomorrow morning? This can’t wait that long. Clarke needs to be seen today… Let me show you. Are you using an iPhone? Good, I’ll initiate a Facetime call. You just have to accept it.” After a few seconds, Carl said, “There, I can see you now. Can you see me?” “Yes, but who are you?” came Dr. McHenry’s voice from the tiny iPhone speaker. “My name’s Carl Rivera. I’m a friend of Clarke’s from school, but you need to see what his dad did to him.” Carl held up the phone and pointed it at me and tapped on the phone, then sheepishly said, “Turn around, Clarke.” When I turned to show my back to the camera, immediately I heard Dr. McHenry shout through the phone, “Oh dear God! I’ve given Frank a lot of leeway on this sort of thing in the past, and he’s been helpful in referrals from the Union. But I can’t overlook this and, besides, I don’t need any more business. I’m too busy as it is. If Clarke won’t call 911, I will. He needs to go to the hospital!” “Wait!” I shouted as I grabbed my phone back from Carl. “You can’t call 911. Both my parents would go to jail and then what would happen to the girls? What would happen to me? I’m sure my boyfriend can help take care of me. He can apply whatever salves and creams you prescribe and wash me and change my dressings.” “Your boyfriend, huh?” Dr. McHenry replied, and I suddenly realized what I’d said. Carl, for his part, had what could only be called a bemused expression on his face. “Is that why Frank did this to you?” the doctor asked. Shaking my head, I said, “No, quite the opposite in fact. I called a kid a faggot and punched him out. It was stupid, I know, and probably had more to do with my sexual confusion than with Asher, who happened to be an out-and-proud gay kid. And when he said, ‘So’s your daddy,’ I just snapped.” The doctors laugh told me he thought Asher’s retort was funny too. When I got down to it, though it really was funny. “I didn’t know it at the time, but my father really is gay.” “Yeah, I know,” Dr. McHenry responded, “and poor Cynthia doesn’t know about his encounters either.” “Dad’s cheating on Mom… with men?” I exclaimed in surprise. “I’ve already told you more than I should’ve,” Dr. McHenry lamented. “I’d never met a more homophobic man, and then he showed up in my office with gonorrhea, and that’s when I learned he was having sex with men. He made me tell Cynthia I was treating her for a urinary infection. I gave him a stern lecture about using condoms. What if he’d given her HIV? “Speaking of which, are the two of you being careful?” My face was on fire, and I felt like I was gonna pass out. Carl was blushing too, but had the sense to answer, “My boyfriend and I haven’t done anything yet.” “And there’s no hurry in that regard either,” the doctor interjected. “It’s best to let your love grow first. If you rush to the finish line, the flame may burn out before it has a chance to get started. But if you do experiment as boys sometimes do… often do… be sure to use condoms whenever there’s a transfer of fluids. And contrary to popular belief, that includes oral sex, by the way.” Just then, I heard the sound of a key turning in the lock of the front door. Carl and I were still standing in the foyer when the door swung open and in walked my brother, Joseph. “I thought you weren’t supposed to be driving in until the weekend,” I exclaimed. “I finished up earlier than I expected, so I packed up my things and drove all night from Indiana. I wasn’t expecting a welcoming party, though, and not one that’s clothing-optional.” Shit, I was still in the nude. “Joseph, is that you?” Dr. McHenry asked through my phone. “Yeah, it’s me,” he shouted back. Then, taking my phone, he continued, “I just got here. What gives?” “Did you see your brother’s back?” the doctor asked. I turned around so Joseph could see it, and he exclaimed, “Mary, mother of God! I thought I had it bad, but Dad never did anything like that to me.” “I’m sorry, Joseph,” Dr. McHenry said, “I should have never let it go so far. I should have reported your abuse the first time I saw it.” “And if you had, then where would we all be?” Joseph asked. “But surely you can see this is too much. Your brother needs medical attention right away, before those wounds get infected. I was going to call 911, but maybe you could take him to Saint Vincent’s.” “No!” I shouted. “That would destroy the family.” “I’ll make sure he gets there, Doc,” Joseph said into the phone. “I’m counting on that,” answered the doctor. “I’ve got patients waiting on me, and Nancy’s getting frantic for me to see them.” Nancy was his nurse. “I’ll stop by the hospital after my office hours to check on Clarke. Take care, Joseph.” “You too, Doc,” Joseph replied and then terminated the call. Getting down on my level, he said, “Did you ever stop to think, little brother, that this is a family that needs destroying? Dad’s a monster, and Mom reinforces him. Neither of them is fit to take care of you and the girls. You’d be better off with no parents.” “But if they go to jail, we’ll lose the house, and we’ll all go into foster care, or group homes. We’ll all be split up.” “That’s not gonna happen,” Joseph replied. “I’m twenty-four years old and perfectly capable of taking care of you guys and managing the family’s finances. I’m sure there’s more than enough money in Mom and Dad’s 401k retirement plans and in their investments to pay off the mortgage and to pay the bills until well after Ellen’s out of the house….” “But you’re in Indiana,” I protested. Shaking his head, he replied, “Not anymore. I brought everything I own with me in my car. I finished my degree a semester early, and I arranged a paid internship with one of the most prestigious environmental law firms in the world, right in the city. “The degree in phys-ed might not be a typical pre-law degree, but the experience on the Notre Dame football team didn’t hurt, and the Masters in Public and Environmental Affairs made me a perfect candidate. You’re looking at a member of the freshman class of the Columbia law program this fall. I just got word on Friday and decided to pack everything up and head home and surprise you. I’m going to be living here for the next three-and-a-half years.” This was fantastic! I ran to my brother and hugged him tightly, but then released him when I realized I was still naked. At least he had the decency to blush… and he didn’t wrap his arms around me or put pressure on my back. Then looking at Carl, Joseph asked, “Could your friend help me empty my car, so we can get you to the hospital?” “Joseph, this is Carl, from school. Carl, this is my oldest brother, Joseph.” They shook hands and as they headed out the front door, I could hear Joseph ask, “So, how do you boys know each other?” Well that was a story that could take all day. As they came back inside, carrying heavy boxes, Joseph asked, “So let me get this straight… no pun intended… but you met when Clarke was sent to the principal’s office for punching out a gay kid and calling him a faggot, and now the two of you are boyfriends?” “Well, we haven’t made it official or anything,” Carl explained. “Actually, we haven’t even asked each other, but….” And then they were out the door again. “There’s been a cloud hanging over Clarke for some time,” Joseph was saying as they entered with another load of stuff from his car. “I used to get the brunt of Dad’s anger, but I was a lot bigger than Clarke. I was a football player, and when I got big enough to defend myself, Dad pretty much left us alone. But I left for college five-and-a-half years ago….” And then they were gone again. “I know Clarke blames Scott for a lot of the abuse he had to take, but Scott was in a tough position,” Joseph was telling Carl when they next entered. “He had neither Clarke’s brains nor my brawn, so he deflected Dad’s attacks the only way he thought he could, by blaming Clarke. Now that he’s away from here, he’s changed, but the biggest change was when his best friend came out.” “What?” I exclaimed. “Jake’s gay? But they’re roommates!” “And as tight as ever,” Joseph confirmed. “I think you’ll find Scott’s a lot better person now than when you two shared a room. You’re being gay won’t change things at all.” “How do you feel about it?” I asked. “Not even remotely an issue. I volunteered for the campaign to reelect South Bend’s mayor. You may have heard of him since he’s been in the news a lot lately, but he’s gay and he’s out, and he has a husband.” Then looking around, Joseph said, “I think we’ve cleared enough of the junk outta the car for you to lie down on the back seat. I’ll spread a blanket on the back seat and maybe we can use a terry robe to get you in and out of the car.” The trip to the hospital was a short one, but it seemed to take forever. Fortunately, my information was already in the computer, as the last thing on my mind had been bringing my insurance card with me. At least Carl had the good sense to bring my phone, so I wasn’t totally without anything to prove my identity, and at least I’d have it to keep me occupied later on. I’d have to ask Joseph to bring me my charger in the evening, though, as a charge seldom lasted more than a day, if that long. After checking in, I was taken to a small room for what they called triage, which is where they figure out who needs attention the soonest. The nurse seeing me there tried to hide her reaction, but she gasped when I removed my robe and lay prone on the gurney. She stayed only long enough to take my vital signs, and then returned a moment later with a doctor, who asked me a lot of questions about who hit me, how often they hit me and what they used to hit me, as well as some more general stuff about my home life. When I told her I was gay, she made no attempt to hide the way she wrote down those three letters and then circled the word. They took me straight upstairs to a hospital room, and a private room at that. I’d figured it could be a long wait for a hospital room, if they decided I needed one, but apparently there was a protocol for handling child abuse cases, and since there were no private exam rooms free in emergency, they took me straight to a private room on the pediatrics ward. At least Carl was allowed to join me there. He’d been forced to stay behind in the waiting room while I was in emergency, ’cause he wasn’t a family member. At least Joseph was there with me the whole time. They kept me on a gurney until they brought in a specialized bed – some sort of flotation bed with percolating air – but before they moved me onto it, a nurse came in and photographed me from head to toe, and then another nurse came in and smeared some kind of salve on my open welts, and then a cream over the rest of my back. Finally, they transferred me to the bed and, man, floating on air felt really weird. Finally, they covered me with a sheet. Lulled by the warm air and lack of sleep, I guess I musta dozed off, ’cause the next thing I knew, Carl was shaking my shoulder and there was a lunch tray in front of me. I pulled off the lid and the food actually smelled delicious. There was a hamburger with real beef and a Kaiser roll for a bun. There was lettuce, tomato, pickle slices, and onion for the burger, as well as ketchup, spicy brown mustard, which I loved, and mayo – I put it all on my burger. There was a generous order of sweet potato fries that I shared with Carl and Joseph, and a Coke. I felt bad eating in front of them, but not bad enough to stop. They assured me they’d go down for a bite in the cafeteria later. As I finished my lunch, a couple of police officers, a man and a woman, entered the room. With them was a man who identified himself as my case worker, who’d be handling my placement after I was discharged. Joseph spoke up at that point and assured them that he was moving back to New York and would be taking care of us. The case worker seemed to breathe a sigh of relief with that. I guess there’s no need for foster care if an adult relative is willing to step in. They asked Joseph about what had happened when he was a boy, and the abuse he’d suffered too. Apparently, they were looking for a pattern of abuse. The photos of my back were enough to convict our father of child abuse, but the evidence of a pattern of abuse would ensure a felony conviction, and he’d go away for a very long time. The big question that still needed to be resolved was our mother’s involvement in the abuse. Clearly, she was an enabler, but did what she did constitute abuse? In the end, they felt they had a strong case to arrest both parents. The clincher was when my mother went in to work and left me at home alone to tend to my own injuries. That constituted child abandonment, and together as part of a pattern of repeated neglect, she wouldn’t fare much better than our father did. The thought of my parents going to jail really saddened me, as it would accomplish nothing more than to keep them away from us kids… away from me. In prison they’d only languish and grow even angrier. I asked the officers if it might be possible for my parents to do community service instead, and they explained that not even a lifetime of community service would make up for what they’d done to me. However, if I felt strongly about it, I could go before the judge and argue for a lighter sentence with early parole and community service. I liked the sound of that. The officers asked Joseph and Carl to leave during the rest of the questioning, I guess so they could have some privacy to ask questions about possible abuse from my siblings. I did mention the one time Scott made me blow him, but made it sound more like I wanted to do it, ‘cause I was gay. The last thing I wanted was for Scott to be arrested. Like me with my bullying, he was only acting out on what was happening at home. After the officers and the case worker left, I guess I musta dozed off again, as the room was dark and Carl was sitting in a recliner, next to my bed. There was a tray table in front of me with what I guess was my dinner on it. Had I really slept all afternoon? Dinner was even better than lunch had been. The entrée was some sort of a baked chicken breast over rice with a creamy sauce, fresh green beans, a dinner roll, iced tea, and a chocolate fudge brownie for dessert. There was also a paper menu on the tray, so I could make my selections for tomorrow’s meals, and there were instructions on how to make my selections via Wi-Fi using my phone. Cool! As I ate, I chatted with Carl and found out that Joseph had gone home to start dealing with all the stuff he’d brought home. I asked if there’d been any word about my parents. Our mother should have been home by now, and our father would soon be on his way. Carl hadn’t heard anything about either of them and suggested I call Joseph, but I decided to wait until later. I had enough going on in my life without the added drama. Then it was time to broach a delicate subject. I hadn’t exactly given Carl a choice when I announced he was my boyfriend, and he’d gone along with it, but was that because I’d sandbagged him or because he really liked me. “Carl, about my calling you my boyfriend….” I began. Looking me in the eyes, Carl answered, “I’ll understand if you didn’t really mean it. People sometimes say things in the heat of the moment without really meaning them.” “But do you like me?” I asked. “Of course I like you, Clarke,” Carl replied. “Even though you were brought to the office for a homophobic incident, I could see that you were sorry. Like you said, you snapped, and you let your temper get the best of you. But seeing what your father did to you, it’s no wonder why.” “Bullying starts in the home, and now it’s gonna stop in the home,” I interjected. “Exactly,” Carl continued. “There’s really no such thing as gaydar, but for the first time in my life, I got the feeling you actually might be gay. I certainly hoped so. When you said I was your boyfriend, it was incredible. I’ve never had a boyfriend before. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a boy, let alone done anything more. But if you didn’t really mean it, I’ll understand.” Rather than answer him directly, I smiled at him and asked, “Would you like to kiss me?” “God yes,” Carl replied with a deep blush. “Then what are you waiting for?” I asked. I couldn’t exactly lean forward, so Carl had to do all the work, but once our lips met and our tongues got involved, it was like the whole room disappeared. I didn’t even feel the pain from my back. All that mattered was the feeling of lips on lips and tongues on tongues… and I was unbelievably hard. I so wanted Carl to touch me there, but that would have to wait for another time. The last thing I needed was to have to explain to my nurse why I had cum stains on my sheets. Sure enough, someone entered the room just then, and Carl sprung back quickly. My dick deflated in something like a half-a-second. It was just a kid from the nutrition service, retrieving my dinner tray, but he smiled at us and winked before leaving. “That was a bit embarrassing,” Carl said as soon as the young man had left the room. “Carl, I know I’ve fucked a lot of things up,” I began, “but I’d like to think there was a reason for my behavior and that that reason is gone now. And I can’t thank you enough for helping me to realize what I’ve been doing in response to the abuse from my father.” Then looking right at him, I continued, “I’m sure there will be times when I relapse and royally fuck things up, but if you’re willing to put up with me and to let me know when I start to go back down the rabbit hole, I’d really, really like to be your boyfriend… Carl, would you be my boyfriend?” “There’s nothing I’d like more, Clarke,” Carl responded, and then we kissed again. Boy, did we kiss! When we came up for air, I suddenly realized that I had to piss, as in I’d wet the bed if I didn’t get to a toilet, but how would I get to a toilet? I couldn’t even really sit up more than about thirty degrees in my flotation bed. “Man, I need to pee!” I exclaimed. “Could you get the nurse for me?” “Actually, there’s a urinal here,” Carl said as he lifted a plastic bottle-like contraption from where it was hooked onto the side of the bed. The shape made it obvious how it was to be used, but I could also see how easy it would be to spill its contents once it was full. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my flotation bed if it got wet, and I certainly didn’t want to experiment with my own urine to find out. “Would you like me to help?” “You just want to touch my dick,” I replied, but then, realizing how difficult it would be for me to handle the urinal by myself, responded, “Actually, yeah. I could really use your help.” With a sheepish smile on his face, Carl lifted the sheet off me, exposing me completely, and then he placed the urinal between my legs and used his hand to guide my penis into the opening. He held onto my penis to make sure it didn’t move and end up wetting the bed. As full as my bladder felt, I stayed soft, even though he was holding onto me. “Okay, boyfriend. You’re good to go.” And go I did – like a racehorse. Afterward, Carl lifted the urinal to show me just how full it was. “Looks like nearly a liter,” he said. “You shouldn’t wait so long, Clarke.” “It’s not like I realized it,” I replied. “I was preoccupied with the pain from my back.” “I’m sure they have something ordered for your pain,” Carl suggested. “Would you like me to ring for the nurse?” “Yeah, but not for that,” I replied. “I can live with the pain. It’s intense, but dull, and I’d rather not get started with something like OxyContin. The thing is I think I need to shit.” “Oh shit, pun intended,” Carl answered as he pressed the button to call the nurse. “Can I help you?” a voice came through the speaker. “I think I need to defecate,” I responded. “Be right there, sweetie,” the voice replied. “I think he may be one of us,” Carl commented. “He?” I asked in surprise. “I thought it was a woman’s voice.” Shaking his head, Carl replied, “It’s definitely a guy. Besides which, I met him while you were asleep.” “Cheater!” “And what’s with ‘Defecate’?” Carl asked. “What can I say?” I replied. “I read a lot.” “Obviously,” he responded. A young man breezed into the room, carrying a bunch of supplies in his hands. “How are we gonna do this?” I asked. “I don’t see how I could tolerate laying on a bed pan, and there’s no way I could sit on a toilet.” “It wouldn’t be practical to get you up on a toilet, and it’d defeat the purpose of a flotation bed, honey,” the nurse answered. “This isn’t going to be much fun, but I’m going to put a paper sheet under you. It’s water-tight and absorbent, like a diaper. You’ll do your business, and then I’ll clean you up.” “Oh God,” I responded, then I turned to my boyfriend and said, “You might want to step out, Carl.” Shaking his head, he replied, “My mom deals with this kinda shit all the time. It’s what she does to support us. I’ve even helped her sometimes. Unless you’d rather I leave, I’d just as soon stay.” “Don’t tell me you’re into that sort of thing,” I asked. “Scat? No fuckin’ way!” he replied, which caused all of us to laugh. The nurse lifted up my legs and ass by my ankles with surprising ease, and then stuck a blue paper under me and set me back down, bending my knees and placing my feet flat on the bed, so that my knees were up in the air. “I think you’ll find this position easiest, sugar. I’ll leave you boys alone, so you’ll have your privacy. Just press the call button when you’re ready for me to clean you up.” After the nurse left, I turned toward Carl and said, “This is so embarrassing.” “It’s nothing I can’t deal with, but if you want me to leave, I will.” Shaking my head, I replied, “No, I feel safer having you here. Just hold your nose,” I added with a smirk. Turning my head straight forward, I strained and let loose with a shitload of shit. It felt so weird as it spread out all over my ass. How gross – and it stank! “Oh, that is really bad,” Carl had to respond, naturally. I turned and stuck out my tongue at him, then pressed the nurse call button. It actually didn’t take all that long to clean me up. I guess nurses are used to that sort of thing. He just pulled the paper out from under me and put a fresh paper down, then wrapped up my shit in the first paper, I guess to dispose of afterwards. He then took a wet wash cloth and cleaned me up before removing the second sheet of paper. He applied baby powder to my ass and set my legs back down before leaving. “Does your mom know you’re here?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” Carl replied. “I told her the whole story, including that you’re my boyfriend. She’s thrilled. I told her I’ll stay overnight, until I’m sure you’re okay.” “You should go home and come back in the morning,” I suggested. “The ferry runs all night, but I don’t want to think of you walking home from the ferry terminal in the dark.” “Are you trying to get rid of me?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied. “I like having you here, but that chair can’t exactly be comfortable to sleep in.” “The chair is actually a sleeper chair,” Carl responded. “It pulls out to make a twin bed. I already asked about staying over, and it’s okay with the hospital if it’s ok with you.” “It’s more than okay,” I answered. “It’s fantastic… I just feel bad for you.” “Don’t,” Carl admonished me. “I’d be agonizing over you if I wasn’t here. This way I can be near the guy I love.” “You love me?” I said as my heart did a flip-flop in my chest. Taking my hand in his, Carl responded, “Clarke, I know it’s probably too early for either of us to speak of love. At least that’s what the rational part of my brain is telling me, but my heart tells me different. I fell for you the moment I saw you, and it’s only gotten better the more I’ve gotten to know you. And just so you know, you’re gonna be my date for the prom in a few years.” “You mean I don’t get any say in who’s my prom date?” “Absolutely not,” Carl replied. “In that case, I’d like to wear matching light blue tuxes with dark red shirts and white cummerbunds.” Nodding his head, Carl replied, “That’d be nice. And we could wear white carnations to match the cummerbunds.” “Exactly,” I agreed. “And by the way, I love you too. My brain tells me it’s too soon to be in love, but my heart agrees with your heart.” Carl leaned over and pressed his lips to mine, and soon our tongues were dancing with each other. It was at that moment that the door opened and in walked both of my brothers and all but my oldest sister, carrying several boxes of pizza from Vincent’s Deli. Their pizza is the best, but what timing! “Hey bro, sorry to see you like this, and I’m really sorry for making it worse all those years,” Scott said as he approached my bed. Then looking up at Carl, he reached out to shake his hand and said, “My best friend and roommate is gonna be soo jealous. He’s been looking for a boyfriend for years, and my brother’s already got one, and such a tall and handsome one too.” “And cute,” I added. “Carl is amazingly cute.” “Nice to meet you, Carl. I’m Scott, Clarke’s better-looking brother.” “Nice to meet you, Scott,” Carl replied, “and you’re not a bad-looking guy, but no one can hold a candle to Clarke.” There were groans from all my siblings, and from me. “Sarah’s flying in tonight,” Joseph explained. “She moved up her plans when I told her what had happened. Her fiancé couldn’t change his plans, so he’ll arrive over the weekend.” “Fiancé?” I asked. “Yeah, by spring, you’ll be an uncle.” “She’s pregnant?” I asked in astonishment. “That’s usually how it works, bro,” Scott commented sarcastically. Scott might be sorry, and he might be accepting of gays, but Scott was still Scott. “I bet Mom and Dad are thrilled about that,” I replied. “They don’t know, and they’re not gonna know until after the baby’s born,” Joseph filled me in. “Speaking of Mom and Dad, what happened with them?” I asked. “They were arrested,” Joseph told me. “They picked Mom up shortly after she got home, and they grabbed Dad from his office in City Hall. Of course, they’ve retained Flannagan to represent them, and they’ll likely try to post bail at arraignment in the morning. The judge on the case will likely issue an injunction to keep them from getting anywhere near you… probably they won’t be allowed to enter the hospital at all, and the nurses have already been notified that they’re not to be given your room number nor allowed on the floor… I saw to that. “The bigger issue is that I don’t think any of us are safe if Mom and Dad are out on bail. I’ve retained a lawyer to represent us… all of us… and we’re gonna petition the court at arraignment to deny bail until a hearing can be held. Failing that, we’ll petition the court to issue an injunction to keep them from going anywhere near the house.” “Can you do that?” I asked. “It’s their house.” “It’s our house too,” Joseph replied, “and if I get legal guardianship over all of you, I’ll have a legal right to live there as well as a familial one. There’s ample precedent for this, particularly when there’s an adult child in the house to take responsibility for the minor children, and that’s me.” As I opened my mouth to ask my next question, Joseph continued, “I know what you’re about to ask, and I’ve taken care of everything. There are advantages to working for some of the best legal minds in America. Their field might be environmental law, but they know some of the top lawyers in family law. I’ve signed a retainer for a dollar, plus a contingency to secure representation. When Mom and Dad go to prison, we’ll sue for access to their retirement savings, their investments, and their bank accounts, and our attorneys will get a third of the assets. “It’s likely the state will go after Mom and Dad for racketeering, though,” Joseph went on. “They’ve socked away several million dollars over the last six years….” “Fuck!” I exclaimed. “I’d no idea.” “There’s no way they could’ve done that on their salaries alone. They almost certainly received kickbacks, if not outright bribes, but that sort of thing’s nearly impossible to prove. Even without a racketeering charge, the IRS can get them for tax evasion, and the state and the feds could seize all of our parents’ assets, including the house. They can do that without regard to what happens to us, so we’re gonna petition to set up a trust to protect the house and enough of their assets to provide for all of us until each of us reaches the age of 26.” “Fuck, I shoulda never come here,” I responded. “Just like I feared, it’s gonna affect all of us… all of you!” Of all my brothers and sisters, it was twelve-year-old Jasmine who approached my bedside and said, “It’s not your fault, Clarke. Mom and Dad did this to you… to all of us. If the feds seize their savings, it’s because they stole that money. You didn’t take bribes and kickbacks. They did. If there’s anyone who should feel guilty, it’s the rest of us. We knew what Dad was doin’ to you, but we did nothing. Even if we all end up in homeless shelters, we’re still better off than we were, living under that roof. You did the right thing, Clarke. You did the only thing you could do.” “I like your family,” Carl said. “I don’t know her name, but this sister is particularly smart.” Realizing that Carl hadn’t been introduced to the members of my family, I went through the formalities of introducing everyone to Carl and vice versa, one at a time. We all chatted until visiting hours were over as we devoured the pizza. I even had a couple of slices myself, in spite of having already eaten, and Carl practically devoured an entire pizza. After everyone else went home but Carl, we spent what remained of the evening just talking and learning more about each other… and making out. The more I got to know Carl, the more I absolutely, totally, and hopelessly fell in love with him. He said the same thing about me. As I began to fade, the nurse helped Carl get his bed ready. Carl then undressed for bed – all the way – and I finally got to see what he looks like without clothes. I was not disappointed. As I faded into sleep, and in spite of my worries about the future, I couldn’t help but think about how much my family had surprised me, and about the wonderful boyfriend getting ready to sleep in the bed right next to me. — • — “Buenas tardes Mami,” I said as Carl and I arrived home. I was trying to use Spanish with Carl and his mom, but even she preferred English, which made it all too easy to revert to our common language. “¿Cómo estuvo tu día, muchachos?” she asked as she worked in the kitchen, getting dinner ready for all of us. The food smelled wonderful and only made us more starved than we already were. Fortunately, Momá had a snack waiting for us at the table, as usual. Carl and I devoured the Cuban sandwiches as we talked about our day and all that was going on in our lives. The sandwiches were delicious. Hiring Carl’s mother to be our housekeeper was the best idea Joseph had ever had. Not only did it bring my boyfriend and his mom to live with us our in our house, but it saved us from living in the pigsty our house would’ve become without her. Let’s face it – we all had more important things going on than cleaning house. Joseph had a full-time job and was getting ready to attend law school at Columbia in the fall. The rest of us were heavily involved in school and extracurricular activities, so chores always got short shrift. And then there was the fact that Momá was an incredible cook. The best thing of all though, was that Carl’s mamá was a wonderful person. She was still young – not even thirty yet – but she’d seen so much in her life, and in spite of it all, persevered. She’d fallen in love when she was even younger than Carl and me, but then she got pregnant with Carl, and then her boyfriend was killed in a gang-related shooting. She could have thrown in the towel, but she had a young infant to take care of, so she hunkered down and finished high school while they lived with her mother, and then worked two and three jobs at a time until she could afford an apartment of their own in a much safer neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. I truly loved Momá. She was a far better person than my own mother. My parents were an entirely different story. To think I was gonna testify on their behalf at sentencing, in spite of what my father did to me. It turned out that the feds were already planning to charge them with bribery and embezzlement and had had them on their radar for years. The attorneys Joseph hired moved quickly to exclude the house, their life insurance policies, and their 401k retirement plans from any federal action, as those were all purchased using legitimate income. We also sued for two million of the assets, plus legal fees, from their investments to cover our living expenses for the next several years, until we each reached the age of 26. It sounded like a lot of money to me, but Joseph assured me that it was barely enough. The feds moved quickly to seize everything else, but thanks to Joseph, we had enough money to pay off the mortgage and cover our living expenses and tuition until we’d all finished college. There was even enough to hire Carl’s mom, but there’d be virtually nothing left for things like travel or designer clothes, which was fine with me. In the meantime, Carl and I shared a bedroom. We had twin beds, but that didn’t stop us from being intimate. We’d taken things slowly, but over the last several months, since I got out of the hospital, we’d become as close as any two people could be. I knew that high school relationships rarely last, but I couldn’t imagine my life without Carl in it. We were only fifteen, but we were already talking about finding a college we could go to together, and then maybe starting our own business together. Carl and I were most definitely out at school and active in the GSA. We’d become very close friends with Asher and Seth and often double dated. We were also close with Freck – I no longer thought of him as Freak – and with his boyfriend, Kyle. I used to think Freck was young, but he was twelve, and at least his voice had already changed. Kyle was only ten, and they were both juniors, no less. I was smart, but my head spun thinking of that kind of intelligence. Unfortunately, they lived with Kyle’s dad up in Riverdale and with us living on Staten Island and Asher and Seth living in Manhattan, opportunities for all three couples to get together outside of school were few and far between. “Oh, there’s a letter that arrived for you today, Clarke,” Momma announced as she slid an envelope across the table toward me. I picked up the letter and saw that it was from the Stonewall Foundation. The Stonewall Foundation was an organization that supports LGBTQ causes throughout America and the world, and they award a number of scholarships to LGBTQ students based on need and merit. They also sponsor an annual essay writing contest, with the top prize being a college scholarship as well as free enrollment in an advocacy training program. The contest was open to high school sophomores and juniors, so I wasn’t even eligible this year, but Dr. Epstein thought my essay on bullying was so good that she encouraged me to apply anyway, as most organizations occasionally make exceptions to their rules. Tearing open the envelope, I pulled out the letter, fully expecting to read something like, ‘We regret to inform you,’ but that wasn’t what the letter said at all. Tears came to my eyes as I read the letter aloud to my boyfriend and our momá. “Dear Mr. O’Malley, we are pleased to inform you that you are the grand prize winner of this year’s essay contest. As you are aware, the contest is only open to high school sophomores and juniors. The intent of this is to provide scholarships and resources to young men and women as they prepare to begin their higher education. However, the rule was never intended to discriminate against people with exceptional talent because of their age. Your essay, Bullying Begins in the Home, was quite simply the best essay that has ever been submitted, and the committee felt it would be a travesty to reject it and award the prize to someone else, just because you are a freshman. “As you are aware, the award includes a scholarship and free enrollment in our advocacy training program. You are cordially invited to attend an awards ceremony at our annual gala later this month, the week before Memorial Day. Ordinarily we would fly you to New York and put you up in a hotel. Because you live in New York, instead we would like to provide an opportunity for your family to attend the gala, which is a $500 per plate affair. We are thus offering to provide up to eight tickets to the event at no charge, for family and guests, provided they are at least twelve years of age.” Fortunately, Ellen had just turned twelve. I continued, “A limo will be provided for transportation for you and your guests to and from the event, which will be held at the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West. We request that you wear formal attire and will reimburse your costs as well as those of a guest if you wish to bring one. Guests and family may wear either formal or semi-formal attire. “We look forward to meeting you at our upcoming event. Your essay touched me personally, as I was a victim of bullying in my youth. The worst of my bullies is now my husband. Please RSVP at your earliest convenience. Sincerely, Stuart Manning, President of the Stonewall Foundation.” “Congratulations!” Carl exclaimed, and then he gave me a kiss. “The only thing is that the advocacy training program is a residential program that lasts all summer,” I lamented. “I won’t see you until the fall.” “Talk to your brother, Clarke,” Momá suggested. “If the cost isn’t too much, maybe Carlos can enroll too….” — • — I’d never been to a gala before, and I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to attend one again either. I didn’t realize that although my family was invited, they couldn’t sit with me. I had to sit at the head table with members of the board, all of them adults who expected me to talk to them like an adult. It would have been nice if I could have sat with the other awardees in the essay contest, but the grand prize winner was expected to sit with the board. My family wasn’t even nearby – they were in the back of the room. As tall as he was, I could still see Carl though. Dressed in a black tux and white shirt as I was, he was stunning. Definitely the most handsome guy at the gala. Thank God he’d be attending the advocacy training program with me over the summer. Getting him into the program wasn’t easy, even with our paying full tuition and expenses, but I’d made it clear that I wouldn’t attend unless he attended, and they’d agreed. We’d even be sharing a room! The food was good, but the conversation was deadly dull and even after four cups of coffee, I was ready to go to sleep. Then the awards ceremony began and that was even more deadly, with speech after speech by people I didn’t know. The keynote was given by a well-known, openly gay politician, and his speech was outstanding. Then awards were given out for just about every kind of service to the organization and to the LGBTQ community as a whole. Unfortunately, I was to be one of the last speakers of the evening, which only gave me more time to get nervous. I couldn’t wait until it was over and the dancing began. I’d never done ballroom dancing before, so Joseph gave me and Carl a crash course. I couldn’t wait to try out what we’d learned on the dance floor. There were a series of presentations for the various scholarships that were being given out, and then it was time for presentation of the essay finalists. First up was the third-place entry, followed by the second and first-place winners. And then it was my turn as the grand prize winner. Dr. Manning made an introduction as I stood at his side at the podium, and then I was up. “Thank you, Dr. Manning, ladies and gentlemen and honored guests,” I began. “My essay deals with a subject that more than likely affected many in this room personally, as homophobic bullying remains rampant in the United States and around the world. I grew up in a household with a father who was violent, racist, and very homophobic. Only recently did I learn that he was also gay. I don’t need to tell you that some of the worst homophobes are secretly gay and either in self-denial or experiencing self-hatred, or both. My father was abusive and took his intimidation and anger out on me in particular, both physically and mentally. No doubt, I will have the resulting physical and emotional scars for the rest of my life. From a young age I learned to try to ease my suffering by making others suffer, taking my aggression out on those who were different from me… those I saw as weaker… all, as I followed my father’s example. “Then one day, one of my victims fought back and I snapped. I punched him out, but the experience forced me to look at who I was and what I’d become, and I didn’t like at all what I saw. That night, my father’s physical abuse put me in the hospital. He and my mother are now in prison for child abuse as well as racketeering. I have no intention of emulating them as I live my life. “Another thing that happened as a result of that encounter was that a young man reached out to me. He was gay and yet non-judgmental, and his kindness forced me to confront my own sexuality. That boy is now my boyfriend and the love of my life, and his mother is my mother, and far more of a mom than my biological mother ever was. Both of them are here tonight, along with my oldest brother and four of my sisters. And the boy I knocked out is now one of my best friends. So is his boyfriend. In telling all of you in this room, it’s my hope that we can all work together to report any bulling to someone in authority…. A friend, a parent, a relative, a pastor or someone else we trust. “In such a short time, I’ve learned the power of forgiveness and that we need to have honesty, trust, and respect to find love, and it takes a lot of love to conquer the hate and heal the scars. “Let us all learn as I have…. bullying begins in the home, and it can end in the home… before someone snaps.”
  2. Asher White was everything Clarke hated. He was half-black and half-Asian, and out and proud. But when Asher actually managed to beat Clarke in wrestling, he just snapped and punched Asher out. Clarke knew this was it. He'd worked so hard to get into New York's elite Stuyvesant High School and now it would be for naught. Grasping at straws, he tells the vice-principle the one secret not even he knows he has. With the help of a new friend, he is forced to confront years of abuse he has suffered at home. After all, bullying starts in the home, and it must end in the home.
  3. I entered the lecture hall as I had entered lecture halls a thousand times before. This was familiar turf. I’d been teaching for close to forty years and spent the last dozen of them making the circuit as an invited, distinguished guest lecturer. Winning a Nobel Prize will do that. I didn’t do it for the money, mind you. Not that I didn’t take it when it was offered, but nearly all of it went to a private foundation I’d established to nurture the next generation of scientists. But that was not the primary reason I was always on the move – always traveling to university after university, high school after high school – inspiring those I now considered ‘kids’ to dedicate their lives to the future, to seek a better understanding of the universe of which we are a part and the planet on which we live. Looking out at the audience assembled, I thought about how it seemed like yesterday that I was a part of that group, listening to the famed James Van Allen giving a talk at the University of Iowa. I was but a high-school student then, attending a summer science program for ‘exceptional youth’. Dr. Van Allen was truly inspirational but in a quiet, unassuming way. He was a great man whose pioneering work earned him not only recognition of the radiation belts around the earth that bore his name, but he was Time’s man of the year in 1960, earned a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1978, the National Medal of Science in 1987 and NASA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. The one trophy he never won was the one I had, the Nobel Prize in Physics. But then the Nobel Prize is so much a matter of timing, politics and just plain luck. I certainly was no more qualified to win the Nobel Prize than was James Van Allen. Today I was giving a lecture at Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’s elite public high schools. Tomorrow I’d be at Bronx Science, which had the distinction of having graduated more Nobel laureates than any other high school in the world, which was an incredible feat for any school let alone a public city school. After Dr. Epstein made the introductions, I stepped up to the lectern and began my talk. “You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here,” I began, I’m sure surprising most in the audience. A few smiles told me that at least some of the students were aware of National Lampoon’s Deteriorata, a 1972 parody in song of the early twentieth-century poem, Desiderata. At my signal, the song started playing, and then there was genuine laughter. As the song faded out, I continued. “In many ways, we are a fluke of the universe. Like me, many of you I’m sure grew up with science-fiction stories of fantastic space voyages and aliens galore and wars fought in a galaxy far, far away. The universe was filled with Klingons and Romulans and countless other intelligent species that happened to speak flawless English and whose level of technological development was equivalent to our own. And wasn’t it magnanimous of the Vulcans, who’d been exploring space for centuries before their first contact with us, to defer to humans to establish the United Federation of Planets?” Of course, my audience laughed as they always did. “The reality,” I resumed, “is that if and when we encounter other intelligent life, it will be so far advanced beyond us that trying to understand their technology will be about like a lemur trying to comprehend how an iPhone works. Much more likely is that intelligent life is separated by so much time and space that we may never encounter it. There are many known planets around stars similar to our sun that have the right conditions for life to occur. The probability of a protein arising on a planet, purely at random, that is capable of transcribing DNA, along with the random occurrence of DNA that codes for a similar protein, is far less than the number of stars that have ever existed in our galaxy or ever will. “Evolution is a fact – that much we know. Religion should conform to scientific fact and not the other way around, but I’m not here to challenge your own beliefs. Few scientific theories have so much supporting evidence. The process of natural selection has been observed both in the laboratory and in nature, and the fossil record demonstrates a clear progression of life on earth. Abiogenesis – the process by which life arose from nonliving matter – is the true miracle of life. There are many theories of how self-replicating organic molecules arose from nothing. Most scientists believe that abiogenesis occurred in stages, but so far we’ve only been able to demonstrate two forms of self-replication – that of nucleic acids as with strands of DNA and RNA, and that of the lipid bilayers that serve in cell membranes. If there were any intermediaries, they were long ago cannibalized when life began, if they ever existed on earth in the first place. Many believe the seeds of life evolved elsewhere and were carried here by meteorites or space dust. But that begs the question, why didn’t we find traces of those seeds on the moon? Why haven’t we found evidence of past life on mars? “It’s probably not a coincidence that life evolved here on a planet with such a large moon, as the tides undoubtedly played a substantial role in the evolution of life as we know it. However, unless some of the cells ejected from the earth in events such as the collision with the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, manage to survive transit through space and happen to land on a planet capable of supporting them, we’re the only advanced life form that we know of that has ever or will ever exist in the Milky Way. So other than a planet of the dinosaurs somewhere out there, we may be it.” After the usual laughter died down, I continued, “Don’t laugh. It’s been proven that some of the meteorites that have landed on earth actually did originate from other planets outside our solar system, so while it’s highly improbable, it is in fact possible that life from earth has been carried to other planets in the Galaxy – much more so than the probability of life originating on a planet de novo. It’s also possible that life on earth actually originated elsewhere in the galaxy and was carried here on a meteorite. However, most scientists agree that if there were a place in the galaxy ideally suited to the development of life, it was on earth. “Of course, that is not to say there couldn’t be life and even advanced civilizations in other galaxies, but with hundreds of thousands of light-years between them, travel beyond our own galaxy would amount to a one-way ticket to the distant future and probably won’t occur in this millennium or the next. Not that there isn’t plenty to explore within our own Milky Way. Just don’t expect to find any little green men – or women, for that matter. “But, you may ask, could a virus carry enough basic DNA and ribosomal enzymes to carry life from one planet to another? Yes, it’s possible, but why would such a virus exist? Viruses on earth exist because they can replicate in cells and spread to other cells, repeating the cycle that makes their survival possible. For a virus to successfully carry life from one planet to another, it would have to survive a trip through space and survive a trip through the atmosphere of another planet, and then it would have to find a favorable environment for replication of its code, and unlike on earth, it wouldn’t be able to commandeer the cellular machinery of existing life. No, it would have to replicate itself from the primordial ooze it finds there. Although the probability of that happening is orders of magnitude greater than that of life arising de novo on most earth-like planets, it’s still incredibly rare. “So, what have we done with this planet of ours, the only one in the galaxy that we know of that supports life? We’ve denuded it of natural resources and altered it in ways that are only now becoming evident. Temperatures are rising, sea levels are rising and ecosystems are changing faster than life can adapt. Some will say that God will save the worthy, but what will the worthy find when we are already in the midst of global ecosystem collapse. Current crop yields are unsustainable. Already migrants are streaming from Africa and the Middle East into Europe and from Central America into North America in search of food. “The problem is that ecosystems adapt over time. Humans are uniquely suited to migration. We can adapt to virtually any environment, but the plants and animals upon which we depend cannot. Trees can’t simply uproot themselves and move north, and so entire forests will die and along with them, all the animals that depend on the forests. The same is true of the kelp forests in the ocean, and the coral reefs. The fish that depend on them won’t be able to move north because their food source cannot, and hence they too will die. Even in agriculture, plants, soil and pollinators have adapted to each other over hundreds of years, and it will take hundreds of years to establish productive farmland with crops that used to grow hundreds or thousands of miles to the south, by which time there may be no pollinators left. “What will happen when the fish are gone, when seafood is gone, when the trees are gone and when crop yields are a fraction of what is needed to feed the population of the earth? Will we go to war over food? Might we even face the threat of nuclear war? Or with mass starvation, might nature find a way to save the planet by sending a new plague to reduce our numbers? Or will we save ourselves by eliminating the burning of fossil fuels and switching over to renewables? Most people expect scientists to give us a last-minute reprieve by developing new, miraculous technologies that will allow us to continue our flagrant waste while averting disaster. Yes, and it’ll be delivered by Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.” After the laughter died down, I went on, “Worst of all are those who claim the cost of switching to renewable energy is unacceptably high, that it will cost jobs worldwide. That includes a lot of people who ought to – and probably do – know better but are unwilling to make personal sacrifices in the name of saving the planet. What they forget is that there’s no amount of money that can resurrect a dead planet and that all that wealth won’t do their children any good when food becomes more valuable than gold. “The reality is that the investment in the infrastructure needed for renewable energy will be the biggest job-creation measure in the history of the planet and that once the infrastructure is in place, the cost of generating energy will be a fraction of what it is today. We can’t afford not to make such an investment. What is needed is the political will to do so, and that can only be accomplished when the people of your generation march in the streets and vote for change at the ballot box once you are old enough to vote. “I believe the future of humankind is truly among the stars and that we are destined to colonize the galaxy, but none of that will happen if we destroy our birthplace in the here and now.” I’d deliberately made my remarks short in anticipation of a question-and-answer session that would likely extend well beyond the hour. The initial questions were very insightful, and I thoroughly enjoyed answering them. But then a boy stood up to ask me a question, and for a moment I had heart failure. His likeness to a boy from my past was so striking. At first, I swore it was Paul, my first love and the only boy I’d ever dared to love. Just like Paul, the boy standing had an unruly mop of golden curls and vivid green eyes that seemed to sparkle as emeralds in the sunlight. He had such striking good looks that it was almost impossible to look away or to focus on anything else. I had to force myself to concentrate on his question but, even then, had to force myself to look away for a moment so I could formulate an answer. His question was actually a very good one about what types of cells could survive a prolonged voyage in the vacuum of space and then survive the fiery passage through another planet’s atmosphere. He was alluding to the material ejected from earth’s atmosphere by the collision of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and I framed my response in terms of plants, fungi and bacteria that were common in that era. I cited studies done by NASA, augmented by observations in hostile environments such as at the South Pole and in deep-sea submersibles. Further, I pointed out that a primordial planet’s atmosphere would contain almost no oxygen, making the survival of reentry much more likely. After I finished my answer, the boy thanked me and sat back down, but I couldn’t get his face out of my mind, and it made it very difficult to think during the rest of the session. Finally, Dr. Epstein brought the session to a close and invited anyone who had further questions to send them to an e-mail address I had set up for that purpose. But because I got so many questions such as these, it was really my graduate students who answered them. Several of the students came up to the lectern anyway, though, as inevitably some always did, usually to ask a quick question or to ask for an autograph. My heart just about stopped when the boy with the golden curls and green eyes was among them. He was with another boy who had a mix of African American and Asian features and looked a lot like Tiger Woods did in his younger days. I made sure to talk to the other kids first, so I might have a moment longer with the boy of my past dreams. It was actually the Tiger Woods boy who asked the question, and apparently the dream boy was just along with him as a friend. Again, the question was an excellent one that revealed extraordinary intelligence for someone so young. As they started to turn away to leave, I took fate into my hands and asked the boy with the golden curls and green eyes, “Young man, you both asked such excellent questions, but you remind me so much of someone I knew in my youth that I have to ask your name.” With a shrug, the boy answered, “My name’s Seth Moore, Dr. Franklin.” Was it possible that this was his son? No, Paul would be far too old to be this boy’s father by now, but maybe… “Are you by any chance related to Paul Moore?” I asked. “Paul Moore is my grandfather,” the boy answered. “Frank Moore, his son, is my dad.” “Not to belabor the point but in the summer of 1972, when I was only sixteen and just a bit older than you I think, I attended a summer science-training program at the University of Iowa. In fact, it was called the SSTP. Most of us in the program were sixteen or seventeen, but there was one exceptionally bright boy there who was only thirteen. His name was Paul Moore, and he and I became best friends.” “That was my grandfather,” the boy named Seth replied. “I’m sure of it. Grandpa told me about his summer in Iowa City, about meeting James Van Allen and about the flood that summer.” “Ah, yes, the flood,” I related as vivid memories came back to me. “I almost forgot about that. The Iowa River crested at three feet above flood stage, flooding all of downtown. Many of the university buildings, including the university hospital, suffered significant damage. Fortunately, our dorm buildings were up on a hill, well above all the flooding.” Then on a whim, I asked, “Listen boys, would you be interested in being my guests for dinner? Not to impose, and I promise not to spend the whole time reminiscing about my youth, but I’d love to talk with you further.” “I have an even better idea,” the Tiger Woods boy interjected. “Would you be our guest for dinner at our place. We’d have much more privacy to talk – and much more time. Seth’s parents are up in Albany for the legislative session, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.” “Oh, I couldn’t possibly impose on you,” I replied. “It would be my pleasure to take the two of you to a nice restaurant if it’s okay with your parents.” “Believe me, it’s not an imposition,” Seth answered. “My boyfriend’s a fantastic cook. Both his parents are professional chefs, and Asher’s cooking is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.” “Boyfriend?” I questioned with what I’m sure was a bemused expression. “That’s not a problem, is it?” Seth asked. “Of course not,” I replied. “I probably shouldn’t say anything, but your grandfather and I were more than just best friends.” “I wondered if that was you,” Seth responded. “When I came out a few years ago, Grandpa mentioned that he’d had relationship with a boy named Jeff during the summer he was in Iowa. He made it sound like he was just experimenting, but the look in his eyes said it was much more. Being gay was so much more difficult when he was a boy…” “You have no idea,” I interjected. “I know a lot of gay boys got married to women back then just because it was expected by family, and it was so much easier than living as a gay man.” Asher commented. “So, will you let me prepare dinner for you?” “Well, with an offer like that, I can hardly refuse,” I replied. “Would you be willing to let me invite two other couples that go to Stuyvesant?” Seth asked. “They were at your talk, and I know they’d love to meet you – if that’s okay.” I really didn’t want to attend what had become a teenage dinner party, but as their guest, I thought it would be rude of me to refuse, and so I answered, “Of course, that’s okay.” Seth whipped out his iPhone and demonstrated unusual proficiency in using it as he sent text messages to his friends in a matter of seconds. “It might take a while to get parental approval, so we might as well get started. The 22 bus goes right there, so they can meet us there later. I’ll arrange for a car to pick us up.” “I can take the bus,” I countered. “Just because I’m a Nobel laureate doesn’t mean I’m too good to take public transportation. As you may have gathered from my talk, I firmly believe in energy conservation, and public transit is a big part of that. I came here by subway today,” I added. “Okay,” Seth replied. “Then let’s go.” As we were walking out of the building, a couple of boys who looked far too young to be in high school called out to Seth and Asher and ran up to us. “I was just about to text you,” said a boy with red hair and copious freckles on his face. He had the voice of a teenager, but he looked to be much younger – maybe eleven or twelve. “Kyle’s dad gave his approval, so we’re good to go.” Turning to me, Seth said, “This is Francis, but we all call him Freck because of all his freckles.” “Nice to meet you, Freck,” I responded as I shook his hand, practically staring at his very young face. “Since you’re too polite to ask,” Freck began, “I’m twelve years old – twelve years and four months actually. And you’re probably wondering about my boyfriend, Kyle, too.” Kyle was also an unusually handsome boy with longish black hair and a very boyish face. I would have thought he was also around eleven or twelve and was shocked when Freck said, “Kyle is ten years, four months old.” As I shook his hand, I couldn’t fathom how a ten-year-old boy could be in high school, and he was Freck’s boyfriend? I couldn’t help but ask him, “Isn’t ten a bit young to have a boyfriend?” He answered with, “Why do adults keep saying shit like that. Look, I’ve been out since I was eight, but I knew I was gay for a year before that and suspected I was gay since I could read, when I was around three. Now, I’m reading at a twelfth-grade level, and I’m taking a course in advanced calculus at City University across the street. Freck and I are both juniors, and after we graduate, we hope to go to MIT together. Freck lives with my family and me up in Riverdale, and we sleep together. Mostly I like to bottom, but we’re versatile.” Good God! “Here comes our bus,” Seth announced as a blue-and-yellow city bus approached a bus stop across from the school. We crossed over to meet the bus, and I got out my Metro Fare Card and slipped it into the card reader as we boarded. Just as we finished boarding, a couple more boys ran up behind us and boarded. “Great. Glad you could make it,” Seth greeted them and then introduced them to me as the bus lurched forward, and we barely had time to make our way to some seats. One of the boys was exceptionally tall and lanky, and he had a thin mustache. He went by Carl and looked to be Hispanic, and his bulging biceps gave me the impression he was an athlete. The other boy, Clarke, had reddish-blond hair and was a bit stocky but not at all overweight. If I had to guess, I’d have said he was Irish. As the bus made its way east and passed through Tribeca and by City Hall, it soon became crowded, and I was impressed that all six boys gave up their seats to people with more of a need for them. The bus continued into China Town and then passed through a series of housing projects before coming to a series of high-rise, brick apartment buildings right next to the East River and the Williamsburg Bridge. We got off at the last stop and literally walked right into one of the apartment buildings. Taking an elevator to the twentieth floor, which was the top floor, I noticed it was Asher who took out a key and unlocked the door to Seth’s apartment. Passing through the door, a large formal dining room was directly ahead, furnished tastefully in what I would have considered a cross between traditional and contemporary styles; I think they refer to it as ‘transitional’. Asher led us down a short hallway to the left that was lined with built-in bookcases on both sides and into a large living room with a stunning view of virtually all of Lower Manhattan. The World Trade Center was directly ahead, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges to the left and Hudson Yards, in Midtown, to the right. It was a view of New York unlike any I’d seen before. Walking up to it, I noticed there was a narrow terrace that ran the entire length of the living room. Unbelievable. Turning away from the view, the living room was furnished similarly to the dining room, but perhaps in more of a mission style with light oak and textured cushions. The overall effect was very cozy, with a central grouping of two facing sofas, a pair of reclining armchairs and a futon. I noticed Asher was already hard at work in what was a very large and modern kitchen, fully open to the living room. He moved with purpose as he got items out from a very large, built-in refrigerator and pulled other items and implements from cabinet after cabinet. Turning to me, he asked, “Are there any food allergies or dislikes I should know about?” “I get sick as a dog from eating eggplant,” I replied. “Otherwise I’ll eat anything.” Smiling, he responded, “I hardly ever use eggplant in my cooking, so we’re safe. Are spicy foods okay with you?” he asked. “My specialty is nouvelle Cajun, often with Asian touches.” “Asher’s mom is Chinese-American, and his dad is Creole,” Seth explained as he put one arm around his boyfriend. “They met at the Culinary Institute of America, and they own a Chinese takeout restaurant on Grand Street.” Seeing the boys interact, it was hard for me to remember that it was Seth and not Paul. He looked and acted so much the way I remembered Paul, I kept having to stop myself from calling him Paul. “This place is so cool,” Clarke announced as he emerged from somewhere – perhaps the bathroom, I guessed. “I forgot, this is your first time seeing the place,” Seth responded. Pulling his boyfriend into a hug, Kyle added, “Freck designed it. He did a fucking awesome job.” That boy sure had quite a mouth for a ten-year-old. It fit with his personality though. “Whadayamean, Freck designed it,” Carl asked. “Seth and Asher had a group of us over for Thanksgiving last year,” Kyle explained. “Asher’s parents were busy with their restaurant, and Seth’s were invited for Thanksgiving with the governor, so they decided to do an authentic Thanksgiving feast.” “Except Asher made an awesome Cajun turkey,” Seth interjected. “I made a traditional roast turkey, too,” Asher clarified. “Actually, he made it on a rotisserie, and it fell off at the end,” Seth noted. “Yeah, and we went to bed and left the stuffing in the oven and were woken up an hour later when the smoke detector went off,” Asher added. “Dad had to rescue us by making a batch of cornbread stuffing at the restaurant the next morning.” “Anyway, we had just served ourselves the turkey and all the fixings…” Kyle tried to continue. “Except you wouldn’t eat any at first because you’d decided that morning to become a vegan,” Asher interrupted. “Hey, I was trying to be a responsible citizen and give up eating meat,” Kyle clarified. “It didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to change my mind though. It’s just that raising meat is horrible for the environment.” Then turning and looking at me, asked, “Isn’t that right, Dr. Franklin?” “Not only do ruminants such as cows produce copious amounts of methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but it takes roughly ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat,” I answered. “With climate change, we can’t afford to waste valuable resources in order to eat meat – not that I adhere to being a vegan…yet.” “Glad to hear it,” Asher commented from the kitchen. “So, we were just getting ready to eat Thanksgiving dinner,” Kyle continued, “when Asher remembered that he’d forgotten to heat the pumpkin soup he’d made. He got up to heat the soup in his Instant Pot, and while he was at it, Seth started up the coffee maker for some desperately needed coffee, and then all the lights went out.” “Of course, we all assumed the coffee maker and Instant Pot were on the same circuit and we’d overloaded it,” Seth chimed in. “But it turned out that two circuits had blown,” Kyle explained. “To make a long story short,” Seth took over, “The contractor who did the initial renovations didn’t realize the building doesn’t have 220-volt service. His electrician put in a bunch of so-called Edison circuits, with a shared neutral, and over time they overheated, and the insulation melted. All of the wiring had to be torn out, but then we bought the apartment behind us when it came on the market, so we decided to gut the place and combine both apartments.” “And it was Freck who came up with plans for how to combine the two apartments,” Kyle added as he again pulled his boyfriend into a hug and kissed him on the lips. The bantering of the boys continued as Asher prepared the dinner. In a way, it was fascinating to watch them interact. All three couples seemed to be unusually tight for teenagers, and it was evident that all of them shared a close bond of friendship. I picked up a lot of information on the boys from listening to the conversation. Asher, I knew, had parents who owned a restaurant. And I discovered that Seth’s father, Paul’s son, was a state assemblyman and one of the most powerful men in the state government, next to the governor himself. His wife was trained as a physician but acted as his fulltime assistant. Freck’s parents were absurdly wealthy and owned a penthouse condo right by Goldman-Sacks and the World Trade Center. His father in fact was the CEO of one of the major brokerages, and his mother owned one of the best-known designer labels in the world. Because his parents were never home, however, he lived with his boyfriend’s family up in Riverdale. Kyle’s father was a retina specialist in the Department of Ophthalmology at New York Presbyterian, and he was gay and engaged to marry a neurologist who also worked there. Kyle also had an older brother who was a freshman at Stuyvesant. Carl was raised by a single mother whose boyfriend was killed in a gang shootout. They both now lived with Clarke’s family on Staten Island, and his mom served as a live-in nanny, cook and maid. As I’d suspected, Carl indeed was an athlete, and he was the leading scorer on the Stuyvesant varsity basketball team. Clarke’s story was perhaps the most tragic, as he’d endured severe abuse at the hands of his father for most of his life. His parents had worked for the mayor’s office and were involved in bribery, kickbacks and outright embezzlement; hence they were now both in prison for a very long time. In addition to Carl and his mamá, as they called her, he lived with four sisters and an older brother. Another brother and two sisters were away at college. All of that I learned as they bantered back and forth, withholding nothing about their personal lives. I kind of faded into the background and tried to remain unobtrusive, but I became decidedly uncomfortable when the conversation turned to talk about sex. I was just about to say something when Carl noticed me sitting there and asked me, “Dr. Franklin, I’m curious. You hear so many stories about how people are surprised when they win the Nobel Prize, and I wondered if it’s really like that. I’d like to know for when I win mine.” All of the boys laughed at that. “No, it’s not like that,” I explained. “Because most of us are university professors and because universities thrive on the reputation earned from having a Nobel laureate on their faculty, there’s actually a fair bit of lobbying that goes on. It has to be done carefully, because it doesn’t look good for institutions of higher education to be self-serving, so presidents talk to other presidents and deans talk to deans, and department heads talk to all of their colleagues in the field. So, when a university has someone on the faculty that they think might have a shot at winning a Nobel Prize, they begin a heavy lobbying effort on behalf of that candidate, but they lobby their counterparts at other institutions rather than lobbying the Nobel committee directly. If enough colleagues of the candidate nominate him or her for the Nobel, the committee will be more likely to look at the candidate as a serious contender for the prize in their field. “Although it’s not overt, everyone knows which institutions are involved in lobbying for which candidates, so it usually does get back to the candidates themselves, so they usually do have an inkling they’re in the running for a Nobel Prize.” “Wow, that’s way different than I thought it would be,” Carl responded. “It’s always about politics,” Seth interjected. “If I could have your attention,” Asher interrupted, “dinner is served.” The food Asher served was absolutely some of the best I’ve ever had, and it was all prepared on a moment’s notice. I’ve enjoyed meals at various functions, prepared by some of the best chefs in the world, but Asher could have easily gone head-to-head with any of them. The appetizer was a seafood gumbo that was out of this world, and the main course was a shrimp and scallop creole over saffron rice that was unlike any food I’d ever tasted. Asher served it with a vegetable stir-fry that tasted so fresh, I’d have thought it freshly picked had I not been with Asher the entire time. And there was a second starch consisting of a twice-baked sweet potato – a dish I’d never before encountered. Needless to say, it was excellent. I was absolutely stuffed by the end of the meal. During the meal, conversation turned back to the substance of my talk that afternoon. I was amazed by the depth of knowledge the boys had when it came to the subject matter. We got to talking about science fiction, and Asher and Seth let it be known that they were avid Star Trek fans. Freck and Carl, however, were die-hard Star Wars fans, and Kyle, not surprisingly, was much more cynical, preferring the Ender’s Game series and other writings by the likes of Orson Scott Card. Clarke was the real surprise in the group, being an avid fan of classic sci-fi, preferring authors such as Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Michael Crichton. However, Asher was quite insistent that most science fiction was unrealistic, and he agreed with my assessment on the state of the evolution of life in the universe – or the lack thereof. In fact, Seth noted that they’d discussed the theory at length when they first met and that he’d come around to Asher’s way of thinking. Kyle, on the other hand, rolled his eyes and stated that if intelligent life had ever arisen before in the galaxy, that it had long ago been replaced by artificial intelligence. What a cheery thought. All in all, it was an incredibly enjoyable evening in which I had the opportunity to have an intelligent conversation with a group of teenagers, all of whom were destined for greatness. Not to sound conceited, but they reminded me of me at their age. And I couldn’t get over Seth’s resemblance to Paul. Remembering that Seth referred to his grandfather in the present tense, however, I had to know more. “Seth,” I began, “when you spoke of your grandfather, you made it sound as if he’s still alive.” “He is still alive,” Seth answered. “He’s the Director of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He couldn’t make it here in time for dinner tonight, but he said he’d be here later. Actually, he should be here any minute now.” “He’s coming here?” I asked in surprise. “Any time now,” Seth confirmed. “I can’t believe that after some forty-something – close to fifty years – I found Paul’s grandson in a lecture hall,” I related. “And now I’m going to see Paul after all these years. Amazing.” “Pretty fucking cool,” Kyle agreed. “Kyle,” Freck interrupted, “You know it’s not polite to use the ‘F’ word in mixed company.” Then turning to me, he added, “Kyle has the intelligence of someone twice his age, but sometimes his maturity leaves something to be desired.” “But this isn’t mixed company,” Kyle complained. “We’re all guys here and as I understand the situation, we’re all gay, so what’s mixed about it?” “He’s got you there, Freck,” Clarke chimed in. “It’s nothing I haven’t heard,” I responded. “I have sons too, and my graduate students’ language is at times even worse.” We were interrupted by the sound of a door chime, and suddenly I felt extremely nervous. Paul had truly been my first love, and in many ways, I never stopped loving him, but that was more than forty years ago. I fell in love with a thirteen-year-old boy – not a sixty-year-old man. Seth went to open the door, and when he did, on the other side was a man who could only be Paul. His unruly mop of golden curls was now a bit more silvery than golden, but his eyes were that same deep emerald shade of green that shone with brilliance, even in artificial light. They were the same eyes his grandson had. I rose to greet the man who was my first love. “Jeff, you look exactly the same,” he said as I approached. “We’ll, it’s been nearly fifty years, and we both have a few more wrinkles and gray hairs now,” I replied before we engulfed each other in a tight hug. “Shall we go inside?” Paul suggested and then led the way to the living room. He’d obviously been here before. I was hoping he’d sit on one of the sofas so I could sit next to him, but he was being cautious as was I, and when he sat down in one of the armchairs, I sat in the other one. Seth joined us while the other boys helped clean up the dinner mess. “Just look at you,” Paul said. “I always wondered what happened to you, but keeping in touch was not an option. Long distance was expensive, the Internet was just an idea back then, and letter writing couldn’t replace being with you. It would have been painful to even try.” “As I recall, you were going to remain at Iowa after the summer,” I replied. “And I did,” he went on. “I was thirteen and what some called a genius, and when I found that I could actually remain at the University of Iowa and start college at the age of thirteen without having to finish high school, I jumped at the chance. Iowa City was home of some of the brightest astrophysicists in the world, and I was so impressed with Dr. Van Allen that I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It only took me three years to get my bachelor’s degree in physics, and then I went on to get my PhD, and that took another four years. So, at the age of 20, when I couldn’t even buy a legal drink in most states, I had my PhD and was looking for a job – and I was starting to think about finding a partner and starting a family. Being from the Midwest, the possibility of finding a male partner never even entered my mind. “I was accepted for a post-doc at Berkley…” “I went to Stanford!” I interrupted. “What do you know?” he replied. “We were both in the Bay Area at the same time and didn’t even know it. Anyway, after finishing my post-doc, I was offered a position as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, which was where I met my wife. I rose through the ranks of academia there and was a full professor by the time I was 30, and by then we had two wonderful children, Frank and Marissa. And then everything changed. “Julie – she was my wife – started stumbling, and then her speech became slurred and she began dropping things. We went to see a top neurologist at Northwestern, and he ordered a bunch of tests. When we found out it was M.S., we were devastated.” “It must have been so hard on you and your children,” I interjected. “Frank and Marissa were old enough to understand the significance of their mother having M.S. The worst of it was that treatments were so ineffective back then. We tried IV steroids and plasmapheresis, but more modern treatments such as the use of immunoglobulins weren’t available yet and the immunosuppressive drugs they have today just didn’t exist back then. The steroids bought us some time, but the M.S. always came back and worse than before. The Rehab Institute of Chicago became our second home.” “That’s terrible,” I said. “It was difficult to see her going downhill, but there was very little we could do about it. Eventually, we decided we had nothing left to lose and that the only hope for my wife was through experimental, but risky treatments. The best hope for us was to get her into a protocol at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, which we did, and when the treatments showed promise, we decided to move to Washington permanently. I hated to ask my children to move during their teenage years, but both Frank and Marissa were fully on board with it. The directorship of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was open, and so I submitted my CV and interviewed for it, and I got the position. “For a time, Julie did much better and we thought we might actually be looking at a cure, but the thing with experimental treatments is that it can be years between the initial trials of a promising new drug and FDA approval for general use. If an experimental drug seems to work well, once the protocol ends you can petition for compassionate use and continue to get a supply of the drug, but it’s up to the manufacturer as to whether or not they honor compassionate use. In more than one instance, a drug that seemed to work for Julie didn’t work as well for the study population as a whole, and the pharmaceutical companies chose not to pursue FDA approval. Then, no amount of petitioning could get a further supply of the drug.” “That’s the way research works,” I lamented. “It’s possible your wife was part of a subset for which the drugs were effective, but the statistical power to prove it just wasn’t there. In any case, the numbers probably wouldn’t have been sufficient to justify bringing the drugs to market, anyway, so they would have been orphan drugs.” “Exactly,” Paul agreed. “So, we enrolled her in protocol after protocol, hoping for a miracle that never came. It’s been ten years since she passed away, and even though it had been a long time since we were intimate, I loved her very much nonetheless.” “I understand precisely what you mean, because I lost my wife to breast cancer at about the same time. At least she lived long enough to see me win the Nobel Prize, but barely.” “Which brings up a question I’ve had ever since Seth called me to tell me you were in town,” Paul asked. “I would have known it was you when the Nobel Prizes came out if the winner had been Jeff Lindsey. Why’d you change your name?” “I’ve gone so long as Jeff Franklin that I almost forgot you knew me as Jeff Lindsey,” I answered. “You may remember that my father was killed in an industrial accident when I was twelve. It’s tough when you lose a parent at any age, as our kids know first-hand, but I think it was especially rough on me at that age. I was already going through puberty and I was confused as hell that I boned only around boys.” A snicker from the sofa reminded me that Seth was sitting with us and listening in on the whole conversation. “So, while I was in Iowa, my mom started dating my chemistry teacher from school,” I continued. “By the time I got back to Indianapolis, she told me they were engaged. I was thrilled. Mr. Franklin was one of my favorite teachers of all time. I know it was kind of shitty of me, but when they married, I asked to change my name to Franklin so I’d have the same name as my mom. The real reason was that I desperately wanted a dad. Getting a new dad didn’t change my feelings toward boys, though, and eventually I started signing my name ‘Jeff Lindsey Franklin’, and I still do.” “Do you have any children or grandchildren, Paul? “Children, but not grandchildren,” I answered. “Twin boys… well, their middle aged now. I’m actually staying with them while I’m in New York. They both teach at NYU. Brad’s the chairman of the economics department, and Lyle is the dean of the business school.” “You must be proud of them,” Paul said. “Very,” I replied. “And neither of them had children?” he asked. “Neither of them ever married.” I answered. “They’ve always lived together,” I added. “Are they gay,” Seth asked. “Well, I’ve never asked them, but they live together in The Village, so I think it’s likely. You know, the odds of one twin being gay if the other’s gay is fifty percent.” “Actually, the statistics are more significant than that,” Kyle chimed in as he approached. “The incidence of homosexuality in the general population is said to be between five and ten percent, but for the sake of argument, let’s call it x. The probability of each kid being gay is then x and the probability of them being straight, bisexual or something else is 1–x. The probability of monozygotic twins both being gay is then just x(1–x)… that’s just from rewriting Bayes’ Theorem. Hence, the probability of monozygotic twins both being gay compared to that of heterozygous brothers both being gay is that divided by x², which is (1–x)/x. Hence if x is 10%, it’s nine times more likely that monozygotic twins will be both be gay than it is for heterozygous brothers. If x is 5%, that figure jumps to nineteen times. Or another way of looking at it is that the probability of twins both being gay is nearly the same as that of having one child who’s gay.” “Somehow it just didn’t seem right for that explanation to come from a ten-year-old kid,” I noted. “He lost me when he said, ‘monozygotic twins’,” Carl chimed in. “That just means twins that come from a single egg – i.e. identical twins,” Kyle explained. “And what’s so complicated about that?” Freck added. “Said by one genius about another genius,” Asher added with a laugh. “Do you think they’re having sex with each other?” Kyle asked. “Get your head out of the gutter,” Carl admonished him. “But it’s not uncommon for twins to experiment with each other when it comes to sex,” Kyle continued. “You know, identical twins share an unusually strong bond and even straight identical twins sometimes have trouble living apart. There are cases where twins insist on living in the same household, even after they marry. “You know,” Kyle went on, “a lot of guys get off on having sex with twins, whether they’re gay or straight. I’m not saying Brad and Lyle are prostitutes or anything, especially with their jobs, but maybe they like having sex together with other guys.” “Whatever they may or may not do in the bedroom, it’s their business and theirs alone,” I interrupted. Actually, I’d long thought it likely that Kyle was right – that my sons enjoyed having three-ways with other gay men, but I wasn’t about to tell Kyle that. I didn’t even want to think about it myself. “So, where’d you end up, Jeff,” Paul asked. “I started out at Cal Tech while doing work for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab, which is also in Pasadena. After my Nobel Prize, I was offered an endowed chairmanship at UCLA for substantially more money, and of course I took it. I still do occasional work for JPL, but the position at UCLA gives me a lot more freedom. On top of all that, I give a lot of lectures to the public – well, like today’s at Stuyvesant. A lot of them I do for free, but for private schools and universities and organizations with money, I charge a hefty fee and donate the proceeds to a foundation I established to give scholarships to promising students.” “That sounds wonderful, Jeff,” Paul responded, causing me to blush. Thankfully, Asher brought out a tray with fruit tarts on it that were obviously homemade, and Clarke brought out a tray with coffee mugs, followed by Carl with a tray that included a coffee pot, a pot of hot water, a creamer, various sweeteners and an assortment of teas. Kyle wasted no time grabbing the coffee pot and filling a mug, then drinking it black. The boy had a serious caffeine addiction – and he was hyper to begin with. I grabbed the hot water and a tea bag of Earl Gray, and Paul did the same. I smiled, as Earl Gray had been Paul’s favorite, even back when he was thirteen. Taking a bite of the tart, it was wonderful, just as everything else Asher served had been. “Do you live in L.A.,” Paul asked. “Right near the university,” I answered. “It’s a lovely neighborhood but as much as I travel, I might as well live on the moon.” “I hear that lunar real estate’s expensive,” Kyle interjected with a straight face, “and the commuting cost’s a killer.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at Kyle’s humor. When I met him, I’d wondered why a group of teens would befriend a ten-year-old, but intellectually he was their superior. What amazed me was that he was not only brash, but he had a great sense of humor, and he had wit. Anywhere else he might have languished and become suicidal, but in this environment, he was thriving. “With your kids living here, did you ever think of living in New York?” Paul asked. My heart leapt at the thought of living in the same city as Paul, but I’d lived in L.A. most of my life. “I’ve been on the West Coast all of my adult life,” I answered. “Moving to the East Coast would be such a change, and of course I have a plum position at UCLA.” “Did you remarry or do you have a significant other that’s holding you to California?” “Not at all,” I replied. “With your background, you could be assured of virtually any open chairmanship or deanship in astrophysics in the world. There are plenty of institutions that would hire you, even if they didn’t have an opening. Having a tenured Nobel Laureate on faculty in and of itself can bring in a lot of grant money to a department.” “Yes, this is true,” I responded, “and I’ve had plenty of offers, but after Laura died, well, the thought of picking up and moving my whole life away from where we lived together is daunting.” “But your sons are here,” Paul challenged. “Your life outside of work is here. Don’t you think it’s time for a change?” “And maybe you two could get back together,” Asher added, stating aloud what I’d been thinking. I think Paul and I both blushed with that. “A lot has happened in both our lives since we were teens,” Paul responded, “and we’ve undoubtedly changed quite a bit, which is inevitable. However, I’d definitely like to get to know Jeff again…” “The feeling’s mutual,” I interjected. “And I’d be lying if I said the possibility hadn’t crossed my mind,” he continued with a deep blush. “Definitely,” I agreed with a blush of my own. “You know, Jeff,” Paul went on, “There are many fine universities back East, including nearly all the Ivies, but the American Museum of Natural History has one of the most extensive astrophysics research programs in the world. We’re about so much more than the Hayden Planetarium. We work closely with NASA, and our research projects get top priority when they launch space probes. Our scientists interact with astrophysicists all over the world, as I’m sure you do now, but we’ve cultivated long-term relationships with top facilities all around the globe. And when it comes to facilities, we have the best supercomputers on-site and equipment you’ll find nowhere else. We don’t have our own graduate students, but we do have a constant supply of students, interns and post-docs from several universities, giving you eager research assistants without the burden of teaching. “The museum is always looking for top talent, and although I don’t have an open position right now, it’s likely someone will leave within the next ten years or so. The pay probably isn’t as much as what you’re getting at UCLA, but with your foundation, I suspect that money has never really been the issue, and the pay is sufficient to live in Manhattan, which means it’s decent. Even before I knew that Jeff Lindsey Franklin was the same Jeff Lindsey that I knew in Iowa, I would have tried to recruit you the next time we have an open position.” Laughing, I replied, “In less than ten years, I’ll be seventy and probably thinking about retirement.” “I’m curious,” Seth asked. “if the two of you both went into astrophysics, how is it that you two didn’t bump into each other at scientific meetings during all those years?” “That’s because the role of a museum director is very different than that of a university professor,” I explained. “Exactly,” Paul agreed. “While I was conducting research, serving on committees and going on site visits and to scientific meetings, Paul was hobnobbing with snobby rich donors.” “Sad but true,” Paul agreed. “Speaking of snobby rich donors,” Freck interjected, “does your program have endowed chairmanships?” “Unfortunately, no,” Paul responded. “It’s much easier to sell potential donors on funding specific research projects, buying new equipment or building new buildings that bear their name. Universities do all of that too, but recruiting big-name professors is much more important to them, and donors are more than willing to support that. Further, universities are always scrambling for research grants – not that we don’t, too – but being able to recruit top professors to an endowed chair means having top scientists who don’t have to spend so much time scrambling for a limited pool of research funds.” “If a wealthy donor were to offer, say, $5 million,” Freck asked, “Would that be enough to establish an endowed chair?” “For $5 million, I could not only endow a chair, but furnish a lab for them and hire staff. But people who donate that kind of money would much rather have their name on a building than after an asterisk as a footnote after a chairman’s name.” “Not if their son talks them into it,” Freck countered. “I may now live with my boyfriend’s family, and even before, I never saw my parents, but I still have contact with them, and I know they’ll listen to me if I tell them it’s important. My parents are worth billions – both of them – and they give millions away every year to charity. It’s good for their reputation – and it’s a tax write-off. If I ask my dad to give five million to the Museum of Natural History to recruit a Nobel laureate, as long as his name’s attached to everything Dr. Franklin publishes, he’ll do it. He knows I wouldn’t ask unless it’s worth his while.” “You’d do that?” Paul asked. “Consider it done,” he replied. “Someday, I’m gonna be one of the best architects in the world, and my specialty will be sustainable architecture. I may even design or redesign entire cities, but none of that will matter if there isn’t enough food to feed the residents of my cities. I can design for rising temperatures and rising sea levels, but I can’t save a dying planet. Bringing the eminent Dr. Jeffrey Lindsey Franklin to New York is something I’d have wanted to support, anyway, but if there’s a chance I can play matchmaker for one of my best friend’s grandpa…” “It would be sooo fuckin’ romantic,” his boyfriend chimed in. That was Kyle. Paul’s face turned beet red, and I suspected mine did, too. We all spoke quite a while after that, discussing Freck’s generous offer and what an endowed chair position at the museum might look like. Paul and I were also adamant that the boys not assume we’d automatically get together, although we were certainly open to the possibility. At one point, Freck even called his father’s CFO’s administrative assistant, who agreed to run it by his boss and by Freck’s father and to put it in the budget. Apparently, five million to them was in the category of discretionary spending! As it was getting late, I worried about the boys going home – a couple of them to Staten Island and a couple of them to Riverdale, but they’d already planned for a sleepover in Seth’s apartment. I was astonished to hear they had four bedrooms, thanks to the ingenuity of Freck’s design for the place. I, on the other hand, had to get back to The Village and my sons, and Paul had to get back to his apartment on the Upper West Side. Paul and I left together with the intent of sharing a car. Asher called a car service his family used and trusted rather than leaving us to fend with Uber or Lyft on our own. As Paul was about to press the elevator call button, he turned to me and said, “It was really wonderful to see you again after all these years. A lot has happened in our lives, but I feel as if I’ve known you all along.” “I feel exactly the same way,” I responded. After a moment of awkward hesitation, Paul leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. I kissed him back. We both had smiles on our faces. “I’m going to have an interesting talk with the twins tonight,” I almost giggled. As Paul pressed the button to call the elevator, he asked, “So how long will you be staying in New York?”
  4. In 1972, Jeff attended a summer science program, where he fell in love. Now, nearly fifty years later, he's a distinguished astrophysicist with a Nobel Prize and an extensive lecture circuit. Imagine his surprise when he gives a talk at Stuyvesant High School in New York, and is asked a question by a boy in the audience who looks exactly like his first love.
  5. Happy Birthday!

    1. Altimexis

      Altimexis

      Thanks!

    2. Daddydavek

      Daddydavek

      I hope it was a good one.....Any stories or re-edited stories in the pipeline for posting here?

  6. Altimexis

    Part 3

    What do you mean? I haven't erased anyone's comments. And no, I haven't quit. I've been taking a breather while I work on my next story.
  7. “You want us to do what?” I asked Asher. I couldn’t believe he could even suggest such a thing. “I said I’d like to have a party for New Year’s Eve with you guys,” Asher replied, “and I think it would be fun to dress in drag.” “Are you crazy?” I asked. “I’m not the least bit interested in cross-dressing, and as far as I know, neither is Kyle.” “I’m with Freck on that one,” Kyle chimed in. Freck was my nickname and was short for Freckles. My real name was Francis and I hated it. I was an athlete. I played in a soccer league and played basketball. Sure, I was gay, but I wasn’t interested in cross-dressing — at all. Neither was my boyfriend. Kyle was more of an intellectual than an athlete, but he was an in-your-face brash New Yorker with not an effeminate ounce in him. We were both strong, masculine and all-boy. And young — Kyle just turned ten and I just turned twelve. Too young to be boyfriends? Not a chance. I’d be graduating from Stuyvesant High School next year at the age of thirteen and we hoped that Kyle would graduate right along with me, at the age of eleven. Kyle might be two years younger than me but he was my intellectual equal. “Look, I wasn’t crazy about the idea either,” Asher’s boyfriend, Seth, said as he stood up, “but you have to admit that’s an unusual idea and a great theme for a party.” As he stood, it reminded me that he was stark naked. We all were. A freak Christmas blizzard had left us stranded in Asher’s apartment and once the main roads had been cleared, we’d stayed to help Asher’s parents with deliveries from their Asian restaurant. Kyle and I had been wearing the same clothes for five days now and even with daily showers and washing our boxers out every night, our clothes were no longer wearable in polite company, especially mine. Kyle didn’t yet need to use deodorant, but even still, his clothes smelled like those of a homeless kid. On the other hand, I did use deodorant but in spite of doing so, all the climbing over snow drifts to deliver Chinese take-out had left me soaked in sweat by the end of each day, and my clothes were positively rank. Kyle and I both showered this morning, but there was no way we were going to wear those clothes again, so we decided that brunch was going to be clothing optional. Our friends took pity on us and opted not to wear clothes either. Kyle and I were exclusive, as were Ash and Seth, so being naked had nothing to do with sex or any kind of interest in group sex. Still, I couldn’t help but notice how handsome our hosts were. Asher had the classic ‘Tiger Woods’ look, having an African American father from New Orleans and an Asian American Mother from Queens. At fourteen, he was well into puberty and was already shaving, but his physique was virtually absent of any muscle definition at all. Asher had no interest in sports. His passions were sci-fi, especially Star Trek, and classical Jazz. Actually, the love of music was the one thing we all shared, besides being gay and exceptionally bright. Seth was a year younger than Ash, yet he was also a freshman at Stuyvesant, one of New York’s elite public high schools. He appeared even younger than me, however, with the curliest natural blond hair I’d ever seen, emerald green eyes, modest muscle definition but little other evidence that puberty had begun. Like Asher, he was a Star Trek junkie and a classic Jazz fan. Also like Asher, he had loving parents who weren’t often around. His father was one of the most powerful politicians in the New York State Assembly. Kyle was tall for his age — almost as tall as I was — and he was surprisingly well-endowed for a ten-year-old. Because of his size, he looked like he was more like eleven, and his longish, wavy brown hair and hazel eyes were absolutely dreamy. Like Seth, he didn’t yet have his pubes, whereas I already had a small patch of hair down there and my voice had already started to change. That I was so short and young-looking didn’t bode well for me, though. I could probably look forward to a growth spurt and top out at maybe 5’8” or so. Kyle would have his growth spurt in a couple of years and probably top out over six feet. But the thought of that actually made me smile. I liked it that we were about the same height now, but the thought of a manlier, taller Kyle that I could cuddle up with was… nice. It was a good thing I was sitting down, as I could feel myself plumping up. “What are you smiling at?” Kyle asked. “I was just thinking of us in five years or so,” I replied. “I’ll probably still be on the short side, maybe 5’8”, and you’ll probably be around 6’4”.” Nodding his head, Kyle answered, “That’s about what I figured too. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I kinda like the idea cuddling up with my cute little redhead.” “No offense taken, Kyle,” I replied. “I like the idea of cuddling with my studly, tall brunette.” “Oh gag me,” responded Seth. “So it’s agreed,” Asher went on as he paced around the dining room. “We’ll dress in drag for New Year’s Eve?” “Fuck no!” I replied. “No fuckin’ way,” agreed Kyle, “but this doesn’t sound like you, Ash. What’s the deal? What’s really going on here.” “They probably made a bet or something,” I suggested, and Asher actually colored up. Even with his mocha-colored skin, I could see it. “You did!” Sighing as he stood up, Seth answered, “You remember that bet Ash and I made with each other and the discussion we all had over it?” “You mean the one about how your dad would react to Ash’s thoughts on welfare mothers and using DNA to track down the dads?” I asked. “That’s the one,” Seth explained, “but we didn’t tell you what we agreed to do if either of us won or lost the bet. Well we agreed to dress in drag for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day if either of us lost…” “You both lost?” Kyle interrupted in surprise. “We both got it half-right,” Asher answered. “Frank Moore agreed with me when it came to the importance of breaking the cycle of dependence that kept whole generations in poverty, but he balked at the idea of using DNA to track down the fathers, calling it a slippery slope.” “My dad went on to explain that his political views of necessity reflected the views of his constituents,” Seth added, “and didn’t necessarily reflect his personal views. Because a large portion of his district contains housing projects, it would be political suicide to talk about tying benefits to responsible behavior.” “So it was a draw,” I summarized, “and so you both have to dress in drag for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.” “We agreed afterwards that since we also both partially won, that we only had to dress in drag for New Year’s Eve,” Seth clarified. “And now you want to make us suffer too?” I asked. “Misery loves company,” Kyle chimed in. “We’ve never done anything like that before,” Asher continued, “and as long as we’d already agreed to do it, Seth and I thought it might be fun to make a party out of it.” “Four people does not make a party,” I countered. “I’ve always wanted to go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve,” Kyle interjected. “Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone?” He suggested. “You mean dress up in drag and go to Times Square?” I asked in disbelief. “Guys, we do not want to do that,” Seth responded. The pulling out his iPhone, he continued, “Here’s the FAQ for it. First of all, if you want to actually be in Times Square for the ball drop, you need to get there by early afternoon, preferably by noon.” “Fuck, that’s twelve hours early!” I exclaimed. “And more than twelve hours in drag,” Seth continued. “Be sure to empty your bladders in advance, ’cause there are no public toilets in Times Square, and if you manage to convince a restaurant to let you use theirs, you’ll lose your spot on the street.” “Maybe we could wear Depends,” Kyle said with a bit too much enthusiasm. Maybe he was into that sort of thing and I’d try to keep an open mind about it if he was, but I had absolutely no interest in anything related to diapers, except maybe when it came to having kids of our own someday. “It would be pretty hard to wear a nice dress over a diaper,” Seth pointed out. If it could keep us from wearing diapers, perhaps dressing in drag wasn’t such a bad idea after all. “There are no vending carts in Times Square,” Seth continued, “and most of the restaurants will close well before midnight. Unless you want to go hungry, it’s wise to bring high-energy breakfast bars with you to snack on. No alcohol or other mind-altering substances are allowed, not that I think any of us would care except maybe Freck…” Fuck, that hurt, and so I interrupted, “I haven’t touched anything alcoholic since we met, and I haven’t smoked any weed since I tried to take a nosedive from the roof of the Battery Park Garage. If I’m gonna spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square, you better believe I want to remember it.” “No large packages of any kind are allowed,” Seth went on, “including backpacks. A small or medium purse is allowed, but all items will be searched. Pickpockets will be out in force and so it’s recommended to leave your wallets home and just bring ID, a MetroCard and a small amount of cash. Mobile phones should be secured in an inside jacket pocket and placed where they can be felt to vibrate. “It’s expected to be exceptionally cold and there will be residual ice and black ice where you least expect it. Dress in layers with thermal underwear, warm slacks and boots, two layers of shirts with a sweater or sweatshirt, and a heavy winter coat. Scarves, hats and gloves will be essential to prevent frostbite, and even then, glove liners are recommended.” “Shit, it doesn’t sound like a good night to be out in high heels and a dress,” Asher responded. “No one will be able to tell that you’re wearing a dress if we go to Times Square dressed like that, and high heels will definitely be out of the question,” Seth agreed. “With all the black ice, a broken ankle is definitely not on my bucket list.” “Agreed,” I added. “OK, so no Times Square,” Kyle replied, “but how about having a real New Year’s Party in drag and inviting the entire GSA membership from Stuyvesant? To be fair, we could have the girls dress as guys too. There could be prizes for the best drag costume and the best butch costume.” “Yeah, but that’s only a few days away,” I pointed out. “Most kids already have plans for sure, and even if some wanted to attend, where in fuck would we hold such a party?” “I know for a fact that most teenagers spend their New Year’s Eve at home with their parents,” Seth interjected. “I read it in the Times or something. No parent wants to take a chance on their kid driving home drunk or getting hit by a drunk driver on the way home.” “But how would we keep that from happening?” I asked. “We’d hafta hold it someplace that’s easily accessible by public transit, that doesn’t involve going through Times Square, and with adult supervision and a promise of no alcohol or drugs,” Asher suggested.” “And we’d need enough space for people to crash for the night,” Seth added. Suddenly, all eyes turned to me with looks of eager anticipation. What the fuck had I gotten myself into? “Guys,” I began, “My parents always have a huge New Year’s party every year at our place.” “Your play room is bigger than a lot of living rooms,” Kyle pointed out, the little traitor. “And didn’t you say your mom was on a buying trip in Paris?” Asher asked, “and you said your dad was in Chicago.” Sighing, I replied, “My mother is going to be spending New Year’s in Paris. She’s extended her buying trip. Something about several designers bringing out new lines of clothing that she wants to feature.” My parents were super-rich. My mom owned one of the best-known designer labels in the world and my dad was the CEO of a major brokerage firm. “Negotiations for exclusive deals take time,” I went on, “and my dad is still stuck in Chicago, thanks to the snow storm. No sooner had our airports reopened, than Chicago got socked in with a storm of their own. So yeah, my apartment could be available, but there’s no time to get a caterer and there’s a hell of a fucking lot to do!” “Why would we need a caterer?” Asher asked. “I can handle it, even if I am wearing high heels.” And then he got a look of surprise on his face and added, “Mom?” This was definitely an ‘OH SHIT’ kind of moment as it dawned on all of us that we’d been talking long enough for Asher’s mother to have returned home. Asher and Seth were standing in full frontal view. At least Kyle and I were still seated, yet we were just as naked as they were. “Sorry to interrupt, boys, but I thought you’d like to know I’m home,” She said. “I was going to go right to bed, but I’m guessing this has something to do with Freck and Kyle not having any clean clothes? Perhaps, Asher, you’d like to do the laundry today, and maybe you’d like to get your clothes out of your hamper before I go to bed.” Nodding his head, Asher replied, “That’s a very good idea.” Waking past his mother and disappearing around the corner, he returned a moment later with the same cart he used to ferry the groceries home. He disappeared into his parents’ bedroom — the one we’d been using since Christmas — and reappeared a moment later with the cart half-full of dirty clothes and bedsheets. He then disappeared into the bathroom and reappeared with the cart nearly full from the addition of all the dirty towels. Finally, Asher headed into his bedroom and returned a bit later with the cart overflowing with the addition of the dirty clothes and bedsheets from there. “I’d better check to make sure he got everything of ours,” Kyle said to me as he stood up and walked in the nude, right past Asher’s mother. How could he do that? Seeing the look on my face, Seth shrugged his shoulders and said, “I can’t speak for Kyle, but in the tiny Manhattan apartments Ash and I have, there’s no real privacy. With my bedroom in a closet, I couldn’t even get out of bed without my parents seeing me naked. I’ve been sleeping in the nude since I was nine, so it was no big deal. And the other day, Ash’s parents saw both of us when we burned the stuffing… “You burned the stuffing?” I asked. “Damn!” Asher exclaimed. “You weren’t supposed to know about that.” “We were so tired after preparing all the food the night before Thanksgiving that we forgot the stuffing was still in the oven and we went to bed,” Seth explained. “We woke up an hour later when the smoke detector went off. While Ash was dealing with all the smoke in the house, his parents came home and saw both of us like this, without any clothing.” “So, if you burned the stuffing,” I asked, “what did we eat?” “There wasn’t time to get the rest of the dinner ready and to prepare another batch,” Asher explained, “so my dad graciously agreed to make the stuffing for us in the restaurant.” “So that wonderful stuffing we all had was your dad’s recipe and not yours?” I asked. “My recipe is based on his, but I’ll be the first to admit that his is better. Dad uses a ton of butter whereas I use canola oil and buttermilk. Mine’s much lighter and healthier, but I’m just grateful Dad was able to come to the rescue.” “You have a wonderful father, Ash,” Kyle said as he returned from the bathroom with our dirty boxers and added them to the cart — how embarrassing! “He is wonderful,” Seth agreed. “I love him the way I love my own parents.” “So do I,” Kyle added.” Suddenly realizing that he’d slighted his boyfriend’s mother, Seth went up to her, still in the nude, and hugged her tightly saying, “And I love you too, Mom.” “You don’t need to worry about me, Seth,” she responded. “Gary White is someone special. I’ve always known that. I’m just thankful that he wasn’t blinded by race and that of all the women in the world, he chose me to be his wife.” Kyle then went up to Asher’s mom and hugged her himself, murmuring his thanks for all she had done for him as a surrogate mother, since his own mother was an alcoholic. Asher followed suit, also still in the nude, and hugged her. “What the fuck,” I said as I stood up, but before I could hug Ash’s mom, she admonished me with, “Francis San Angelo?” Ouch, How formal! “I’m sorry Ms. W.” I responded as I went up to hug her. “It’s a bad habit.” “A lot of kids think it’s cool to use words like that,” she continued, “but it becomes a habit that affects you for life. To be sure, there are times that words like that are appropriate, but if you use them so casually, they lose their impact when they’re needed the most.” Damn if she was right! “So what was that I heard about a New Year’s party?” she asked, and we were soon heavily involved in discussing our plans. <> <> <> Arrangements for the party came together surprisingly quickly. We used the high school directory and the GSA membership list to track down as many kids as possible. Much to our amazement, 28 kids agreed to come to the party off the bat, and six of those asked to bring boyfriends or girlfriends who didn’t go to Stuyvesant. Four asked about bringing a total of eleven straight friends, for a total of 35 guests, 21 boys and 14 girls, in addition to the four of us. It was going to be a pretty big party! Some of the guys were quite enthusiastic about coming in drag, but even among those who weren’t, no one out-and-out refused. None of the girls objected to coming dressed as boys either. With the help of the GSA president, we posted a notice about the party on the GSA’s website and on our school’s social media pages. We made it very clear, however, that the doorman would turn anyone away who was not on the invite list, which would be finalized by Sunday at midnight. An RSVP was required to attend. My penthouse apartment was huge, so hosting as many as a hundred kids wasn’t out of the question — not that I expected anywhere close to that many. All were told to bring sleeping bags with them if they wished to stay overnight. I had assumed that we could obtain our clothing and accessories from the high-end boutiques at Brookfield Place and the Oculus at the World Trade Center, near where I lived. Alternatively, we could have gone to the flagship stores on Fifth Avenue but as Ash’s mother pointed out, even if I dropped my mother’s name, no one was gonna lend us outfits for the night and then turn around and sell them to someone else. Even at cost, a suitable outfit for the evening could run tens of thousands of dollars. Fuckin’ Hell! Instead, we were at the City Opera Thrift Shop on 23rd Street, meeting with the shop director, a personal friend of Ash’s mother. The City Opera Thrift Shop was dedicated to supporting the arts in New York City and was closely affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera, which made it near and dear to my heart. I loved the Met and I loved opera. Anything to help support the opera was golden in my book. The thrift shop at its lowest denominator was a second-hand clothes store, but the clothes in its inventory were one-of-a-kind items donated by some of the wealthiest patrons of the arts. It wasn’t unusual to find a ballroom gown, custom-made by a well-known designer and worn for only one night by a famous celebrety. Items of that ilk, however, were still very expensive, even second-hand. The most expensive items were sold at curated events or sold at auction for top-dollar. However, one could also find stunning, unique items donated by the less-than-famous wealthy, and by middle- and upper-middle-class individuals with eclectic tastes. My own parents, for example had donated a number of items to the City Opera Thrift Shop over the years. So had Seth’s, Kyle’s, and even Asher’s. However, should we fail to find what we liked, Goodwill had their own thrift store a few doors down. I had my eyes on a petit strapless red ballgown with matching shoes and a coordinating red purse. Yes, strapless. Truth be told, it was more the shoulders that were a problem for dressing in drag and not the lack of boobs. With convincingly realistic falsies and a lot of adhesive, I could support a strapless dress. The use of a hidden belt helped further reduce the weight of the dress on the torso, but my shoulders and arms were more muscular than typical for a girl, and my shoulders were a lot wider. At barely twelve, however, my torso wasn’t too far out of range for that of a mature girl, and with the right makeup and high heels, I was assured that I would make a stunning young woman. Kyle decided on a golden bronze-colored dress with gold and sapphire sequence, with a strap over the left shoulder and a bare right shoulder. His chest was just a little too flat to be effective with a strapless dress. He chose matching gold shoes and a coordinating purse, but when he looked at a matched gold choker and earring set, I realized that to be believable, I was going to need jewelry too. A lot of guys had a pierced ear at school, but I’d never even considered it. Now I was going to need two. Holding up the pair in his hand to his ears, he asked me, “What do you think?” “If I were into girls,” I replied, “I would think they’re stunning on you.” With a smirk, he said, “Maybe I’ll wear them in school and on dates with you.” “Gold and dangling pearls do not look masculine,” I complained. “They’d look weird with jeans and a T-shirt. And guys usually wear only one earring.” “Some boys wear two,” Kyle noted, “and I’m gay after all.” “Don’t I know it,” I replied, and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “How about these,” he suggested as he held up a pair of sterling silver studs with a single golden tiger’s eye stone in each. I had to admit that the coloring was perfect for him. They really accentuated his wavy brown hair and hazel eyes, and they definitely looked better as a pair. “I love ’em, Ky,” I said as I pulled him close to me. “They’re really perfect on you. Please let me get them for you.” “That’s the first time you’ve called me ‘Ky’,” he responded with a smile. “I really like that.” After giving me a kiss, and not just a peck, he pulled away and said, “Now, how about these for your outfit.” He held up a pair of rose gold studs with a single round dark amber stone in each and held them up to my ears. The instant I looked in the mirror, I could see how well they brought my coppery eyes together with my red hair. Unfortunately, I noticed that he stones were real and the gold was 14K. The pair alone would set me back $500, which was hardly worth it for just one night. But then Kyle said, “Now those are unisex, so you can wear them after the party, to school and on dates with me. This time they’re my gift to you.” I gave. Kyle a brief but passionate kiss in return. “This necklace should coordinate nicely with the earrings,” Kyle pointed out as he pointed to a multi-strand necklace with tiny amber beads. It was costume jewelry and not that expensive, but it looked real enough to wear with the dress and earrings. However, my glasses ruined the overall look of the ensemble. Unfortunately, the shape of my frames was far to masculine and just didn’t go with the outfit. I wasn’t about to spend several hundred dollars on new glasses that I’d only wear once, and I’d long ago been told I wasn’t a candidate for contacts. I could see passably without glasses and had been doing so in gym class as long as I could remember. I was just gonna hafta go without for the party. I ended up spending $550 on my outfit, not counting the earrings. The dress was expensive enough that I had to pay tax. Kyle spent $700 on his, and it truly did him justice. After Kyle and I went to have our ears pierced — fuck, that hurt — we met up with Ash and Seth to see what they were getting. Seth was wearing a stunning black evening gown that contrasted beautifully with his golden curls. In each ear he wore a single stud with a solitary emerald that brought out the color of his eyes to perfection. Then I realized he was wearing them. “How the fuck can you be wearing earrings so soon after having your ears pierced?” I asked. It was Asher who answered, “His ears were already pierced. He just doesn’t wear earrings very often.” “I had them pierced when I turned twelve,” Seth added. “I have to push a wire through them every night if I don’t want them to close up, but I decided to keep them in case I found a boyfriend who likes earrings.” “And I have to admit that they look fantastic on Seth,” Ash chimed in. Yes, Seth looked great, but I knew Ash was gonna be a challenge the moment we set foot in the store. His Tiger Woods looks were about as masculine as could be, and he was the only one of us with visible hair on his face, under his arms and on his arms and legs. Thank God he didn’t have any hair on his chest yet, but that was of little consolation when he balked at the idea of shaving his underarms, his arms and his legs. What he needed was an evening dress that fully covered his arms. Seth did a good job of finding something that worked for him. The color was a light gold that complemented Ash’s mocha complexion perfectly. The dress had shear sleeves that covered the arms just enough to hide the hair under and on his arms. They also helped soften the sharp angles of his shoulders and elbows. The torso was low-cut, showing off what appeared to be ample breasts, as rendered by the falsies. Because he was rather tall, Ash opted to wear flat shoes rather than high heels. He tried on a pair of 2” heels, and even that much of a lift caused him to lose his balance and nearly fall. He just wasn’t coordinated enough to wear them. Asher absolutely balked at having his ears pierced and so Seth ended up finding some clip-on gold earrings and a matching necklace with a pendant for him. Finally, we all were given a surprisingly thorough lesson on how to apply makeup to raise the cheek bones, highlight the eyes, lengthen the eye lashes and soften the lips. The makeup kits and lipstick in aggregate set us back another four hundred dollars. Already this party was costing us a small fortune, and we hadn’t even bought the food yet. <> <> <> “I can’t believe you’ve never been up here,” Kyle kept saying as we took an Uber car north toward Riverdale. Truthfully, for someone so adept at languages, I’d hardly ever been out of Manhattan at all. My parents traveled all over the world, but that was as required for their work. They hardly ever traveled for the fun of it, and so they saw no reason for us to travel either. My sisters and I were far better educated than most and had been exposed to the arts in ways few kids our age could imagine. We were patrons of the opera and the symphony. Hell, we had an original Picasso in our apartment that was said to be worth millions. Through school trips I’d visited Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. I’d even been on a ‘freedom tour’ through the deep south. But places I’d have liked to have seen, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the Inner Passage of Alaska might as well have been on Mars for all I cared. Hell, my mom constantly went on buying trips to Paris, yet she’d never seen the Louvre. She’d never been to the fucking Louvre, for cripes sake. Oh, how I’d love to see the treasures of the world. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Lisbon, Prague, Budapest, Venice, Florence and Rome. Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo. Jerusalem, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Bonas Aries and Rio. The list went on and on. But Riverdale? It may have been a part of the City, but it hadn’t even been on my radar until now. I had no idea what to even expect. I’d been up to the Riverdale Diner once before, when I was introduced to Kyle for the first time, but I’d not been back since. At least that gave me some idea of what Riverdale was like. The diner was literally in the shadow of an elevated subway. The area around it looked like it could be anywhere in Brooklyn or Queens, and so I wasn’t expecting anything different when it came to where Kyle lived. He said he lived in a house, which was a bit difficult to imagine. Most of the houses I’d seen near the diner were tiny. There were some large high-rises that looked nice, though. Because we’d had to stop first at Asher’s place to drop off some stuff, we took the FDR and Harlem River Drive. Christmas and the shopping season were done and most of the snow from the blizzard had been cleared. What was left of it was already melting. Traffic was light since it was a Sunday and a lot of people were away for the holidays. The Uber made good time and before long, we were crossing over the Harlem River at Willis Avenue and taking the ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway, which we took past the George Washington Bridge and into Van Cortland Park. According to Wikipedia, this was the second-largest park in the city, after Pelham Bay Park, but I’d never been there either. While still in the park, we turned onto something called the Mosholu Parkway, which I’d never heard of before, and then looped around onto the Henry Hudson Parkway southbound, but it seemed to me we were going west. We crossed over Broadway — Broadway, of all streets — who knew it came all the way up here — and in less than a minute exited onto 254th Street. I was stunned to see what appeared to be a suburban neighborhood in the city. There were high-rise apartment buildings on a par with the ones we left behind in the city, but mostly there were large stretches of land with green lawns and single-family houses. Some of them were fairly modest — ranch houses and small colonials, but a lot of them were truly mansions, some of them new and obviously built where more modest houses had once stood. I’d heard the term ‘tear-down’ before, but now I was actually seeing what that meant. We turned onto Independence Avenue and again there were rather modest ranch houses and small colonials, interspersed with tear-downs. What I couldn’t see was anything behind the houses on the right side of the road, except for rolling hills in the distance, which made me wonder if they were built into a hillside. I really loved that kind of architecture and the newly-found architect in me was curious as to what they looked like inside. The Uber pulled into the driveway of one of the more modest houses. The house was a very modern ranch-style house, but it was clearly built into the hillside with the garage below street level. I surmised there was very likely another story or two underground. As we exited the car, I noticed to the side a glint of sunlight reflecting off water and I suddenly knew what it was. It might not have been very polite, but I ran to the side of the house and gawked at the scene below me. Laid out before me was the Hudson, but this wasn’t the Hudson I knew, flanked by tall buildings and endless development. This Hudson was surrounded by gentle rolling hills and a broad valley. Across the way in New Jersey — at least I assumed it was still New Jersey — were soaring rock columns and I realized that this must be the Palisades I’d heard so much about, but never seen before. Train tracks were clearly visible below me, right along the Hudson, as was a commuter rail station, so nearby that it looked like I could stroll right down there. The return trip would be a bitch, though, ’cause it was all uphill, but then I remembered seeing buses running on 254th Street. Kyle’s house was within walking distance of a commuter rail station and a subway station, and it was right off a major highway that led into The City. It might not be as expensive as my parents’ penthouse nor even as large, but it was still worth millions. “Not quite what you were expecting, is it?” Kyle asked as he came up next to me and took my hand. “Not by a longshot,” I responded. “It’s beautiful.” “Wait ’til you see it from inside the house,” Kyle added as he guided me to a small terrace back behind the house that ran the entire length of the house. There was a panoramic, unobstructed view of the Hudson below us and it was magnificent. Taking out a key, Kyle opened a back door that was right off the terrace and guided me inside. A very tall, distinguished-looking man with graying hair at the temples greeted us, right at the door. Standing next to him was a very tall young teen who looked a lot like Ky. I realized that this must be his brother, Roger, whom I’d not yet had a chance to meet. Before Kyle could even introduce us, his father smiled at me warmly and shook my hand, saying, “You must be the infamous Freck. I’ve heard many things about you, mostly from Gary White since I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to my son, but you are every bit as cute as Gary said you’d be.” Then speaking in another language, he said, “I hear you can speak more than a dozen languages. Do you by any chance speak Portuguese?” “Wow, I knew you were Jewish, but Ky never said anything about you being from Brazil,” I responded. “You definitely have a Brazilian accent, but there’s something else in there. It’s not Hebrew, but maybe it could be Yiddish. I just don’t know Yiddish that well… only the basic phrases that every New Yorker knows. I think I may hear some German in your accent, though and maybe a little bit of… Hungarian! Yes, I think it’s Hungarian. It’s definitely not Slavic, as I’d be able to understand at least some of that, even Polish. So if I had to guess, your family was originally from Hungary and escaped the Nazis, ending up in Brazil. Probably Rio if I had to guess. And then you came here.” “I can’t believe you can speak Portuguese and I can’t” Kyle complained. “My mother’s family is from Brazil and so my parents used to speak Portuguese whenever they didn’t want me to understand them, so I never learned the language. “Portuguese is a lot harder than Spanish,” I commented, “which is why I took the time to learn it. I liked the challenge of it.” “Yes, but I never expected you to speak it so well,” Jake Goldstein replied in English. “I assumed you’d understand at least some of it because of the similarity to Spanish, and everyone and their dog seems to speak Spanish these days. But you speak it so well, and you were able to trace my ancestry, even when I wasn’t aware I had any accent, but Hungarian? How on earth did you pick out that?” “I’ll probably never actually speak Hungarian, since it’s not really related to anything else other than Finnish,” I replied, “but there are certain inflections that are unique to the language and they crept into your Portuguese. Portuguese isn’t so flat as is Hungarian, and that was evident when you spoke a few of your words.” “And from that you were able to piece together our entire history?” Jake replied in incredulity. “That, plus the bit of Yiddish and German I picked up,” I explained. “I have a very good ear for languages. Some call it a gift, but I’ve never been without it and so to me it seems natural. It’s like listening to a symphony. When most people hear a symphony, from what I’ve heard, they only hear the melody and everything else kind of blends in. When I listen to a symphony, I hear all of the individual instruments and even the individual instruments within each of the sections. It’s not like it takes any effort either… it’s just the way I seem to hear things. If I took the time to learn music, I could probably reproduce the score from hearing it. “For me, it’s the same with languages. When I hear someone speaking in a foreign language, I hear their words as one of many voices that make up the score of human language. Words are not unique to a given language, but they carry across many languages in one variation or another, just as a melody can carry across all the instruments of a symphony.” “Wow, that’s amazing,” Jake exclaimed. “And even with that gift of yours, you want to go into architecture? I should think you’d want to study etymology, or archeology, or anthropology or something of that ilk.” “But in any of those fields, I wouldn’t be able to build anything. There’s much to explore, but nothing creative involved,” I explained. “And I don’t just want to design buildings. I want to change skylines, maybe even to design entire cities. I want to use sustainable methods and to work with the environment to make buildings that can adapt in a changing climate, rather than merely trying to stand our ground. “Lower Manhattan’s a perfect example of that. If we do nothing, most of the land will be under water, and the best solution the engineers can come up with is to erect barriers that will ultimately be breached by rising seas. Instead, we need to clear the most expendable structures from the flood zones, particularly on the Lower East Side, and create parkland that can absorb the water when needed, preventing flooding elsewhere, and we need to move infrastructure from underground to above ground, so the buildings can still be functional even in the face of widespread, frequent flooding.” “Asher and Seth will be happy that you’re planning to sacrifice their apartment buildings to save New York,” Roger responded. “It might be possible to save the co-ops,” I replied, “but there’s no point in saving cheaply-built pre-war buildings that wouldn’t survive anyway. We can always build more robust high-rise buildings on solid ground to replace the older, dilapidated public housing projects and what’s left of the original tenements. Sometimes it’s much more practical and less expensive in the long run to abandon stuff and buy people out than to fortify or rebuild in place. “And rather than fixing the aging subway system, maybe we should outright replace it. Perhaps we should reimagine Manhattan with sleek above-ground trains, suspended in the air from graceful, cantilevered carbon-fiber cables rather than running on ugly railroad tracks, and graceful elevated pedestrian walkways of opalescent non-slip glass. Better to replace our aging infrastructure with structures that will survive the rising seas than to bury our heads in the sand and waste our resources ‘hardening’ infrastructure built for a very different city. “And as far as my language abilities are concerned, they’ll allow me to communicate with people all over the world. People will hire me to design something for them because I speak their language. And I’ll give them something exceptional in return.” “I am very impressed, Freck,” Jake responded. “Gary told me you were exceptional. I just wasn’t prepared for someone with your abilities.” “Ky is every bit as impressive as I am,” I countered. “Even more so.” “Yes, well about that,” Jake replied. “I know that you’re right and I’ve known about his gifts, practically since he was born. That’s part of why I asked you boys to come up here today. I’d asked Gary to come too, but understandably he’s tied up with the restaurant, so we spoke at length over the phone. Let’s go someplace more comfortable, where we can sit down together and discuss some things.” Leading the way, Jake Goldstein led us further into the house. As we approached the front of the house, we came to a curving stairway that led to the upper level and the front entryway, as well as down to the level below us. I could tell that there was a lot more light coming from downstairs than was possible unless there were large windows downstairs, and so I surmised that the downstairs level must extend under the terrace we’d walked on outside. Descending the stairs, we walked out into a large, open room with of all things, an enclosed swimming pool. It was separated from the rest of the house, behind a glass wall, which explained why I hadn’t known of it from the smells and echoes that are typical with an enclosed pool. Off to the side was a cozy room with dark red walls on one side and floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the Hudson, on the other. It was to there that we headed. Once inside, I could see that the room was octagonal, and in the center was a grouping of two loveseats facing each other, with high-back chairs at the ends. A coffee table was in the center. Kyle immediately headed to one of the loveseats and, grabbing my hand, pulled me down with him. We continued to hold hands as we sat together on the loveseat. Jake sat opposite us on the other loveseat, and Roger chose to sit in one of the high-back chairs, facing the river. “I asked to meet with the two of you,” Jake began, “because I’ve been doing some soul-searching and have made some decisions that will affect both your lives. I know I’ve been a really shitty father to both of my sons and I’ve decided that it’s time to change that. Call it a New Year’s resolution, but it was precipitated by Gary’s request to assume guardianship for Kyle. It made me stop trying to ignore you and to think about what it was I was doing, and what I was missing because of my penchant for work. “I know you probably think I don’t love you and that I’m intimidated by your intelligence, or that I don’t approve of your being gay. Let me set your mind at ease on that one. I have no problem with your being gay or even having a boyfriend, particularly when he seems to be such a good influence on you and vice versa.” Taking a deep breath, he continued, “I’ve already explained the situation to Roger, but the reason I was taken aback by the declaration of your sexuality is that it brought back a lot of unpleasant memories for me, personally.” Although the vacuous look on Ky’s face showed he didn’t have a clue, a smile spread across mine as it dawned on me what Jake Goldstein was trying to tell us. “I grew up with a father who was raised in a very male-centered, conservative household in São Palo,” Kyle’s dad continued “Although it’s the most populous city in the world, it’s nothing like Rio de Janeiro with its free-wheeling, anything-goes culture. My father saw to it that I was introduced to suitable Jewish girls from good, mostly Brazilian families. Your mother was the cream of the crop and with so much pressure to get married, particularly with medical school looming ahead of me, we did.” I couldn’t believe it — Ky still didn’t have a clue. “Of course, it was important to both our families that we have children, but I held firm that we not have any kids until I’d finished my residency and fellowship. At first, I was too busy with my studies to satisfy my wife and then I was too busy with on-call rotations and my residency, and even after getting my board-certification, I was too busy with my fellowship. Finally, I was a newly-minted assistant professor in Ophthalmology, and with a nation-wide shortage of retina specialists, I was busier than I’d ever been in my life. Yet the parents still wanted to know when we were going to have children, and my wife, your mother, couldn’t understand why I never touched her. “So we bowed to family pressure and I made an effort to become more involved at home, and then Roger was born and I assumed the family pressure would abate, but it became even more insistent and so we had you, Kyle. At least with two children, there was no reason to try for more, even if our parents expected it. But I couldn’t sustain a loveless relationship with my wife and so I immersed myself fully in my work and made it a point to never be home. Your mother responded by drinking. I thought she’d change… that the necessity of her being a mother would overpower her drive to drink.” “But it doesn’t work that way,” I interrupted. “Believe me, I know.” “Yes, I suppose you do,” Jake responded. “Fortunately, my wife never was suicidal. The alcohol was sufficient for her to deal with the pain of a loveless marriage. It just didn’t allow her to be a mother to her children. I’m sorry, Kyle.” Then turning to his brother, he added, “I’m sorry, Roger.” Then turning back to Kyle, he continued. “I left the two of you to fend for yourselves. I think it was only your intellect and your ability to care for each other that got you through it, but that wasn’t enough.” “But how does any of that change things?” I asked. I felt responsible for my Ky and had to stick up for him if he wasn’t going to do it. “I don’t know if Ky realizes that you just came out to us…” “Of course I do,” Kyle interrupted. “I already knew he was gay.” Jake appeared shocked by the revelation. “I’ve always known. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Mom and Dad don’t have any kind of relationship, and I’m not blind to the fact that we have the best-looking gardeners in the neighborhood.” Jake actually blushed deeply with that as Kyle continued, “It was pretty obvious that the boys were tending to more than the gardens. It was also pretty obvious, Dad, that you made it a point to be here when they were, in spite of all your claims of not having control over the call schedule.” “You’ve always known?” Jake asked for confirmation. “Well, ever since I can remember anyway,” Kyle replied. “I was already reading by the time I was three, so it was probably not long after that. I also was beginning to suspect that I was gay too.” “You knew you were gay when you were three?” Jake asked. “I thought I might be… that I probably was,” Kyle answered. “By the time I turned eight, I knew I was.” “The question, Jake,” I interjected, “is what you intend to do about it.” Smiling for the first time, he answered, “To start with, I’m going to be honest with myself as well as with you. I’ve taken the first step by admitting that I’m gay. In a way, I just came out to myself too. In all fairness to my wife, I’m not going to continue to pretend, and neither is she. She checked herself into a rehab facility this morning… again… but this time I’ll be behind her, one hundred percent. She’ll stay here for a while after she gets out, enough to get back on her feet, and then we’ll discuss getting a divorce. It’s the only fair thing to do. She’s still young enough to find a man who’ll love her and give her what she needs. In the meantime, I’ll start dating men…” “Do you have anyone in mind?” Roger asked with a knowing smile. Blushing, Jake answered, “I’ll bring him around to introduce you when I’m ready. “But getting back to how I intend to make things up to you, I’m really going to be a father from now on. I’ll work no more that is absolutely necessary to meet the needs of the department. And we’re planning to hire our current fellow after she completes the program in June. She’ll start on the faculty in July and then we’ll all have more time to ourselves. I’ll do my share of on-call coverage, but from now on I’ll only take the minimum of new patients and schedule only one day of surgery per week. “What that means to you boys is that I’ll be home a lot more often. I expect to be done with my work and home by seven on most weeknights, and I’ll be home on the weekends all but one weekend day per month. I intend to use all four weeks of vacation time I earn each year, and I’ll make use of the fifteen weeks of accrued vacation I’ve saved over the years. I expect to travel with you to places all over the world. Perhaps we can even take an around-the-world tour this summer, or at least part of one, before you boys end up in college. “You’re gonna make me jealous,” I sort of complained, “and I’ll miss Ky terribly while he’s away.” “But I’d like to include you too, Freck, if you’re interested,” Jake answered to my stunned silence. “That’s one of the reasons I asked you to come here with Kyle. Kyle’s convinced you’re his other half… that you’re the man he’s gonna marry someday.” “You don’t know how true that is,” I responded as I put my arm around my baby and pulled him tightly into my body. “No, you’re right… I don’t,” Jake agreed. “I could only hope to one day find that kind of love, but it means a lot to me to see the two of you together and seeing how you interact makes me realize that the two of you really are a couple. I know you haven’t had much in the way of parental supervision either, and I think you may need some. Your parents seem to think they can pay a shrink to try to cure you of what they in fact did to you to make you want to jump to your death…” I couldn’t believe it. Jake was taking my parents to task in a way I never could. But if he was sayin’ what I thought he was, he needed to know the whole truth. “Jake, it was easier to tell everyone that I tried to kill myself, but that’s not the real story, and the only one who knows it is Kyle…” “Gary knows,” Jake interrupted. “You may think that parents are oblivious, but we’re much more perceptive than you give us credit for. I discussed your suicide at length with him and we both agree that it really was attempted suicide, regardless of what you may think. We know you were a heavy marijuana user and pot smokers do crazy things, like jumping off buildings because they think they can fly.” I couldn’t help but show my shock at what he was saying. He knew! “Just because you thought you could fly as part of a drug-induced delusion doesn’t mean that the attempt wasn’t real,” he continued. “Physicians are required to take courses in drug addiction to renew their licenses, and with an alcoholic wife, I ended up taking more than the minimum. Kids who smoke pot often do so because it induces apathy. You might think you can fly, but you honestly wouldn’t care if you flew or fell to your death. The pot merely dulls the pain of the hopelessness you already feel in side you. “Regardless, someone who relies heavily on pot as you did really is suicidal, and the fact of the matter is that when you started to jump off that parking garage, thinking you could fly, you honestly didn’t care if you could fly or not.” How the fuck did he know so much? I didn’t see how Kyle could’ve told him. Was I really all that transparent? Before I realized what was happening, I was trembling as my body was wracked with sobs. Ky pulled me into him and hugged me tightly until the tears subsided and I became aware of those around me once again. When I did, I realized that Jake was no longer sitting across from us, but he was right there with Kyle, trying to calm me and soothe me. Still crouching beside me, he went on, “There are many kinds of child abuse, Freck. Perhaps the most insidious is neglect. It took Gary calling me out on it to get me to realize that, regardless of my own problems, my children had to come first. Thank God he was willing to step in until I could get my own house in order. But now that I have, it’s time for me to make it up to my sons, and maybe I can return the favor by helping the boy my younger son loves with all his heart. Perhaps I can do for you what Gary did for Kyle.” Standing up, he continued, “Your parents weren’t easy to track down, even though they have ultimate responsibility for your safety. Not even your nanny had their contact information, so there would have been no way to contact them in an emergency. To make matters worse, René is undocumented.” Shit! I’d had no idea. “Your parents could have sponsored her visa, but they didn’t, and her student visa expired some time ago. Instead, your parents used her status to avoid paying employment tax and to pay her a subsistence wage, under the table. She couldn’t have complained without the possibility of being deported, so she chose to keep quiet. “The location of your father’s hotel in Chicago was a closely-guarded secret but, borrowing a page from the way Gary tracked me down, I went through the corporate office and used the threat of getting CPS involved to get him to call me back. I never thought I’d meet a man who’d sunk to a lower low with his children than I had, until I spoke to your father, Freck. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but your parents only concern with their children is that you not embarrass them. They don’t care that you’re gay or that you smoked a lot of pot, so long as you did it in private. They only cared about your suicide attempt because it made them look bad, which was why you were treated in private and were never hospitalized. “The threat of them being cited for neglect, however, is not something they’re willing to accept. Besides which, if it became known that they’d hired an undocumented woman as a nanny and not paid her a decent wage, the resulting scandle would be of epic proportions. Add to that tax evasion for failing to pay her payroll tax all these years, and we could be talking jail time, which is why they’re willing to sign over guardianship to me in return for keeping it quiet.” “What?” I asked, not quite believing my ears. “From now until you and Kyle leave for college, and even after, until you reach the age of eighteen, you’ll be my responsibility,” Jake explained to me. “Of course, you can still live in your penthouse apartment if you want to, whenever you want as long as there is adult supervision around, but it’s my hope that you’ll stay up here with us. You’ll have your own bedroom… I insist on that, but where you actually sleep is up to you. You, Kyle and Roger will all commute down to Stuyvesant together until you graduate…” “What do you mean I’ll go to Stuyvesant?” Kyle interrupted. Smiling, Jake explained, “The city school superintendent’s son had a retinal detachment last year. I was the one who saved his vision. I’m not usually one to pull strings, but I had to make up for what I did to you, Kyle. I thought I was doing what was best for you when I held you back, but I can see that you learned only in spite of me and you already took it upon yourself to take the specialty high school exam. The results are supposed to be sealed until the spring, but the superintendent was able to get them and, not surprisingly, your score was the highest of all the students’ who took it. In fact, your math results were so high that they’re going to have to send you across the street to CUNY to take a math course that’s advanced enough to challenge you. Apparently it’s not unheard of, though, and it’s one of the reasons Stuyvesant and City University were built right across the from each other, and why there’s a pedestrian bridge over West Street, between the two.” “At least it’s good to know I’ll be going there next year for sure,” Kyle responded with little enthusiasm. “No Kyle, you’ll be going there this year,” Jake corrected his son. “It’s not usual, but there have been exceptions before and I got the superintendent to make one for you. You’ll start there at the beginning of the next semester, in January.” Suddenly, Kyle’s entire demeanor changed as a huge grin split his face. Hugging his dad tightly, he said, “I can’t believe you did this for me.” “I should have done it a long time ago,” he replied, “and by the way, based on your test scores, you’ll be starting there as a junior, and will graduate at the end of next year at the same time as Freck. Freck’s status will also be upgraded to that of a junior next semester, based on having enough credits.” Wow, I hadn’t realized that! “You’ll even be in a lot of the same classes, including American History, English Lit and Spanish Lit, all of them AP of course. You’ll also be in the same gym class but will take advanced Physics and Advanced Calculus over at CUNY.” “I can’t believe I’m going to go to Stuyvesant this year!” Ky exclaimed, and then he hugged me and kissed me deeply. When we finally came up for air, Jake was smiling at us and I could see how happy he was to see us so in love with each other. “One more thing,” Jake added. “Your father was a bit surprised to find out you were hosting a party for teens at his condo for New Year’s Eve. Not that he cared really, and he stated that he usually leaves such things to your nanny, but he had concerns that your guests might trash the place. But in his next breath he said words to the effect that his own guests would have trashed the place anyway. In any case, I assured him that there would be plenty of adult supervision at the party, including from me.” Once again, my boyfriend was hugging his father tightly, which more than likely was a first for either of them. And for that matter, I couldn’t have been happier. Soon I’d be living right here with my baby in this very house and perhaps just staying in The City with him on the weekends, and soon my Ky would be joining me at Stuyvesant and then in college. Life was good. No, life was excellent. <> <> <> What a night! The party was insane! What had started out as a party for just the four of us had turned into a party for more than fifty kids, most of them straight, but all of them in drag. I couldn’t believe it when Seth gave us the final tally after Kyle and I returned from meeting with his dad. From our postings on the Internet and on social media, and by word of mouth, the word had gotten out. We ended up having to recruit additional parents to chaperone the event, as things could have easily gotten out of control. There were kids as old as eighteen there and, not unexpectedly, we ran into issues with kids trying to sneak alcohol and pot into the party in spite of our warning that the party was to be alcohol- and drug-free. At the first smell of pot smoke, I had to admit I was tempted, as it brought back memories of being carefree and high, but the feeling was fleeting and didn’t even compare to the feeling of being in love with Ky. I could’ve easily invited the pot smokers to my room so we could have partaken of it in private, but if I succumbed to alcohol or pot, Ky would be heartbroken and I could never hurt that boy. Not in a billion years. Besides which, I truly didn’t need or want to get high anymore. Making love to Ky was the ultimate high. Those who insisted on partaking of alcohol, pot or other controlled substances were told to leave. It was funny, after we’d all gone to the trouble to get used to walking in high heels. We ended up taking our cue from the girls, who were all dressed as boys and wore clunky dress shoes. The first thing they did when they got off the elevator was to remove their shoes, so we did the same. It didn’t take long to realize why — there was no safe way to dance in heels. We spent the evening dancing in stocking feet or barefoot. There hadn’t been time to hire a band for the evening, nor even a DJ. We ended up putting together a playlist making use of my extensive collection of high-res tracks. We downloaded them from the cloud service I used to my iMac, and then piped the music into our extensive sound system over our home network. In the meanwhile, those who wanted to follow the festivities in Times Square could do so in the home theater. I could even use a wireless mic we had to interrupt the music and make announcements if I wished. I planned to use it for the countdown, and to announce the queen and king of the party — those judged to have the most convincing cross-dressed outfits. That was planned for just before the stroke of midnight. Ash outdid himself when it came to the food. I didn’t know how he managed to prepare food for more then fifty hungry teens on such short notice, but he did. We had a large assortment of spring rolls stuffed with meat and vegetarian items, Cajun chicken, beef, shrimp and roasted peppers on a stick, stuffed mushroom caps, stuffed shrimp and scallops, and so much more. There was even a large selection of sushi, all hand-prepared by Asher. All that would have been enough, but he had miniature cheese cakes, fruit tarts and pumpkin and sweet potato pies for dessert. My parents hosted parties like this all the time, but they always hired a catering company with a staff of at least five or six people to prepare and serve a meal like this. Ash did it all himself, in our kitchen. It was an amazing feast. For the drinks, we had a self-serve wet bar with an assortment of soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages. We had several bottles of non-alcoholic Champagne all set to go for midnight. Truthfully, we could have probably served the real stuff, as one glass would hardly be enough to get anyone drunk, but we’d made a promise to the parents in return for being allowed to hold the party. I could live with that. Because there were so many of us who might not know each other, everyone was given a nametag when they arrived, which included their nickname and a number. Everyone was also given a small envelope with a ballot inside, listing their top five choices for best male in drag and best female in butch clothes. The instructions on the ballots told them to mark their choices on the ballot using the numbers on the nametags, and to drop the ballots in the ballot box before 11:30. It was Ky’s idea to use rank-choice voting as a way to get a more normalized distribution of votes, but it made it several times more difficult to count the votes. We had to literally enter them into a computer database and use an algorithm to eliminate the kids with the least number of votes until a boy and a girl emerged with a majority of the votes cast. At 11:00, I announced that the voting would end at 11:30. The ballot box was set up in the dining room, with all the food, and at 11:30, I collected the last of the ballots and took them back to my room, where I entered them into my iMac. The algorithm gave me two numbers back — a boy and a girl who each had received a majority of the votes. I then went back to the party with the mic in hand and announced that the prizes for queen and king would be given out in the dining room. I then announced, “For the best queen in drag, the winner is number 34, and for the best king in butch clothing, the winner is number 23. Please come to the dining room to receive your crowns.” The king turned out to be a girl I didn’t know, but she made a very convincing boy in a three-piece suit. The queen was a shocker — Kyle's brother, Roger! He was a last-minute addition to the invite list, as he came with Kyle’s dad. His costume was literally thrown together at the last minute from their mother’s clothes and using her makeup. He didn’t need to spend a cent on it, yet he made for a very convincing girl in a simple but elegant dress and a wig. My friends and I had discussed wearing wigs and decided against it. I was the only one with close-cropped hair, but with makeup could easily have passed for a girl. Yet I had to admit, the wig made Roger look so feminine, and he was straight! The wig very nearly came off when I pinned the crown on his head, though, which was good for a laugh. Looking at the clock in the kitchen, I realized it was very nearly time and so I pulled out my phone and grabbed the mic once again. When the time reached 11:59:50, I called out the countdown, and at midnight I shouted, “Happy New Year everyone!” Kyle had snuck up next to me during the countdown, and so I turned to him and our lips came together in the most passionate of kisses that seemed to go on forever. When we came up for air, as preprogrammed on the computer, Auld Lang Syne was playing, and we joined in singing it with everyone else, even though we didn’t have a clue as to the words. After that, the music resumed with an oldie, but an appropriate one, Celebration by Kool and the Gang. I led Kyle to an empty patch of floor and we started gyrating to the music and danced the night away. The party was still going strong at two when Jake Goldstein approached me and told me it was time to start winding things down. It turned out that a number of the kids at the party had made arrangements for limos to take groups of them home, so people were starting to leave anyway. By 3:00, there were only eleven boys left, including Seth, Ash, Ky and me, and two girls. Roger left with Jake after René assured him that she could watch over the rest of us, who were all sleeping over. None of us was the least bit tired, though, as we were still pumped from the party, so we all pitched in and cleaned up what turned out to be a colossal mess, and put the leftover food away. We could’ve just left it for the hired help — at one time I would have — but my exposure to Ash and Seth had taught me a lot about how most people live and somehow it just didn’t seem right to leave the place as it was. For the girls, I offered to let them sleep in the guest room so they could have some privacy, but they wouldn’t hear of it. Since they were girlfriends with no interest in boys, it hardly seemed to matter anyway. None of us were interested in their plumbing, so it was no big deal. I got out a bunch of air mattresses that I’d bought for the occasion and we laid them out around the living room. Following the example of some of the others, Ky and I zipped our sleeping bags together. I’d bought one for the night and made sure it was compatible with Kyle’s. Stripping down to our underwear, we all slid into our sleeping bags and I snuggled up with my baby as the sun began to flood the living room with light. “Our first start of a new year together,” I whispered before giving my Ky a quick peck on the lips. “The first in a lifetime together,” Ky replied with a kiss of his own. “It’s gonna be exciting, joining you at Stuyvesant next semester, graduating in another year and then going off to MIT together, or wherever we go. Maybe we can even get married when we graduate.” “Um, I know there are still some states in the South where girls can marry at thirteen, but I don’t think there’s any place where a boy can get married at age eleven,” I replied. “Then perhaps we can get married when I turn thirteen and you turn fifteen,” Kyle suggested. If only! Sighing, I replied, “I doubt your dad would sign off on it, and I doubt we’d find a judge to go along with it unless maybe we applied for emancipation.” “We’re capable of emancipation right now,” Kyle suggested. “We both have the resources to live on our own,” he argued. “No, we’re not,” I countered. “We may have the knowledge and intelligence to live on our own. We may have the minds of adults, but we’re still just kids in kids’ bodies. People would take advantage of us, and even though we’re not innocent, we’re still young and naïve enough to let them.” “I can see your point,” Kyle agreed, “but will they even let us share a dorm room together at our age?” “They’ll have to if they want us,” I replied. “Even MIT would jump at the chance to have kids like us in the student body, so I think something like that is a reasonable demand we can make. And if they don’t go along with it, we can live with your dad and go to Columbia, a short commute away. One way or another, we’re gonna live together from now on, no matter what.” “I think we’ll have to get married when you turn eighteen, Freck. I’ll have just turned sixteen, but most states would charge you with statutory rape if we had sex, so we probably wouldn’t have a choice, not that I’d object.” “I expect your dad would sign off on it for you,” I agreed, “so, yeah, the winter break when I turn eighteen and you turn sixteen would be an ideal time for a wedding.” “Is that a marriage proposal, Freck,” Ky asked with a smile and a hint of amusement in his whisper. “I suppose it is,” I replied, “but we might want to wait a few years before we make the announcement, if we want it to be taken seriously.” “Our friends and families will take it seriously,” Ky countered. “I suppose your right,” I agreed, “so I guess we can tell them we’re engaged.” Rather than say anything else, Kyle got up out of his sleeping bag, wearing only his boxers, and with the sun streaming through the windows and illuminating is lean, lithe body, announced, “Hey everybody, Freck just asked me to marry him six years from now, and I said yes.” “If it were anyone else,” Asher called out from somewhere, “I’d say you guys had snuck some real Champagne in to drink. But knowing you, you’re serious, so all I can say is, ‘Congratulations!’ And go to sleep.” There was laughter all around us from Asher’s remarks. Getting back in the sleeping bag and cuddling up with me, we quickly followed Asher’s advice.
  8. Altimexis

    Part Three

    Times Square was a place most New Yorkers avoided like the plague. With its vast profusion of video displays, several stories high, that brightly illuminated the night, Times Square was a place for tourists who crowded the sidewalks and spilled over onto the streets. Strolling four or five abreast, they frustrated New York pedestrians and drivers alike, leaving them to ponder how the tourists ever got anywhere at the speed they walked. On the other hand, a large number of the tourists were morbidly obese, in stark contrast to the mostly svelte New Yorkers, and probably weren’t capable of moving very fast, let alone of burning the calories they consumed. One couldn’t help but pity the New York Times employees who had to brave Times Square every day on their way to and from work. Indeed, many of the old-timers longed to return to the days when strip joints ruled the scene. Whereas tourists would pay scalpers over a thousand dollars for a ticket to a Broadway extravaganza that was little more than a musical remake of popular movie, most New Yorkers craved seeing real theater in smaller playhouses with fresh talent and up-and-coming playwrights. What sometimes surprised out-of-towners, however, was that a lot of top talent also preferred acting in Off-Broadway productions. With a high-end ticket costing just over a hundred dollars and many tickets going for less than the price of a movie ticket, Off-Broadway theater was not the place for making money, but it was a pastime most New Yorkers could afford. “This is really good!” Asher exclaimed as he took another bite of his chicken Dijon. It came with two breast half fillets as well as a baked potato and fresh spinach as sides, not to mention the soup and salad that had been served earlier. For his part, Seth was having the penne ala vodka with chicken. They were eating at the Theater Row Diner, right by the exit from the Lincoln tunnel onto 42nd Street. Although just a little over two blocks from Times Square, The Theater Row Diner was about as far removed from the theater district as one could imagine. “Is it as good as the Good Stuff Diner?” Seth asked his boyfriend. “It’s different,” Asher replied. “The Good Stuff wouldn’t serve a dish like this. They’re both very good, but different.” “I know what you mean,” Seth replied. “I can’t put my finger on it, ’cause they both serve pasta dishes, sandwiches and traditional foods, but you’re right. The Good Stuff has penne ala vodka on their menu, but it wouldn’t be like this, even though they’re both traditional pasta dishes. I like the Good Stuff’s food a little better, and their menu’s more extensive, but the Theater Row is nearly as good.” “Exactly,” Asher agreed. Looking at his watch, Seth said, “It’s getting close to time. We’d better get going.” Quickly finishing their meals, Seth paid the check and they headed down the street. Although a number of highly-respected Off-Broadway theaters existed throughout the city — theaters such as the Roundhouse, 59E59, the Atlantic, the Vineyard, the Cherry Lane and the Public Theater, as well as others, 42nd Street had the greatest profusion of them and was the place most associated with Off-Broadway productions. Theater Row and Playwrights Horizon were two large multistory complexes, each with several theaters not unlike a multi-screen cinema. The theaters in those high-rise complexes were stacked on top of each other and had only a bare minimum of lobby space, leaving patrons standing shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for their ‘house’ to open. The one exception was the Signature Theater, located in one of the newest high-rise buildings on 42nd Street. With its spacious lobby, elegant café, open jazz club, large restrooms and ample theaters, all on the second floor, it provided a significantly more pleasant experience to theatergoers and was becoming a destination in and of itself. It was to a play at the Signature Theater that Seth had tickets, and so it was a very short walk indeed. The play was a very thought-provoking one about a young white gay couple trying to adopt a black boy whose mother was going to prison for the rest of her son’s childhood. Most cases of adoption are uncontested when the mother won’t be eligible for parole until after the child reaches eighteen, but the social worker on the case was a black woman with very strong convictions about African American children being raised in their own culture. She also had grave reservations about a gay couple raising a young, impressionable boy. Although there was no legal justification to refuse the adoption, the social worker fabricated evidence and managed not only to block the adoption, but she took away the foster child, whom the couple had come to love. Both the child and his foster parents were left in tears at the end, and failing to find an alternative foster family, the social worker ended up placing the boy in a group home. “Damn that was depressing,” Seth stated as the two of them exited the theater. Like the two of them, a lot of the theatergoers were young men holding hands. Ordering coffee at the counter in the café, they sat down at one of the tables. “I’ve never understood the logic behind restricting adoptions to couples of similar racial backgrounds,” Asher began. “Look at me! I’m half black and half Asian. My parents are a mixed-race couple, and they love each other as much as any two people could. Race shouldn’t be the deciding factor.” Taking a sip of his coffee, Asher added, “Wow, this is even stronger than your coffee, Seth.” Taking a sip of his own, Seth responded, “It’s strong, but not as smooth.” “Guess we’ll be up all night,” Asher added. Laughing, Seth quietly said, “We’d have been up all night, with or without the coffee.” Asher couldn’t help but giggle too. “I agree that race shouldn’t be an issue, particularly when the child has no one else to take care of them,” Seth began, responding to Asher’s comment, “but I do see the point that kids may do better in an environment that affirms their culture. African American children deserve to learn about their own culture, and the best way for that to happen is to be raised by African American parents.” “How does that differ from a Jewish child, or a Muslim child, or an Hispanic child, or even a Greek child?” Asher countered. “All of those have unique cultures, yet no one would ever bat an eye at Jewish child being raised by Roman Catholic, Cuban American parents. Why should race be different than ethnicity?” “Because race is so much more obvious than ethnicity,” Seth responded. “People of the same race but different ethnic backgrounds aren’t as obvious.” “Really?” Asher demanded. “What about the Korean kid in a mostly Chinese American school. She’s the same race as the other kids, but they’ll still shun her because she talks funny? And it’s not just about race,” Asher continued. “Why is it OK for a white couple to adopt a child from thousands of miles away in China, but not a black kid from the other side of the railroad tracks?” “And why should it be OK for two gay men to adopt a girl but not a boy?” Seth asked. “I hope we don’t have any difficulties adopting,” Asher added. “Well at least between the two of us we have white, black and Asian covered,” Seth noted with a laugh. “But not straight,” Asher responded. “No, definitely not straight,” Seth agreed with a smile. “Of course, the child in the play must have had a father,” Asher brought up. “Technically it should have been the father that took the boy.” “Assuming the father was even known, and not in jail himself,” Seth replied. “You know, as many as a third of all young black males are in prison.” “I think it’s a third have been in prison or will be in prison, not are currently in prison,” Asher countered, “but that does bring up an interesting point. With so many kids being in the system, there ought to be DNA data available for a lot of potential fathers of kids like the one in the play. Why not do a DNA search for the father in such cases?” Asher asked. “Actually, I’ve read some stories in which they do,” Seth replied. “But that does bring up some interesting privacy rights issues,” he added. “For example, if you are a boy living in a black neighborhood, chances are at some point that you’ll be picked up, regardless of whether or not you’re guilty of a crime. So now your fingerprints and your DNA will be in the system through no actual fault of your own. So right off the bat, you’re at a much higher risk of being convicted of committing a crime…” “A crime that you did commit,” Asher interrupted. “You’ll have to ask O.J. about that,” Seth countered, and then continued, “Let’s take that a step further. What if you go in for surgery and your blood is typed and matched for transfusion, and your DNA is sequenced and put into the national bone marrow data bank. Down the road, a woman is raped, and a DNA sample is obtained and matched to yours…” “I think the national database includes only your tissue type and not your complete DNA sequence,” Asher interrupted. “OK, let’s say you’re married with kids, and one day CPS shows up to tell you that you have an orphaned kid out there that you’re responsible for. What if the kid is only five and you’ve been married ten years. It could destroy your marriage and the only thing you’ll get for it is an orphaned kid you never knew.” “If you fuck around behind your spouse’s back and get a girl pregnant, then you deserve whatever you get” Asher challenged. “Sex is private, but having kids most definitely is not. There can be no expectation that sex won’t lead to pregnancy and a public airing of your deeds. “In fact, one of the best ways to reduce so-called welfare babies might be to go after the fathers,” Asher continued. “With a lot of the potential fathers being in the system, it should be possible to track them down and match them to their kids. Maybe the fathers would think twice about knocking their girlfriends up if they thought they could be forced to pay child support.” “I can’t believe you could suggest such a thing, Ash,” Seth responded. “It would hit black and Hispanic kids hardest, while white kids would get off scot-free, just cause their DNA isn’t in the system. It would be a grave violation of minorities’ privacy rights. Besides which, if two people have consensual sex and go their separate ways, how can you go back after the father for donating his sperm?” “Because it takes two to have a kid,” Asher responded. “Although only the mother can get pregnant, the father is equally responsible. There can be no child without a father. Why put the onus only on the mother? The mother already has enough responsibility, just to raise the kid!” “But it’s precisely because the father can’t get pregnant that it becomes the mother’s responsibility to raise the child,” Seth countered. “That’s why in Judaism, it’s the mother that determines the child’s religion. It’s the mother’s responsibility to avoid getting pregnant. She can always use birth control, or just say no.” “Try being a black girl and saying no to your macho black boyfriend. Try getting him to use a condom when he refuses. Try being an Hispanic girl living with your conservative, Catholic parents and bringing birth control pills into the home. If the boy were equally at risk of being responsible for raising their kid, don’t you think that would be fair? Don’t you think that might make the boy think twice? “But consider this,” Asher continued. “Nothing contributes more to poverty than having a kid. Nothing. It’s not just that the girl and her kid end up on public assistance, but the girl, saddled with raising the kid, often doesn’t finish her education. She can’t compete in the work force or hold a job. We could talk about the responsibility to provide for your own kid, but it’s the inability to get ahead in life that keeps people in poverty, and having a kid you’re not ready to support is the surest way to make that happen. “If, on the other hand, the father were also responsible for child support, perhaps that would be enough for the mother to finish school, put the child in childcare and get a job. Raised in a middle-class household rather than in poverty, the child would have a much better chance of breaking the cycle and making something of their life too.” “God Ash, you sound like a Republican,” Seth responded, making being ‘Republican’ sound like it was worse than being a child rapist. “Better to be a liberal Republican than a bleeding heart,” Asher countered. “I can’t believe you think that!” Seth practically shouted. “Perhaps it’s everyone’s right to choose to be poor…” “Nobody chooses to be poor, Ash.” “Maybe not, but in this country and especially in this city, everyone has the resources available to break out of poverty,” Asher countered. “A parent can choose to live in poverty or on the street, or to get the education they need to rise above poverty. However, a child has no role in making such a choice. We absolutely have to ensure that children have food, clothing, a roof over their heads and an education. That is a must, but children learn by example and a mother with five kids who’s made a career out of living on public assistance…” “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding,” Seth again interrupted. “Hear me out on this,” Asher argued. “Children learn from their parents and from their peers. If the only life boys know of is life in a street gang and the only life girls know of is being a single mother on public assistance, then they’re more than likely going to perpetuate the cycle. And we’re facilitating that! Who do you think pays for the food, the clothing, the housing and even the cell phones the courts have ruled they’re entitled to? Someone has to be working to pay taxes to support those who don’t. You might even say it was the Welfare State that killed the space program. How can we ever expect to reach the future world of Star Trek if we don’t break the cycle of poverty? Like it or not, society can’t make the unproductive, productive. Only the impoverished can break out of poverty. Personal responsibility is a cornerstone of a viable society, be it capitalist or socialist.” “That goes against everything I believe in, Ash.” “But you believe in me,” Asher countered. “Don’t try me,” Seth replied. “What about your father?” Asher countered. “Would he oppose everything I’ve said?” “Of course,” Seth responded. “I’d like challenge you on that,” Asher replied. “Unlike you, your father has lived in the real world and I’m sure he has a much more pragmatic outlook. I’m willing to bet that he would agree that no amount of spending can erase poverty and that poverty is perpetuated by women having children they can’t afford. We may disagree on how to change it, but I think he’d agree that personal responsibility must play a role, and that the boys must be made to be a part of the solution.” “You’re on,” Seth responded, “but what are you willing to bet?” “We still haven’t resolved the vinyl versus digital music debate,” Asher pointed out. “Only because you won’t let us proceed until my apartment’s renovated, which probably won’t be before the summer,” Seth countered. Sighing, Asher agreed, “OK, we’ll find a time when my dad’s available… probably in the early morning during our winter break, and we’ll see if Kyle or Freck will moderate a test of vinyl versus digital with my equipment. In the meantime, we’ll talk to your dad. If he agrees with three or more of my points, you’ll dress up in drag for New Year’s Eve and all New Year’s Day. If he disagrees, then I’ll be the one who has to dress in drag, all in good fun, but pictures will likely show up on Facebook.” “And if it’s a draw?” “We’ll both dress in drag.” “Oh, that would be interesting,” Seth replied. “Not that I’m not curious, but I’ve never had an interest in that sort of thing.” “I’m with you there,” Asher agreed. “Seeing you in drag should be good for a laugh, but if I wanted a girlfriend, I’d date girls. I love your golden curls and your sexy green eyes, but your smooth flat chest is what turns me on. And what’s between your thighs. Boobs don’t do it for me. I like boys and I love one in particular. “I love you too babe,” Seth responded with a quick kiss. “Just the way you are.” <> <> <> “This meal was amazing,” Freck exclaimed as he forked the last of his salmon eggs Benedict creole into his mouth. Once again Asher had prepared a Saturday brunch feast for the four of them in what was quickly becoming a weekly tradition. The centerpiece of the meal had been an eggs Benedict in which a bagel substituted for the English muffin and smoked salmon substituted for the Canadian bacon. In place of the traditional hollandaise sauce, Asher had prepared a spicy Creole sauce with crab meat and popcorn shrimp. It was delicious. During the meal, Asher and Kyle told their friends about the play they’d seen the night before, and about the conversation they’d had afterwards. After hearing about the disagreement they’d had about DNA, paternal responsibility and the role of pregnancy in poverty, Freck responded by saying, “I respect your positions on privacy and personal rights, Seth, but I mostly agree with Ash. Rights come with responsibilities. Just as there should be no assumption of privacy when having an affair, out in the open with surveillance cameras all around, there can be no right of privacy with respect to DNA, irrespective of whether someone provides it voluntarily or not. We leave traces of DNA all around us, as we shed our hair and touch things. It’s no different than leaving a finger print. Tracing DNA is no different than using facial recognition software.” “But look at what the Chinese are doing in that regard,” Kyle countered. “They have agents in the field with special glasses designed to identify persons of interest based on facial recognition.” “Yes, but it’s not the technology that’s to blame but the way in which the government has chosen to use it,” Asher opined. “Exactly,” Freck agreed. “The technology exists, is accurate and useful. It can be used to identify known terrorists or suspects wanted for murder. It can also be misused to identify political activists as is being done in China, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. “One of the things I commented on, on the way over with Kyle was how strange it is that all of these housing projects around here are surrounded by streets parked up with luxury SUVs with New Jersey tags,” Freck went on. “Somehow, I doubt the folks in New Jersey who can’t find parking are coming to the Lower East Side to park. I would wager that most of those SUVs are registered to the addresses of relatives in New Jersey, so as to prevent the New York DMV from tracing the vehicles to the residents of the projects. I would also bet they were bought primarily with drug money. You have young men living with their mothers in the projects and selling dope for the street gangs, and a lot of them are fathers with multiple girlfriends and children who are being supported entirely by the taxpayers of New York.” “And you would use their DNA to track them down and make them pay child support?” Seth asked in disbelief. “Why the fuck not?” Freck responded. “They’re far from innocent in all of this, and they’re supporting a culture of crime and violence while they’re girlfriends and children live in fear. I’d go even further. People in the projects don’t need cars unless they’re physically disabled or have a job that requires a car. There’s little need for parking, and so the parking lots should be auctioned off and developed where possible. The money raised could be used to clear the backlog of deferred maintenance in the projects, and to improve them, significantly. And as far as those ‘New Jersey’ SUVs are concerned, either require a residential sticker to park on the street at night, or outright ban overnight parking of all but vehicles with New York tags. At least force them to pay seven or eight hundred dollars a month to park their SUVs in a private garage. Then, at least some of that drug money would find its way back into the economy.” “I can’t believe you don’t see that as an invasion of privacy,” Seth interjected. “What, selling drugs, using fake addresses to purchase illegally-bought vehicles, parking those vehicles free of charge on city streets and skipping out on paying legitimate child support? Personally, I think the whole approach to drug addiction is wrong…” “At least we can agree on that,” Seth interrupted. “But there’s no reason the city should actually facilitate racketeering by looking the other way. Why make it easy for the drug lords in Mexico and the meth labs in the U.S. to make use of the street gangs of New York to do their dirty work? “I was even more struck by Asher’s idea of self-help,” Freck continued. “We can’t eliminate the culture of poverty until those caught in it want to break out of it. A good case in point is one my dad commented on, just the other day. He’s too busy to volunteer for anything, so he gives generously to charity. One of the organizations he gives to is an organization that provides the resources for those in need to get an education. Sometimes they highlight a particular case as a means of raising money. “Recently, they sent a mailing asking for help to educate a young woman with five children and a sixth on the way. If only she could get an education, the argument went, she could turn her life around and provide support for her children. Obviously, she started having children when she was in her teens, and of course there may have been extenuating circumstances. However, the fact that she’s pregnant yet again shows she hasn’t even taken the first step to turn her life around. How was it that we’re supposed to expect her to take that education seriously and use it effectively to get a good job if she hasn’t even shown a willingness to stop having kids? It would be a case of throwing good money after bad. She needs to demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility for her own life before we should step in with assistance.” “Guys,” Kyle interrupted, “as usual, you’re trying to solve the last problem when a larger one looms ahead of us, and I’m not just talking about global warming. “My dad went to a medical conference in Cleveland last summer, and in an attempt to be more of a real father to us, he took Roger and me with him. While he attended the conference, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Natural History museum and the art museum. After the conference was over, Dad took us to Sandusky, where they have one of the largest amusement parks in the world. “Anyway, along Interstate 90 we passed a Delco plant with a huge parking lot. Only about ten percent of the parking lot was actually used for parking and the rest of it was covered over with solar arrays. Dad thought it was funny that an automotive plant had more solar cells than cars or people, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the symbolism of that one plant, and by what it means for the future. “Imagine that a manufacturing plant only needs one-tenth as many workers as it did when it was built. Imagine that a plant that makes parts for cars that burn fossil fuels relies so heavily on renewable energy. What this portends is a future in which only a small percentage of the population is gainfully employed in high-skill jobs, and everyone else is unemployed and lives in poverty. Of course, that doesn’t exactly explain who will buy the products the skilled workers manufacture. “Rather than trying to solve the problem of the cycle of poverty, let’s look at trying to plan for the future with a post-employment economy. Perhaps we should consider paying everyone a living wage out of the profits of industry. Perhaps we should consider shortening work hours and shortening the work week so that we can pay more people a decent salary. Perhaps we should have mandatory retirement at thirty so that people could retire young and live off the fruits of their labors for the rest of their lives. Shouldn’t automation benefit the workers it displaces as well as the shareholders? “So rather than looking at how to end the cycle of public assistance, maybe what we should be doing is looking at how to turn it into a model for our future.” “Damn, Kyle,” Seth responded. “Leave it to a ten-year-old to make today’s progressives look like fascists.” “On a lighter note,” Freck interjected, “You should see the media player Kyle got for his birthday and Chanukah!” <> <> <> “OK, we’ve got the first and fourth tracks on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as a definite,” Kyle expounded. “It has a lot of breath, it’s intimate and there are deep overtones that only a top sound system can reproduce. If anything will differentiate the subtleties between vinyl and digital, that will.” The four boys were sitting on the floor in front of Asher’s new stereo, selecting potential vinyl albums to use in Seth’s bet with Asher and his father. With each potential vinyl album, Seth used his iPhone to explore his digital library, making sure that he had the exact same album in his collection. It was agreed that the digital versions had to be digitized from the same master as the original vinyl. Any remixing or remastering would alter the sound, making it easy to tell the difference between versions. As per the original bet, the test was to be conducted by an independent party, namely Kyle, and everyone was to listen to two tracks from each of five albums. A score of eight correctly identified tracks out of ten total would indicate the ability to differentiate vinyl from digital. Identifying six or fewer tracks would be considered to be the result of random chance and would constitute failure. Seven tracks would constitute a draw. “But what if you score two or less tracks out of ten?” Kyle pointed out. “That would amount to worse than chance, or a reverse correlation.” In lay terms, scoring zero, one or two would indicate that the listener thought the digital tracks were from the vinyl recordings and vice versa. Obviously, there should be special consequences for that as well. “What if we agree that a negative correlation should be counted as a second win for the opponent, possibly doubling the length of service for the award?” Everyone agreed that that would be appropriate. “I have Harry Belafonte,” Asher suggested. “He had an incredible voice with a lot of dynamic range.” “Harry Belafonte? Yuck!” replied Seth. “I’m just not into Calypso. I have absolutely none of his recordings in my collection, and I’m not about to add one to win this bet.” “How about Frank Sinatra’s My Way,” Asher suggested as he pulled out the album from his father’s collection. “Old Blue Eyes,” Seth echoed. “He definitely had one of the most easily recognized voices of the twentieth century. The man actually had three hugely successful careers, first as a teenage heartthrob, then as a decent actor and finally as an iconic male jazz vocalist.” “Four careers if you include his ties to the mob,” Kyle added. “Well, there was that,” Asher agreed. “He went into acting when he lost his singing voice,” Freck chimed in. “There’s always been a lot of speculation as to why, and how he was able to make a comeback. Obviously, it couldn’t have been cancer or anything like that, so it was probably just laryngeal polyps, but that would be devastating to a singer. He was ridiculed a lot for his acting career, but his performance in the original Manchurian Candidate was solid.” “What tracks are on My Way?” Seth asked. “Let’s see…” Asher replied as he looked at the back of the album cover. “Watch What Happens, Didn’t We, Hallelujah I Love Her So, Yesterday…” “McCartney’s Yesterday?” Seth asked. “That’s the one,” Asher confirmed. “You know, I always wondered about his rendition of Didn’t We. The original title and lyrics were, Didn’t We Girl, so I always wondered if maybe old Franky wasn’t as straight as he purported to be.” “Nah,” Freck replied. “He probably just didn’t like the way it sounded with the extra word.” “Anyway, the other tracks are, “All My Tomorrows, My Way, A Day in the Life of a Fool, For Once in My Life, If You Go Away and Mrs. Robinson.” “A Day in the Life of a Fool is the Brazilian song, Manhã de Carnaval,” Kyle pointed out. “It’s become a Jazz standard.” “He really belts If You Go Away out of the park,” Asher suggested, I think we should include that one and Didn’t We.” “Sounds good to me,” Seth agreed. “For a female vocalist, we could do Judy Garland,” Asher suggested as he pulled out another album. “Oh, that’s so gay!” Kyle replied. “Why not Maria Callas?” Freck interjected, “the greatest opera singer of all time.” “Sorry, but my dad doesn’t have any opera in his record collection,” Asher responded. “No opera?” Freck exclaimed. “How is that possible?” Then breaking into a surprisingly good falsetto, he sang, “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle Que nul ne peut apprivoiser, Et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle, S'il lui convient de refuser.” Everyone broke into applause and Seth added, “Well done, Carmen.” Freck bowed in response. Pulling out Barbra Streisand’s album, The Way We Were, Asher suggested, “I know this is gonna sound gay, guys, but no female vocalist comes even close to Barbra Streisand.” “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” Seth sang. “Or has time rewritten every line?” Freck continued in song. “If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we? Could we?” Kyle added in song. “Memories light the corners of my mind,” Asher sang along, “Misty water-colored memories…” “…of the way we were,” all four of them sang together. “What a great song,” Kyle stated. “We gotta include that one. What else was on the album.” Asher read off the titles from the back of the album and his boyfriend commented, “It’s gotta be either All in Love is Fair or What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life. Both of those are outstanding songs that really showcase her talent.” “It would be easier to do All in Love is Fair,” Asher suggested. “It’s the next track on the album. “OK, that makes sense,” Seth agreed. “I love that song.” “And I love you!” Asher added as he gave his boyfriend a peck on the lips.” “Oh gag me,” Freck responded as he made gagging noises. “Shut the fuck up, Freck,” Kyle responded, “and while you’re at it, fuck me madly.” Kyle then kissed him on the lips with much more passion, earning catcalls from Asher and Seth. “OK, we’ve got Jazz instrumentals, and male and female vocalists. We still need something classical and maybe classic rock,” Kyle suggested. “My dad doesn’t have much in the way of classical music,” Asher lamented as he looked through the collection. “Perhaps it’s time for me to change that. Maybe it’s time for me to add to the collection.” Then continuing to explore the collection he pulled out an album and said, “This one will probably do. Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.” “I don’t have that album,” Seth replied, “but I do have the same thing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.” “What do you know,” Asher responded as he pulled out another album, “My dad has that one too.” “Isn’t Rhapsody in Blue a bit long?” Kyle asked. “There are shorter pieces on the same album,” Asher suggested. “There’s the Concerto in F. The third movement’s only six minutes. Variations on I’ve Got Rhythm is eight minutes long.” “I’m familiar with Variations, but not with Concerto in F,” Seth replied. “It’s an excellent piece,” Freck responded. “It’s a piano concerto, and on a par with the likes of Grieg and Rachmaninoff in my opinion,” he added. “I wouldn’t go that far,” Kyle challenged, “but it’s certainly one of the outstanding pieces of the twentieth century.” “It should be fine for our purposes, along with Variations,” Asher agreed. “And for rock, how about the Eagles’ Hotel California?” “Too much air time,” Kyle complained. “Everyone knows that song by heart. The whole album, for that matter. It would be too easy to pick up on subtle differences.” “OK,” Asher agreed as he put the album back where he’d found it. Then pulling out another album, he suggested, “Blood, Sweat and Tears?” “Oh, that one’s Ideal,” Kyle exclaimed. Then breaking into song, “What goes up, must come down. Spinning wheel gotta go round.” “What else is on the album?” “The best-known tracks are God Bless the Child, You’ve Made Me so Very Happy, More and More, and of course And When I Die.” “And When I Die would be good,” Seth suggested, and everyone agreed. “All right, we’ve got our five albums and ten tracks. Now we just have to find a time in the early morning when Dad’s available, and Kyle,” Asher exclaimed. “Good luck with that!” Kyle responded. “I’ve no intention of getting up early while on my winter break. I’m gonna be too busy makin’ love with my baby.” “Oooh,” responded both Seth and Asher. “I guess we’ll just hafta wait until after the start of the new year,” Seth commented. “And so again, we wait,” Asher replied. <> <> <> “Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Julie Moore said as she kissed Asher on the cheek, after he greeted her at the door. “Merry Christmas Asher,” Frank Moore said as he shook his son’s boyfriend’s hand. Asher invited both of them into his apartment. They were laden down with heavy shopping bags containing giftwrapped boxes. “Apparently there’s a storm coming, so we can’t stay long,” Frank added. “We’re sorry we can’t stay for Christmas, but when the Governor extends an invitation, you can exactly say no.” “Don’t worry, Dad,” Seth responded. “I’m used to it.” “Oh Seth,” Julie countered. “You know we’d have much rather spent our time with you. It’s all about politics. You know we love you more than anything.” “Yeah, I do know,” Seth replied with a smile. “I’ve always known, and the feeling’s mutual. I’m grateful that finally there’s someone in my life who matters more to me than life itself. Finally, there’s someone in my life with whom I’d ratherspend the holiday. I’m beginning my own family now.” “I’m sure you feel that way, Seth,” Frank said, “but you’re still only thirteen…” “I guess it does sound a bit pretentious of me,” Seth interrupted, “but I do love Asher, very much.” “We know you do,” Julie answered, “and we love him too.” “Keep in mind that your arrangement of living with him and sleeping with him every night is temporary,” Frank interjected. “Once the new place is done, you’ll each have your own space again and, hopefully, you’ll begin a family together in earnest… maybe you’ll even adopt kids… but that’s years in the future.” “Would you object to my moving in with Seth when the apartment’s ready, assuming my parents’ agree to it too?” Asher asked. Looking at his wife for her head nod, Frank responded, “I think that’s a decision the two of you should make together when the time is right. I know you’d rather not go back to being alone at night, and if you still love each other as you do now, then living together should be your choice. I would recommend, however, that you both have someplace to go when you need to be alone.” “We really do need to be going,” Julie reminded her husband. “Before you leave,” Seth asked, “could I ask a quick question?” “Of course, Seth,” Julie answered. Seth then outlined the discussion he and Asher had had on the previous Friday night, without going into the nature of their bet. “That’s some quick question!” Frank began, “The short answer is that I agree with some of what Asher said and with some of what you said, Seth. I know you probably think I believe what you believe. That’s probably where you got your beliefs in the first place. However, what you’ve heard is my political opinion, which doesn’t necessarily reflect my own. A lot of my constituents live in the projects, and I can’t exactly tell them they shouldn’t have babies. That would be political suicide. There’s no question that having children ties young women to the welfare system, makes them dependent on it and prevents them from getting the education they need or ever becoming gainfully employed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of this back in the sixties, at the beginning of the formation of Johnson’s Great Society. “The children should never be penalized, but I do think we could do a hell of a lot more to emphasize personal responsibility and maybe tie public assistance to being responsible. For example, certain luxuries like cell phone minutes could be tied to things like getting an education. And maybe certain things could be taken away when they make bad choices, such as getting pregnant while on public assistance. “Where I strongly disagree with Asher is on the matter of using DNA to track down the fathers. It would be nice to find a way to get the fathers to be more involved with supporting their kids, but it probably won’t happen. DNA should be private, and the sharing of information should be strictly voluntary. Otherwise, where would we draw the line? Should a drug maker have direct access to DNA records, so they could track down ideal test subjects for a new drug trial? How about letting Jim Beam target ads at people who have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. That’s a slippery slope we should never go down.” “We really do need to get going,” Julie reminded them. Seth and Asher handed his parents a Christmas gift from both of them, and they wished them a safe trip to Albany as they closed the door. “Wow, I never expected my dad to think like that!” Seth began, once the two of them were alone. “Me either,” Asher agreed. “It looks like maybe we both need to rethink our opinions now.” “Definitely,” Seth replied. “One thing’s for sure… we’re both gonna be in drag come New Year’s Eve.” “Your dad didn’t leave us any leeway with that,” Asher agreed, and then added, “but maybe we could have a party, and talk Freck and Kyle into dressing up in drag too.” “You know, that could really be a lot of fun!” Seth replied. “We’ll have to suggest it when they get here. Speaking of which, what time are they arriving?” “I told them to be here at 6:00,” Asher answered. “We’ll pick up the food just before.” The plan was to spend Christmas Eve with their best friends, but Freck had insisted that Asher take the night off and that they send out for food. Asher ended up ordering four complete turkey dinners from the Good Stuff Diner, but because they were well outside the delivery area, Seth arranged for Uber to pick up and deliver the meals. They were scheduled to arrive at around 6:30. In the meantime, Freck and Kyle would be bringing an assortment of sushi from the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar at Hudson Eats, and Seth and Asher would pick up an assortment of Asian appetizers from Asher’s parents’ restaurant. The boys would certainly not starve. Asher and Seth went downstairs at 5:30 but were shocked when they discovered just how much colder and windier it was than when they’d been out in the morning. It took them three trips to carry all the dishes that had been prepared for them. It was significantly more food than they’d requested. Parents! By the time Freck and Kyle arrived, it was already beginning to snow heavily, and with a stiff wind, walking outside was very difficult. “Looks like you got here just in time,” Seth commented as he took one of two enormous trays of sushi from Kyle and put it down on the dining room table. Freck carried the other tray into the kitchen. “I hope the Uber guy can get here with the turkey dinners,” Asher worried as the snow only continued to worsen.” “It shouldn’t be long until he arrives,” Asher responded. “I’m gonna check to make sure my parents got there OK,” Seth added as he took out his phone and dialed them. His parents were already settled into the place in Albany, but during the call he got a call from the Uber driver that he couldn’t allow to go to voice mail. After speaking to him, Seth hung up his phone and said, “The driver asked if we can come downstairs to pick up the food from him, ’cause the only place to stand is at a bus stop or in the entrance to the loading dock, and he doesn’t want to get towed, especially in this weather.” “OK, let’s get the food,” Asher agreed. Refusing Kyle and Freck’s help, they headed downstairs and out the side door into near white-out conditions. “Are you gonna be OK?” Asher asked the driver as he and Seth took the food from him. “I live just across Delancey,” the driver replied. “I’ll be home in five minutes, thanks to God.” Asher gave the driver an extra twenty-dollar tip in cash for his delivery in such bad weather, and wished him well. Back upstairs in their apartment, Asher and Seth found Kyle and Freck watching the Weather Channel on Asher’s TV. “It’s gonna be a much worse storm than originally predicted,” Freck said immediately. “A low-pressure cell tracked much further inland than originally modeled, so we’re in the midst of a real Nor’easter. We’re under a blizzard warning with winds gusting to seventy miles-an-hour and we’re expecting two to three feet of snow.” “Obviously, you’re staying here tonight with us,” Seth said to Freck and Kyle. “Maybe tomorrow night too.” “Fuck, I’d better call my folks,” Asher responded as he took out his phone. “I’ll tell them they need to close the restaurant and join us here.” Before he could even dial the number, however, the door opened and his parents walked in, carrying bags of additional food. They weren’t dressed for the weather, wearing only light jackets and regular shoes. Both of them were encrusted with snow. Taking the food from them, Asher suggested, “You two need to take a hot bath. I’d suggest doing it together, but there isn’t room.” “Oh yes there is,” his mother replied. “We’ve done it before, many times. We just have to lay in opposite directions.” Asher didn’t even want to imagine his parents lying together, naked in their bathtub, but before he even had a chance to process the thought, they’d disappeared into the tiny bathroom. Realizing their dinner for four had become a dinner for six, Asher quickly removed the tray of sushi from the table and began setting it with six place settings. With the other boys’ help, he set up all the food, buffet style on the kitchen island. It was going to be a feast. Moments later, Asher’s parents emerged from the bathroom in their robes and retreated to the master bedroom, emerging a short time later wearing warm, casual clothes. Joining the boys in the kitchen, soon everyone had filled their plates with sushi, turkey and stuffing, and an assortment of Asian specialties. Ironically, it was Asher’s parents that seemed to enjoy the turkey the most, as they were used to eating their own restaurant food. Asher and Seth loaded up mostly with sushi on their plates, and there was a huge variety of it, and Kyle and Freck filled their plates mostly with the food from Asher’s parents’ restaurant, as they’d never had it before. Regardless of the food, everyone was using chopsticks, which they all used with surprising ease — even the non-Asians. By the time they could eat no more, half of the turkey was gone, as well as one of the platters of sushi. There was so much Asian food from the restaurant, however, that one could hardly tell that it had been touched. Sealing everything up in containers, they soon had everything put away in the refrigerator, and some of it in the freezer, to be eaten another time. They couldn’t believe what they saw when they looked out the window, or rather what they didn’t see. The view was of a complete white-out that made it impossible to see anything. Because the door to the balcony was entirely glass in an aluminum frame, however, they could see that the balcony was filled with at least a couple feet of snow, with no end to the snow in sight. Turning the TV back on, the weather report was even worse, with wind chill temperatures well below zero and a prediction of three to four feet of snow by morning. A snow emergency had been declared and everyone was warned to stay indoors. The airports were closed, bus service had been suspended and even the above-ground portions of the subways had been shut down, with the below ground portions scheduled to stop running at midnight. Amtrak and the commuter rail lines in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey had been suspended until further notice. Beyond a doubt, it was going to be a Christmas to remember. “Why don’t you boys go open your presents,” Asher’s mother suggested. “We promised Seth’s parents we’d wait for Christmas morning, which we’ve interpreted as midnight.” Shaking her head, she said, “There may not be much time in the morning, so you might as well open them now and go to bed early. We have a business to run and people in the neighborhood will be counting on us to feed them and feed them we will. It could be days before our regular help can get here, so we’ll need your help,” then looking at Kyle and Freck, she added, “All of your help, to keep the restaurant open. People will be counting on us. “Asher, you’ll help me in the kitchen. It’ll only be the two of us, so we’ll both need to do double duty. At least you already know how to make everything on our menu. Seth, you’ll man the take-out counter. Sorry to foist it on you, but we won’t have anyone else to do the job. There’ll be a very brisk take-out business once we reopen, so you’ll have to be on your toes. “Kyle and Freck, you’ll help my husband make deliveries. I expect we’ll be making a lot of deliveries for at least a week after this storm peters out. Once the snow stops, the city will begin clearing the roads, but with no place else to dump the snow, they’ll dump it onto the sidewalks. Any cars that didn’t heed the snow emergency warnings will simply be buried under the snow. The city won’t have the time or resources to tow them. “The bottom line is you won’t be able to walk or even ride a Citibike to make your deliveries. Because of our years of loyalty, the car service we sometimes use will provide us with an SUV and a driver. We’ll pay him out of a delivery surcharge instead of his usual hourly rate. Even with the car, you boys will be climbing over snow drifts higher than your head, which is why it’s going to take both of you and my husband to make the rounds.” Seth, Kyle and Freck were shocked by the magnitude of the undertaking to reopen the restaurant and provide for the needs of the community. Asher already knew what was involved, but this was going to be the first time he’d ever been involved himself. In the past, his parents had hired neighborhood teens to do the work, with mixed results. With Asher being fourteen himself now, he could do the work of a passel of help in the kitchen. The other boys were too young to be working, but there was no reason they couldn’t volunteer in return for under-the-table tips. With nothing else to do, the boys went about exchanging gifts. Asher and Seth gave both sets of parents the same gift. They had gone to a professional studio photographer and had a formal portrait made of the two of them. Dressed in semi-formal clothing, the two boys looked absolutely stunning together. Asher with his mocha-colored skin, his Asian features, his brown eyes, black wavy hair and his warm smile, wore a red shirt with a beige suit and a red carnation. Seth, with his golden curly hair, his pale white skin and his green eyes, wore a dark green shirt with a black suit and a green carnation that really brought out the color of his eyes. Seth was seated on Asher’s lap and Asher had his arms around him, clearly showing the love they shared between them. Sized large as life at 14 X 20 inches and framed in solid mahogany, the print showed not a pair of young teens, but two mature boys who were painfully in love with each other. Asher’s mom had already decided that the boys should remain together after the work on Seth’s apartment was complete. Seeing them as in the photo only reinforced her decision to talk to Seth’s parents about it. Gary was equally affected by the photo, literally to the point that it brought tears to his eyes. The gift exchange continued as Seth got a shiny new A&future media player and IEMs from his parents, identical to the one Kyle got for his birthday and Chanukah. Asher’s parents got him a one-year subscription to Tidal, so he’d have music to listen to on his new player, wherever he went. Asher was blown away when he got a brand-new iPhone from his parents, similar to the model that Seth had. Not that his old phone didn’t still work, but it had a very limited capacity. Now, he had a phone that was more powerful than his Chromebook. The gift Asher got from Seth’s parents, however, was so totally unexpected that he nearly fainted. They’d given him the newest MacBook Air laptop, fully decked out with the fastest processor and the maximum memory. Asher knew what that model cost and couldn’t believe that his boyfriend’s parents spent nearly as much on a new laptop for him as they did on Seth’s music player and earbuds. Now he had a laptop that would get him through the rest of high school and maybe even the start of college. Asher and Seth announced that they’d decided not to get each other gifts, as they were constantly spending money on each other all the time. However, Seth then gave Asher a card with an enclosed gift card for a four-year subscription to the student edition of Microsoft Office, and Asher gave Seth a card with an enclosed fifty-dollar gift certificate to HDtracks. Seth and Asher then gave Kyle and Freck a book of a dozen round-trip tickets on Metro North, between Riverdale and Grand Central Terminal. To Kyle and Freck it wasn’t the amount of money that was spent, which wasn’t trivial but not extravagant either. It was the thought and the symbolism of such a wonderful gift. Kyle and Freck also pooled their resources and gave Asher and Seth a combined gift of a personally autographed set of Star Trek photos of all six captains from all the series and movies, and Michael Burnham, Spock’s half-sister from Discovery. Although it was still fairly early, the boys decided to call it a night in case they had to get an early start at the restaurant in the morning. Outside the snow was still falling and the wind was howling, making that possibility seem much less likely as the storm continued. “So how are we gonna do this?” Freck asked as he eyed Asher’s queen-size bed. Back home he had a California King that could have easily accommodated all four of them with room to spare. He wasn’t sure if that was even possible with Asher’s bed. The only alternative would be to sleep on air mattresses out in the living room, assuming they even had air mattresses. He certainly didn’t want to sleep on a hardwood floor over concrete. “Guys, I know you’re probably wondering how four of us will fit on the queen-size bed in my room. The answer is that my parents have a king, and we’re gonna swap. We’ll change all the linens and my parents will sleep in my room, and we’ll sleep in theirs. It’ll still be a bit tighter than what we’re used to, but none of us is that large that we shouldn’t all be able to fit on a king-size mattress.” Because Kyle and Freck didn’t have any clothes with them other than what they wore over, and nothing of Asher’s or Seth’s would fit them, it was agreed that they’d all sleep nude, so Kyle and Freck could wash out their underwear and let them dry overnight. Seth, himself a seasoned traveler, showed them how they could use a bath towel to remove most of the water. Although there was no need for Asher or Seth to sleep nude, they decided they would as well so that their friends wouldn’t feel as self-conscious. The reality, however, was that all four boys usually slept that way anyway. After washing up, brushing their teeth and washing underwear, the boys used robes to get from the bathroom to the master bedroom and then removed their robes and slipped into bed. Asher and Freck were on the inside, with Seth and Kyle on the outside, next to their respective boyfriends. It was the first time either Asher or Seth had seen Kyle in the nude, and they were both impressed that a ten-year-old was as well-endowed as he was. In spite of the tight quarters, they fell asleep quickly. Asher awoke first the next morning to find that he’d turned over during the night and was now facing Freck. Not only that, but he was snuggled with his friend, with his arm around him. Freck was also facing him, and their dicks were both hard and pressing against each other. Freck wasn’t Asher’s boyfriend and he wasn’t even Asher’s type, but Asher had his arm around his smooth torso and their throbbing dicks were pressed against each other, and both boys were most definitely gay, and so predictably they became aroused. They could’ve easily gotten each other off, but that wasn’t what either of them wanted. Realizing that Seth had his arm around his own torso, Asher quickly turned back to face his own boyfriend and was greeted by a curly mop of golden curls and a radiant pair of green eyes. Poked in the thigh by Asher’s appendage, Seth reached down and felt his boyfriend’s manhood, and quietly whispered, we’d better do something about this. Scooting down in bed, Seth attended to Asher’s dilemma, and then Asher did the same. From the movements coming from the other side of the bed, Asher and Seth could tell that Freck and Kyle were doing something similar. Glancing at the bedside clock, Asher noted that they’d been asleep for close to ten hours. Getting up, he glanced out the window and saw that it was still snowing, with whiteout conditions. Putting on a robe, Asher quickly took care of business, followed by each of his friends. Never dreaming that two boys could use the bathroom at the same time, let alone four, Asher was astounded that he and Seth actually managed to shower together while Kyle and Freck brushed their teeth. Switching places, Asher and Seth applied deodorant and brushed their teeth, vacating the bathroom by the time Kyle and Freck were ready to get out of the tub. Fortunately, Asher had shaved just the day before and could wait another day or two before shaving again. After getting dressed, Asher knocked on his own bedroom door and let his parents know the bathroom was free. He and Seth then headed for the kitchen, where Asher got to work preparing a simple breakfast from some of the Asian leftovers, adding whole wheat toast and a soft-boiled egg to each serving. After breakfast, they checked the Weather Channel and found that the snow was expected to diminish over the next hour or so. There was a record snowfall of close to five feet as measured in Central Park, which meant that any hope of opening the restaurant was unlikely for at least another day. This being Christmas, there was little chance the city would fully mobilize its work force to clear the streets, yet mobilize they did to provide access for police, fire and ambulance service. All of the north-south avenues were cleared, as was FDR Drive and the Westside Highway. The two-way east-west cross streets were all cleared, including Canal, Delancey, Houston and Fourteenth Streets in Lower Manhattan. In the boroughs the major highways were cleared, including the Major Deegan, the Cross-Bronx, the Brooklyn-Queens and the Long Island and Van Wyck Expressways. Also cleared were the Grand Central, Jackie Robinson, Southern State and Belt Parkways. All of the bridges were cleared of snow and de-iced. In spite of the massive mobilization and on Christmas Day, no less, the city fielded numerous complaints about the lack of attention to individual neighborhood streets. Of course, those employees who were called in complained bitterly about missing Christmas with their families. On the other hand, the private contractors and towing companies managed to mobilize fully without experiencing any employee complaints. Many of them plowed city streets on their way to servicing their contracts for parking lots and driveways, earning the gratitude of the people in the neighborhoods they served. With Grand and Madison Streets, and East Broadway snowed in, and without the benefit of the M14A, the M21 and the M22 buses, there was no way to access the restaurant, and so it would be at least another day before anything could be done. Although Kyle and Freck might have been able to get back to Battery Park City via FDR Drive and the West Side Highway using Uber, it would have meant climbing over eight-foot snow drifts up to Delancey Street, or possibly even Houston Street. Besides, they would be needed in a day or two to help deliver food to the needy. Hence the four boys and Asher’s parents were stuck for Christmas in their apartment. Recognizing that it was the perfect time to act on the bet made several weeks earlier between Seth, Asher and Asher’s father, Kyle proceeded to get things set up for the test. As per the terms of the bet, there were five albums, with two selected tracks on each. Asher had copies of all of them ready on vinyl from his father’s record collection. Seth had copies of all the tracks in high-res digital format, uploaded to a cloud-based server where he kept all his music. Since his new A&K high-res music player lacked software for accessing his server, he downloaded the tracks to his laptop and loaded them onto the music player, which he connected to the Nova 300 integrated amp in Asher’s stereo system. It was critical that there be no clues as to which source of the music was actually playing on the stereo, and Kyle would be in charge of making sure the sources were random and unknown. An app on his phone would provide a random number, which he used to select which source was heard — the vinyl record on the turntable or the digital version on Seth’s A&K. Gary couldn’t help but think that a coin toss would have been a lot simpler and equally effective, but he knew better than to suggest such an antiquated method to the boys. In any case, Kyle would need to play both the turntable and the A&K simultaneously, to ensure that the true source was unknown. With the lights on the amp covered up, he would use the remote control to switch between the two sources as appropriate. There’d be no way for anyone but Kyle to know. Typing up an answer sheet on Seth’s laptop, Kyle provided twenty blanks in two columns of ten each, numbered from one to ten from top to bottom. Above the first column he typed ‘First’ and above the second he typed ‘Second’. Kyle printed out four copies from Asher’s printer, and gave one to each of the contestants, Asher, Seth and Gary, Asher’s dad. He kept the last one for himself, to be used for recording the answer key. Finally, Kyle played each of the ten tracks of music in random order, and he played them with the turntable selected as the sound source and with the A&K selected as the sound source. Kyle marked the correct responses on his answer sheet, to serve as the answer key for scoring the others. After playing all the tracks in both formats, Kyle collected the answer sheets, compared them to the key and marked incorrect answers. He added up the associated score and handed the sheets back to each of the participants before announcing the results. “Asher,” he began, “you scored seven correct out of ten, which is better than chance, but not enough better to win. Seven is an indeterminate score. You can tell the difference between vinyl and digital some of the time, but not all of the time. Neither you nor Seth has to cook for the other based on your performance. “Seth, you scored six,” Kyle continued. “Per the agreed-upon metric, your answers were considered random chance and you truly were unable to tell the difference between vinyl and digital. You asserted you would be unable to tell the difference, and you were right! Score one for you, which means that Asher owes you a month of dinners and Gary owes you a month of breakfasts, served in bed if you wish.” “No crumbs allowed on my sheets,” interrupted Asher to much laughter. “Finally, Gary,” Kyle went on. “You correctly identified two tracks by the correct source. That means you actually did worse than random chance. You thought the vinyl tracks were digital, and vice versa. You preferred the digital tracks!” “That’s impossible,” Gary complained. “Hey, you still have a vinyl collection you can be proud of, and that’s worth a small fortune. However, when it came down to what you actually believe is more realistic, you chose digital. That just goes to show how far digital has come and that the sound quality is so good that it had you fooled. Perhaps you’ll do better the next time, on Seth’s setup when it’s finally ready. In the meantime, you owe Seth a second month of breakfasts in bed.” Naturally, no one was happy with the results. Asher didn’t see how a mere difference of one point meant that his results where indeterminant whereas Seth, with one less point, was considered the winner because of his inability to distinguish vinyl from digital. No one was less satisfied with the outcome than Asher’s dad, though, as the last thing he expected was to prefer digital over vinyl. By the next morning, what some around the world referred to Boxing Day and which, coincidentally, was Freck’s twelfth birthday, Grand Street and the major thoroughfares on the Lower East Side were plowed and it became possible to reopen the restaurant. The front door, however, was completely obstructed by snow up to the very top and it was necessary to shovel it out before anyone could access it. The four boys worked together to do so, clearing a path from the street to the front door, and from adjacent areas of sidewalk. Working together with the other shops and businesses, they cleared a footpath all the way to the curb cuts at both ends of the sidewalk. The one thing they couldn’t do was to shovel the snow back out into the street; they could get a citation for that. Also, it was considered bad to shovel snow onto a neighbor’s patch of sidewalk, as they could just as easily shovel it back with a bonus of their snow too. Keeping the shoveled path narrow avoided both problems. Although it was Freck’s birthday, celebrating it would have to wait for the weekend and once the store was back on firm footing. Freck and Lyle spent the next few days making deliveries with Gary, literally climbing over snow drifts to do so. Asher provided immeasurable help in the kitchen, working with his mother to prepare the food on demand, and Seth manned the take-out counter, taking orders over the phone and via the Internet, and ringing up sales on a surprisingly modern register that even accepted electronic payments from PayPal, Apple and Google. By the end of business on Friday, all the subways and buses were up and running on a holiday schedule and the regular help would be able to come in to work starting Saturday morning. The city wouldn’t finish digging out until Monday morning, but that was of little importance to the boys, who slept together in Asher’s parent’s bed for the final time on Friday night. Come morning, Asher prepared Freck a breakfast he would never forget. Getting up extra early and sneaking away to Chinatown with his mother, who also went in search of fresh fish, he visited some of the best fish markets in the city and purchased sushi-grade cuts of yellowfin tuna, salmon, eel, octopus, crab and squid. He bought fresh vegetables and seaweed, and he purchased the ingredients for wasabi. Getting back to the apartment by 7:30, his father was up and getting ready for work. His friends, however, were still fast asleep. Preparing the rice in a pressure cooker, he set about cutting the fish and vegetables into long thin strips. Once the rice was ready, he rolled the requisite ingredients together and sliced the rolls into six or eight pieces. He even attempted to make rainbow sushi, a first for him, using multiple types of fish on a diagonal so as to create a rainbow effect when they were cut. He made a California roll with cucumber, crab and avocado, and he made tuna, salmon, squid ad crab rolls in both traditional and spicy varieties. He made Wasabi paste by mashing horseradish, mustard seed and avocado. Real wasabi root was almost impossible to come by, even in Japan, so he made do with an oft-used alternative recipe. Lastly, he made a ‘breakfast sushi’ by using scrambled egg and turkey bacon with sushi rice and seaweed. By the time he was finished, the smell of the frying bacon had attracted three bleary-eyed, naked boys to the kitchen. “Is this a clothing-optional breakfast?” Asher asked with a smirk. “It will be if you don’t get some coffee going,” Kyle responded to everyone’s laughter. “Actually, we were too tired last night to wash out our underwear,” Freck explained. “There are some stains I’d rather not mention. We totally forgot.” “Oh, that is way TMI,” Asher responded. “About that coffee?” Kyle asked. “OK, I’ll get the coffee on,” Asher replied. “Just be sure to wash your behind before you sit down on our kitchen chairs if you intend to opt out of wearing clothes to breakfast.” “I’ll take a shower, but I want coffee when I get back, OK?” Kyle requested. “Sure thing,” Asher replied. “I’ll go take a shower with him too,” Freck added. “That could take a while,” Seth said with a smirk once the bathroom door was closed. “Ya think?” Asher replied as he started to make the coffee. “Are you really planning to eat breakfast in the nude?” he asked his boyfriend. “What time does your mother usually come home?” Seth asked. “Right around noon,” Asher replied. “Good, then there’s time.” Seth answered. “You are such a pervert,” Asher commented. “You don’t know the half of it, babe,” Seth replied. “We were talking before we got up, and we got into the kinky things we like. Freck has a real thing for armpits, for example. He likes it that Kyle doesn’t need to use deodorant yet, ’cause he doesn’t hafta worry about getting a mouthful of deodorant.” “More TMI,” Asher replied, “but I have a thing for feet. That’s one of the reasons I like goin’ barefoot.” “Oh, that’s nice to know,” Seth replied. “A lot of people have a foot fetish.” Asher continued. “We should talk about these things like they do. “You remember when that egg fell right on your bare foot and slid between your toes, and you talked about how it might give the egg an interesting flavor?” Seth asked, “Well, that really was a turn-on. I guess I like feet too, ’cause I could really get into, something like that.” “You mean toes to nose?” Asher asked. “And more,” Seth responded. Just then the bathroom door opened and Kyle and Freck walked out, still wearing not a stitch of clothing. Pouring each of them a mug of coffee, Asher added, “That ought to keep you for a little bit. Feel free to help yourself to more. Seth and I are gonna go take our showers, and then I have a deferred birthday surprise ready for brunch.” Asher and Seth proceeded down the hallway and into the bathroom. Checking the water temperature, they got under the shower spray and made out with abandon before getting serious about getting each other clean. They’d yet to tell their friends about the plan for a drag party on New Year’s Eve, but they were nearly certain they’d go along with it. In a short time, they’d forged unusually close bonds of friendship — bonds they hoped would last a lifetime. Soon they’d ring in the new year together — a year of promise and hope.
  9. Altimexis

    Part Two

    Freck awoke much earlier than usual, particularly for a Saturday, but bright light was streaming into his bedroom. He’d evidently forgotten to draw the blinds. As he tried to move in bed, he realized that his arm was around something warm and smooth, and his dick was poking something. A smile came to his face as he remembered the events of the previous evening and the early morning hours. They’d spent quite a bit of time touring the apartment as they discussed every subject imaginable. It was amazing how a simple off-hand comment about politics, religion or the nature of the universe could touch off a deep discussion that could go on for hours. Freck introduced Kyle to his sisters and nanny when they got home, and then he took Kyle to the North End Grill, an upscale seafood restaurant nearby. Thanks to all the conversation they enjoyed during dinner, they didn’t get home until very late, after the girls were already in bed. Freck had planned to take it slowly but Kyle had other ideas. The boy was insatiable and proved to be very knowledgeable when it came to all aspects of gay love. He’d obviously spent as much time on-line reading and watching gay porn as Freck had. Freck even experienced his first ever ejaculation and couldn’t believe how intense it felt, but their activities didn’t stop there. Being gay wasn’t a choice, but Freck chose to love Kyle, and Kyle chose to love Freck. Young though they were, there was no question as to their feelings for each other. This wasn’t mere infatuation and it was so much more than lust. Both boys knew their love was as deep as any — the kind they hoped would last forever. As Freck shifted in bed, he felt Kyle squirm and then turn around to face him. His longish brown hair virtually covered his hazel eyes, but not the huge smile that spread across his face. Kyle then got a more serious look and closed the gap, planting a peck on Freck’s lips, which quickly turned into a full, open-mouth kiss. Pulling away, Freck said, “I don’t know how you can stand to kiss me, Kyle. I wouldn’t be able to stand kissing me. The taste in my mouth is horrible… come to think of it, I don’t think we even brushed our teeth before going to bed.” Giggling, Kyle responded, “We had other things on our mind. And my mouth tastes pretty bad too. Besides which, I really need to piss!” Kyle then threw back the covers an made a mad dash for the bathroom, letting loose his stream the moment the toilet seat was up. Freck joined him in front of the toilet and relieved himself as well. “Wanna take a shower?” Freck asked. “There’s room for both of us.” “You have to ask?” Kyle answered. Once under the water, the boys took turns washing each other as they familiarized themselves with each other’s body. In spite of their age difference, the boys were surprisingly similar. Kyle was perhaps an inch shorter than Freck, and he was leaner. Freck was definitely more muscular, which Kyle found very appealing. He also was further into puberty than Kyle, although Kyle was fairly well-endowed for a boy about to turn ten. Out of the shower, Freck applied deodorant, but Kyle did not need it yet, which for some reason was very appealing to Freck. The thought of nuzzling his nose in Kyle’s arm pits was insanely arousing to him. “Why do I feel like I hardly slept at all last night?” Freck asked as he got out a fresh toothbrush for Kyle. “Maybe it’s because we didn’t?” Kyle answered. “I think we finally went to sleep around three AM, or maybe 3:30, and you woke us up around just after seven, so we only slept maybe four hours at best.” The conversation stopped while the two of them brushed their teeth, side-by-side at Freck’s sink. Once they finished, Freck asked, “You wanna go back to bed?” “You know I’m always up for that,” Kyle answered with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “I meant to sleep, doofus,” “Yeah, sleep sounds good, especially after what we did in the shower,” Kyle answered. “Maybe we could sleep ’til noon.” “If the girls don’t wake us up,” Freck replied with a laugh. The sounds of the girls and their nanny could already be heard through the door, as their nanny got their breakfast ready. “At least the Saturday morning cartoons should keep them busy for a while.” “Good,” Kyle responded. “Let’s go snuggle up in bed.” <> <> <> On the other side of Lower Manhattan, Seth and Asher were just awakening from their own Friday night activities. They’d been boyfriends for over six weeks and had been living together in Asher’s apartment since Thanksgiving, three weeks before. Only a week remained before school let out for the holidays and Christmas was just ten days away. Asher and Seth had spent their Friday night doing something Asher had almost never done in the past — going to see a movie. As money was tight in the White household and the price of three movie tickets was anything but cheap, seeing a movie in the theaters was a luxury reserved for a special occasion. Now that Ash was a teenager and could get around the city on his own; a night at the movies was no longer a remote possibility. Unfortunately, his social isolation meant that going to see a movie would involve running into classmates from his elementary and middle school days, and he didn’t want to chance it. Those days were behind him. For most of his life, a night at the movies boiled down to visiting the Kanopy website and selecting from the New York Public Library’s vast collection. His library card allowed him to watch up to ten movies a month for free, which was usually more than he had time for anyway. If the library didn’t have something he wanted to see, he’d eventually use some of his saved allowance for a rental from VUDU or Amazon. He watched everything on the tiny screen of his Chromebook; he didn’t even realize that for a modest sum, he could have bought a used Amazon Fire Stick or a Roku and watched his Kanopy, Vudu or Amazon movies on the family’s sixty-inch plasma TV. Asher was very smart, but he wasn’t a techie. Now, all of that was in the past. Seth was among the most tech-savvy kids Ash had ever met, and Seth had already purchased brand new Roku, Fire and Chromecast streaming devices and installed them on Asher’s family’s TV. He’d even paid to upgrade their broadband to gigabit service, paid the termination fee on their basic cable service and switched them to a streaming plan that included Netflix, HBO, Showtime and, much to Asher’s delight, CBS All Access. Seth insisted on paying for all of it out of his own pocket, as he felt it was the least he could do, considering that he basically lived there. And Seth could afford to buy a pair of movie tickets as often as he wanted. As it was, he didn’t spend half his allowance, so a night at the movies was something he could give Asher without Asher feeling guilty about it. Friday night dates were becoming a regular feature of their lives and those usually included dinner and a movie. Typically, they’d take the F Train to the Good Stuff Diner, Asher’s favorite restaurant, avoiding the worst of Friday night gridlock. They’d then walk to the Regal Cinemas at Union Square, and by the time the movie let out, traffic had usually subsided enough to take the 14A bus or a taxi home. However, when the weather was nice, they’d simply walk the five miles round trip. So long as they stuck to the major streets, even late on a Friday night, walking was perfectly safe. There were a number of excellent restaurants in the East Village and around Union Square itself that Seth was dying to get Asher to try out. Last night was the first night Seth had succeeded in talking Asher into trying something new, and so they had eaten at Kikoo Sushi, a popular all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in the East Village. It wasn’t cheap, costing about double what they would have spent at a diner, but the sushi was superb and they could have as much of it as they wanted. What made Kikoo unique was the way that patrons ordered their sushi. Every table had an iPad in place of a standard menu. To order an item, all one had to do was to select the quantity and add it their ‘order cart’, then send their order to the kitchen electronically. When it was ready, the server brought the full order to the table. The process was much more streamlined than the conventional process of checking off items on a paper form and then trying to flag down the server to give it to them. Both boys had thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The restaurant was actually fun, the food was outstanding and the movie they saw afterward wasn’t half-bad. The time they spent together in Asher’s bedroom after getting home from the movie wasn’t bad either, as their level of intimacy and their comfort with each other continued to grow. Although they got to sleep a bit earlier than their friends in Battery Park, it wasn’t by much. Getting up at just after 10:00, they took turns in the shower and got dressed. “How about we invite our friends over to have brunch with us?” Asher suggested to Seth as they finished getting ready. “They’ve probably already eaten,” Seth suggested, not really wishing to disturb the lovebirds. “After their first night together? Not likely,” Asher replied. “You really think they spent the night having wild, passionate sex together?” Seth asked. “The way they looked at each other when they met? I doubt they went to bed in their PJs,” Asher replied with a smirk. “If they did, they probably didn’t keep them on for long,” Seth agreed, “but do you think it’s wise to disturb them?” “For a chance to get together with their gay best friends, of course,” Asher replied. “And who doesn’t like a Cajun frittata?” “You have a point,” Seth responded. “OK, go ahead and give them a call. You can take the abuse if you wake them up.” Grabbing his phone, Asher picked Freck from his list of favorites and initiated the call. For a moment, he thought the call was going to go to Freck’s voice mail before his friend finally answered. “What the fuck do you want,” answered an obviously groggy boy at the other end. “Wow, it sounds like someone didn’t get much sleep last night,” Asher replied. After a pause, Freck responded, “It was good… real good. I’m not gonna say more than that.” “Are you and Kyle up to schlepping your way across town for a homemade brunch with your best friends?” Asher asked. Asher could hear in the background, Freck ask Kyle, “You up for brunch with Seth and Ash, babe? Ash is cooking.” “Are you kidding?” Asher heard Kyle reply, “I’d love to have brunch with them.” “Give us a few to get some clothes on and catch an Uber,” Freck responded as he came back on the line. “Great!” Asher replied. “Looking forward to brunch with you and your babe.” “Fucker,” Freck responded before hanging up. Asher had barely had time to peel the potatoes before Freck and Kyle arrived, just fifteen minutes later. “Wow, that was fast,” Seth commented upon opening the door. Did you even bother to shower? “We got up during the night and showered then,” Kyle answered. “We literally just threw on our clothes, brushed our teeth and called for an Uber. Didn’t want to keep you guys waiting… and we’re starved!” “I’m afraid Ash’s just getting started in the kitchen,” Seth responded. “It may be a few before he’s ready to serve brunch. “Come on in, guys,” Asher called out from the kitchen. The coffee’s ready if you want some.” “Are you kidding? Of course I want coffee,” replied nine-year-old Kyle, getting a laugh from everyone. “Help yourself,” responded Asher, as he set out three mugs and a thermal carafe. “Seth brought his coffee maker over, as well as his coffee beans.” “Ah yes, the infamous coffee maker that broke the wiring in his apartment,” Kyle commented with a laugh as he took his first sip. “Oh, this is good.” “This is good,” Freck agreed, taking his first sip, “But it’s strong! It’s very good… very smooth, but Kyle, how is it you’re not dancing on the ceiling after drinking this shit?” Laughing, Kyle replied, “I like it strong. Same way I like my boys.” “I can attest that Freck fits the bill,” Asher inserted to everyone’s laughter. The smells coming from the kitchen were heavenly as Asher sautéed a mix of onions, garlic, peppers and seasonings. When he added ground turkey sausage, the scent sent everyone’s hunger through the roof. Next in the skillet went shredded potatoes, diced tomatoes and, finally whipped eggs. A few minutes later, Asher slid a serving onto each of four plates. Topping it off with a mix of seasonings and fresh-ground pepper, he called out, “Brunch is served.” Grabbing their plates and taking them and their coffees to the table, Asher placed a couple of bowls of salsa on the table and placed a small glass of lime-colored juice at each place before grabbing his own plate and sitting down next to his boyfriend. Pointing to the bowl of green salsa, he said, “This is homemade salsa, but I caution that the green stuff is not for the faint of heart. The red stuff is probably more for the taste of most of you. The juice is aloe juice. It’s not nearly as high in sugar as orange juice, and a whole lot healthier.” Asher, of course, spooned a healthy portion of green salsa on his Cajun frittata. Not to be outdone, Kyle did likewise, prompting Asher to ask, “Are you sure you want to do that, Kyle?” As if to prove his point, he took his fork and cut a healthy portion from his plate and forked it into his mouth. With a smile on his face, he said, “Oh, is this ever good!” But then he quickly grabbed his glass of juice and downed half of it in a single gulp. Fanning his mouth, he said, “Man, that stuff is hot! But is it ever good.” To prove his point, he cut off another healthy bit and shoveled it in, chasing it with only a sip of his coffee. “Gotta put some hair on my chest,” he added, drawing a healthy bout of laughter from everyone at the table. In spite of Kyle’s reaction, Freck also took a healthy portion of the green salsa, saying, “I’ve eaten spicy foods all my life. I doubt this is the spiciest I’ve tasted.” Seth, more sensibly took a large portion of the red salsa, saying, “I’ve nothing to prove. I plan to build up my stomach lining before I try to match my boyfriend’s taste for the hot stuff.” Suddenly, Freck downed his aloe juice in a single gulp and exclaimed, “I take it back. This is by far the spiciest salsa I’ve ever tasted.” He then scraped as much of the salsa off to the side as he could. Passing the red salsa to Freck, Asher said, “Contrary to what you think, this will help moderate the green stuff that’s already on your eggs.” Freck complied by adding a healthy portion of the red salsa on top. Taking a small bite, Freck said, “You’re right… this helps quite a bit. And the frittata’s delicious.” Although the portions were very large and filling, it didn’t take the boys long at all to finish their brunch. As they sipped their coffees, they talked a bit about their plans for the day, the weekend and the upcoming holiday, plus there were two birthdays coming up in short order, starting with Kyle’s tomorrow. “Got any plans for the big one-oh?” Seth asked. Laughing, Kyle responded with, “You make it sound like I just got statehood.” “Very funny, Kyle,” Seth responded, “but seriously, it’s not every day you turn ten. Does your family have any plans? “My dad’s on call, so that kinda nixes anything we might do,” Kyle answered. “Roger has a party planned for the evening tomorrow. Just a cake and ice cream sort of thing with some of the kids from school… not that I’d consider them friends. What kinds of presents am I going to get from kids in middle school? Model airplanes, iTunes gift cards? If I’m lucky, maybe a T-shirt from a band I don’t hate?” “There are people our parents’ age who build model airplanes, and an iTunes gift card can be used to rent an acclaimed foreign film,” Freck pointed out. “And you can always use a T-shirt from a popular band, even if it isn’t your favorite.” “Yeah, OK,” Kyle responded. “You have a valid point there.” “Besides, after I get done helping you to celebrate your birthday, you’ll be too worn out to care what presents you got,” Freck added to everyone’s amusement. Just then, Seth’s phone rang and the lock screen showed it was his mom. “Answering, he asked, “Hi Mom, what’s up?” “Hi sweetheart, how’s everything going with staying at the Whites?” his mother asked. After exchanging some pleasantries without getting into the details of life with his boyfriend, his mother asked, “Could you and Asher come to the apartment this afternoon? We need to make some decisions about how to handle the repairs. Since you and your boyfriend are the ones who would actually spend any time here, we could use your input.” “Well, yeah, sure Mom. We just finished having brunch with our friends, Freck and Kyle. Ash and I’ll come over after they leave.” “What is it, babe,” Asher asked. Taking his face away from the phone, Seth responded, “My parents would like us to come over to the apartment this afternoon. They want our input on some things before the repairs can proceed.” “Could we come?” Freck asked. “I’ve heard so much about the view; I’d really like to see it.” Speaking back into the phone, Seth asked his mom, “Could Freck and Kyle come over with us? Freck would like to see the view. And besides, tomorrow’s Kyle’s tenth birthday.” “I don’t see why not,” Dr. Moore answered. “Sure, your friends can come over. When do you think you’ll be here?” Looking at his friends for confirmation, Seth asked, “Could we come over now?” “You can come over anytime,” She responded.” “Great,” Seth answered. “Just give us a few to clean up from brunch, and we’ll be right over.” <> <> <> “Holy fuck, the place is wrecked!” Seth exclaimed the moment he walked in the door. Asher couldn’t help but notice how Seth’s parents didn’t react at all to his use of the ‘F’ word. It was no wonder he used it so often if his parents let him get away with such casual use around them. His own dad wouldn’t have let him into the apartment until he apologized. “We did tell you the electrician was going to have to break into all the walls,” Frank Moore reminded his son. “Yeah, I know, but seeing the place without the drywall… it almost looks like you gutted the place,” Seth responded. Remembering that his parents had never met Freck or Kyle, he turned to introduce his friends, and couldn’t help but notice the way they were holding hands. Seth couldn’t help but notice how adorable they looked together. “By the way, this young man behind me is Kyle, who’ll be turning ten tomorrow, and his boyfriend is Frances, better known as Freckles, or Freck for short. He’ll celebrate his twelfth birthday, just after Christmas. As Seth’s parents shook the boys’ hands, Julie commented, “I’ve heard so much about both of you. It’s great to finally meet you.” Then noticing Asher’s shiner, she exclaimed, “Asher, what happened to you?” “A bully nailed me for showing him up during wrestling practice in gym class,” Asher answered. “I would have thought a school like Stuyvesant would have weeded out most of the bullies before they got there.” Julie Moore responded. “Being smart isn’t enough to prevent bad behavior,” Seth interjected. “But at least he’ll be suspended until the end of the break, and he has to write a twenty-thousand-word essay on bullying, and he’ll have the stain of an ‘F’ grade in gym on his permanent record.” As the four boys made their way into the apartment, Kyle and Freck headed right for the door to the terrace. Walking onto the terrace, they stood arm-in-arm, admiring the view. “What we need to talk to you about, Seth, and you too, Asher, because it affects you every bit as much as it does your boyfriend, is where to go from here,” Julie began. “You weren’t far off when you said it looks like we’ve gutted the place. We had to take down all the drywall and much of the plaster to access the wiring, so it could be replaced. When the previous contractor upgraded all the wiring, they made extensive use of Edison circuits, which is where two circuits of opposite phase, or polarity, share a common neutral wire. Thus, you only need three wires instead of four. It would have been fine if we’d had 220-volt, two-phase circuits, but we don’t.” “Additionally, in the time since the wiring was installed, some of the neutral wires have overheated and some of the insulation has melted as you so dramatically saw on Thanksgiving,” Frank added. “Therefore, everything needs to be removed and then completely replaced from scratch. Although we had to remove all the drywall, all of the infrastructure is still in place, including steel studs, doors and in the kitchen, plumbing. A complete gut would involve removing all of that too and starting over. Architectural plans would have to be drawn up, building permits obtained, a noise mitigation plan submitted and inspections done along the way. It’s a much bigger deal than simply replacing the wiring and reinstalling the drywall.” “But if we were gonna change anything, now would be the time to change it,” Seth realized. “More than that, boys,” Julie replied. “Not only is this the time to make any changes we might have made later on, but it’s an opportunity to reimagine the space. By finishing off the demolition, hiring an architect and starting from scratch, we can make the apartment what we always wished it could be.” “But it’ll still be a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment,” Seth countered. “Yeah, we could probably give this place a real kitchen, but I’d still end up sleeping in a closet.” “Not if we shifted the kitchen into the space by the terrace door, where the kitchens on the lower floors are located,” Julie responded. “There’s already plumbing in the wall, next to the window,” she added. “Your bedroom would still be small, but it’d be a lot larger than a closet, and you’d have a window.” “That would certainly be an improvement,” Seth acknowledged, “but the kitchen still wouldn’t be all that useful to Asher.” Nodding his head, Asher responded, “I could make it work. It wouldn’t be as open as we might like, but I’d be able to use all of the wall along Seth’s bedroom for cabinet and counter space, and maybe have a small island between the kitchen and the living room. I should be able to have enough for a stovetop, a pair of ovens and a standard fridge.” With a smile on his face, Frank explained, “Actually, we got a bit of news when we talked to the neighbors about the work we were doing, and our thoughts about gutting the place yet again. Needless to say, they weren’t happy about it. “We asked them once again if they’d be willing to sell and avoid the hassle of dealing with all the construction and the noise. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s been through either can tell you, the only thing worse than going through renovations is moving. Our next-door neighbor isn’t willing to sell at any price. His apartment is the same as this one and he has the same terrace and view. It would have been nice to double the size of the terrace and living room, and add a second bedroom and bath. That doesn’t appear it will be an option for years to come, if ever. “The neighbor behind us, however, has been looking to move to a bigger place for years, but didn’t want to give up the view or deal with the hassle of moving. Fortunately for us, an apartment in the next tower just came on the market. It’s the identical unit with the same exact view, except it has three bedrooms and two baths. It’s actually the unit directly across from theirs, but two floors down. And because it’s still in our building, the move will be a lot easier than if they had to hire a moving company and a truck. They’ll be able to do most of it themselves with the help of some teenagers. “They already made an offer, but the sellers turned it down because it was contingent on the sale of their current place. Our neighbors need to sell quickly if there’s any hope of getting the other place. Although it’s overpriced, in this market it could easily sell after they hold their first open house. When I approached our neighbors, they were desperately trying to get their place ready to put on the market. Fortunately, we’re in a position to help with that!” “You’re kidding me!” Seth shouted with more enthusiasm than he’d ever felt in his life. Asher, for his part, was equally excited and practically jumping up and down. “I offered them an all-cash sale at their asking price,” Seth’s dad continued, “and because there’s no realtor involved, they’ll save paying the commission, and they’ll be able to pay cash for the other place and close on it as soon as they can present it to the board.” “So you’re gonna do it?” Seth asked excitedly. “It’s already done,” Frank Moore answered. “Because it was all-cash sale, we were able to complete it quickly without getting a bank and their lawyers involved. We still have to go before the co-op board, but that’s only a formality in both cases. The Board has never turned down an internal sale, so long as they get the requisite flip tax in the deal.” “What exactly does that mean for us?” Seth asked. “We’ll own two apartments, but how will they go together?” Smiling, his mother answered, “That’s why you and Asher are here. Your father only needs an address in the district and for practical purposes, we need a place to stay in the city. Most people would say it isn’t safe to leave a thirteen-year-old on his own, but you’ve proven yourself and you’re trustworthy, and now that you have Asher and his parents to watch after you, we no longer need worry about making contingency plans. “The way we see it, this place is really your place… and Asher’s, so it really should be you two who make the important choices on how to renovate the place.” “Are… are you saying you’re giving us the apartment,” Seth asked. “For tax purposes and legal reasons, the apartment needs to remain in our name for now,” Frank Moore clarified. “Someday, if you and Asher remain committed and perhaps get married, and if you stay in New York and choose to raise a family here, then yes, the apartment will be yours. We’ve even talked about making it your wedding present.” “We are getting married,” Seth replied as he pulled Asher close. “No fuckin’ way am I ever letting this boy go. I can’t believe you’d give us this apartment!” “I get dibs on designing the kitchen,” Asher added as everyone laughed. “We pretty much were counting on that,” Julie replied. Walking over to the kitchen table, which had been moved into the living room, Frank lifted a sheet that was covering a set of architectural plans. “We took the liberty of hiring an architect to start drawing up some possibilities. I expect you boys to be involved with selecting the final design and making the important decisions with our guidance, of course.” Then turning to the first plan, which was on top, Frank continued, “This is the way the two apartments appear right now. You can see the wall between the two apartments is between our bedroom and the other apartment’s living room. Removing all or part of that wall would mean we couldn’t use our current bedroom as a bedroom. It would become a thoroughfare. What we have in mind so far,” he said as he lifted the first drawing to reveal the one underneath, “is to make this apartment the primary living space for both apartments. The living room would remain a living room. The bathroom would stay a bathroom and the kitchen would be enlarged substantially. What was your bedroom would revert to being a pantry. Because the bedroom would be a thoroughfare between apartments, it would become a den.” Flipping the page again, he continued, “One possibility for redoing the other apartment would be to do this. You certainly don’t need a second entryway or a second kitchen, so the entryway, could become a large main bathroom, and the kitchen could become a new master bathroom. The current bathroom could be made into a walk-in closet and the adjacent bedroom expanded to become a true master bedroom. The second bedroom would remain pretty much as it is now and what is now the living room would become a third bedroom. “How about we… no, that wouldn’t work,” Seth started to suggest. “Perhaps we could… no, that would leave the third bedroom without a window. But what if we… no, then you’d lose the connection between apartments. The damn stairwell is the fuckin way! The biggest problem is I don’t think you can put a bathroom in the entryway. There’s no plumbing and the toilet needs a way to attach to the existing sewage line.” “You’d have to raise the floor in the new bathroom and the old kitchen. It would create its own challenges,” Frank admitted. “What we should do is have a large bathroom oriented the other way, that includes just enough of the existing kitchen to make the plumbing connections and run that into the entryway. Keep the existing bathroom for the master bath, and instead extend the master bedroom out into the other half of the kitchen. Extend the other bedroom into what is now the hallway and part of the living room. You won’t need as long a hallway if you extend the bedrooms. You could put walk-in closets between the two. There’ll still be room for a third bedroom… just not quite as large a one.” “We’ll run that by the architect,” Frank said, nodding his head. “That sounds like a decent alternative… a good one.” Just then, Kyle and Freck joined the group around the table and asked what everyone was looking at. Excitedly, Seth explained the purchase of the apartment behind them and the plan to combine the two apartments. Freck spent quite a bit of time looking at the blueprints laid out on the table, and Seth filled him in on his own ideas. Finally, Freck presented his own plan. “You guys are going about this the wrong way. You’ve got a lot of space here… close to two thousand square feet, not counting the terrace. That’s enough for a decent four-bedroom apartment. Bedrooms have to have windows, but there’s an exception and that’s a study or den that doubles as a guest room. It’s stupid to try to put the main bathroom in the unused entryway. There’s no plumbing for it and you’ve got way too much wasted space. “There’s also a lot of wasted closet space around your front door. You can’t move that air shaft or the electrical panel, but why not open everything else up? You don’t need a full bath next to the kitchen. Take out the bathtub and put the toilet there, and move the door so it opens into the current bedroom. Incorporate that end of the bathroom into the kitchen and extend the wall from Seth’s closet bedroom all along the side of the kitchen, with a humongous built-in refrigerator on one side of that support beam and floor-to-ceiling cabinets on the other. Keep the kitchen open to the living room but put an island between the two. Build in floor-to-ceiling bookcases on the shared wall between this apartment and your neighbor’s and incorporate your TV into that wall of bookcases. That’s a mostly south-facing wall, so it’ll never be in direct sunlight.” “So now you have the original bedroom open to the entryway, to the kitchen and to the second apartment,” Frank Moore noted. “You now have the half-bath directly opening to the old bedroom too. If you’re not using it as a den, what are you using it for?” “Directly off the kitchen and open to everything else, that, my friends, is the perfect place for your dining room.” With a look of sudden understanding, Asher responded, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that? By moving the existing dining area there, you’ve opened up all that space for my new kitchen and you’ve expanded the living room all the way to the terrace door. That’s brilliant.” “I thought you’d like that,” Freck continued. “Now for the second apartment, your common plumbing is in the wall between the bathroom and kitchen, so your master bath and main bath have to share that common wall. There’s no point to extending the bathroom into the unused entryway, but take out the coat closet and you’ve got a great space for a study or den. The kitchen space will make a great main bathroom, right where it is. Since you won’t need as long a hallway, move the bedroom walls all the way up to what is now the living room, and make the current living room into a third bedroom. Move the existing bathroom door around the corner to make it a master bath and add a large walk-in closet next to it. “So there you go,” Freck concluded to everyone’s astonishment, “Three bedrooms, a study or den that doubles as a guest room, two-and-a-half baths, a huge modern kitchen, a formal dining room and an open living room with a terrace.” After an extended period of silence with a lot of head nodding, Frank spoke up. “That’s an innovative design, Freck. The idea of putting a study back in what would otherwise be wasted space is ingenious. It’s an excellent plan… but I see a problem. All the heating radiators are under the windows, and the only air conditioners allowed are window units. Without a window, there’s no way to heat or cool the den.” Not to be deterred, Freck suggested, “Well, you’re on a top floor, so you could always put a heat pump on the rooftop…” Shaking his head, Frank interrupted, “The co-op board would never approve something like that.” “Well, the den’s next to the stairwell, and the stairwell has roof access,” Freck began. “And if they approved it for us, they’d have to allow everyone to run their air conditioning lines up and down the inside of the stairwell,” Frank pointed out. “That will never happen. It would be better to install central heating and air conditioning for everyone. We’d all save money, but the shareholders have repeatedly voted it down. A lot of the old-timers are loathe to spend any money, and they vote.” “Is there any reason you couldn’t have a ductless mini-split, multi-zone heat pump in place of all your window air conditioners?” Kyle suggested. “It’d be way more efficient and a lot more attractive. You could hide the outside component in a cabinet out on the terrace. It could be made to look like another planter, and you already have several of those. The inside units could be mounted above each window, or in the case of the den, above the old front door. There’s a support beam at the top of all the exterior walls… you can see it sticking out above all the windows. Put some framing and drywall in front of that and you can run your heating and cooling lines through there.” “That’s a wonderful idea, Kyle,” Freck chimed in. “And it would solve the problem with the den. There are some technical issues though… like needing 220-volt power.” Shrugging his shoulders, Kyle responded, “All you need is a step-up transformer or a phase inverter. You can get one that supports 5000 watts for a hundred-something bucks at Home Depot.” “I love your idea for the floorplan, Freck,” Seth added. “We should have an architect draw up plans.” “I agree…” said Asher, “It’s perfect. I’m curious; have you ever considered becoming an architect?” “An architect… I never even thought of that,” Freck responded, “but that might be kind of cool.” “You obviously have the right visual-spatial skills for it,” Frank added, and you’re great at thinking outside the box.” “I used to date an architect when I was an undergraduate,” Julie threw in. “It’s one of the toughest undergrad courses of study to get into and the work load, once you get in, is brutal. It’s almost as heavy as in Medical School, and with the requirement of a Masters degree, it’s at least a five-year course of study. The important thing to consider, though, is that 90 percent of architecture is tedious. Most architects spend their lives drawing up plans for where to place plumbing, wiring, outlets and light fixtures. Only the best actually design buildings, and only the superstars have a chance to change skylines.” Placing his arm around Freck’s shoulder with evident pride, Kyle added, “But Freck already is a superstar. He’d be a world-class architect. And with his fluency in several languages, he’d be in demand around the world.” “He already speaks passable Mandarin,” Asher commented. “Do you understand me, Francis?” Julie asked in Chinese. “I’ve picked up a lot of it, just from walking around Chinatown,” he answered in Mandarin. “I’ve also picked up some Cantonese. I’m very good at picking up languages by ear. The problem with Chinese and Japanese is I can’t read or write the language… it’s idiomatic.” Then lapsing back into English, he continued, “It’s different with phonetic languages. I’ve picked up a little Hebrew, Arabic and Korean, and I can read and even write a little in those, not to mention Vietnamese, Turkish and Thai.” “An architect who can communicate with his clients in their native language, even if only verbally, would be a tremendous asset to any firm,” Frank agreed. “Or he could be very successful if he chose to start his own firm,” Kyle added. “Are there any universities with good architecture schools that are also places Kyle could study the sciences?” Seth asked. “MIT is at the top of everyone’s list as the best architecture school in the world,” Kyle responded with enthusiasm. “They have a dual degree program in architecture with civil and environmental engineering that’s without equal,” he added. “How do you know that, Kyle?” Freck asked. “When I looked up information on MIT, ’cause I wanted to go there, that was one of the things I came across,” Kyle answered. “Indeed, I saw a list of the top twenty schools in the world. MIT was at the top. Harvard, Columbia and Cornell were all on the list too, as were Stanford and UCLA, so even in the remote event that you don’t get into MIT, there are lots of places we could go where we’d both be happy.” “Stanford…” Freck interjected. “I’d never even considered the possibility of going to school in California…” “From what I’ve read, it’s great if you don’t mind smoggy summers and rainy winters, or living in a tiny shack and commuting hours in heavy traffic on endless highways,” Kyle responded. “Sounds a bit like New York,” Seth added to laughter. “Or Boston,” Frank added. “But I’ve traveled to California, many times. The Bay area is beautiful, Stanford’s campus is one of the loveliest anywhere, and San Francisco is stunning. Just don’t expect to know your neighbors, or for anyone to give a shit if you need help. Here in New York, I know everyone in this building, personally. You get to know your neighbors from riding the elevators with them every day. I know all the doormen, the kids that work in the bodega across the street and even the folks that own the Chinese take-out around the corner.” The last one got a laugh, since he was talking about Asher’s parents. “From what I’ve seen, people in California are apathetic. In other parts of the world, they’re private… more reserved. A Londoner won’t pry because they feel it’s none of their business. A Californian won’t pry because they just don’t care. People from elsewhere find New Yorkers to be nosey, but if you trip and fall on the sidewalk here, people will stop to help you get up, to make sure you’re OK. That just doesn’t happen in other places.” “I don’t have much experience with other places,” Freck responded, “but I think the main thing is getting in. If I get into MIT and Kyle gets in, that’s almost certainly where we’ll go. It’s the best place for both of us. If we don’t both get in, then Columbia, Cornell or Stanford would be outstanding alternatives. I think we’d both be happy with any of them.” He concluded as Kyle nodded his head. “You really think it’s gonna be architecture?” Seth asked. “After thinking about it, yeah, I’m pretty certain,” he answered. “I’d like to specialize in sustainable architecture too. In a world of changing climate, violent weather and rising seas, I could really make a difference in helping to cope with humanity’s fuck-ups and to minimize our impact on future generations. MIT’s joint degree program would be perfect for that.” “And you’re certain about Kyle?” Julie asked. Hugging Kyle tightly to him from the side, he responded, “I couldn’t be more certain. We may be young, but I never used to believe in the phrase ‘made for each other’, until now.” <> <> <> “So, what did you think of the movie?” Freck asked his boyfriend as they exited the theater. “I can’t believe you took me to a Star Wars movie for my birthday.” “But what did you think of it?” he asked again. “You know you would’ve gone to see it anyway.” “Yeah, I would have,” Kyle acknowledged, “and I still would’ve, even though this is probably the worst of the series by far. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place, even though it’s not one I particularly even wanted to know about. Let’s just say Lucas Films should leave well enough alone. Just finish the series with Episode IX, as George originally intended, and move on to something new.” “How can you say that,” countered Freck. “Alright, I’ll agree with you that this was the weakest Star Wars movie, by far, but it’s fuckin’ Star Wars, man? The greatest sci-fi story of all time!” “That’s a bit like sayin’ McDonalds is the best restaurant chain of all time,” Kyle countered. “It’ll fill you up and provide some basic, incredibly unhealthy nutrition, but as chains go, it’s no California Pizza Kitchen. It’s no Panera. It’s no Cheesecake Factory and it’s certainly not Legal Seafood. Star Wars isn’t even really science fiction… it’s pseudoscience fantasy. Don’t tell Seth and Asher I said this, but Star Trek is only marginally better. And don’t you even hint that sci-fi includes that dystopian stuff, or Tolkien’s fantasy world, or superhero comics for that matter. “No, if you want to talk about real sci-fi, you have to look at movies that are plausible. Stuff like the original 2001 and the sequel, 2010. The time frame was way too early for the tech and advancements in space exploration, but if we ever do encounter intelligent life, it’s gonna be something like the monolith in 2001, not a gaggle of improbable humanoids that happen to be at our level of development.” Freck started to open his mouth but closed it. He started to open it again, and then finally suggested, “Battlestar Galactica?” “The original series or the remake?” Kyle asked. “The original wasn’t even as realistic as Star Trek,” Freck acknowledged. “The remake of course.” “The remake was pretty cool, and most of it was plausible,” Kyle agreed. “I really liked the concepts. The idea that Earth is the long-lost colony of an ancient space civilization wasn’t new, but Battlestar Galactica brought it to life. The possibility that another intelligent species developed artificial intelligence and robotic life forms that ended up wiping them out was well ahead of its time, and that said AI was actively trying to exterminate us… that was utterly cool.” “So what’s your favorite sci-fi movie or series ever?” Freck asked. “I’d have to say it was Ender’s Game,” Kyle replied. “The books were even better, by far, but for a sci-fi movie, it was quite realistic, and the ethics issues raised were beyond cool. Of course, they took some liberties with the movie, leaving out the issues of relativistic space travel and compressing the story from six years into one. The meeting between Ender and the formic Queen at the end of the movie never actually happened in any of the books, but it was easier than getting into the details of human colonization of former formic worlds and Ender’s discovery of the hive queen cocoon some fifty years later, when he himself was just three years older. I really liked that in the books, Orson Scott Card actually recognized that six-year-olds are real people with real thoughts and emotions. That’s especially true of kids like us and I appreciated that Card acknowledged it and built on it. Since I was about the same age when I read the books, I really could identify with Ender, and with Bean.” “Did you read Shadows in Flight?” Freck asked. “Oh yeah, of course I did,” Kyle replied. “There were a lot of things I liked about it, but I wonder why the Hundred Worlds of the original Enders Series didn’t come across the Legumites, or what’s left of the formic colony ship during their search for colonizable worlds.” “I wondered about that too,” Freck acknowledged, “but of course space is vast and Bean was travelling at maximum relativistic speed. Finding potential colony worlds takes time, and they might just not have gotten there yet. The idea that the formics genetically engineered an organelle to insure obedience to the queen, however, was beyond chilling.” “For sure,” Kyle responded, “as was the discovery of a sentient life from that communicated through modifications to DNA, but that could end up destroying all other life in the galaxy. Card left a gaping loose string with that one, but he got a bit too philosophical at the end of the Enders Series, suggesting the existence of a soul and that an intelligence could move us in and out of space to any location at will was a bit much.” “It is possible,” Freck countered. “So is the simultaneous disappearance of everyone on earth possible, but it’s not very likely during the lifetime of a billion universes, let alone in our own lifetimes,” Kyle related. “So you read that story too,” Freck responded with a laugh as the two of them approached Freck’s building. “Are you ready to celebrate the arrival of your birthday with night of wild uninhibited sex?” “Just the thought of it could make it hard to get on the elevator, pun intended.” Kyle replied. “Then let’s see if we can be too engaged to even notice when the clock strikes midnight.” “Nothing like a little midnight nookie to close out my first decade,” Kyle acknowledged. By the time the elevator opened on Freck’s floor, they were already practically naked. Only later did Freck realize that someone in security probably got an eyeful. <> <> <> The next week in school went amazingly quickly for the boys. With Clarke out of the picture, Asher’s gym classes became a lot less stressful. The teacher also started rotating sparring partners, exposing Ash to kids of varying ability, some of whom were even less athletic than he was. Although Asher didn’t pin any of his opponents, he avoided being pinned himself and actually managed to win as many matches as he lost. He even held his own against Seth. Before they knew it, school let out for the winter break and they could look forward to two weeks with their boyfriends, friends and family. Kyle’s brother, Roger would be spending much of the holiday on a ski trip organized by their temple. His father as usual would hardly be home at all and his drunk mother wasn’t someone he wanted to be around. Therefore, with the permission of Asher’s father, he simply informed his own father that he would be spending the next two weeks staying with his boyfriend’s family. Purchasing a ticket for Metro North, he packed a suitcase and took the first train from the Riverdale station into Grand Central Terminal as soon as school let out. He met Freck on the platform in Midtown Manhattan, just ten minutes later. After a quick kiss on the lips, right out in the open, Freck grabbed Kyle’s suitcase and ordered an Uber to take them home. The subway would have been considerably faster, but much more difficult with a suitcase, and there would have been a few blocks to walk in the end. With two weeks ahead of them, time wasn’t really a factor and so the boys sat together in the back seat, holding hands, and talked up a storm as the car inched its way through gridlocked traffic toward the East River and FDR Drive, and then crawled along on the FDR in stop-and-go traffic on its way to Battery Park City. Noticing the unusual earbuds still in Kyle’s ears, Freck asked, “What kind of earbuds are those?” “They’re part of my combined Chanukah and birthday gift from my parents,” Kyle answered as he pulled out one of the earbuds to reveal what looked like a very large, fancy earphone. “These are referred to as in-ear monitors. They’re not earbuds and they’re not cheap,” he added as he pulled a very elegant-looking object from his inner coat pocket that kind of looked like a phone and handed it to Freck. “A&futura?” Freck asked as he read the product label. “It’s a line of portable music players from Astell & Kern,” Kyle answered. “Those things are expensive!” Freck responded. “I think my parents paid like $1850 for it in a holiday promotion that included the case and the IEMs. Roger spent another $250 on a 400 gig micro-sd card for it, so there's like a half-terabyte of total storage. That's enough for maybe a month's worth of continuous music.” Whistling, Freck exclaimed, “I can’t believe you’re carrying something that expensive around New York City like that.” Shrugging his shoulders, Kyle replied, “Even a used Rolex costs way more than that, and you’ve seen the luxury cars some people drive. Who’s gonna think a kid like me is carrying something that expensive around? Besides which, only people who can already afford one of these would know what they are. It’s more likely someone’ll try to swipe my iPhone than my music player.” Sighing, Freck responded, “You have the same model iPhone as mine, yet I never give thought to the risk of carrying a twelve-hundred-dollar phone with me. You’re undoubtedly right. “You know, I’ve drooled over those players, but I hated the idea of carrying a separate device. I’ve thought about getting a Mojo and a pair of SE-846s, but that would still be like carrying a second phone around.” “And it would set you back $1500,” Kyle pointed out. You might as well spend a little more on an A&K setup like mine. “Or I could use my Dragonfly Red with my iPhone and the camera connection kit,” Freck suggested. “It might be a kludge, but it wouldn’t take up much space.” “But the Dragonflies aren’t balanced, yet those IEMs are.” Kyle countered. “Maybe it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but you’d hafta carry a spare power pack, ’cause the Dragonfly would drain your iPhone battery in no time flat. Anyway you look at it, you’d still need to carry a lot of stuff if you want to listen to high-res music.” “Yeah, I guess,” Freck admitted. “But the iPhone does have the advantage of Internet connectivity. I have all of my music uploaded to a cloud-based music service and with my unlimited data plan, I can stream it to my iPhone in real time at no extra cost.” “And my A&K has an eight-core processor, dual DACs, native DSD support and balanced audio outputs. The iPhone has none of those,” Kyle pointed out. “And since Wi-Fi is pretty ubiquitous around the city, I can still access all of my music, or I can listen to Tidal, or I can download a half-a-terabyte of it directly to the A&K.” “But Tidal isn’t high-res,” Freck complained. “But it is lossless,” Kyle countered, “and an increasing portion of their library is available in MQA. MQA isn’t lossless, but it’s high-res and nearly indistinguishable from my high-res downloads. Besides which, Roger had the kids at my birthday party give me gift certificates for Tidal. With the student discount, I have enough to subscribe to Tidal for more than two years.” “If Tidal survives that long,” Freck commented. There wasn’t much Kyle could say to that, as even with Jay-Z’s involvement in the company, its financial difficulties were well-known. Pulling out the second earbud from his other ear, Kyle handed both to Freck, saying, “The proof is in the listening.” “You want me to stick your ear wax into my ears?” Freck complained. “Eww.” “After where you’ve had your tongue, you’re actually worried about comingling a little of our ear wax?” Kyle asked. Turning bright scarlet, Freck answered, “OK, I’ll try it out.” Although Kyle was two years younger than Freck, he was nearly the same size and the IEMs fit snuggly, but comfortably in Freck’s ear canals. The interface was simple enough that Freck easily figured out how to turn the device on. Scrolling through Kyle’s music list, he was pleased to see a large selection of classical music, as well as jazz, rock and even hip-hop. He was about to select the famous opera, Carmen, with Marie Callas, when he noticed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, a piece he knew virtually by heart. What made this particular recording special, however, was that it was perhaps the best recording of the piece over made. The violinist was the incomparable Jascha Heifetz, a violinist Freck would never have the pleasure of hearing live, as he’d already been dead for decades when Freck was born. The accompaniment was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner. The original recording was virtually lost to time until the technology was developed to restore it from damaged media. This particular version was in DSD, a format developed by Sony for recording analog signals on digital media. Although Freck was familiar with it, he’d never had the opportunity to listen to DSD recordings in native form. Selecting the first track, he was immediately rewarded with the familiar notes and Heifetz unique style, but the purity of the piece was exceptional. He’d never heard the piece so pristinely played other than in a live concert at Lincoln Center. Even then, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell had nothing on Heifetz. No, it didn’t have the ambience of a live performance, but it was amazingly close. He’d never heard anything like it come out of his iPhone, even with his best headphones. Perhaps his parent’s stereo could match it, but that was with sixteen speakers — not two. Freck was so engrossed in the music that he didn’t realize he’d continued listening to it at Kyle’s expense until they pulled up in front of his building. Sheepishly, he pulled the IEMs out of his ears, shut off the player and handed them back to his boyfriend. “I take it you liked the music,” Kyle said with a smirk, and then added, “The look on your face was a lot like the one you get when you climax.” The Uber driver couldn’t help but chuckle, in spite of his best attempt at being discrete, causing poor Freck to color up furiously. Freck quickly retrieved Kyle’s suitcase from the driver and confirmed the payment and tip on his iPhone, hoping he never encountered that driver again. “I’m definitely gonna hafta consider getting one of those players,” Freck told Kyle as the doorman pushed the elevator button for them.
  10. Altimexis

    Part One

    “George, are you telling me it was the co-op that fucked up?” Frank Moore asked. He was incredulous. “The co-op management, in any case,” the assemblyman’s attorney answered. “The contractor acted in good faith, based on the information provided. They requested an upgrade to 220-volt, 120-amp service and of course, they assumed that that’s what they got. A simple check would have shown 110-volt service on each of the lines, but with one red wire and one black one, the presumption by any licensed electrician would have been that the polarities were opposite. The management should have informed them when they requested the upgrade that the building didn’t have 220-volt service. What they got was an upgrade to 120 amps, but it was still only 110 volts. They just added a second 60-amp line and used a different color wire.” “So we sue the co-op, which means suing ourselves?” Frank responded. Placing her hand on her husband’s arm, Julie Donahue Moore warned, “You can’t do that, hon. Your opponents would have a field day. Even if the co-op settled the suit, it would get back to the news media that we’d sued our neighbors over a clerical error. Can you imagine? “She’s probably right, Frank,” George chimed in. “It really was a clerical error when you get down to it. The contractor requested 220-volt service and assumed that that’s what he got. The administrator in the management office who signed off on the upgrade, failed to notice the mistake when she sent on the request to add a second powerline. The co-op’s electrician proceeded accordingly, and your electrician didn’t know.” “But that ‘typo’ might well end up costing us tens of thousands of dollars!” Frank objected. “Maybe more. Already we’ve spent over thirty thou, and they keep discovering more horrors as they go. They thought they could get by pulling additional wires through the existing conduit, but much of the original conduit was replaced during the renovation and the only way to add additional wires is to break open the walls. It’s a fucking disaster.” “It’s all about appearances, honey,” his wife interjected. “You’d be holding everyone responsible for someone else’s mistake. A lot of your constituents live in housing projects and are constantly being blamed for the city’s own screw-ups. To them it would be like the city coming after them for the city’s own ineptitude. You’d be challenged in the primary, and you’d very likely lose.” “So we eat the cost ourselves?” Frank responded. “It’s just a case of bad luck,” George added. “Doesn’t insurance cover any of this?” Frank asked. “The contractor was bonded and insured, but it could be tied up in court for years and you’d probably still lose. The contractor acted in good faith. Your homeowners’ policy specifically excludes damage from electrical issues except when they result in a fire, and even then, you’re only covered for fire damage… not the underlying faulty wiring.” “But the policy cover’s pluming issues,” Frank objected. “I checked.” “Leaky plumbing can do a lot more damage, flooding not only yours but your neighbor’s apartments, all the way down to the ground level. You have to have insurance for plumbing, just as the city requires inspections of new plumbing. They don’t inspect new wiring. As I said, it’s just bad luck.” “This could be an opportunity, Frank,” Julie chimed in. “You remember how the realtor said the place had been on the market for a while and sold for a lot less than they’d expected? We didn’t care that it had a tiny kitchen and a lot of wasted space. Remember how the realtor said the walk-in closets, attractive though they are, actually hold less than the smaller closets they replaced? We could make it a lot better by starting over.” “You mean gutting the place?” Frank asked in surprise. “We’re not the ones who live there, you know,” she responded. It only took a moment for Frank to understand what his wife was saying. For them, the co-op was an address within the district Frank represented. For all practical purposes, they lived in Albany most of the year and only commuted back into the city to take care of their constituents’ business and to see their son. When he was home-schooled, Seth traveled with them wherever they went, but then he got into Stuyvesant and that wasn’t an opportunity to be missed. Seth was only thirteen, but he was very mature for thirteen and wise to the ways of the city. He could take care of himself with only a little help now and then. And there was the matter of Asher. Although the relationship was only just over a month old and high school relationships rarely last, there was something about the interaction of the two boys that made it clear their relationship was different. Ash wasn’t going anywhere, and Frank and Julie loved him every bit as much as if he were their own son. “It would be a chance to give the boys their own place,” Frank agreed, “and to give Asher a kitchen he could be proud of. Someday it’ll be their place anyway.” “Are you thinking of giving it to them when they’re older?” Julie asked. “It would be a great wedding present,” Frank suggested. “They may not even stay in New York, and they’ve talked about starting their own family,” Julie pointed out. “Those boys’ll never leave New York,” Frank said, and Julie laughed in agreement. “Maybe for college, but they’ll be back. I’d be willing to bet they’ll both go to Columbia or NYU anyway, though, and live here the entire time. Seth’ll go on to get his law degree and follow his old man into politics. Maybe he’ll even be the mayor someday. And Asher’ll get his MBA and open his own restaurant. It’ll be the best in New York.” Laughing, Julie added, “You’ve got the rest of their lives all planned out, don’t you?” “It could happen,” Frank claimed. “Maybe by the time they have kids, the place next door will be available and they’ll be able to expand.” “Or maybe they’ll be more sensible and buy an apartment in one of the new buildings planned along the river,” Julie suggested. “If you’re going to give your son the apartment, we’d better talk about doing it in such a way that incurs the lowest tax burden,” George interjected. “We should talk to the boys and involve them in the planning stage,” Julie threw in. “Definitely,” Frank agreed. “Ash’ll have his own idea of how to plan out the kitchen.” “To be sure,” Julie agreed. “We better talk to Gary and Bernice, though. If we gut the apartment, Seth’ll be staying with them for at least the rest of the school year. We need to pay them for what he eats and so on.” “They’ll never take it,” Frank countered. “Then maybe you can make it up to them by helping Gary get his Cajun restaurant off the ground,” Julie suggested. “I have to be careful with that,” Frank responded. “Neither of us benefits if there are allegations of corruption. But yes, I’ll find a way to make it happen.” <> <> <> Meeting Kyle Goldstein had been the best thing that ever happened to Freck… and the worst. Looking down at his notebook, he’d been doodling again, with several drawings of the boy in various poses. There were some close-ups of his face, both frontal and in profile. There was a large drawing of him in the pose of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, and some drawings of him doing ordinary things, like tying his shoes or pushing his hair out of his eyes. There were drawings of him shirtless and drawings of him dressed up in a tux, even though Freck had never seen him dressed either way. There were even a couple of nudes, drawn strictly from his imagination. The trouble was that the page should have been filled with notes. This was an AP chemistry class and there should have been reams of chemical structures and equations. The way his classmates were diligently writing something down just before the bell rang, it was evident they were either writing down an assignment or material that would be covered on a test. He’d have to find someone to ask later. Carefully closing up his notebook so that no one would see what was on the page, he deftly slipped it into his bookbag, hoisted it on his shoulder and took off in the direction of his locker. His next class was gym and there wasn’t much time. At least gym would give him a chance to burn off some of the frustration of not being able to see the object of his affection until the weekend, if then. He knew Kyle was going to be someone special from the moment he’d heard about him from Asher and Seth. Kyle might only be nine — well, ten on Sunday — but the two-year age difference meant nothing if he was as bright as his friends claimed he was. That Kyle was able to recognize and to express an interest in boys proved he was not far removed from puberty, and though it might still be years away, his mind at least was well ahead of the game. Freck didn’t know if Kyle was even ready for making out, let alone for anything more, but it was worth taking it slowly for Kyle. If he was interested, on the other hand, Freck wasn’t sure if getting naked with a nine- or ten-year-old was even legal, although at eleven — nearly twelve — he doubted that the law could do much about it. He knew kids had always fooled around and that kids even younger than them played doctor. Surly the police had better things to do than police the bedrooms of prepubescent boys. Throwing his bookbag in his locker, Freck headed to the gym for fifty minutes of intense exercise and athletics. Although he was considerably smaller and younger than the others, he did show some development that was evident in the locker room and in the showers, and he had better muscle definition than boys as old as sixteen. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him and his smaller size made him agile. He could dodge, feint, hustle, pass and kick better than just about anyone not on the varsity soccer team, and in spite of his short size, he was amazing at scoring from the three-point range in basketball. He could scarcely believe he’d tried to get out of taking gym — he loved it. Entering the locker room, Freck headed for his locker next to Ash and his boyfriend, Seth. “So, any plans for the weekend?” Ash asked as they bumped fists. “You gonna see Kyle?” “I hope so,” Freck answered. “It depends on his dad. He doesn’t want to let him travel alone.” “But it’s not like he’d be riding the subway alone — not that I didn’t ride it when I was his age. It’s not like he’d even be taking Metro North, which is as safe as safe can be. You’re sending an Uber for him, for cripe sake. What could happen to him?” “His parents are very protective,” Freck pointed out. “That’s why he’s still in middle school when he should be in Bronx Science or here with us at Stuyvesant.” “But it isn’t even up to his parents,” Asher reminded them. “They signed over his guardianship to my dad.” “Yeah, but he still lives with his parents, remember. It’s guardianship in situ, and your father would rather defer to his father than create friction.” “Guys,” Seth interrupted, “we’re gonna be late if we don’t hightail it out there.” None of them wanted detention, so they quickly finished dressing in their gym clothes and rushed to get in line with the other kids. The teacher was already talking and, fortunately for them, didn’t seem to notice the three boys as they straggled in. The boys quickly became aware that he was talking about wrestling and how they’d be spending the next week on it, right up until the start of Winter Break. Freck was thrilled at the prospect of wrestling his fellow classmates. He might be the smallest and lightest one there, but he was the fastest, most agile kid and his well-muscled physique often surprised many an opponent. In the past he’d wrestled kids twice his size, and usually won. Whereas Seth seemed neither elated nor phased by the announcement, Asher appeared to be utterly petrified. Being half-Asian and half-African American in a class that was largely Asian, Asher was of above average size and stature, and should have had no problem getting the upper hand over most of his opponents. But Asher was not at all athletic, nor was he interested in sports. Without the advantage of practice from outdoor activities, Asher wasn’t very coordinated and didn’t even have decent eye-hand coordination. His past experiences in wrestling had been uniformly bad and the resulting fear left him particularly vulnerable to the very injuries he feared the most. Sensing his friend’s being petrified, Freck went up to Asher and suggested, “Why don’t you and Seth come over after school? I’ll show you some moves that might give you a fighting chance, and if not, I’ll show you how to lose spectacularly without getting hurt. Asher couldn’t help but laugh, and the humor actually did help to alleviate much of the tension he was feeling. His improved mood didn’t last long however — as he was paired up with the boy he disliked the most of anyone in the class. From the leer on Clarke’s face, Asher could tell that, obviously, it was gonna be an exceptionally long gym session. Freck ended up being paired with Seth, which wasn’t surprising, given that they were both shorter than most of their classmates. Each pair of boys worked with three other pairs, in groups of eight boys on a set of mats. That kept the number of pairs wrestling at any time down to five, which the teacher could easily keep an eye on. Asher wound up being in the same group as Seth and Freck, so they had a chance to watch each other during the day’s session. The teacher started things going by demonstrating the dos and don’ts of wrestling. Using Seth and Freck, he showed the class the three starting stances, proper ways to take an opponent down, and how a seemingly legal move could turn into an illegal one in the heat of the match. “Wrestling isn’t about beating your opponent,” the coach continued. “It’s about taking advantage of your opponent and trying to get them to beat themselves. You use their weight against them, getting them under you and then you use your own weight to pin them. I won’t pretend that muscles don’t matter, but you don’t need muscles to hold your own. But if you cower like Bambi facing a lion, then he’ll eat you for lunch. The surest way to get hurt is to tense up in fear. If you don’t think you can go on the offensive, then try to use your opponent’s overconfidence against him. Let him make the first mistake. Then you can pin him with little effort.” As luck would have it, Asher and his opponent were up first. From the look on his face and his tentative posture, it was evident that Asher was terrified — so much so that the gym teacher noticed and approached the pair before the match had really gotten underway. Interrupting the match, he said, “Asher… your name’s Asher, right?” Asher nodded his head in the affirmative, too nervous to actually speak. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” “Yeah, but I always end up getting hurt,” he replied, “usually pretty badly. In seventh grade, I ended up with a sprained Achilles tendon and had to wear a boot and use crutches for three months.” “Well, we’re not going to let anything like that happen here,” the teacher responded. Then turning to the other boy, he said, “Clarke, we already know each other a bit too well from your time in detention. You’re going to help Ash out here. Show him how to wrestle without him having to fear you’ll hurt him. But if he so much as gets a scratch on him, you’ll be spending the rest of the year in detention writing a twenty-thousand-word paper on the effects of bullying on society. Do you understand me?” “Yes sir,” the boy replied, so softly that he was probably the only one that could hear. “What was that?” the teacher practically shouted at him. “I said, yes sir,” the boy said again, this time a little louder. “Yes sir, what?” “Yes sir, I’ll show the little queer how to wrestle without getting hurt,” he replied. “Just keep in mind that the little queer’s boyfriend is right here,” Seth responded before the teacher could say anything. “And the little queer’s best friend is here too,” Freck added. “Sloth and Freak, the two puniest kids in school,” Clarke replied, perhaps forgetting that the teacher was right there. “I’m trembling in fear.” “I’ve just about had it with you, Clarke,” the teacher responded. “Failing to respect the other students is an automatic failing grade.” Just as it was apparent that Clarke was about to say something, the teacher continued, “and I don’t care who your parents are or who they work for. The Mayor may have been able to pull enough strings to get you into the school, but not even he can fire a tenured teacher. Is that clear, Clarke? “Perfectly,” the kid replied. When it became evident that the teacher wasn’t going to leave, Clarke said to Asher, “Really, Asher. I know we’re not friends, but you’ve gotta understand, things are different on Staten Island. I never met any gay kids before.” Laughing, Asher replied, “You must not have been looking very hard, ’cause we’re everywhere, and more and more of us are coming out all the time.” “I suppose you’re right,” Clarke answered, “and about what the teacher said, I may have had a letter of recommendation from the mayor, but I got in without it. My exam score was above the cutoff.” “And you wouldn’t use your family connections anyway,” Asher replied. “Nor would my boyfriend, and his dad’s one of the most powerful men in the state assembly.” “I didn’t know that,” Clarke responded, “I should’ve realized, he’s Frank Moore’s son, isn’t he?” Asher nodded in reply. “Everyone knows the mayor’s in the governor’s shithouse. The mayor’s a jerk, but then so’s my dad… So am I.” “Boys,” the teacher interrupted. “You have a game to play.” Asher and Clarke shook hands, and then got in position. The teacher blew the whistle and the boys started circling. Clarke closed the gap when Asher failed to act, and their arms came together. Clarke swept Asher’s right foot out from under him and the two boys went down on the mat, with Clarke on top. “You coulda kept me from doin’ that if you’d kept your legs farther apart and moved your right leg behind you when you saw me coming at you. But now that I’m on top, you gotta try to turn over onto your stomach. If you can’t flip me, you gotta keep me from pinning you. I can’t pin you if you’re on your stomach.” It was no use, however, as Asher just couldn’t overcome Clarke’s superior strength and coordination. He had Asher pinned in a matter of seconds. Asher had a reprieve while the other boys had their chance. He couldn’t help but notice how well-matched Seth and Freck were as their match went the longest, and neither boy managed to pin the other. The next time it was Asher’s and Clarke’s turn, in the starting position, Asher was on top. Even with encouragement from Clarke to take him down, Clarke had no trouble flipping Asher over onto his back and pinning him yet again. In their final match, it was Asher underneath. That time he did remain prone for a time in spite of Clarke’s attempt to flip him over, but then Clarke simply flipped both of them over, shoved Asher to the side and had him pinned in seconds. Asher just couldn’t get control away from his opponent, no matter how hard he tried. Clarke seemed to be on his best behavior, but Asher knew it wouldn’t last. He could only hope the teacher would have the boys switch partners from day-to-day. Otherwise it was only a matter of time before the teacher wasn’t paying attention and Clarke decided to take advantage of the situation. Ash was dreading the next week in gym class. With little time left in the period, the teacher blew the whistle and the boys headed for the showers. As usual, Asher, Seth and Freck showered and dressed together before going their separate ways. They met up again at the end of the day in front of the school. “You ready to learn how to lose spectacularly at wrestling?” Freck asked Asher as the three of them headed off together. “I can already do that,” Asher replied with a wry grin. “I don’t need your help to lose spectacularly. I do that very well on my own, thank you.” “Well, let me at least show you how to keep from getting hurt, even when playing against an aggressive player,” Freck said. “As if it wasn’t bad enough to go through wrestling in school, now I hafta do it after school too.” Asher complained. “But just think, it’s a chance to get nearly naked with your boyfriend and your best friend,” Freck responded. “That’s the second time today you’ve claimed to be my best friend,” Asher noted. “You guys have become my best friends,” Freck responded. “Since you had no real friends before you got together with Seth, I was kinda hoping my feelings about you were mutual.” Stopping in mid-stride, Asher caused the other two to have to stop as well. “You are my best friend, Freck,” Asher responded. “I hadn’t thought of it before, because I’ve never really had close friends. My life has been changing and now I do have friends. Kyle’s a good friend, but I don’t see him every day. I have other friends in school too now, but I would hafta say that next to Seth, you’re definitely my best friend.” Freck led the three of them to the front of his building, where he was readily recognized by the doorman and all three were granted admission. Once inside the elevator, Freck tapped his key fob to the elevator panel, and then pushed the button for the first penthouse level, the top one of two. Seth wondered if the elevator would open directly to a single apartment and so he wasn’t surprised. Asher didn’t even consider the possibility, and gasped when the doors opened. Ahead of them was a large open area that took up the entire east end of the floor. There were floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around them on three sides. Straight ahead were the buildings of Battery Park, including their high school, the West Side. Highway and all of Upper Manhattan, including Hudson Yards, Union Square, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. To the east was the huge curving glass façade of Goldman Sacks, and to the right of that was tower one of the World Trade Center, and beyond those was the entire Financial District. To the south was the Hudson, Battery Park, the tip of lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty. The view was magnificent. “Fuck, you have my view beat,” were the first words out of Seth’s mouth. “No, it’s a different kind of view,” Asher countered. “Yours is unobstructed. Freck’s is from higher up, and it’s more up close and personal with all the buildings in lower Manhattan.” “Yeah, but mine’s unobstructed because it’s surrounded by six-story housing projects. And mine’s a 180-degree view, whereas Freck’s is a full 360-degree view. You can only do that in a true penthouse. Besides, my whole apartment would fit into this living room with room to spare. If the elevator’s in the center of the building, there’s probably five thousand square feet on the floor.” “Right on the money,” Seth replied, and then asked, “Would you guys be interested in a tour?” “Are you kidding?” Asher replied. “So, the apartment’s built on an open floor plan, with the living room, dining room, kitchen, home theater and play room all located in the eastern half of the floor,” Freck began. “The elevator opens into a sitting area, and directly to the right and behind this coat closet is the home theater. And if you were wondering, that’s an 85-inch OLED display.” Walking further into the apartment and to the right, he continued, “The living room takes up the entire east end of the floor, except for the area carved out by the kitchen, which is separated from the home theater by an emergency stairwell, a half-bath and a small pantry.” Although the views from the living room, with floor-to-ceiling windows in three sides, were spectacular, it was the kitchen that drew Asher’s attention right away. It was entirely covered in stainless steel, with shiny white cabinets and lines that screamed art deco, or perhaps ‘retro’ would have been a better description. It reminded Ash of some modern diners he’d seen, even down to the presence of stools along a counter occupying the entire east side of the kitchen. Many a modern kitchen included a built-in refrigerator, hidden away behind doors that matched the cabinetry, but not here. There were two large stainless-steel doors that emphasized the commercial design of the kitchen. Next to it were three built-in ovens and a built-in microwave. There was a commercial gas stovetop and a separate gas grill, with enough counterspace to make Asher drool. It was his dream kitchen. “Pretty neat kitchen, huh?” Freck asked. “I could open a twenty-table restaurant in here,” Asher replied. “It’s designed to serve fifty guests,” Freck replied, “but when we have that many people, we hire caterers.” “Just hire me,” Asher responded. “I could handle it.” “Yeah, right,” Freck replied. “Seriously, he could,” Seth countered. “Ash is phenomenal in the kitchen. He can cook just about anything Asian or Cajun. He even speaks fluent Mandarin.” “You serious?” Freck asked. “He made a full Thanksgiving dinner, including both rotisserie and Cajun turkey,” Seth answered. “That’s how we met Kyle.” “I meant about speaking Mandarin,” Freck corrected. “My mother’s Chinese American and grew up in Flushing,” Asher began, lapsing into Mandarin Chinese. “She grew up speaking Mandarin and she spoke it to me when I was young, so I speak it pretty well, too. My Dad is Creole, from New Orleans, but he never speaks Creole and I never picked it up. I’m taking French in school, so I can understand it, but I’ll never be able to speak Creole. On the other hand, I can cook a mean Creole.” “I bet you get plenty of opportunity to practice your Mandarin out and about Chinatown,” Freck commented in passable Chinese. “It’s too bad your father didn’t teach you Creole when you were younger,” he continued in French. “You speak Chinese?” Seth exclaimed in surprise, “and wasn’t that French too?” “Right on both accounts,” Freck replied. “It’s kind of a gift. I pick up languages without even thinking about it. That bit of Mandarin I picked up just from listening to conversations in Chinatown. The only problem with learning a language by ear is that you can’t read or write it.” “And we all know how easy it is to learn to read in Chinese,” Asher added with a laugh. The others laughed along too. “Seriously, even Chinese kids have to study it through high school,” Asher continued. “It takes them that long, just to learn the first 2000 characters. I’ve heard it’s the same for Japanese kids, but of course it’s the same written language. And because it’s idiomatic, once you learn it, you can pretty much read any dialect of Chinese, or even Japanese.” “But I thought Mao simplified it,” Freck countered. “He did,” Asher replied, “but a lot of Chinese Americans came here before the communists took over, so you see both forms here. Not that it matters much… they’re similar enough that if you can read one, you can read the other.” Continuing the tour, Freck showed his friends the dining room, which was on the other side of the kitchen. “The wall here separates the play room from the dining room and the rest of the common areas. It helps keep the noise from the play room from reaching the adults. Like I said, the rents don’t really like kids and so we’re meant to be seen, but not heard.” They passed through a door into a large room with comfortable seats, a built-in wall of bookshelves with children’s books, board games and DVDs of popular kids’ movies. “This door leads to the home theater, but as you can see, we have our own TV and sound system in here, and the walls are filled with acoustic insulation.” Passing through the play room, they passed through another door and found themselves in a U-shaped hallway and on the backside of the elevators. “To the right, next to the elevators, we have our utilities, some storage and closet space, and another emergency staircase. To the left is the girls’ bedroom and bathroom, and the nanny’s suite, which are off-limits to us. And beyond that is my bedroom,” Freck added as he opened the door. Seth and Asher could barely believe their eyes. To their right was an open door, and a huge and messy walk-in closet and dressing area, with clothes strewn about on the floor. Beyond that was another open door leading to what was obviously an equally large en-suite bathroom. As with the rest of the apartment, it had floor-to-ceiling windows, making it exceptionally bright and open. What was most exceptional, however, was the bedroom itself. Being in the corner, the view was beyond outstanding. It included the tip of lower Manhattan, including the Brooklyn Bridge and Governor’s Island, as well as Staten Island and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The Statue of Liberty was in the foreground, along with the elegant high-rises of Jersey City. The boys couldn’t imagine what it must be like to go to bed every night and wake up every morning to that view. A king-size bed dominated the room — or was it a California King? There was a wall of books on the one wall in the room that didn’t have any windows or doors, and in the middle of it was yet another flat-screen TV. There was also a large L-shaped desk with a 27” iMac on it. A closed MacBook Pro was also visible next to it on one side, as well as an iPad Pro on the other. Apparently Freck’s parents could afford to buy him a separate device for every purpose imaginable. “So, guys, what do you think?” asked Freck said as he flopped down on his unmade bed. Asher was afraid to say anything. He wasn’t poor, but except for the kids that lived in the projects, he was about as middle-class as a kid could be and still live in Manhattan. Manhattan was the land of the rich and, as far as he was concerned, he lived in the cheap seats. What could he possibly say in the face of all Freck’s wealth? Hence it was Seth that responded. “What I see is a kid with wealthy parents, but underneath all the spectacular views and high-priced furnishings and clothes and toys is a very lonely boy. I can’t imagine attempting suicide, but I can almost see why you might have done it.” Freck just lay there on his bed. It was a while before he said anything. When he finally spoke, it was with the sound of tears that he replied. “Guys, I have a confession to make. I didn’t attempt suicide… well, not directly anyway. I haven’t even told my shrink, but when I climbed up on top of that SUV and scrambled up onto the wall of the parking garage, it wasn’t with the intent to jump. I did it because I was stoned out of my mind and thought I could fly. However, even then I didn’t really care if I could fly or not. I thought I could but I didn’t really fuckin’ care. If it turned out I couldn’t, well, game over. Just hit reset. I didn’t really give a fuck whether I flew away or died. That’s the scariest thing of all… the apathy.” When the tears started in earnest, Seth pulled Freck into his arms and hugged him tightly, and Ash put his arm around him from behind. The three boys stayed that way for a while, until the tears finally subsided. “Freck, I know you said you gave up smokin’ pot,” Asher began, “but did you really? Have you smoked any since then?” “There have been times I wanted to,” Freck answered, “but no, I haven’t. I did search to see where my parents moved their stash though, but my conscience wouldn’t let me go any further. I knew they wouldn’t have gotten rid of it, and they didn’t. Didn’t take me long to find it either. I know this’ll probably sound strange, but it’s kinda comforting, just knowing it’s there. Knowing it’s there keeps me from seeking another source and maybe getting involved with kids who could make life so much worse for me. The last thing I need is to get involved with hardcore stoners. I can’t afford to go back to being one myself. “No, I’m glad I know where my parents’ stash of pot is. It’s there if life every seems helpless, but I’ve made a promise and I’m gonna keep it. If I ever feel that way again, I’ll call you guys first.” “You damn well better,” Seth responded. “Besides, Kyle would never forgive us if anything happened to you.” Freck’s entire demeanor changed as a smile took over his face. “You’re right about that. I could never hurt him either. That boy’s special. I’m so grateful for you introducing us, and for him coming into my life. Kyle changes everything. What my parents have given me is only money. Kyle has made me rich. Come Hell or high water, I’m gonna find a way to make it so we can be together.” “I know how you feel,” Seth added. “When I saw Ash standing in my doorway, wearing a white polo, white pants, a sun visor and with a golf bag slung over his shoulder, I fell instantly. My life has never been the same ever since.” “Asher plays golf?” Freck asked in surprise. “Not on your life,” Asher answered. “It was on Halloween, and I was dressed up as Tiger Woods.” After a few moments, Freck started laughing, and then he laughed harder, and then harder still. “What?” asked Asher. Finally, Freck answered, “Tiger Woods has never, in his entire amateur, collegiate, or professional career, ever worn a white shirt with white pants, and has never been seen wearing a sun visor style hat. That’s just not what Tiger does.” “You’re kidding me,” Asher replied. “Not at all,” Freck answered. “Tiger Woods always wears contrasting colors. His favorite outfit is a red polo shirt with black slacks, but he’s been known to wear blue shirts too, and occasionally white, but if he wears a white shirt, it’s always with dark slacks, and if he wears white slacks, it’s always with a dark shirt. And he always wears a baseball cap… not a sun visor. He’s famous for his baseball cap with his signature logo on it… A large T inside a W. You can buy one like it in any golf shop or online.” “I can’t believe I got it so wrong,” Asher responded. “I can,” Seth replied. “After all, you thought the Red Sox was a football team.” “A football team?” Freck exclaimed. “You thought that, even though they won the 2018 World Series?” Shrugging his shoulders, Asher explained, “I thought the World Series was a football championship.” “Haven’t you heard of the Superbowl?” Freck asked. “Sure,” Asher answered. “Isn’t that for bowling?” “BOWLING?” Freck exclaimed, and then started laughing hysterically. Soon all three boys were laughing — even Asher. When Asher could finally speak, he said, “So, I’m just not interested in sports.” “Ya think?” Freck replied, and then added, “Let me show you the rest of the apartment, and then we can talk about wrestling.” That sure put a damper on the mood, at least for Asher. Exiting Freck’s room, they went through an open door to find a huge bedroom suite with a king-size bed, a sitting area and in the corner, a treadmill and an exercise bike. Through an open door on one side was a huge master bathroom with a walk-in two-person shower and a Jacuzzi. On the other wall were a pair of doors that Seth surmised were his and hers walk-in closets. Truthfully, Seth thought to himself, the room looked more like something from a luxury hotel suite. Not only was the bed made, but everything was in its place. There wasn’t a stitch of clothing to be seen anywhere. Not even a hairbrush left out on the dresser, or a TV remote left on either night table. Moving on to the next room, which had a queen-size bed, a dresser and a small windowless bathroom, Freck said, “Obviously, this is the guest bedroom. Then entering the last room, “and this is Dad’s study.” With walls of books on either side, a couple of chairs and a desk with a laptop on it, it looked like a generic office, complete with a view that included most of Manhattan. Passing through the other door to the office put them back in the sitting area where they exited the elevator. “So, not bad for twenty million, huh?” Freck concluded. “That’s like twenty apartments like mine,” Seth commented. “Yeah, but you’ve got 90% of the view, and a motherfuckin’ huge terrace,” Asher pointed out. “Freck doesn’t even have a terrace. “You’re gonna have to show that to me, Seth,” Freck requested. “Right now, it’s all torn up,” Seth explained. “When the place was gutted, the contractor requested an upgrade to 220-volt service. Rather than telling them that the building only had 110, they simply added a second 110-volt line.” “Ah,” Freck responded, “So they put in a bunch of Edison circuits with shared neutrals, not realizing that both circuits had the same phase. Yikes, that’s dangerous!” “You got it in one,” Seth responded, “just like Kyle did,” which caused Freck to grin. “Still, we should be able to get in after hours,” Freck suggested, “just to see the view.” “I’ll see what I can arrange,” Seth agreed. “So, shall we?” Freck suggested as he led them through the door from the home theater to the play room.” “I guess so,” responded Asher. “Time to get personal,” stated Freck as he started undressing, stopping only when he was down to his boxers. Asher and Seth followed suit. “Do we need to worry about your sisters coming home and walking in on us? Or your parents?” Asher asked. “Shaking his head, Frek responded, “Dad’s in Chicago for the next week, and Mom’s on a buying trip in Paris. My sisters and our nanny are at their ballet lessons and will be until dinnertime. In spite of his initial nervousness, Asher found himself having a good time. Their gym teacher was a nice guy and quite a contrast to the archetypical gym instructor, but Freck was another kid and a friend. He was muscular but not overbearing, and he took the time to go over move after move, showing Ash how to fake his intent believably and to throw his opponent off-guard with an unexpected move. With Seth acting as his partner, he was actually managing to avoid being pinned at least a third of the time, even as Seth tried his best to pin his boyfriend. Having gotten themselves sweaty, they showered in Freck’s bathroom, individually, before getting dressed. “So, there are many restaurants around here where we could eat,” Freck began, “or we could send for takeout. With Seamless, we can order anything from just about anywhere.” “Why don’t I cook for you,” Asher suggested. “After the way you helped me this afternoon, it’s the least I can do. I could even cook for your sisters and nanny if they’d be interested.” “I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Freck objected. “You don’t need to ask,” Asher countered. “I’m offering.” “He really is an amazing cook,” Seth added. “His food is incredible.” “Are there any food allergies or dislikes I need to worry about?” Asher asked. With twin eight-year-old girls in the house, of course there were dislikes, and quite a few of them. Without eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes or asparagus, not to mention shrimp or canned fish of any kind, Asher’s options were a bit limited, but he could still use beef, chicken, fresh fish, corn, carrots, green beans, spinach and mushrooms, as well as rice and potatoes. Making a quick trip to the Whole Foods Market across from their high school, Asher picked out some salmon fillets, fresh green beans, mushrooms, fresh spinach, onions, garlic and rice. He also picked up the ingredients for a homemade tart, topped with strawberries and blueberries. Back in Freck’s apartment, Asher wasted no time making a basic crust for the tarts from flour, water, canola oil and eggs, and baked it in the oven until golden brown. For the filling he mixed eggs, milk, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla extract, heated it to a boil, spooned it over the crust and then set it aside to cool in the refrigerator. He washed the blueberries and strawberries, removed the stems from the strawberries and sliced them into thin slices. The fruit went into a bowl and in the refrigerator. Getting out an electronic pressure cooker he found, he used it to cook the brown rice. He washed and cut the beans and added some cut-up mushrooms and set them to a low boil, and then diced the onions and minced the garlic, and sautéed them with the spinach and mushrooms in canola oil in a large skillet over low heat. Lastly, he set the salmon fillets on the grill and then turned them when ready, grilling them until they were still slightly raw in the center, and then turned the gas down and wrapped them with foil to keep them hot and moist. As expected, the girls and their nanny arrived at the expected hour and, after the introductions were made, Asher turned up the gas under the skillet and proceeded to sauté the salmon with the spinach and seasonings, placing the six individual servings on a serving platter when they were ready. Before the girls had even finished changing their clothes, dinner was ready to be served. In the meantime, Seth set the dining room table for six and Freck helped Asher drain the green beans and prepare them and the rice to be served. By the time the girls reemerged, everything was on the table. “That smells wonderful, boys,” the nanny exclaimed, “but you didn’t need to go to so much trouble.” “That wasn’t any trouble at all.” Asher replied, “I love to cook, and this is really just a simple meal for me.” “Ash’s parents own an Asian restaurant on Grand Street,” Seth explained. “He learned a lot from his dad, who’s Creole, and from his mom, who’s ethnic Chinese.” “Mostly I eat with my folks at their restaurant,” Asher explained, “but sometimes they’re just too busy and I’d have starved if I didn’t learn to cook for myself.” “You’re going to make a wonderful husband for a lucky woman someday,” the nanny commented. Clearing his throat, Seth interjected, “Um… that would be me.” Then to be sure he’d been clear, he added, “Ash is my boyfriend.” “Your gay?” the nanny responded in surprise, “But you’re so young.” “Frank is even younger,” one of Freck’s sisters stated causing the color to drain from his face. “You shouldn’t talk about your brother like that,” the nanny admonished her charge. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it and we’d still love him if he were, but you don’t know yet. As you said, he’s too young.” “No, I’m not,” Freck countered. “But how did you know?” he asked his sister. Giggling, she responded, “you shouldn’t leave your computer unattended when you go to the bathroom,” and her sister giggled along with her. Turning bright red, Freck replied, “Oh, you two are sooo in trouble.” Changing the subject, Asher announced, “I have it on good faith that you like salmon as long as it’s cooked and not from a can, and you like spinach, green beans and rice. So tonight I’ve prepared salmon Florentine, which is just salmon sautéed with spinach and seasonings. It’s one of the first things I learned to make as a kid, when I was even younger than you are. I hope you like it.” “Like I said, it smells wonderful,” the nanny reiterated. The girls were actually very polite, and they served themselves. They really seemed to enjoy the meal, as did everyone. They even volunteered to clear away the remnants of the meal when everyone was finished. “Would anyone like dessert?” Asher asked. “You made dessert too?” the nanny asked in surprise. “Nothing special,” Asher explained, “just a fresh fruit tart.” “Maybe that’s nothing for you, but it sounds like a lot of work.” “Not really, and it’s my pleasure” Asher replied. Getting up from the table, he got the tart out of the refrigerator and checked to make sure the filling had set. He then added the strawberries and blueberries on top in a concentric pattern, then sliced the tart into six portions and set each on a dessert plate. Adding a small fork, he proceeded to serve everyone at the table. The girls loved it, as did their nanny and the boys. <> <> <> When gym class rolled around the next day, Asher’s dread was at an all-time high in spite of the training from Freck the afternoon before. Freck and Seth kept reminding the boy how easily he’d countered Seth’s moves, even when he was trying to win. In theory, Asher knew he could at least avoid utter humiliation at the hand of his opponent, but his fear was getting the better of him. Asher had hoped the gym teacher would pair him with someone else, but he wasted no time in telling the boys to form up using the same groups as the day before. The first half of the class would be devoted to practice sessions in which half the boys were on the mats at any time. That meant the coach would be watching a total of ten groups at a time rather than five. He emphasized the boys were just to practice what they’d learned — not to compete with each other in full matches. They were to practice their take-downs from all three starting positions and nothing else, switching off with each other when he blew the whistle in ten minutes. Asher and his opponent, Clarke, were in the second group and hence Asher had a ten-minute reprieve during which he watched Seth and Freck going at it. Again, the two of them seemed to be very well-matched in spite of the difference in age and size. Asher’s nerves didn’t subside during his brief reprieve, however. They only worsened as the practice session proceeded and, by the time the teacher blew his whistle, he was borderline terrified. “Remember, Ash, Clarke is driven by his ego,” Freck said as the two boys passed. “He has to beat you, and that’ll be his downfall. Use his confidence against him and use his frustrations to trip him up.” Freck made it sound so easy, but he wasn’t the one facing Clarke. The two boys squared off with each other in the upright starting position, and then they were flying toward each other. Ash acted on instinct, feinting right when Clarke attempted to sweep his feet in that direction, but then dodging left as he’d been taught by his friends the day before. Off balance, Clarke’s legs went out from under him and he landed on his butt. Point to Ash, had this been an actual match. “Lucky move, Asshole,” Clarke chided. “You won’t get any more of those.” Ash, on the other hand, was elated. He’d not get a chance like that again, he knew, but at least he’d proven to himself that he could hold his own. Next, the two boys squared off with Asher on top. This had been an easy and quick win for Clarke yesterday, as he flipped Asher onto his back, pinning him. If the strategy the boys worked out the previous evening played out, not expecting an effective countermeasure from Ash, it was highly likely Clarke would favor the same strategy. Since Asher’s left hand was planted on the mat and his right arm was around Clarke’s waist, he was vulnerable only if he stayed that way. Therefore, when the action started, Asher immediately reversed his arms. It was counterintuitive, and it worked. When Clarke pushed. His body up and to the left, attempting to flip Asher on his back, instead of encountering Asher’s planted arm on the left, he encountered only air. Clarke’s momentum carried him over onto his own back and with his right arm planted, Asher remained prone and on top. Asher might not be capable of pinning Clarke, but at least he’d get a point for the takedown. “Nice try, faggot,” Clarke said as they both got up. Because he was at the other end of the gym and didn’t hear Clarke’s remark, it was left for Asher to respond, or not. Telling the gym teacher would have been a lose-lose proposition, and so Asher made use of his wit to respond in kind. “Just like your daddy,” Asher replied with a smile on his face. Perhaps there was some truth to the matter, or perhaps Clarke had his own sexual inadequacies but, for whatever reason, he snapped. Before either boy knew what was happening, Clarke had thrown a right hook to Asher’s left side, catching him squarely in the eye. Clarke followed this with a left underhand punch to Asher’s jaw, knocking him backwards and knocking him out cold. Not that he could have mounted an effective strategy, but the punches caught Asher completely by surprise. By the time the gym teacher got there, Clarke was being held by Freck with help from the other boys in their group. Seth was helping Asher, who was already starting to stir, and then he sat up but felt like his head was about to explode. Seth told the teacher what had happened, and the teacher couldn’t help but chuckle and say, “Good one,” when he heard what Asher’s rejoinder had been. Seth and Freck helped get Asher to the school nurse, where an ambulance was called and he was taken to New York Presbyterian’s Lower Manhattan Hospital for a quick checkup and a CT scan of the head. In the past, a knockout might have been handled with all-day observation alone and in school, but the likelihood of a concussion and possibility of a more serious injury demanded a more proactive, cautious approach. Asher’s parents were called, and his Father came to stay with the boy in Emergency until he’d been cleared for discharge. He then called for a car and took Asher home, staying home with him for the duration of the day. Asher’s parents might be dedicated to their restaurant, but their son always came first. In the meantime, Clarke was taken to the vice-principle’s office, where he was detained until his mother could travel from Ozone Park in Queens, where she was in a committee meeting, and take him home. Clarke would be on suspension until the end of the winter break, and a 20,000-word treatise on the effects of bullying would be due at that time as a condition of his return to school. This was not his first offense when it came to fighting in school. Further, he would receive a failing grade for the semester in gym class and would have to repeat it. The effect of even one failing grade on his class rank at an elite school such as Stuyvesant would be profound. Only a strong letter of recommendation from a former mayor of New York could overcome his record when it came to college admissions. In any case, the beating he got that night at home was the thing that he would remember the longest. In Clarke’s mind, he was already planning his revenge for that as he envisioned the title of his essay, ‘Bullying Starts in the Home.’ Enough was enough. Let the chips fall where they may. <> <> <> Freck was nervous beyond belief as he paced back and forth in his penthouse apartment. He’d have worn a hole in the carpet if there had been a carpet. As it was, he was dulling the finish of the hardwood floor. Kyle was on his way — that he knew. He’d gotten a text from Kyle right after the Uber had picked him up. But Friday traffic was the worst. Travel on city streets crawled at a glacial pace as cars, trying to beat the traffic lights, got stuck in the intersection, blocking traffic in all directions. Pedestrians and bicyclists seemed unaware of the signals meant to keep them from doing the same. Between such gridlock and streets overrun with unoccupied taxis and car service vehicles from the likes of Uber and Lyft, even traveling a mile could take the better part of an hour. At least Kyle would be traveling the West Side Highway until it merged into West Street, but even then, traffic would be heavy and at a crawl. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be any better on Harlem River Drive and the FDR, nor on the Major Deacon Expressway or even Interstate 95, so there was little point in trying to find an alternate route. There were times when no route into or around Manhattan moved very well, particularly on the weekend and particularly on a Friday evening during the holiday season. Freck was beginning to think that Asher and Seth were right. With a train station right in Riverdale, Metro North could have gotten Kyle into Grand Central Terminal in a matter of minutes, and a number four or five train could have gotten him down to Bowling Green at the foot of Wall Street, shortly after that. Bowling Green was at most a fifteen-minute walk from Freck’s apartment. Still, Kyle was only nine — well, ten this Sunday — and he had no experience in taking public transit at all. Neither had he, for that matter, until Asher and Seth had forced him to take it. Raised on the likes of Uber, Freck had to admit that in spite of the crowds and the bad reputation the failing subway had, it still beat the pants off of anything that relied on the streets above when it came to getting around in Manhattan. Frustrated, Freck sent another text to Kyle, only to receive a reply that the trip was very slow going and he was still up in Morningside Heights, just passing by Columbia University. Kyle wasn’t even quite half-way there and the worst of the traffic was still ahead of him. He would have at least liked to have talked to Kyle. That would have made the time go faster, but Kyle’s dad had capped his minutes to force him to develop social skills. Asher’s dad had done nothing to change that. Freck had no trouble understanding why they did that, but damn, he wanted to talk to the boy right now. As Freck paced back and forth, his imagination got the better of him. Was he reading too much into the relationship? Was there even a relationship? Yes, they’d hit it off when they first met and they seemed to have so much in common in spite of the two-year age difference. Yes, they’d spoken with each other by land line every day. Freck was certain that he was in love with Kyle. He could think of little else but Kyle, but perhaps was Kyle too young to experience romantic love? Yet if he was, was he ready for anything physical? Was he even ready to make out with another boy? Was he too young for anything more than that? Would it be wrong to encourage him to get naked? Would it be wrong to touch him in places boys that age aren’t supposed to be touched? These questions, and more, kept swirling through Freck’s head as the wait continued its interminable course. With nothing better to do, Freck plopped down in one of the theater seats in the home theater, with his legs draped over the back of the seat in front of him, and he flipped on the TV. The local news was just starting and, with nothing better to do, he mindlessly watched. His brain barely registered the scenes of holiday shoppers, streaming refugees and senseless bloodshed as they unfolded on the giant screen in front of him. With his mind on autopilot, he was startled with the land line actually rang. Picking it up, it was the doorman downstairs, informing him that he had a guest, Kyle Goldstein. Telling the doorman to send him on up, Freck turned off the TV and leapt over the back of the chair he was sitting in, bounding toward the elevators in a single leap. Standing in front of the elevators, he was unsure which of the two elevators would be carrying his boyfriend, so he paced back and forth between the two. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he clasped them together in front of him, but that meant they were physically pressing on his erect dick. Before he could move his hands or reposition his penis, however, the elevator dinged and the right door opened, and out walked Kyle. In less than a second the boys were in each other’s arms as their lips joined with an intensity Freck didn’t know was possible. The kiss seemed to go on forever as tongues danced with tongues and passions ran wild. Finally coming up for air, Kyle spoke first, “You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to do that, ever since we met.” “Not half as much as I have,” Freck answered. The boys went right back to kissing and literally grinding into each other. Even though he was young, Freck could feel Kyle’s dick sticking straight out in front of him, and he was not that small at all. His worries about what the two of them might do evaporated as he realized that Kyle more than likely viewed as much on-line porn as he did. For what it was worth, Freck decided he wouldn’t worry about what was or wasn’t legal for two pre-teens to do. He’d go with whatever felt right… whatever it was that Kyle wanted to do, be it just making out, or full-on boy-on-boy action, which was exactly where they were headed if they didn’t slow down. Not wishing to cross the finish line before even starting the race, Freck pulled away and said, “You must be hungry, Kyle… for food, that is,” he added with a laugh. “Or perhaps you’d like to tour my apartment before we get something to eat?” Laughing, Kyle responded, “I was pretty close to coming too. I can’t squirt yet, but I do have orgasms. I jack off a lot, just like any precocious boy does, I think. Yes, I think it’s better to wait until we go to bed. It’s much more fun with a boyfriend than alone with your right hand, or I guess maybe for you it’s your left hand.” “You’re very observant, Kyle.” Freck commented. “Actually, I’m not,” he replied, much to Freck’s confusion. “Other than the biggies… Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Passover… we hardly ever go to temple.” “That’s very funny, Kyle,” Freck responded. “So I take it you don’t believe in God?” “If there is a God, she’s nothing more than a highly intelligent being,” Kyle answered. “You read that one too,” Freck agreed, and then added, “That’s one of the things I like about Star Wars. The whole idea behind The Force… that there may be a sort of collective consciousness shared by all living things. In a sense, God is a creation of life and not the other way around.” “I’ll try not to barf with the Star Wars reference,” Kyle responded. “Actually, I would agree with you regarding Episode IV, A New Hope, the first Star Wars film released. Then it really was like that, with The Force being more of a spiritual entity than religious or mystical.” “Sometimes I feel like there really is a soul, you know?” Freck went on. “It almost feels like my consciousness somehow exists outside of normal space-time… that the body really is nothing more than a window to the world for the entity that is our soul.” “That’s because of all the pot you used to smoke,” Kyle responded, which Freck answered with his middle finger. “Actually, there was a really good story I read on AwesomeDude that proposed exactly that… that our sentience comes from the symbiosis from an extracorporeal life from outside of space-time with our corporeal bodies. It’s an interesting hypothesis but utterly impossible to prove in the here and now. “I know what you mean, Freck, when you say the body seems more like a window to the soul, which is hardly a new concept, but I think that feeling comes from the fact that so much of our sensory input comes from the head. The eyes, the ears, the olfactory cells and the taste buds are within the confines of the skull, just outside of the brain, where we perceive and interpret their input. When it comes to the sense of touch, nearly half of it comes from the face, and the bulk of the rest comes from the hands. That’s how it’s mapped out in the sensory cortex, and in the corresponding motor cortex.” Resting his arms on Kyle’s shoulders, Freck looked right into Kyle’s eyes and said, “You really are my equal, Kyle. I may be two years older, but intellectually I think we’re pretty well matched.” “Chronologic age is irrelevant when it comes to kids like us,” Kyle answered. “I’d feel the same if our ages were reversed. My brother likes to say that I have the brain of someone twice my age, but he also points out that I have the maturity of a kid my age.” “I don’t think that’s true at all, Kyle,” Freck countered. “You may lack the life experiences that go into making an adult better able to cope with adversity… I certainly know something about that… but your intellect gives you the maturity of someone much older than your chronologic age. We really are well-matched. It’s just a shame you’re going to be going to Bronx Science next year, and I’ll be going to Stuyvesant… and then I’ll graduate and go away to college, and you’ll go to MIT. How will we be able to be boyfriends if we can’t be together again?” “About that,” Kyle replied, “meeting you has changed everything for me. Given the choice of realizing my childhood dream, but spending the rest of my life alone, or finding a way we can be together… there is no choice.” Pulling away from Freck and walking around the elevator lobby, he went on, “I’m going to try to get into Stuyvesant next year. If I make the cutoff. I’ll challenge as many courses as I can and hopefully, I’ll be able to graduate right with you.” Turning back to Freck, he continued, “The question is, what do you want to do with your life, Freck? What are your plans for college? Where do you want to go?” “To be honest, I’ve no idea,” responded Freck. “I’ve always had a plan to graduate as quickly as possible and to get as much advance placement as I can, but it’s hard to decide on a college when you don’t have a clue as to what you want to do for a living.” “Are you interested in math or science, philosophy, history, the arts, language, medicine, law, politics… what really gets you going?” “That’s the problem,” Freck answered. “Everything interests me, and I’m good at it. If I could, I’d do it all.” “So you want to be a professional renaissance man,” Kyle responded with a laugh. “There’s a huge demand for that.” Then getting a more serious look, the added, “We’ll figure it out together. There’s still time, and then we’ll pick a university or universities that meet both our needs.” “So you’re saying you want to spend your life with me?” Freck asked for confirmation. “If you’ll have me,” he replied. “I love you, Freck. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my life. I know we haven’t known each other for long, but I can honestly say that I love you. You’re all I’ve been able to think about. My performance in school has gone to shit…” “Mine too,” Freck interrupted, “and the feeling is mutual. Yeah, there’s a component of lust there too…” he added as he colored up, “a big component… but the main thing is that I want to spend my life with you. I want to enjoy our sunsets together, to go hiking in Alaska, to see the great cities of the word and visit all the top museums, to have you sitting next to me for the New York Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, and to watch the next Star Wars movie together…” “I was with you all the way until you mentioned Star Wars,” Kyle interrupted, “but I guess I can make that sacrifice.” Smiling, Kyle continued, “Now I think you were going to give me a tour?”
  11. Altimexis

    Chanukah Gift

    “I can’t believe we’re having pie on top of all that food!” Jessie exclaimed as he helped himself to a second serving of Apple pie.” We were having Thanksgiving dinner together, me and my boyfriend Seth, as well as six friends from high school who also had no place else to go for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, only five of our friends were in high school with us at Stuyvesant, in lower Manhattan. Roger had brought his little brother Kyle with him. Kyle was a rather precocious nine-year-old who was already in the sixth grade and hoped to be a sophomore at MIT by the time he was fourteen. Ironically, Roger was the only one of us who wasn’t gay – it was young Kyle who’d lost the support of their father because he’d declared he was gay. We were all crammed into the living room and dining room in my apartment on the Lower East Side. Joel and his boyfriend, Clark, as well as Roger and Kyle were in the living room watching football on our sixty-inch plasma TV. Jessie, René, Seth and I were all at my dining room table, as we had no interest at all in football. We were all enjoying the home-baked pumpkin and apple pies Roger had baked for the occasion, as well as coffee – even Kyle. This wasn’t how Thanksgiving was supposed to go. We’d started out two hours ago over at my boyfriend’s place, in a top-floor apartment across Grand Street. His apartment was much nicer, with a lot more open space and a terrace with an unbelievable view of all of Manhattan. No sooner had we sat down to eat, however, than the lights went out. In retrospect it was probably stupid of me to plug in my Instant Pot and turn it on at the same time my boyfriend was grinding coffee beans, but they were plugged into different outlets and it never occurred to me that they could be on the same circuit. However, once we managed to empty out half of the clothes from the closet that served as my boyfriend’s bedroom, so that we could get to the circuit breakers, we discovered that not one, but two breakers had been tripped. How strange. Even stranger was what happened when we tried to reset either one of them. We couldn’t. When we tried, sparks flew, and the breaker wouldn’t engage. It was young Kyle who correctly diagnosed the problem, but we didn’t know it at the time. We wouldn’t find out for sure until an electrician came out for an emergency call on Saturday. When Seth’s apartment was gutted and remodeled, prior to them even owning it, a new circuit breaker panel was installed and the wiring replaced. However, the electrician who did the work failed to realize that the building didn’t have 220-volt service. In most newer buildings with 220-volt powerlines, it’s common practice to have two circuits share a common neutral wire, so long as they have opposite phases and, hence, the return currents will cancel each other out. But if a building only has 110-volt service, the phases in any two circuits will always be the same and the return currents in a shared neutral wire will be additive, possibly exceeding the capacity of the neutral wire. That is what had been happening in the wiring in Seth’s apartment since it was renovated more than two years ago. Over time the neutral wire that was shared by the two circuits that served all of the outlets in the kitchen and most of the lighting in the kitchen, dining room and living room had been steadily overheating. As a result, the insulation that separated the neutral wire from the hot wires of both circuits had been melting. Plugging in the Instant Pot was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. What little insulation there was left melted, and all three wires shorted together, causing both circuit breakers to trip and rendering both circuits unusable. Unfortunately, as Kyle pointed out, it was likely there were other improperly-wired circuits and the next overheated neutral wire could well cause a fire. Before going back to our Thanksgiving dinner, we had to turn off every light and unplug every electrical device and appliance throughout the apartment. Because the oven and stove were gas, we were still able to keep the food warm and I was even able to heat the pumpkin soup on the stovetop. We were able to eat by candle light, and in fact it seemed kinda romantic, and reminiscent of the original Thanksgiving feast. It was fortunate that there was very little food in the fridge, as that was a complete loss. For the Thanksgiving leftovers, everything had to be carried back to my apartment and stored in my refrigerator. What actually prompted the move to my apartment for dessert and coffee, however, was football. Only half of us had even a passing interest in watching the bowl games on TV, but that was enough to force all of us to move. The most poignant part of Thanksgiving, however, had nothing to do with eating by candlelight. Some of us had read that it was a Thanksgiving tradition in other families to go around the table and have everyone say what they were thankful for, and so we decided to do the same. Not that I had any experience with it, this being my first-ever thanksgiving dinner. I started it off by talking about how lucky I was to have such loving, accepting parents who had given everything up to save for my college education… an African American father and a Chinese American mother who balked at stereotypes and ran a successful Asian restaurant… parents who loved my boyfriend as if he were one of their own and who not only accepted, but encouraged our sleepovers. And of course, I was thankful for the miracle of finding my soul mate, the boy I hoped would one day be my husband. I still couldn’t believe it had only been a few weeks. Seth went next and put up front the fact that he was equally grateful for finding me and for the miracle of my loving him back. He was thrilled at my being a fellow Star Trek fan and for sharing his passion for the Jazz classics and for music in general. He was grateful for parents who accepted his sexuality and who trusted him and gave him responsibility, but equally grateful that they took the time to home school him when he was younger, even though his father was exceptionally busy as one of the most powerful politicians in the state, and his mother as his assistant. He was grateful that his father set him up with investments and money that would allow him to go to college anywhere in the world. He was grateful he would have the resources to get started in life, yet he appreciated that his parents had instilled in him the values that kept him from spending even half of his allowance. Not surprisingly, Joel spoke for both himself and his boyfriend, Clark. He said they were both thankful for their loving fathers who had sacrificed so much for them, working overtime for the MTA whenever possible including on Thanksgiving, every year. They were grateful to their fathers, who had taken on the role of raising sons as single parents, even though their Asian culture made that particularly difficult. In fact, it was because their fathers had come together when they had both lost their wives to cancer, that Joel and Clark had become friends in the first place. They were grateful for fathers who accepted their sons’ sexuality and they were grateful to have both gotten into Stuyvesant High School together, even though it meant schlepping their way from Flushing in Queens every day. I’d known that Jessie was gay, but he was barely an acquaintance whom Seth and I had met from attending a GSA meeting. Therefore, it was a complete surprise when he’d asked if he could attend our little Thanksgiving dinner and offered to bring the candied yams. It turned out that his boyfriend, Tariq, whom we also knew, was spending the holiday with his parents and their family in Jersey City. Both boys were deeply in the closet, but the matter was critically important for Tariq, because his Palestinian American parents were vehemently and vocally homophobic. Jessie, on the other hand, was in foster care and was currently living with a family that did not see their responsibilities as including Thanksgiving dinner. Jessie didn’t fear what would happen if they knew he was gay, as in the worst case he’d just go to another foster family, which might even be an improvement. He just feared that rocking the boat might mean being sent Upstate, which would put an end to his dream of graduating from an elite city school. It didn’t sound like he had much to be thankful for, although he did say he was thankful for our friendship. René spent her time railing against the idea of labels. She hated being called a lesbian because that was just a name, and most women who like girls were offended by the term anyway and saw it as gender-specific and prejudicial. She went on to tell us she was in fact trans – that she was a gay girl who’d been born in a straight boy’s body. She went on to say that she was grateful to live in a state and attend a school where she was allowed to live her life as a girl. She was saddened that she had parents who would not let her eat at the same table so long as she dressed as a girl, but thankful she still had friends who understood her and that she had a place to go on Thanksgiving. So she was trans. Who knew? All of our thanks paled in comparison to what Kyle had to say when it was his turn. In fact, what he said was so compelling and so troubling that I couldn’t remember what his brother had to say after that. I could remember what Kyle said, virtually verbatim. “What do I have to be thankful for?” he began. “Sometimes I wonder that myself. I know people think I’m a genius and it’s pretty hard to argue the point when I meet the technical definition. To me I’m just me, an ordinary kid with what I’d like to think is a better than average understanding of how the world works… a boy who’s smart enough to realize that he’s attracted to other boys and that it’s not something that will ever change. I’ve known that for a fact for the better part of a year now, but I suspected it for a lot longer than that. “I’m a nine-year-old boy with the knowledge of an eighteen-year-old, in school with ten- and eleven-year-old boys and girls who are just beginning their lifelong obsession with sex. Yet even if I were able to find a boy in middle school who was willing to admit their same-sex attraction, who among them would be willing to overlook a two- or maybe three-year age difference and date a nine-year-old? I would like to think that things will get better when I reach sexual maturity and start to grow hair in all the right places, and when my voice gets deeper, but by then I’ll be a junior or senior in high school, or maybe even a sophomore in college. Not only won’t an eighteen-year-old boy be willing to date a fourteen-year-old boy, but in most places, they could go to prison for it. “I’m reminded of the case of James Dallas Egbert the Third, a boy who was also gay and entered college at Michigan State at the age of sixteen. He captured media attention when he left a suicide note and then disappeared from his dormitory. He was eventually found, but he never adjusted to university life, became obsessed with the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, and ultimately shot himself in the head. A book was written about him, but that didn’t make him any less dead. I sometimes wonder if that’s the fate that awaits me. “Well I’m not dead yet, and thanks to the love of a great brother who has the misfortune of liking girls, and from people like the ones I’ve met today, I think there is much to be thankful for and to live for. I’ve heard it said that so-called child prodigies can never integrate into normal society and so they shouldn’t even try, but that’s a rather lonely assessment. Even as misguided as they often are, my parents have been very strong advocates for social mainstreaming, even though it’s always been a bit of a lost cause. I try to talk like my peers in middle school, but in reality, I’m much more comfortable quoting Plato, Descartes and Locke. My saving grace is that I’m not so removed from the mainstream that I can’t develop friendship with those who share a common interest. “I’m thankful for meeting two boys here today who, although quite a bit older than me, have both shown me something I don’t get a lot of… respect. They have allowed me to share my ideas on sci-fi and music with them and they have shared theirs with me as equals, and I treasure that. “It saddens me that my desire for a boyfriend may never come to pass. It’s sad that finding a true soul mate is such a rarity. No one should have to live life alone, although quite a few do. The companionship of a dog or a cat just isn’t the same. Maybe things will be different at Bronx Science… if I can get in there… if I can get in next year… if I can hold out that long. There must be others like me at Bronx Science. There must be. If only my life at home were better… Fuck, my parents are liberal Jews. We live in Riverdale and I go to an elite private school. My parents have fought for me to have a normal life, even though I don’t think they’ve ever understood me. Clearly, they wanted a normal kid but instead they’re burdened with me. Actually, I think they could have handled having a gay kid if I’d come out at a more normal age… maybe sixteen, or even thirteen, or maybe twelve. No one seems to know how to react to an eight-year-old who says he’s gay. “I’ll admit, there are times the train tracks look mighty inviting. I’m not close to feeling that low just yet, but there are days when I keep hearing Van Halen’s song in my head. Go ahead and jump! But then I think of how it’d mess up a lot of peoples’ commute,” he added with a laugh. “Anyway, I do have a lot to be thankful for, if I can just forget about the rest of my shitty life.” Holy fuck! How do you react to something like that? I felt like I was in a daze after hearing Kyle’s speech, yet what could I do other than give him my total support? What could I do other than be his friend? At nine, he was much deeper than any fourteen-year-old I’d ever met, myself included. Kyle’s talk of suicide kept echoing in my head. I tried to think about the freshmen at Stuyvesant. My own boyfriend was an example of a kid who was younger than his peers, but that was only by a year. Wracking my brain, I remembered that there was a kid I’d seen in the halls who looked way too young to be in high school, but he wasn’t in any of my classes. Perhaps he was a sophomore or even further along, but he couldn’t have been any older than eleven, if that. Not that I figured he was boyfriend material for Kyle, but perhaps if I got to know him, I could learn something that would help Kyle. At least then I’d be doing something. Even though I’d only known him for a few hours, a part of me would die if anything happened to him. Maybe Seth would have some ideas too. <> <> <> “Isn’t that right, Ash?” my boyfriend asked as if from a distance, through a thick fog. When I didn’t answer, he said, “Asher, are you in there?” as he waved his hand in front of my face? We were eating a wonderful Asian frittata for breakfast with my father, but my mind was far away. Seth had spent the night with me, and apparently was going to be rooming with me for a month or longer. His ‘bedroom’ was torn up as a team of electricians tried to figure out how to rewire his apartment without tearing into the walls. The wiring was a total mess and there would undoubtedly be a lawsuit against the electrical contractor who’d made it that way, but in the meantime, the whole apartment was without power. Finally realizing that Seth had asked me a question, I asked, “What did you say?” “It was about the bet I have with you and your father…” “What bet?” I asked. “Boy, you’re really out of it,” Seth replied. “You know, the bet about bein’ able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital music, or not?” “Oh yeah,” I responded. “Did you realize you don’t have a chance and are you ready to concede defeat?” I asked. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Seth countered. “I expect that you’ll win some of the trials, and so will I, and so will your father, but that a lot of them will probably end up being a draw. But we can’t exactly test the results with my stereo while the place is torn up and there’s no power. Your dad suggested that we at least proceed with the part of the bet involving your stereo, but I think we should wait until my system’s back and functional. If we do the two experiments separately with a lot of time in between, we may end up biasing the results on my system, based on the results on yours.” “Yeah, OK,” I replied. “Yeah, OK what?” Seth asked. “That’s fine,” I reiterated. “What… to go ahead or to wait?” “I agree with you,” I responded. “So you think we should wait?” Seth asked, seeking confirmation. “Whatever you and Dad agree to is fine.” I replied. “But that’s just it Ash. We don’t agree. You’re the tie-breaker.” “And I’m fine with that,” I agreed. “With being the tie breaker, or with going with Gary’s idea or with mine?” “I said OK!” I practically shouted. After a lengthy pause, Seth asked, “You’re still thinking about Kyle, aren’t you?” “Who’s Kyle?” Dad asked. “Kyle is a kid. He was one of the guests we had for Thanksgiving dinner,” Seth answered. “Actually, it was his brother, Roger, who’s a classmate of ours from school,” I chimed in. “Kyle is his nine-year-old brother.” “He’s a genius,” Seth added. “He goes to a private middle school up in Riverdale, where he lives with his brother and his parents, but even though he’s a year ahead as it is, he’s already reading and writing at a twelfth-grade level.” “He doesn’t have any friends,” I continued, “and he can’t really relate to anyone at his school… not even the eighth-graders. He’s stuck learning fractions in a sixth-grade classroom when he’s already capable of doing advanced calculus.” “Sounds like his parents ought to try to get him into Columbia, or Cornell, or NYU, or Fordham, or the New School, or CUNY, or if he’s Jewish, Yeshiva University,” Dad responded. “He is Jewish,” I replied, “but not very religious. His main interests are math and science and he hopes to go to Brooklyn Science next year, if he can get in.” “Then Cornell would be a great choice,” Dad suggested. “They have an engineering and tech campus on Roosevelt Island, or there’s the Stevens Institute of Technology, across the river in Hoboken. With either of those, he could continue to live at home and he wouldn’t lose the support system of his parents.” “But that’s just it, Dad,” I replied. “He doesn’t really have much of a support system from his parents, and if he has no friends in middle school, how is he gonna make friends with kids who are literally twice his age?” “What do you mean he doesn’t have much support from his parents?” Dad asked. “He says his parents have never understood him,” Seth chimed in. “They’ve been supportive of his schooling, only so long as it kept him in the mainstream. They want him to stay where he is, even though he’s more than mastered the curriculum. They’re actively resisting his efforts to go to high school next year, but they couldn’t stop him from taking the entrance exam.” “The real problems began when he came out to them last year,” I added. “Kyle is gay?” Dad asked in astonishment. “How can a nine-year-old know he’s gay?” “He’s almost ten,” I noted, “which was about when I started to notice my attraction to boys. But he came out last year when he was only eight. Although I knew what gay was when I was eight, I never even considered that it could apply to me at that age.” “Very few boys even notice girls at that age,” Dad countered. “They play with their friends, who are all boys, and they sometimes develop crushes on them and even experiment with them, but that doesn’t make them gay. I would hate to see Kyle label himself based on what’s normal and end up in a pigeonhole, just because of erroneous judgement at a young age.” “You’ve said you knew I was gay when I was eleven,” I responded. “In retrospect, could you now tell when I was eight or nine?” Getting a thoughtful look on his face, he replied, “Yes, I could. It’s not like you acted gay or anything and it’s not like you behaved differently from other boys your age. I’m not sure what it was, but I could recognize it now if I saw it.” “If you met Kyle, you’d realize he’s smart, Dad,” I suggested. “Not just book smart, but people smart. That’s unusual for a prodigy, from what I’ve read. If you met him, you’d realize he’s smart enough to make an objective assessment and draw a conclusion about his sexuality. He said he thinks I’m hot and he’d like to get naked with me, and that Seth’s cute too, but he recognizes we’re soul mates and he wouldn’t stand a chance with either of us, nor would he try. When he says he’s gay, I have to believe him.” “It sounds like he’s having a tough time,” Dad related. “A lot of kids like that never find their place in society, or they end up being manipulated into working for people who don’t have their interests at heart. Look at the case of Alan Turing.” Everyone knows about Alan Turing. He was a brilliant mathematician and the father of modern computing, and he was gay. Put to work as a code cracker during World War II, he succeeded in cracking the infamous German Enigma code, changing the course of the war. But homosexuals were considered a security risk – weaklings who could be compromised by the enemy – and so he was imprisoned and ended up dying an untimely death under mysterious circumstances. “At least the Queen finally apologized to the Turing family,” Seth added. “Yes, but don’t think that sort of thing still doesn’t happen, boys,” Dad replied. “Someone like Kyle can be manipulated into a position from which there is no easy out. Even geniuses get lonely… especially geniuses… and if he’s gay, that just makes it all that much more difficult for him.” “But it gets worse than that, Dad,” I added. “Scarcely a day goes by when he doesn’t contemplate suicide. He’s adamant that he’s not suicidal and that there is much he wants to live for, but the fact that the thoughts are there at all scares the fuck outta me.” Rather than say anything, Dad just stared at me until I responded with, “Sorry.” “What scares me,” Seth chimed in, “is that although he has the intelligence of an adult, he still has the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old boy. He’s just beginning his pre-teen years and his emotions will go through more and more changes. One day a proverbial kick to the balls may leave him without the restraint that keeps him from ignoring the impulses that tell him to jump on the tracks.” “He may already be closer to doing that than any of us realize,” I added. “Maybe even closer than he realizes, and that thought has me terrified.” Sighing, Dad said, “Now you’ve done it. You’ve made me want to help the guy, and I don’t even know him. Have you thought about what you might do?” “Well, there’s a guy at school I’ve never met before,” I began, “but I’ve seen him in the halls. He’s maybe eleven if that, and he’s definitely not a freshman, so it’s very likely he’s in a similar situation to Kyle’s. It might be worth my while getting to know him, so that I can gain some insights that might help Kyle.” “Do you think he may be gay?” Seth asked. “I mean eleven isn’t too much older than almost ten.” “Statistically it’s not likely,” I pointed out, “and I haven’t seen him at a GSA meeting…” “We’ve only been to one,” Seth interrupted. “But even if the boy’s gay,” I added, “it wouldn’t help Kyle much if they don’t live near each other. Unless Kyle decides to go to Stuyvesant, he’s not gonna be interested in a boy who goes to school all the way down here.” “But for all we know, maybe he lives in the North Bronx, or in Yonkers…” “He wouldn’t be going to Stuyvesant if he lived in Yonkers,” I pointed out, “and for all we know, he could live in the Far Rockaways.” “Boys,” Dad interrupted, “I think maybe the first thing would be for me to talk to Kyle’s parents, or at least his father. Maybe then I can get some insight as to what the boy is dealing with at home. Then perhaps we could have dinner with the parents and with Kyle. But that all depends on the reaction from his father. If the parents are hostile, then we could probably arrange a meeting with Kyle and his brother instead. At least this is a lull time for the restaurant, just after Thanksgiving. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get away if I have to.” Then taking out a twenty-dollar bill, he handed it to me and said, “In case you didn’t realize it, you missed your bus, and the next bus should be pulling away about now.” “Fuck!” Seth exclaimed, earning a stare from my father. “You’ll never get a taxi,” Dad added as he pulled out his phone. After a few taps, he reported, “Your car will be waiting by the time you get downstairs.” Grabbing my book bag and jacket, Seth did the same and we rushed out the apartment door and hit the button for the elevator. On the way down, Seth asked, “Gary’s paying for us to take an Uber?” Shaking my head, I replied, “For the few times he needs to hail a ride, he uses a local car service based over on Delancey. They have their own app and there’s no surge pricing. In fact, the prices are much more reasonable than Uber, especially if you pay them in cash,” I said as I held up the twenty. Sure enough, there was a black Ford Escape waiting for us downstairs and we hopped in. The ride was much faster by car as we looped around and through the tunnel of the Battery Park Bypass, then drove up West Street and right up in front of our school. It only took ten minutes, and cost twelve dollars, including a 20% tip! <> <> <> I kept my eyes open, but never saw the kid or anyone remotely that young in the halls. Of course, if he was a grade ahead of me, or more, we might not cross paths for days. I knew he probably didn’t have the same lunch as Seth and me, as I’d never seen him in the cafeteria during our lunch period. It was possible he went out for lunch – there were certainly enough restaurants in the area, and there was a food court at Brookfield Place nearby – but leaving the campus was discouraged, especially ever since a terrorist had mowed down a bunch of people on bicycles, right by our school. However, at lunch Seth and I did have the chance to talk to Roger, who was very touched by our interest in his brother. Truthfully, he’d been worried about him for quite some time and was feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of watching out for him. He agreed with the idea of trying to talk to the kid we’d seen at school, and he practically was in tears when we told him my Dad wanted to get involved, but he cautioned about talking to their own father. He said that although it was probably necessary, it could well backfire, as their father was pretty firm in his belief that he was doing what was best for Kyle. I still hadn’t seen the kid when I walked into gym class and headed for the locker room. Seth and I had moved our lockers so we could be next to each other, and so we immediately put our things away and started undressing. As the first gym class after a long holiday weekend, we’d both brought freshly-washed gym clothes from home and proceeded to lay them out on the bench in front of our lockers as we put our street clothes into the lockers. No sooner had I dropped my boxers and was standing in front of my locker, next to my boyfriend, naked as the day I was born, than the boy I’d been obsessing over walked into the locker room, looked around as if trying to find something, went down our aisle and stopped, right next to me. He opened the locker two down from mine and proceeded to undress. What the fuck was he doing here? The boy was young but he was unusually cute, and with his shirt off, it was apparent that he was much more muscular than I would have expected. He wasn’t a body builder or anything, but he had a lot more meat on his bones than either Seth or I did, almost to the point of looking athletic. His hair was close-cropped but not unusually short, and a rust-colored red. He had freckles across the bridge of his nose and his shoulders. His eyes were coppery-brown and intense. He wore largish glasses with copper-colored designer frames. Evidently his vision was good enough that he didn’t need them for gym, as he removed them and left them in his locker. As he continued to undress and not wanting to squander my chance, I spoke up. “My name’s Asher, and this dufus next to me is my boyfriend, Seth,” I began. “I know who you are,” he replied as he continued to strip. “I’ve seen you holding hands in the halls. I got curious and looked up your names.” Well that was interesting! “Then you have an advantage over us,” I replied. “I’ve seen you around too, usually by yourself, but I don’t have any idea who you are.” “I’m in the school directory,” he replied. Why hadn’t I thought to look him up in the directory? He certainly wasn’t being forthcoming. “I’m curious,” I continued. “Why haven’t I seen you in gym before?” Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “Probably because this is my first day in gym. I thought I could get away with graduating without taking more than a year of it, but my counselor decided otherwise.” “You a sophomore?” I asked. “Technically yes, but I’ll have enough credits to graduate next year. And do you always talk to strangers while in the nude?” he asked with a smirk, for the first time showing anything remotely like a smile. Realizing that he was just about finished dressing in his gym outfit, and I hadn’t even started, I quickly pulled on my jock, followed by a T-shirt and gym shorts. “See ya,” the boy said as he headed toward the gym. Seth laughed at me as he stood there, completely dressed. “Hurry, you’re gonna be late.” I quickly pulled on my socks and sneakers, which thankfully I hadn’t bothered to untie, and we headed out to the gym. This being the first day back after a holiday, the gym teacher was anxious to get us back in shape after four days of pigging out, and so he immediately had us do stretching exercises, followed by running laps in the gym. That was definitely not my favorite activity. After that, the teacher divided us into teams and we played dodgeball. He divided us evenly based on our names. With the name of ‘White’ I was decidedly in the latter half of the alphabet, but Seth, being a ‘Moore’, was right in the middle and it could have gone either way. This time he ended up on the opposite side as me. The kid, whose name I still didn’t know, was on the same side as me. I’m not very athletic and hate sports, so gym class is my least favorite time of the day. The irony was that dodgeball was one of the few things I was actually good at, but I hated it. I was adept at avoiding being hit and actually did a fair job of throwing the ball, but I tended to stay in the background and avoided participating any more than I had to. That usually meant that I was always among the last players left on my team and ended up having to take on the best players on the other side. It was a mixed blessing as the end, when it came, was never pretty and multiple balls came my way. As always, it was shirts versus skins and, as luck would have it, today I was a skin. Great! One less layer of clothing to protect me from the ball. The teacher threw out the usual pair of balls to each side, and then blew the whistle. Immediately the gym sprang to life as boys rushed each other and almost immediately, the distinct sound of rubber balls hitting skin began. As usual, I stayed in back, where I was protected from the worst of the onslaught for the time being. Seth, on the other hand, was a much more aggressive player, actively grabbing and throwing the ball every chance he got, but yet managing to avoid being hit himself. What surprised me was that the little kid, who’s name I still didn’t know, was also an adept player, throwing more than his share of balls and scoring a hit, nearly every time, yet avoiding being hit, even when targeted by as many as three simultaneous balls. The boy was really good. It didn’t take long before the number of boys had been whittled down by about two-thirds and yet all three of us were still in the game. The little kid happened to catch two balls at the same time and, seeing me, actually smiled at me and passed one of them my way. We both scored hits and managed to avoid being hit ourselves, in my case very narrowly. As the number of participants continued to dwindle, it soon came to the point where the boy and I were the only kids left on our team. Seth was still in the game, as were four other kids on his side. That meant it probably wouldn’t be long before our team lost, yet the boy and I managed to take out three of the five in quick succession without being hit. Now it was even. With a devious smile, Seth looked right at me with the obvious intent to take me on. This was war! Seth threw a hard ball right at me at close range before I could throw mine, but I actually used the ball I had to deflect the hit. The other kid on Seth’s side threw a ball right at the young boy on my team, who caught it in mid-air, ending the thrower’s time in the game. That left just the three of us, and my boyfriend was without any balls and the young boy and I had four balls between us. Poor Seth didn’t stand a chance. He managed to evade a throw from me, but another ball was already headed his way at the same time and there was no time to dodge it, or to turn and catch it, and so my team actually won, and for once in my life, I was one of the guys left standing at the end. The little kid actually came up to me and high-fived me, and then offered me his hand as he said, “Great game, Ash. My name’s Francis, but most kids just call me Fucker.” “I can’t call you that!” I exclaimed. “But I kinda like bein’ called that,” he replied. “At camp, kids call me Freckles for obvious reasons, but if you want, you can call me ‘Freck’. Just don’t call me ‘Freak’.” “You realize that telling a kid not to call you something is a surefire way to be called that. How did you know that I wouldn’t?” I asked. “Because you’re not the kind of kid that tries to fit in by picking on other kids,” Freck replied. “I’ve noticed you. Before you hooked up with Seth, you were pretty much a loner. It showed me that you’re not a kid who plays the game.” “Plays the game?” I asked. “You know, role playing?” he explained. “You don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You’d rather be picked on that pick on someone else.” I thought about it, and I realized he was right. I’d just never thought of it in those terms before. “How about you?” I asked. “I’ve never been a kid, so I wouldn’t even know how to play,” he answered. By then the teacher was getting us ready to play another game, so further talking would have to wait. This time Seth made it a personal challenge to get me out, and so I didn’t last more than half-way through the game. The only consolation was that Freck got him out shortly after that. I played one more game in which Freck and I were the only boys left standing at the end, but it was getting late in the period and the teacher had us run laps until it was time to hit the showers. One thing about dodgeball is that it really makes you work up a sweat, and so we were all anxious to take our showers by the time the teacher blew the whistle. We all headed to our lockers and stripped out of our gym clothes, but this time Freck stayed with Seth and me as we headed to the showers. As we all lathered up under the shower heads, I couldn’t help but take a look at Freck, out of shear curiosity, and I noticed that he had a sparse patch of pubes above his dick. Hell, it was more than Seth had, but Freck looked so Goddamn young! “Noticing that I was looking, Freck grinned and said, “Everyone wonders how old I am, ’cause I look like a ten-year-old. As you can see, I’m not as young as I look, but I’m still young for a high school sophomore.” When he failed to elaborate, it dawned on me that he was teasing me, which maybe even was a sign of friendship. Well two could play at that game. “Well since you didn’t deny it, I guess that means you really are ten years old,” I began. “Maybe you need a chaperone to take the bus.” He responded by giving me the finger. “So really, how old are you,” Seth asked, taking the bull by the horns. “I’m almost twelve,” he replied. “So I was right,” I chimed in. “You really are eleven.” “For another three weeks,” he replied. “Must be tough getting only one present for both Christmas and your birthday,” I replied, drawing the obvious conclusion. “Sometimes it really sucks,” he agreed, “and thanks for realizing it. All my life I’ve been told how lucky I am to get twice as expensive a present. Well, my sisters seem to get as much for their birthdays and they get a Christmas gift too, but I digress…” He shut off the water and Seth and I did too. Grabbing towels from the towel boy, we headed back to our lockers as we dried ourselves off. Opening our lockers, I applied my deodorant and started to dress. As I put on my clothes and, recognizing that we’d soon go our separate ways and not wishing to wait until gym class tomorrow, I asked, “Freck, do you think we could get together after school? I have some things I wanted to ask you about.” “Oh fuck,” he replied. “Here I thought that just maybe I’d met someone who wouldn’t give me a hard time, and it turns out you’re like everyone else and just want to make fun of me. Well fuck you!” he said as he slammed his locker shut. Turning angrily to go, I grabbed his arm and he spun around, a look of hatred on his face. “It’s not like that at all,” I quickly interjected. “I have a friend who’s a lot like you. Actually he’s the brother of a friend of mine, but he’s only nine. Like you, he’s really smart, but perhaps a bit suicidal.” “How the fuck did you know about that?” Freck asked. “I didn’t,” I replied, “but I think I just opened a deep wound that hasn’t healed. Can we talk about it after school?” Nodding his head, he said, “How about the food court at Brookfield Place?” “Hudson Eats? OK,” I responded. “Meet in front of the school?” I suggested. “I’ll see you guys there,” he replied. <> <> <> We were seated together at a small table with a breathtaking view of the Hudson, and Jersey City across the way. Seth insisted on treating all of us, but Freck insisted he could afford to pay his own way. Seth argued that it was we that invited him, but Freck claimed he’d have probably been eating there regardless, and all alone. We didn’t argue, but I did let Seth pay for my meal. I was past arguing the point anymore – not after we’d been feeding him all the time at our place. Seth was enjoying the sushi from Ribbon Sushi, while I enjoyed my first taste of Cambodian food from Num Pang. Freck chose a pizza and a salad from Skinny Pizza and I had to admit, the pizza looked better than any pizza I’d ever eaten. He also bought a selection of piadas for the table, and those were unbelievable. We all were sipping coffee from Black Seed, too. “So what’s the deal, Freck,” I asked as we ate our food. “Could you tell us your story?” “Not much to tell,” he replied. “I’m gay, but you probably already figured that. Why else would I have bothered to look you guys up when I realized you were boyfriends? And I tried to kill myself. Very nearly succeeded too. I’m a freak who’ll be starting college at the age of thirteen, and yet right now, college looks like the only escape I’ll find from my fucked-up life.” “Where do you live?” I asked Freck. Laughing, he said, “Right here in Battery Park. You see, I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d probably be eating here anyway. My parents, twin sisters and I share a penthouse condo in The Riverhouse, mere steps from here, across Vesey and North End Avenue. I say ‘share’ because we’re hardly ever together as a family. We have a nanny, but she pretty much spends all her time with my sisters, now that I’m in high school. Basically, I’m on my own. “People look at all of this development as if it’s brand new, but this is the only place I’ve ever known. I’ve never known a world that didn’t have constant construction in it.” “And we grew up in one of the oldest residential developments in Lower Manhattan,” Seth responded. “We’ve never known anything but stability.” “If I could ask,” I began, starting to broach what I knew was a delicate subject – the proverbial elephant in the room, “how did you try to kill yourself, and why?” “Not very subtle, are we?” Freck responded with a grin. “The short answer is that I tried to take a swan dive from the Battery Park Parking Garage. It’s just about the only place around here that has direct rooftop access and even though it’s not that high as things go around here, it’s high enough. And as to why, I never really figured that one out. My shrink had a field day with it, though. He’s convinced it’s because I feel alienated from everyone else. There may be some truth to that, but then he doesn’t even know I’m gay. No one does… or did until today. I never see my parents, nor have they ever made the effort even since I tried to off myself. My sisters are too young for me to even relate to, and like I said, our nanny spends all of her time with them. I don’t think my parents even like children. We’re trophy kids, as they say. It could have been any of these things, or all of them. I’ve no idea.” “How long ago was it,” I asked. “The Fourth of July,” he answered in an exaggerated fashion. “With so many people around, I figured I wouldn’t be noticed. And I knew there would be quite a few cars on the top level, which is usually empty. It’s funny, but the whole garage is enclosed except the top level. Because the garage is built right over the exit for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel… excuse me, it’s now the Hugh L. Carry Tunnel… I always thought it might be to prevent anyone from dropping rocks or bombs onto the vehicles below. There are a lot of trucks and buses full of tourists that come through the tunnel, after all. But then why leave the top open like that? There is a wall, but it’s not that hard to scale it, especially on a day like the Fourth when there are plenty of tall SUVs to climb up on. “I guess I just got lucky. Someone was walking by just as I scaled the wall. He was fast and grabbed my leg just as I was about to climb on top. I was serious about it and didn’t intend to fail, so they got to me just in time.” “Were you depressed?” I asked. “My shrink thought so and put me on a bunch of meds, but they only made me feel worse. They really affected my mind in a way I’d never want to go through again. We’re doing it the old-fashioned way, with a lot of counseling.” “Do you think you might try to kill yourself again?” I asked, but then added, “If you’re willing to answer that.” “I don’t answer stuff I’m not willing to answer,” Freck responded. “Nothing in my life has really changed, and yet everything’s changed. There’s nothing like a near-death experience to alter your perspective. And I did quit smoking pot.” “You smoked pot?” Seth asked in astonishment. “My shrink thinks my heavy pot use was a factor in the suicide attempt,” he answered. “My parents keep a stash in the house, so I could sneak it out without them missing it. As my shrink says, I was self-medicating, but pot only made it worse. Since I stopped, I now have to face my shitty life head-on, but I don’t feel as bad about it.” “Did you drink?” I asked. “Do you use drugs?” “Still do sometimes,” he answered, “drink, that is, but not nearly so much. It’s a bit too easy when my parents keep an ample stash of the good stuff.” I’d been thinking about introducing Freck and Kyle, but now I was beginning to wonder if that was such a good idea. They were both gay and both smart, and they shared a lot of spirit, but the last thing Kyle needed was to get involved with alcohol or drugs. “My parents keep a lot of the good stuff in our home too,” Seth responded as he looked off into space. “They’re in politics so they have to be prepared to entertain at a moment’s notice, but they do it so seldom that I could probably sneak a fair bit of alcohol for myself and they’d never realize I’d been doin’ it, but I’ve never remotely had the desire to even try it. “I was pretty depressed with my life before I met Ash. It woulda been so easy to just jump right off my terrace, eighteen floors up, but the thought never entered my mind. I didn’t have a lot of the pressures you face, and I do have two parents who love me and have been nothing but supportive since I came out, but they’re never around and before I met Ash, like you, I was pretty much on my own.” Then looking right into Freck’s eyes, he said, “I’d like to be your friend, Freck, but I’ve never done drugs and I’ve never drunk alcohol to get drunk. I want you to promise me that if you ever feel like you need a drink or to smoke pot or use any mind-altering substance, other than caffeine,” he added with a smile as he lifted his coffee cup, “or if you feel like you want to end it all, you’ll call me instead, day or night, no matter what. I’m sure Ash would feel the same way,” he noted as I nodded my head. “Promise me you’ll call one of us, regardless of what other stuff is goin’ on.” With tears running down his cheeks, Freck said, “No one has ever cared about me before the way the two of you do… not even the shrink who’s paid to care. That’s an easy one. Of course I’ll promise. I’ll even tell my nanny I’ve been sneaking booze from the liquor cabinet, and get her to install a decent lock and to put the key where I’ll never find it. Not that I don’t trust myself, but it would be better if it wasn’t even an option…” “What about the pot?” I asked. “After what happened and my testing positive at the time of my suicide attempt, it’s out of the apartment. I think that if nothing else, my parents learned a lesson about what pot can do to you, and what it can do to your kids if they get into it.” “Do your parents use anything else, like coke?” Seth asked. “If they do,” Freck replied, “I don’t know about it, but I meant what I said. If I ever get the urge to do anything like that again, I’ll call you.” Nodding his head, Seth began, “To change the subject I take it you took your SAT?” “Last spring,” he answered. “Got a pretty close to perfect score. I was tempted to apply for college for this year, but decided a diploma from Stuyvesant is worth something, and with advanced placement, I wouldn’t lose any time by waiting until after I graduate, especially with early graduation.” “And it’d be pretty hard to get a date in college when you’re only eleven,” I added. Laughing, he responded, “Maybe with a pedo professor.” “What do you do with yourself when you’re not in school?” Seth asked. “Do you have any hobbies or interests?” “You mean other than wandering the streets of New York?” he replied. “Actually, although I’m not much interested in sports, I’ve found I’m a decent athlete and sports give me a chance to be an ordinary kid for a while. I play in a soccer league and some basketball too. On the flip side, I’m really interested in music and spend a lot of time at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. My parents have season tickets but almost never use them, so I do.” “Alone?” I asked, and he nodded his head in the affirmative. “Seth and I are bigtime fans of Jazz, especially the classics, and we like classic rock. What types of music do you like?” “I’m more into symphony and opera,” Freck answered, “but I like just about everything, even electronic and hip-hop.” Then he broke into song, “Wish we could go back in time… to the good old days… when the mamas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.” Seth and I couldn’t help but look at each other and smile. “What?” Freck asked. “The boy I was tellin’ you about? He sang that exact same line when talkin’ about music he liked,” I answered. “So tell me all about this friend of yours,” he asked. “Well, he’s a lot like you,” I began. “He’s nine, about to turn ten, but he’s way too smart for his age. He’s in the sixth grade more because of his parents’ wish to keep him in the mainstream, but he took the specialty high school entrance exam and expects to get in next year. He wants to go to Bronx Science, and then maybe MIT. “He’s outgoing, sassy and brash, and doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind, yet he feels lonely and worries he’ll never find a boyfriend for much the same reasons as you expressed.” “He’s gay?” “He came out last year, but his parents and particularly his dad are having a hard time accepting that a kid could even know at that age.” “And he likes music?” Freck asked. “With a passion,” I replied. “And he’s equally passionate about sci-fi…” “I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan,” Freck jumped in. “Kyle HATES Star Wars,” I replied. “Like Seth and me, he likes all the tech and special effects, but doesn’t find the science very plausible. He even badmouthed Star Trek, which is Seth’s and my passion. He’s more into the classics, like 2001 and Ender’s Game.” “I could live with that if he could live with a Star Wars fanatic,” Freck replied. “It sounds like you’re interested in meeting him,” Seth asked. “It sounds like there might be a lot we have in common,” Freck answered. “On the other hand, I don’t even know if he lives anywhere near here, but he doesn’t want to go to school here, and I’ll already be in college long before he graduates.” “But all of that could change if the two of you hit it off,” I chimed in. “I’m not saying you two even should become boyfriends, but it would be good to have just a friend who’s a bit like you. The age difference is irrelevant. The two of you will find a way to get together if you want to. “There’s just one thing I ask if you do decide to meet him. He’s a bit more innocent than you. He’s never used pot and the only alcohol he’s used is a little wine at Passover. He does think of suicide but has never acted on it. Please… just don’t hurt him, OK?” “I do want to meet him,” Freck replied. “If he can’t come down here, I’ll go to wherever he lives, even if it’s in the worst part of the South Bronx.” “Actually, it’s in the North Bronx,” Seth responded. “Riverdale.” “Riverdale would be easy,” Freck replied. “A fairly straight shot up the Westside Highway.” “It’s also a straight shot on a number one train, or Metro North,” I noted. Laughing, Freck responded, “You know, I’ve lived here all my life, practically on top of the subway, yet I’ve never once been on the subway before, let alone Metro North. I wouldn’t even know how to use the subway.” “You serious?” I asked in surprise. “It uses the same farecards you use on the bus. Your student bus pass will work.” “Ah, I haven’t ever taken a bus either, and I don’t have a bus pass. I don’t need one, living within walking distance of the school as I do. Why would I ever need to take the subway? He asked. “I have everything I need right here in Battery Park and Tribeca, and if I need to go anywhere else, I have unlimited credits with Uber and Lyft.” “Maybe that could be part of the experience,” Seth suggested. “Taking the subway to Riverdale.” “For some strange reason, that actually sounds cool.” “We’ll talk to Kyle’s brother, Roger, and get back with you tomorrow during gym or maybe after school again,” Seth suggested. “This has been nice, guys,” Freck said as we disposed of our trash and recycling. “Perhaps we could do it again sometime. Perhaps we could make it a regular thing.” “We enjoyed it too,” I responded, “and I think we’d like that. “Was that a stop for the 22 I saw outside this building on Vesey?” I asked. Laughing, Freck said, “I wouldn’t know. Maybe.” “Let’s go check it out, babe,” Seth said as he took my hand and the three of us headed down the escalator and toward the exit. <> <> <> “Come on, boys. We have to leave now if we’re gonna make it,” Dad shouted as we walked in the door. “I was beginning to think I might have to leave without you.” “Dad! What are you doing home?” I practically squealed. “Like I said, this is a lull time for the restaurant and it’s not too difficult to get away. I talked to Dr. Goldstein, Roger and Kyle’s dad. It was not a pleasant experience. I’ll tell you more about it, but we need to get going. We’ll talk on the way.” Dad didn’t even let us change our clothes – not that there was anything wrong with our school clothes, but I felt a bit weird going out in public wearing clothes that met Stuyvesant’s dress code. We just barely made the 22 bus, even with catching it around the corner on Jackson instead of Grand Street as we usually did. Dad sat down in front of us and then turned around and began to explain the situation as the bus lurched along. “So, like I said, I looked up Kyle’s information on-line, and did a little searching to find out about his parents. It was pretty easy in his father’s case, since he’s a prominent ophthalmologist at New York Presbyterian, the primary teaching hospital of Columbia. Of course, leaving a message with the receptionist did little good. I would have waited all year if I waited for his return phone call, so I looked up the name of the administrative assistant to the department chair and called her direct line. If you didn’t know, the administrative assistant to the chair, or the CEO, or whoever the head honcho may be, is the one who actually runs things. “Anyway, I explained to her that my son and Dr. Goldstein’s son are friends at Stuyvesant, and that the two of you were worried about his other son, Kyle, because he’d admitted to suicidal ideation. You came to me, and I agreed to speak to their dad. I told her that of course I had tried calling his receptionist and his secretary but couldn’t reach him, and that I’d appreciate her help. “It wasn’t even five minutes before Dr. Goldstein was screaming at me on his phone, threatening what would happen to me if I ever meddled in his family affairs again. I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise, and then he hung up on me. So I called the department admin assistant back and told her to relay another message to Dr. Goldstein… that denial is not an excuse for negligence and that he either meet with me, or I would call Child Protective Services and tell them what I know. “Anyway, I got a call back from Dr. Goldstein and he actually apologized, and said I couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to work from six in the morning to ten as night, every day. Of course I didn’t tell him that I pretty much do that, but I did say that I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to work those hours and to deal with life and death situations and to get called in the middle of the night to save people from going blind. And I said that I could personally relate to how hard it is to work eighty to a hundred hours a week and be responsible for raising two boys.” Seth smiled at that, recognizing my dad was referring to him too. He really had become like a second son to my dad, and I could tell that the feeling was mutual. “So, we ended up talking on the phone for quite a while,” Dad continued, “and he admitted that he was overwhelmed with what to do with his younger son, even to the point of wishing he’d not been born. He went on to say his wife was in even worse shape over it… that she’d taken to drinking and wasn’t capable of being a mother anymore. “I asked him if he’d be willing to accept help. He replied that he feared he was losing both his sons and that if someone could take Kyle off his hands, maybe at least he could be a father to Roger. He agreed to let me meet with his sons and I told him I’d try to work something out, particularly if it could be an intervention in situ, meaning his sons would continue to live with him, but someone else would take responsibility for raising Kyle. He actually liked that idea a lot. He seemed relieved by it.” “So you’re gonna take on, what, bein’ Kyle’s guardian,” I asked. Laughing, Dad replied, “I didn’t say that. I’m already acting as a de facto guardian for Seth, even though I don’t have any legal standing to do so. Maybe I should look into that too. I need to meet Kyle in the first place, but I do intend to find someone if not myself to take responsibility for seeing that Kyle is well-cared for, mentally as well as physically.” “So we’re gonna meet with Kyle and Roger tonight?” Seth asked. “We’re having dinner with them at the Riverside Diner,” Dad answered. I couldn’t help but snicker. “What?” Dad asked. “We went for a snack at Hudson Eats with a friend from school, and ended up having a full dinner,” Seth answered. Laughing, Dad responded, “I’ve yet to meet a teenager who couldn’t handle two dinners in one evening.” We both laughed at that. <> <> <> We took the bus almost all the way to Stuyvesant, getting off at Varick Street and taking a number one train, all the way to the end of the line. Since it’s a local train, it took almost an hour to get there. When we emerged from the subway, which was an elevated train in this part of the Bronx, we were right across from an authentic stainless steel diner that had obviously been added onto. When we walked in, the place was huge inside. We saw Roger and Kyle waiting for us in a large circular booth and joined them there. As we approach, I made the introductions. “Roger, Kyle, this is my dad. Dad, this is Roger, and the little guy is Kyle,” “Little my ass, you shithead,” came Kyle’s immediate response. I knew Dad wasn’t thrilled with Kyle’s language, but he smiled nevertheless. “You really aren’t so little, Kyle,” Dad said as he sat down. “I understand you’re nine, but you look like you could be eleven at least.” That got quite a grin from Kyle. Dad had made a friend for life. “Actually, I’ll be ten in a couple of weeks,” Kyle replied. “And I understand you’re in middle school, but you hope to get into Bronx Science next year.” “It’s my dream,” Kyle admitted. “My test scores say I’m reading at a twelfth-grade level. I’m already able to solve problems from the back of a second-year calculus textbook. At least Bronx Science has the courses to challenge me, and to get me advanced placement for when I go to college.” “Why not go to college now?” Dad asked. “Clearly, you could handle the material. Have you considered taking the SAT? There is no minimum age limit.” “I’m scheduled to take it in January,” Kyle answered. “It’s a bit more difficult to apply for it when you’re my age. You can’t sign up on-line, and you can’t send a picture for identification at the time of the exam, for legal reasons, I guess. The test scores will be purged at the end of the year if I don’t request otherwise. But, yeah, I’m gonna take it. I’ll probably do well on it. “But as for going to college next year, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Mentally, sure, but emotionally is another thing. To be able to interact as a peer with kids who are twice my age? I’d be a freak! As it is, I’ll be three or four years younger than the other freshmen at Bronx Science, and that’s assuming they don’t put me in all advanced classes.” “Have you considered the City College program,” Dad asked. “It’s a small program tailored to high school students with exceptional abilities and an aptitude for math and engineering.” “Of course I considered it,” Kyle answered. “But I don’t want to limit myself to an engineering career. At heart I’m a scientist. I’m interested in fundamental theory… not applied math…” “There are engineers that do that,” Dad pointed out. “Yes, but they rarely are the ones that make the breakthroughs,” Kyle countered. “If there’s a way to reverse the effects of climate change, for example, it’ll be a team of engineers that implements it, but it’ll be a scientist that makes the discovery that makes it possible. Nine Nobel Laureates went to Brooklyn Science… more than any other secondary school in the world.” “Stuyvesant has its share of Nobel Laureates,” Dad pointed out. “Yes, and it’s an outstanding school,” Kyle agreed. “I was thrilled when Rog got in there. I’m sure I could be happy there too, and the admission criteria are even stricter than at Bronx Science. I just think that Bronx Science would be a better fit, and of course it’s much closer to home. “And maybe some of the kids’ll understand me there. Maybe I’ll even find a boyfriend there.” “The same could be true of Stuyvesant,” I suggested. “Good luck with that,” Kyle replied. “Don’t be so sure,” Seth chimed in, earning a raised eyebrow from Kyle. A teenage boy came up to us and asked, “Are you gentlemen ready to order?” We all looked at each other and our unopened menus on the table, and Dad answered, “I’m sorry, but could you please come back in five minutes?” “Sure thing,” the kid answered. We all got down to business, opening the thick, multipage book of a menu that reminded me of the one at the Good Stuff Diner, back on Fourteenth Street. With a full fold of Latin specialties, I decided that this was obviously the Riverdale’s specialty and I decided to order something from those two pages. The server actually returned in five minutes, and Seth went first, ordering the bacalao guisado, or cod stew, with the New England clam chowder, which for $14.95, sounded like a steal. Dad ordered the arroz con camarones, or rice with shrimp, peppers, onions and tomatoes, along with black bean soup, and Roger went for the calamari con arroz, or calamari over rice, along with the clam chowder. I ordered the double combo fajitas with chicken and shrimp, and Kyle bucked the trend by ordering the broiled scallops, which came with a salad, asparagus and candied yams. Dad ordered mozzarella sticks and fried calamari as appetizers for the table. After the server had left, Kyle asked Dad, “So, did Ash tell you I’m gay?” Nodding his head, Dad said, “I was a bit skeptical, but after meeting you, I have no reason to doubt you. Ash came out just recently, but I realized he was gay when he was eleven, and in retrospect I probably saw signs of it when he was maybe eight or nine. I couldn’t place my finger on why… it’s not about mannerisms or ‘acting gay’, but tonight I think I actually figured out why. Everyone has a natural tendency for their eyes to linger on those they find attractive. In the time we’ve been here, four teenage boys and six girls have entered, as I could see in the mirror behind you. Your brother clearly noticed the girls, but you didn’t even give them a glance. You did, however, linger on the boys, and you’ve spent a fair bit of time glancing at my son, not to mention the cute waiter that took our order.” “Wow, I’d no idea I was doing that,” said Kyle, “but the server was cute. If he were a little younger, I’d go out with him, but to him I’m just a little kid. It’s sooo unfair.” The server brought the appetizers just then and, not missing a beat, Kyle asked, “Do I look like just a little kid to you? Could you ever imagine dating me?” What a loaded question! “Well, I’m sixteen and you look to be about eleven,” he responded right away, “so you aren’t a little kid any more, but to a kid my age, I’m afraid you look more cute than sexy. The bigger. Issue is that I’m straight, so I’m not interested in boys. If I were gay and if you were a few years older, I’d probably think you’re a knock-out, so yeah, if things were a little different, then I probably would.” What a nice guy! I’d hafta make sure Dad left him an extra-large tip. After the server left, we got into some pretty serious discussion about Kyle’s home life and, yes, both he and Roger were well aware that their mother was an alcoholic. Kyle was also certain that his father didn’t even like him, let alone love him, and that he saw raising his younger son as more of an obligation than a responsibility. For his part, Roger agreed with his little brother. Dad asked him a lot about his thoughts of suicide and Kyle made clear that as long as he had the support of his brother and maybe friends like us, he would never choose what he saw as the coward’s way out. He admitted that if things got bad enough, though, that he could see it happening some day on an impulse, and that even he was worried about the possibility. Over the soups and salads, we talked about lighter things, talking about our hobbies and in particular about our shared interests in music and sci-fi. It was after the server brought our entrees that I brought up the issue of Freck. “I don’t know how I’m gonna eat all this,” I said as the fajitas were placed in front of me. “Same here,” Seth agreed. “Maybe if we hadn’t already eaten,” he added. “At least it’s not turkey,” Dad pointed out, getting a laugh from both of us. We’d pretty much eaten nothing but left-over turkey all weekend. “You guys already had dinner?” Roger asked. Nodding my head, I began, “There’s a kid at school who reminds me a lot of you, Kyle. He’s gonna be twelve in a few weeks, so he’s almost exactly two years older than you. He’s a sophomore and hopes to graduate after next year, so intellectually, he’s probably very similar. Anyway, he was reassigned to our gym class today, ’cause he didn’t have enough credits in gym to graduate, and he and Seth and I kinda hit it off. We ended up goin’ out with him after school and ate at the food court at Brookfield Place. We didn’t know we’d be eating with you guys this evening too. “So we got to talkin’ to him and learned that he’s passionate about music… more classical stuff, and opera, but he also likes the modern stuff. He even sang that same stupid song you sang on Thanksgiving.” “The one by Twenty-One Pilots?” Kyle asked with peaked curiosity. Laughing, I said, “I wouldn’t know, but it had something to do with singing momas and being stressed out.” “That’s the one,” Kyle enthused. “He’s also a sci-fi buff, but he’s a MAJOR Star Wars fan.” “Oh barf,” Kyle responded, “but I guess I can live with that.” I couldn’t help but smile at that, ’cause that was exactly what Freck had said. “His home life is way worse than yours, though,” I went on. “How could it be any worse? He’s in Stuyvesant, for Christ sake.” “He lives in Battery Park in one of those super-luxury high-rise condo buildings, in the penthouse. His parents are super rich, but they don’t even like kids and he never sees them. He has two sisters that are way younger, so he’s lonely and pretty much on his own. “He got into smoking a lot of pot from his parents’ supply, and some drinking, and over the summer he tried to take a leap off the top of the Battery Park Parking Garage, but someone grabbed his leg before he could climb over the wall.” ‘Fuck!” Kyle exclaimed and my Dad registered his own look of shock, and not over Kyle’s use of profanity. “In a way, I befriended him because I thought that maybe he could help us to help you, Kyle, but now I’m wondering if it might be the other way around. I think that maybe he could use you in his life as much as you could benefit from his friendship.” “Is he still involved with drugs, Asher?” Dad asked. “He’s been seeing a shrink ever since. He’s off the pot and the parents have stopped using it, or at least keeping it in the house. The liquor’s under lock and key, and he’s no longer looking to medicate himself as a way of dealing with his shitty home life. “He doesn’t have a brother who love’s him, and he doesn’t have a whole lotta friends at school. He does participate in soccer and basketball, and he goes to summer camp, and as he puts it, those are the only times he gets to feel like a regular kid. In fact, it’s from camp that he got his nickname.” “What is his name,” Kyle asked. “He has a lot of freckles, and he goes by ‘Freck’,” I answered. “His real name is Francis, or Frank.” “I’m surprised the kids don’t call him ‘Freak’,” Kyle responded. “Some do… the ones that pick on him.” I answered. “I bet there are a lot of those,” Kyle surmised, and then he said under his breath, “If only he were gay.” “He… is gay, Kyle,” I responded. “Really?” Kyle said with enthusiasm, but then added “but he’d never be interested in a little kid like me.” “But like my Dad said, Kyle, you’re not little and look more like eleven. I imagine you’ll start puberty before you’re twelve, just as he has, but if anything, he looks very young for his age… more like ten. He has freckles across the bridge of his nose and his shoulders, and straight red hair. He’s majorly adorable.” “You say he likes Star Wars though,” Kyle responded with a look of amusement, “and opera? I dunno.” “But he needs someone to… help him save his heavy dirty soul,” my boyfriend said, breaking into song and surprising me. “So you do know Twenty-one Pilots,” Kyle exclaimed. “Let me put it this way,” Seth replied. “No one will ever accuse them of making great music, but they are very entertaining.” “Kyle, are you saying you’re interested in meeting this boy? Even with his… history?” Dad asked. Nodding his head, Kyle answered, “We’ve both been to some pretty dark places, him even more so, but I think maybe we could help each other. We both come from a similar place. We both lack our parents’ love and have very little support and few friends. We’re both gay and unlikely to find a boyfriend until we’re much older, if at all. Don’t worry… I have absolutely no interest in getting into drugs or alcohol. They only make a bad situation worse… much worse. Maybe I can even help Freck avoid falling into that trap again. Maybe we can find synergy, where the two of us together are greater than the sum of our parts. And he sounds ‘majorly adorable’, as Ash said.” “As are you,” Dad added, causing Kyle to blush – majorly. As we finished off our meals, Dad spent some time discussing options for Kyle, particularly the idea of an in situ guardianship. What Dad was willing to offer was incredible – 24-7 availability whenever Kyle needed it. All he would need to call and if it were urgent, Dad would drop everything and high-tail it to Riverdale. Then again, I realized that’s exactly the kind of support Dad had always given me since the day I was born. I really had a wonderful dad. We left it that Dad would talk to his lawyer and have papers drawn up for Kyle’s parents to sign. While he was at it, he’d do the same for Seth, so long as he needed to basically live with us. In the meantime, Seth and I would talk with Freck when we saw him in gym class tomorrow. We’d plan to get them together in the very near future. Perhaps we could even all have dinner together tomorrow at the Riverdale Diner, and then we’d leave Freck and Kyle alone. As we were getting ready to part, Kyle said, “You know, all my life I’ve always gotten a single present for Chanukah and for my birthday. Always only one. Well, everyone gets little presents for eight days, but there’s usually one big present at the end. But that present was always my birthday present too. My parents tried to tell me it was twice as good as the presents Roger got, but I always felt gypped.” “Freck said the same thing about his birthday and Christmas,” I chimed in. “But this year is different,” Kyle continued. “This year I’m getting presents that are worth so much more than the sum of two presents. More than I’ve ever gotten before. I’m getting a new Dad who actually loves me, and two incredible friends who not only care about me but have an amazing gift for seeing kids whose lives are broken and finding a way to fix them. And maybe now I’m about to meet a kindred soul… someone who shares my issues and my dreams… someone I hope will be a lifelong friend and, who knows, maybe even a boyfriend. We could only hope, for that would be the greatest Chanukah gift of all…
  12. Altimexis

    Part 3

    “How in fuck did we go from a nice, quiet Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us, to a dinner party for eight?” my boyfriend asked as we walked home from school on Tuesday afternoon, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. “Well, we couldn’t exactly say no,” I pointed out. “No one put a gun to our heads either. But once we agreed, we couldn’t exactly back down when Roger asked. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say, what ever that means.” “Contrary to what most Americans think, ‘pound’ refers to a pound sterling… not to a pound of weight. So, penny and pound are units of British currency, in which case the expression makes perfect sense.” “Wiseass,” I replied. “Why’d I hafta fall in love with a home-schooled genius?” “I’m no more a genius than you are, Ash,” my boyfriend countered. “I just had the opportunity to learn at my own rate. I wasn’t held back by the slowest kid in the class the way you were. We were both smart enough to get into Stuyvesant. If we were geniuses, we’d be in college by now.” “College?” I replied. “I don’t think so! There’s genius and then there’s genius. You might not think you’re a genius, but you sure as fuck talk like one.” “Give me a break,” Seth replied. “I didn’t grow up around regular kids. The way I talk is just a part of my charm.” “Doofus,” I responded. “You can call me a doofus all you want, but I’m not the one who got us into this mess,” Seth countered, “so what are we gonna do?” “Well for one thing, we’re gonna hafta do a lot more shopping,” I answered, “but on the plus side, we don’t need to prepare as many dishes.” “Yeah we do,” Seth countered. “We weren’t even gonna make our own pumpkin and apple pies. We already have the pumpkin pie we picked up at Trader Joe’s, and we won’t even need it now. But instead, you’ve committed us not only to roasting a turkey and making stuffing, but you promised to make Cajun turkey and spicy pumpkin soup.” “Yeah, but those are easy,” I countered. “The only things that’ll be new to me will be the roast turkey and stuffing, and for those I’ll have your help.” “Such as it is,” Seth interjected. “Joel is bringing green bean casserole, Clark is bringing the soft drinks, René is bringing homemade cranberry sauce, Jessie’s bringing candied yams and Roger’s baking homemade pumpkin and apple pies.” “And how are we supposed to keep a kid entertained?” Seth asked. “A nine-year-old is old enough to entertain himself,” I countered. “Yeah, but it’s not like he can participate in the conversation or anything,” Seth challenged. “Hell, we won’t even be able to talk about sex, you know? We’ll have to watch our language.” “You don’t know that, Seth,” I disagreed. “You can’t tell me you didn’t know or weren’t saying fuck when you were nine.” “Not where my parents could hear me,” responded Seth. “And Kyle’s parents aren’t gonna be there either,” I replied. “As far as I’m concerned, we should follow Roger’s lead. If Roger feels comfortable talking about sex or using foul language around his brother, we shouldn’t worry about it either. “And as far as entertaining him, maybe like most boys he’s into sports. Maybe we can plop him in front of the TV and let him watch football all afternoon.” “Maybe,” Seth agreed. “You do realize we’re gonna have to move dinner to my apartment, though, don’t you? Guess I’d better ask permission from my parents, but there’s no way you could fit a dinner party for eight around your dining room table.” “Shit, I hadn’t thought about that,” I admitted. “Actually, I could, but it would be cramped for sure.” “Cramped? Your dining room table barely accommodates six with the leaf and extra chairs. No way you could fit eight. Maybe if you put your dining and kitchen tables together in the living room, but then you’d hafta move all the furniture.” “No, you’re right,” I agreed, “your place is much better suited to entertaining. The open layout is much better that way, but your kitchen!” “What about my kitchen?” Seth asked. “Only that it was designed for someone who usually eats out,” I answered. “I mean, it’s basically just tucked away in the corner. There’s virtually no counter or cabinet space, the fridge is one of the smallest I’ve seen outside of a dorm room, and you only have one oven. The microwave is suitable for heating a frozen dinner for lunch, but not for anything more than that. You don’t even have an island. Where am I supposed to prepare anything? “No, we’re still gonna hafta cook dinner at my place. We’ll just have to carry all the food across the street to your place when it’s time.” “I guess that’ll work,” Seth replied. “Call it a two-apartment dinner party.” “So, getting back to making preparations, the turkey we ordered on Sunday that we thought we could stretch to serve four isn’t gonna be nearly enough for eight.” “But didn’t the butcher say that a twelve-pound turkey could serve eight people?” Seth asked. “Didn’t he say we needed a pound-and-a-half per person?” “There are two problems with that,” I replied. “Firstly, that ratio may work for adults, but we’re feeding seven teenagers and an active nine-year-old boy. I’d figure on two pounds per person, which means a sixteen-pound turkey. That’s still a smallish turkey, and we’ll have no problem eating the leftovers I’m sure. “The second thing is that I’ve now promised to make Cajun turkey. That means we need a second bird, ’cause I can’t use the same bird for both. The preparation and presentation of the two are completely different. But maybe having the Cajun turkey means we don’t need as large a turkey to roast.” Getting out my phone, I said, “I’ll call the butcher and see if I can order two twelve-pound turkeys instead of just one.” It was a good thing I called, as the butcher had accidentally sold my turkey to someone else and didn’t even have the one I’d ordered. I was livid and when I told him my parents would be taking their business elsewhere, he suddenly came up with a couple of turkeys for me. Of course, the only way he could have done that was if he sold me someone else’s turkeys that they’d ordered, so I told him thanks but no thanks, and that my parents would make the decision themselves as to whether or not they wished to continue doing business with him. For expediency, we headed for the Chinatown supermarket of Manhattan, at the corner of East Broadway and Pike. It might not have the freshest selection or the best deals, but we could find everything there and, hopefully, a couple of turkeys. The turkeys they had out front were pathetic, however, and I started to worry that, if I couldn’t find something else at one of the many other butcher shops in Chinatown, or maybe even from one of the Kosher butcher shops on Grand Street, I might have no choice but to swallow my pride and take the two turkeys I’d already been offered. Fortunately, I recognized the butcher and asked him if he had anything better in back. He brought out a couple of beautiful sixteen-pound birds that were otherwise perfect for our needs, and so I bought them. Being able to speak Mandarin definitely had its advantages. While we were at the supermarket, we picked up additional vegetables we would need to serve a larger group, and we picked up a couple of medium-sized pumpkins, suitable for making the soup. When we got home, we headed straight for my apartment and put everything away. It was a challenge fitting everything in the fridge, and I ended up stacking things that probably shouldn’t have been stacked, and we had yet to put away the turkeys. “I don’t know where I’m gonna fit thirty-two pounds of turkey in here,” I lamented aloud. “We can keep the turkeys at my place until you need them,” Seth replied. The fridge might be small, but there’s almost nothing in it.” “Yeah, I guess we’ll just hafta make do,” I replied, and so we headed over to his place. “Using fresh turkeys requires a lot more care. You can’t just leave the turkey out overnight to thaw out. My parents taught me never to use frozen anything. Nothing tastes better than fresh. Instead of being raised in a factory, loaded with chemicals, slaughtered, frozen and then shipped across the country, our birds were raised nearby in Jersey or Pennsylvania, in real cages with chemical-free feed. They’re sooo much healthier.” “But aren’t you worried about salmonella?” Seth asked. “The poultry sold in Chinatown is used in restaurants that serve tens of thousands of tourists every day,” I replied. “That’s how I know I can trust it. No one knows better how to handle poultry. When you see a chicken hanging in the window of a butcher shop in Chinatown, you know it’s clean, safe and fresh. When you see a chicken in the butcher case at the local Swine Fare,” Swine Fare was our nickname for the corner grocery in our neighborhood, “more than likely it’s contaminated with feces and has been sitting in the case for a week after being in transport for a week. The only thing keeping the salmonella in check is all the antibiotics they loaded the bird with before it was slaughtered. “You can get an organic turkey at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but it still won’t be as fresh as the ones we bought in Chinatown.” “The ones you bought in Chinatown,” Seth countered. “You speak their language. Your parents buy their stuff too, and the markets can’t afford to lose their restaurant business. If I tried to buy a turkey in Chinatown, I’d probably end up with a bird that no one else wanted.” “I think you’re right,” I agreed. “I guess you’ll just hafta keep me around.” “Ash, I’m never letting you go. Not in a trillion years.” I was about to object that the universe wasn’t nearly that old, but then Seth covered my lips with his and it was a while before either of us was able to talk after that. <> <> <> “The new stereo sounds good, boys,” my dad exclaimed as we listened to Bill Evans while eating a breakfast of grits and cheese. The two of us were still spending the night in my bed in my apartment, even though Seth’s parents had left town on Sunday. Yes, my parents were around at the usual times, but they gave us complete privacy so long as my door was closed. The view notwithstanding, sleeping over at Seth’s just wasn’t as practical. We could have had the place to ourselves but sleeping separately in bunk beds wasn’t the same, and having sex in a bunk bed had proven to be quite awkward. The first time we’d tried, I ended up bopping my head just trying to give head. Anything more was out of the question. My bed might not be very big, but it was plenty big enough for two young adolescent boys even when they were horny. “Seth, would you prefer cash, check, PayPal or ApplePay? Dad asked. “I don’t think ApplePay allows transfers that large,” Seth replied. “They do if it’s coming from a business,” Dad indicated. “Probably still should make it a check,” Seth replied. “No point in letting Apple sit on my money.” “Most kids your age wouldn’t even think of that,” Dad said as he got out his checkbook. “You’re absolutely right, though. You may only earn pennies on it, but those pennies should be yours. There’s no point in letting your money enrich someone else’s pockets, and certainly not those of anonymous shareholders.” Seth got out his phone and photographed the check Dad gave him, front and back. “There, deposited and in my savings account.” “But how?” I asked. “You didn’t even go to the bank.” “Simple.” Seth answered. “I opened up my bank’s app and used it to take photos of the check. The app reads the data on the check and sends it to the bank, where it’s cleared with your bank. The whole process takes a few minutes, and I don’t even hafta send in the check. It’s a paperless world, Ash.” “Wow,” was all I could say. I’d no idea such things were possible. “And not all those Apple shareholders are anonymous,” Seth added. “At least I’m not.” “You own Apple stock?” I asked incredulously. Nodding his head, he replied, “My dad bought some Apple stock, shortly after the original iMac came out, and it did surprisingly well, especially after the iPod came out. He bought a pile of it in my name when I was born.” “Holy shit, that was before the iPhone.” I commented. “You got that right, and you know how successful the iPhone has been. Anyway, Dad has been investing in the stock market for years, and he’s very good at it. He has an eye for stocks that are about to take off, just as Apple’s did. You can’t make much money in politics unless you’re corrupt. Dad went into politics to clean up corruption… so he needed a day job… a way to make money that doesn’t rely on his political connections. When Dad bought me that bunch of Apple stock when I was born, he put it in my name for tax purposes, and he’s bought me stock every year on my birthday ever since.” “How much is it all worth?” I asked. “Let’s just say that it’s worth a lot more than your dad’s record collection, but it’s off limits until I go to college or start up a business, or whatever else I decide to do with my life. I really do get an allowance and I don’t even spend most of it. The rest goes into the bank, for the future.” “Wow! I’m marrying a rich man! But with all that money, why were you home schooled?” I asked. “Why didn’t you go to private schools instead?” “Two words,” Seth answered. “Bret Kavanagh. Regardless of what you think about his appointment to the Supreme Court, he’s a spoiled brat and part of that was from going to Georgetown Prep. Dad went to Harvard on a full ride scholarship and while there, he met a lot of kids who’d gone to private schools. To paraphrase what he says about them, they’re a bunch of obnoxious, stuck-up, condescending pricks who think the world is lucky to have them in it, and he didn’t want me to turn out like them. I could have gone to a Catholic school, but he didn’t want that kind of religious indoctrination forced down my throat either. My parents did the right thing. “And it’s me who’s the one who’s marrying a rich man,” Seth went on. “Wealth has more to do with what we have than how much we have, and in that regard, I hit the jackpot.” What a sweet thing to say! “Boys,” Dad interrupted, “You need to get to school.” “Oh shit yes,” Seth responded as he checked his phone and checked on when the next bus was leaving. School was only a half-day, with shortened classes and a program in the auditorium. Seth and I had already finished our papers that were due after the holiday and so our time was free. We headed first to my parents’ restaurant, where my mom had an early dinner waiting for us. It was a good thing, too, as there was absolutely no time to eat once we got started with our Thanksgiving preparations. We stopped first at Seth’s apartment and picked up one of the turkeys from his refrigerator. We’d retrieve the other one in the morning. In the meantime, we headed up to my place and began our preparations for tomorrow’s meal. “The first thing we’re gonna do is make cornbread,” I began, “and a lot of it.” “Cornbread?” my boyfriend asked in surprise. “Of course, cornbread,” I answered. “Cornbread is a fundamental part of Cajun cuisine and it’s very likely that the Southerners actually got cornbread from the Creole, who came down from Canada with the French trappers long before there was an America. But when you think about it, the very first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock very likely included cornbread and not wheat bread. Remember that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had what we call corn but they didn’t have wheat until European settlers introduced it to the New World. The so-called Indians had a flatbread they made with cornmeal, and that was very likely what they served for the very first Thanksgiving dinner. “I’ve been playing around with my Dad’s best cornbread recipes and I’ve done some research on the Internet, and I’ve developed my own cornbread recipe that’s not only gluten-free, but frankly makes some of the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted. We need enough to serve eight people and to make the stuffing.” “Cornbread? For the stuffing?” Seth asked in surprise. “Of course, cornbread for the stuffing,” I answered. “Haven’t you ever heard of cornbread stuffing? Not only is it healthier than traditional stuffing, but it tastes sooo much better. It’s traditional in the South. We’re gonna use four cups of organic cornmeal, a cup of oatmeal, a cup of oat flour, a cup of rice flour and a half-cup of flax seed, to which we’re gonna add a little baking soda, some baking powder and a very small amount of raw brown sugar. “I’m gonna need a half-dozen eggs, so while we pre-heat the oven, perhaps you could get those ready for me in that seven-quart mixing bowl over there,” I said as I pointed to the bowl I intended for Seth to use, but when he just stood there looking askance at me, I asked, “Is there a problem?” “Well, other than that I don’t even know how to open an egg, not really,” Seth replied. This was gonna be even more of a teaching session than I’d anticipated. Yikes! Taking an egg in my hand, I said, “Opening eggs, as you put it, is just a matter of cracking the shell so it breaks in two, and then letting the yolk and egg white drop into the bowl. You just bring the egg down swiftly onto the edge of the bowl, hold it over the bowl and use your hand to split it open so the contents land in it, like this.” I then demonstrated how to do it and threw the shell into the trash. “See, it’s really quite simple, but a lot of people get hung up on cracking the shell. Usually, they don’t bring it down fast enough or hard enough and all they end up doing is putting a dent in it without breaking through. Don’t be tentative… just do it. “Now you try it,” I said as I handed an egg to my boyfriend. What happened next was like something out of a comedy routine. Seth brought the egg down on the edge of the bowl swiftly and hard; he was far from tentative. The egg not only cracked, but it split open and as luck would have it, the yolk and most of the white slid down the outside of the bowl, landed on the counter, slid to the edge of the counter, off the counter and landed right on my bare foot before slipping between my toes and landing on the floor. I couldn’t help but snicker. “Although my foot might add an interesting flavor to the cornbread, I don’t think our guests would appreciate it.” I used a moist paper towel to clean the egg white off my foot as best I could, and then I used a spatula and paper towel to scoop the rest of the egg white and the yolk off the floor, throwing them into the sink. I cleaned up the floor with a damp paper towel and dab of dishwashing liquid. “OK, let’s try this again, but this time why don’t you put your hand over mine as I break the egg. Maybe that way you can get a feel for just how much force is involved.” I had Seth hold his hand over mine as I brought the egg down on the edge of the bowl and then split it open and dropped the contents into the bowl. “Let’s try that one more time,” I suggested, and then I broke another egg into the bowl. It seemed to be going well, so I suggested that Seth try it with the next egg. Seth picked an egg out of the carton and swiftly brought it down on the edge of the bowl at an angle. This time the egg cracked, but in a spider pattern and when he brought it over the bowl and attempted to split it open, I knew immediately what was gonna happen, and it did. Instead of splitting, it fractured into a thousand tiny pieces of egg shell and those pieces along with the egg yolk and white then landed in the bowl. I now had to remove a thousand tiny pieces of egg shell from the bowl, as I was damned if I was gonna dispose of four perfectly good eggs. “Perhaps you can practice that skill another time,” I suggested. After adding two more eggs, I blended them with canola oil, buttermilk, cornmeal, oatmeal, oat and rice flour and the other ingredients, poured the mixture into four round cake tins, slid them into my preheated oven and set the timer. “Now while the cornbread’s baking, we need to get the turkey ready.” Getting the paper-wrapped bird out of the fridge, I unwrapped it and set it out on an area of clean countertop. “Something tells me that you’ve never been up close and personal with a raw turkey before.” “I’ve never been up close and personal with any raw meat before, unless you count sushi, and even then, it was already rolled, cut and ready for a little wasabi and soy sauce,” he sheepishly admitted. “Well, somehow I don’t think the Indians had any sushi at the first Thanksgiving dinner table, so we won’t be making sushi tonight. Sushi’s a bit of an advanced skill and we won’t get to making it until you’ve mastered everything else.” “Like the art of making love?” Seth kidded me, and I swatted him with my spatula. “The most important way to prevent food poisoning is to use separate dishes and utensils for handling the meat when it’s raw and when it’s cooked. We’ll start by removing the skin from the bird.” I then removed the skin from the turkey and disposed of it. “I’m going to remove the legs and thighs, and then the wings followed by the breast.” I then proceeded to remove each leg and thigh as a unit and repeated the procedure with each wing. I filleted the thighs and legs and cut the meat into thin strips, which went right into a plastic container and into the fridge. Then I separated each breast half from the underlying ribs, cut it into narrow strips and loaded them into another plastic container, which also went into the fridge. The carcass along with the meat from the back, neck and wings went into a large saucepan to be used for making the stuffing and the stock for the pumpkin soup. I filled the saucepan with water, set it on the stove and brought it to a slow boil. It was at that point that the timer for the cornbread went off, and so I checked them in the oven. All four cake pans were brimming with golden brown cornbread, and so I set the cornbread on racks on the counter to cool down. “Since I’ve already taught you how to cut up peppers, I’m gonna put you to work getting the pumpkin ready while I prepare the seasonings for the Cajun turkey and the soup. Just grab a sharp knife and quarter both of the pumpkins. Scoop the seeds out onto a baking sheet, and then cut the pumpkin flesh into narrow strips, and lay them on the same baking sheet. While Seth dutifully did as he’d been told, I continued my cooking lesson, whether he wanted it or not. “There are many ways to make Cajun barbecue turkey, and none of them involve tomatoes or tomato sauce at all. It’s the process and the seasonings that make for a good barbecue and not the sauce.” “I would’ve thought it had everything to do with the sauce… in Fried Green Tomatoes, the barbecue sauce played a central role…” “Yes, I know,” I replied. “That was the first book I ever read that featured a lesbian main character.” “I don’t remember anything about anyone being lesbian,” Seth countered. “Not in the movie.” “I never saw the movie, but in the book, the abusive husband’s wife was a lesbian, and her story was told through a series of flashbacks. The mystery of what happened to the husband was revealed slowly, one flashback at a time, but that was Southern barbecue… not Cajun. Let’s just say that Cajun barbecue would not be a very effective way to dispose of a body…” “Is that what happened?” Seth asked in astonishment. “You didn’t realize that?” I replied. “The irony was that the sheriff himself ate some of the evidence. That was such a cool book. I read it for a book report in seventh grade.” As I got out the ingredients, I explained, “There are two parts to the preparation of a Cajun turkey… the brine and the rub. The brine is a liquid made of seasonings and oil that’s injected into the meaty parts of the turkey, and the rub is a dry seasoning mix that’s rubbed into the surface. The turkey is then smoked or roasted over an open flame, or sometimes fried.” “We’re gonna fry the turkey?” Seth asked in surprise. “Turkey fries are a tradition in African American communities,” I replied, “but no, we’re gonna grill it. If I had a smoker, I might try making a traditional smoked Cajun turkey, but the co-op rules don’t allow for any outdoor cooking, which is why we have a grill insert on our stove. “For our Cajun barbecue, we’re gonna skip the rub and marinate the turkey overnight in the Cajun brine and then grill it up in the morning.” I prepared the brine by mincing several garlic cloves and cutting up a couple of onions. After bringing some canola oil to a simmer in a skillet, I added the onions and garlic as well as a package of turkey bacon, and cut up some peppers and added them to the skillet along with my spices. Noticing that Seth had finished with the pumpkins, I loaded the baking sheet into the oven and set the pumpkin and the seeds to roast for twenty minutes.” Seth watched and helped me with the prep work as I attended to the stuffing, the Cajun turkey and the pumpkin soup. Everything went into sealed containers and into the frig except the stuffing, which went into the oven to bake. Turning to my boyfriend, I said, “That’s about it for what we can do tonight. The stuffing needs to bake for about another half-hour. In the meantime, we need to clean up this mess. Since I did all the cooking, it’s only fair that you do all the clean-up.” Rather than say anything, Seth answered by raising the middle fingers of both hands. We ended up sharing the clean-up duties, which was what I’d planned to do in the first place. Afterwards, we stripped and cuddled up together in my bed. Even though it was still early, sleep overtook me almost immediately. <> <> <> It felt like I’d barely slept at all when the piercing sound of the smoke alarm woke me from my sleep. Looking over at my bedside clock, it was barely before midnight. “What the fuck’s going on, Ash?” Seth asked as he rubbed his eyes. His hair was in complete disarray and he was cute as could be, but as I slowly woke up, I realized that something was very wrong. Everyone knows that there are rules of safety that are critical in case of fire. One should always feel the doorknob first to make sure it isn’t hot and that there aren’t roaring flames on the other side. And so, the first thing I did was to grab the doorknob and yank the door right open. Had there really been a fire, I might well have been burned from head to toe. Instead, what I found was that the whole apartment was filled with smoke. Flipping on the lights – another mistake in case the smoke was from an electrical fire – I still couldn’t really see anything. As I made my way to the kitchen, it slowly dawned on me that we hadn’t put away the stuffing before we went to bed. In fact, I hadn’t even bothered to set the timer, assuming I would simply remember to remove the stuffing from the oven when it was time. Instead we’d gone to bed, leaving the it to burn up in a hot oven. When I got to the ovens, I turned the gas off and opened the oven where the stuffing had been baking. Thick smoke immediately poured out and I couldn’t help but cough a hacking cough. “What happened?” Seth asked with a cough of his own. “We left the stuffing in the oven and went to bed,” I coughed in reply. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Seth coughed in return. Rushing to the windows, I threw them all open – in the kitchen, the living room, my bedroom and my parents’ bedroom. I even opened the door to the balcony. The last thing I wanted to do was to set off the smoke detectors in the elevator lobby, which would have woken all the neighbors and brought the fire department to our door. Realizing that our smoke detector was still going off, I quickly climbed up on a chair and removed it from the ceiling, then removed the battery. With the immediate crisis dealt with, I sat down on the chair I’d used to reach the smoke detector, dropped my head into my hands and began to cry. Placing his arms around me, Seth hugged me close and said, “We knew there had to be at least one disaster with the meal. After all, Murphy’s Law works overtime on holidays. Maybe this’ll be it for us. We can always make more stuffing! You still have two corn breads and maybe you can use one of them for the stuffing, or we can just skip serving any cornbread at all, since the stuffing’s what’s important.” “But I don’t have any turkey stock to use for the broth,” I pointed out. “I’m sure your parents have plenty of turkey stock on hand at the restaurant. You can get some in the morning and just start over. It could be worse…” Just then there was the unmistakable sound of a key turning in the lock and then the door opened to reveal my parents. “What the Hell happened?” Dad asked as he entered the still-smoky apartment. “We went to bed and forgot that we’d left the stuffing in the oven,” I answered. “I’ve yet to even take a look at it.” Walking over to the oven and looking in side, Dad said, “Yup, it’s black as black can be. I think it’s maybe a bit overdone. I’ve heard of blackened catfish or blackened salmon… even blackened turkey, but blackened stuffing is probably not a good idea.” I couldn’t help but laugh at my father’s antics. It wasn’t really funny, but sometimes there’s just no other response in the face of tragedy than a heartfelt laugh. “I’ll tell you what, boys,” Dad went on, “there’s no point in doing anything about the burned stuffing now, as it’ll be easier to clean up in the morning, when the pot’s cooled down. And as far as the stuffing’s concerned, don’t worry about making any more. I know you have your pride, but I have all the raw materials and a whole restaurant at my disposal. Just worry about getting ready for the party and stop by the restaurant at one o’clock. I’ll have a large pot of cornbread stuffing, all ready for you.” I threw my arms around my father in gratitude for all he was doing for us, but as I hugged him, I realized that my penis was in direct contact with his pants leg. No wonder Mom had left the room! Deeply embarrassed, I pulled away from my dad and looked down at my naked form. I could feel myself blushing all over. Hearing a hearty laugh from my boyfriend, I looked over to see him just standing there, naked as I was and laughing. “I realized we were naked when your parents walked through the door, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so why get embarrassed?” How could he be so relaxed about being naked in front of my parents? Laughing, my dad said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before. I know you’re probably wide awake, so why don’t you go back to bed and make love.” “You’re telling us you want us to have sex?” I asked Dad incredulously. “Well it’s either that, or watch TV, or read. I can’t think of anything better than sex to take your mind off the burnt stuffing, and you can’t tell me it’s not something you’ve ever done before, so why not? It’ll help you get back to sleep too.” How could my dad be so casual about it when I was so hung-up on sex? “C’mon, Ash,” Seth said as he grabbed my hand. “Let’s go have some wild, earth-shattering sex in your bedroom.” In spite of Seth being so casual about it, the thought of what we might do was already having the intended effect, which meant I couldn’t exactly stay with my father. After pulling the door closed behind me, I noticed how cold it was in my room with the window wide open, and so I turned up the heat. Since the air had cleared, I closed the window before getting into bed with my boyfriend. Before I turned out the light, I couldn’t help but notice how utterly cute he was. The feel of his lips on mine, of his tongue in my mouth and of his hand on me drove any thought about the fiasco in the kitchen out of my mind. <> <> <> “Are you sure that’s gonna hold?” Seth asked as he watched me tie the second turkey to our rotisserie using twine. “Of course it’ll hold,” I replied as I verified that the turkey wouldn’t budge. It was Dad who’d suggested we grill rather than roast the turkey. We had a rotisserie attachment for the grill on our stove and I’d used it before to grill whole chickens, but never something so large as a turkey. I knew how juicy a chicken tasted when roasted on a spit, so I couldn’t wait to try it with a turkey. But making sure the turkey was secured to the spit was more difficult than I’d imagined. When grilling a chicken, the meat shrinks as it cooks, and the twine always loosens. If that happened with the turkey, it’d fall off the spit and that would be a fuckin’ disaster. Therefore, I’d used extra twine and made doubly sure it was tight. Thank God Dad was taking care of the stuffing! He’d even agreed to make some gravy for us, since he was already making turkey broth for the stuffing. Otherwise we’d have had to get up extra early to start over from scratch. As it was, we’d had to get up pretty early and spend the morning vacuuming Seth’s apartment, cleaning the bathroom to the point it sparkled, and setting up the table with the extra leaves to accommodate eight of us. We’d put on his good tablecloth and set the table using his parent’s good china and stainless tableware. Only when we were sure that everything was right, did we grab the other turkey and head back to my apartment. But now it was time to finish the meal prep, and there was still a lot to do. I was glad our guests would be taking care of things like the green bean casserole, the candied yams, the cranberry sauce and the pies. Speaking of which, having last eaten yesterday in the early afternoon, we were starved! Since we had an unneeded pumpkin pie from Trader Joe’s, we wasted little time in dividing it in half and devouring it. With Dad taking care of the stuffing re-make, all Seth and I had to do was to focus on the two turkeys. Turning on the rotisserie, I fired up the grill and turned on the external exhaust, so we wouldn’t end up setting off any more smoke alarms. As the turkey turned over an open flame, I got out the first container of marinated turkey meat – the dark meat – and started laying the individual strips of meat directly onto the grill, where they would broil under the rotating turkey above it. After about five minutes, I turned each of the pieces of meat over and finished broiling them on the other side before forking them over into a shallow cake pan. I then repeated the procedure with batch after batch of dark meat until the plastic container was empty. I then did the same with the container of white meat until the cake pan was full, with one end being dark meat and the other white. I covered it with aluminum foil and set it in the oven to keep warm while the turkey on the spit continued to turn. It was already a nice golden brown, and oozing with juice. Next, I got out the rice cooker and started making a batch of rice to serve with the Cajun turkey. With nothing else that needed doing for the time being, I headed for the bathroom to take my shower and get ready for the party. I started out by shaving, and then stepped into the shower and was just about finished when Seth cried out, “Help! It fell off. Come here now.” Oh shit, now what? I quickly shut off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping my towel around me as I headed to the kitchen. What greeted me was not a pretty site. The twine holding the turkey together had come loose in spite of my efforts and the drumsticks and wings were hanging out from the turkey, close to falling off of it. Far worse, the turkey had come loose from the spit and was hanging down on the grill while the rotisserie continued to turn, threatening to tear the bird apart. Dropping my towel, I immediately stopped the rotisserie, so It wouldn’t do any more damage. I turned off the gas to keep from burning the bird before I could get it back on the spit. On a hunch, however, I inserted my meat thermometer into the turkey. I expected it to need another hour, but this was my first time roasting a turkey and I wondered if broiling it on a rotisserie might not take less time. Upon reading the temperature, I exclaimed, “Holy shit, it’s done!” I quickly moved the turkey into a shallow roasting pan, removed the spit, extracted the twine and covered the whole thing in aluminum foil. I then shoved it into the oven to keep warm. Once that was done, I grabbed my towel, dried myself off and wiped up the puddle that had formed on the kitchen floor from my dripping body. Returning to the bathroom, I applied deodorant, dried my hair, brushed my teeth and splashed on a little of the cologne that Seth liked. I got dressed in the rainbow shirt Seth had bought for me in the village, a pair of dark denim skin-tight jeans and sandals. Noticing that it was nearly one o’clock and time to pick up the stuffing, I grabbed the folding cart we used to haul groceries and loaded it with the pan containing the Cajun turkey, the roaster with the rotisserie turkey and the two cake tins with the cornbread. The pumpkin soup went into the Instant Pot, which I gingerly placed on top. Grabbing my phone, my wallet and my keys… and my boyfriend, I made one final check to be sure everything was turned off, except it wasn’t. Shit, we still had rice in the rice cooker! It was done, so I quickly loaded the rice cooker, rice and all, locked up and we took the elevator down. Stopping at my family’s restaurant, I picked up a large pot of stuffing and a thermos filled with turkey gravy, and then we headed across the street to Seth’s place. Then the real juggling act began. With only a single oven and a small one at that, there was no way we’d be able to fit everything in the oven to keep it warm, particularly once the guests arrived with their own items that needed heating. Setting the oven to 190 degrees, I set the top rack as high as I could make it and still fit the turkey on one side with the pot with the stuffing on the other side. By turning the lid from the pot upside down, I could set the cake tin with the Cajun turkey on top of it, leaving the bottom rack for the stuff everyone else brought. I placed the cornbread on the lower shelf, but it would keep if I needed the space for something else. It was best served warm, though, and so I would remove it from each cake tins and nuke it prior to serving if I needed to. While I was getting the contents of our dinner squared away, I noticed out of the corner of my eyes that Seth was pouring a box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat crackers into a bowl and setting it on the coffee table in the living room. When he got out a couple tubs of what looked like some sort of dip and set them on the coffee table as well, I asked him, “What in hell are you doing?” “I’m setting out some appetizers in case people want something to nosh on before the meal,” he answered. “But I thought we agreed that there was no need for anything, ’cause we’d sit down to eat as soon as everyone got here.” “Trust me, Ash, no one’s gonna be on time,” he replied. “OK, maybe one or two people will be a little early, but everyone else will be late, and there’ll be time to kill while we wait for the stragglers. You can’t sit down to dinner until everyone’s here, so this gives people something to eat while they’re waiting. I know what we said, but I thought about it while you were makin’ dinner and changed my mind. Besides which, I already had a box of these crackers and fresh organic hummus and spinach dip in the fridge, so why not?” There wasn’t much I could say to that, so I just shrugged my shoulders, but then I saw my boyfriend get out a bottle of wine and set it on the table. What the fuck? I was so much in shock that at first I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I asked, “Did you just put a bottle of wine on the table?” He answered, “You’re so observant, Ash.” When he didn’t elaborate, I asked, “You do realize that none of us is remotely twenty-one.” “I’m pretty sure you’re right about that,” Seth answered. “Do you have any idea what my parents or yours will do to us if they find out we were drinking wine?” “Who do you think gave me permission?” Seth responded. Noticing what was undoubtedly a shocked expression on my face, he elaborated, “When I asked my dad for permission to host a dinner party for eight, he made it clear that under no circumstances were any of us to drink alcohol, smoke weed or partake of any illegal substances. Of course, I agreed. He then asked me what I thought about drinking wine at a dinner party. I told him that lots of people have a glass or two with their meal and as long as they’re not driving, or flying an airplane or performing surgery or anything like that, I saw no problem with it. “What he told me next really surprised me. He said that in a lot of countries, teenagers are often served wine or beer on special occasions… that early exposure to responsible drinking leads to lifelong responsible drinking. He said that he believes very strongly that one of the reasons American teens get in trouble with alcohol is that their first experiences are from binge drinking at parties. Same thing with pot, for that matter, although he doesn’t see much value in smoking pot compared to drinking a fine wine or beer. “So, what he told me is that we could open a bottle of wine to have with dinner today… that’s enough for a half-glass for each of us.” “But what about my parents?” I asked. “My dad already spoke with Gary, and got his agreement,” Seth answered. Wow! “What about the others?” I asked. “We’ll tell them it’s up to them to decide if they want or need to get permission from their parents.” “Surely you’re not planning to give wine to a nine-year-old kid?” I asked. “Don’t you think that should be up to his own brother?” Seth asked in response. Personally, I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, but I’d defer to Roger in any case. “What kind of wine are we having?” I asked. “A California Riesling,” he answered. “It’s a semi-sweet white wine. Dad said it would go well with turkey.” “No one gets more than a half-glass,” I added. “If anyone declines their share, it stays in the bottle. Your father doesn’t need reports of a drunken teenage party in his apartment.” “It would take more than a glass of wine to get any of us drunk,” Seth replied, “but I’ll agree.” Seth had barely finished setting wine glasses at each place on the table when we heard knocking on his front door. Seth went to answer it and returned with Roger and his little brother, Kyle. They were nearly twenty minutes early. “Sorry we’re so early,” Roger apologized as he handed Seth a couple of covered pie tins. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get here with all the detours because of the parade, and didn’t want to take a chance on bein’ late.” Seth immediately handed the pie tins to me and I took them and placed them on the lower rack in the oven, so they’d be warm by the time we served them. “Holy shit, this is a fuckin’ crazy view,” was the first thing to come from the mouth of Roger’s cute little brother, “It’s awesome.” Roger’s laugh told me that his little brother was going to be anything but a passive participant. In spite of the ‘awesome view’, Kyle scarcely gave it a glance before he sat down on the living room sofa, grabbed a cracker, dipped it in the hummus and stuffed it in his mouth. “Napkins,” Seth muttered. “I forgot napkins.” And then he disappeared into the kitchen and emerged carrying a package of cocktail napkins. “Kyle, I haven’t even introduced you yet,” Roger admonished his little brother. “Sorry,” Kyle said as he stood up. For a nine-year-old, he was actually pretty tall – maybe four-and-a-half feet. Extending his hand to shake mine, he said, “Hi, I’m Kyle, and I’m gay.” Well, that was an interesting introduction. Shaking the boy’s hand, I asked, “You’re nine, and you’ve already decided you’re gay? “Gees, why does everybody say that?” Kyle asked of no one in particular. “Even gay kids.” Then lookin’ me right in the eyes, he said, “Look, I’ve pretty much known I’m gay for more than a year now, but no one took me seriously. But when I started middle school… “You’re in middle school?” I asked in surprise. Rolling his eyes, “I could read and write by the time I was three. In New York, you can start kindergarten when you’re four as long as your fifth birthday’s before the end of the year, but there was little point in me starting with kindergarten when I was already reading at a second-grade level. My parents tried to get me into the second grade, but even though it was a so-called elite private school, the principal said I needed kindergarten to develop socialization. As if I didn’t already know how to get along with other kids! So, they compromised on first grade. I’m only a year ahead of my peers in the sixth grade, and I’ll be ten soon enough.” “You sure don’t talk at a sixth-grade level,” I laughed as I finally released his hand. “My test scores put me at a twelfth-grade level for reading and writing skills,” He replied, “and let’s not even talk about my math score. It’s hard to get excited about learning fractions when you can already do complex vector calculus. Still, the ‘experts’ think I need to work on my social skills,” he added with a grin. “Bet you’d really rather be in high school?” I asked. “I’d rather be in college,” he answered, “but at least I can start high school next year. I just took the entrance exam for the city specialty high schools, and the results’ll be out in the spring. They won’t be able to hold me back any longer if I pass it.” “Do you think you want to go to Stuyvesant like your brother?” I asked. Shaking his head, he replied, “Bronx Science, and I’ll get in for sure. Then with advanced placement, I’ll be a sophomore at MIT by the time I’m fourteen.” “And you’re gay,” I reiterated. “One hundred percent,” he responded, “just like you. Not that I’d ever want to take him away from you, but your boyfriend is cute as anything. You, on the other hand, are totally hot. I may not have hit puberty yet, but I don’t need raging hormones to know that I’d totally like to get naked with you.” “Kyle, that’s not something you should say to someone,” his brother admonished him. “And you wonder why they say you need to work on your social skills.” “Roger,” Seth asked, changing the subject, “I got the impression when you asked us about coming to dinner for Thanksgiving that maybe you were gay and your family didn’t want you around.” “It’s me they didn’t want,” Kyle answered instead. “Roger’s got a girlfriend, poor guy. It’s our father that has the problem. He’s been the worst of anyone when it comes to claiming I couldn’t possibly know at my age. We were supposed to have Thanksgiving with Dad’s sister’s family in California, but he said he wouldn’t take me unless I agreed not to talk about being gay. Of course, I told him where he could stick Aunt Mora’s turkey, so he stuck Roger with babysitting me while the family’s out west. Dad didn’t want the rest of the family to know that his precocious son is also queer.” “I didn’t get stuck with you, Kyle. I volunteered,” Roger countered. “I think Dad would have left you here alone if I hadn’t, but I didn’t think it was fair to you to spend a family holiday alone.” “I can take care of myself,” Kyle responded, rolling his eyes. “Well, we’re more than happy to have both of you here,” I replied. “Woah, check out this home theater!” Kyle exclaimed as he started to notice Seth’s setup. “Is that Visio’s new OLED model?” “It’s last year’s model,” Seth answered. “We bought it when we moved in.” “Those are amplified speakers, right?” Kyle asked. “Is that a Class D amplifier?” “Because the signal path’s all-digital, it makes sense to use a digital amplifier.” Seth answered. “Stereophile won’t even rate Class D amps, but I think that’s short-sighted of them,” Kyle responded. “They claim a power amp can’t be any good, just because it amplifies the separate binaries within the DAC. As if music that’s digitally recorded, digitally processed, digitally mixed, digitally mastered and digitally copied, can’t also be digitally amplified. And a Class D amp is more efficient and uses way less power.” The kid’s understanding of stereo stuff was obviously way beyond mine. “It’s probably because the early models and the cheap ones did it so poorly that they gave the whole category a bad name,” Seth responded. “What kinds of music do you have, Seth,” Kyle asked. “Mostly classical Jazz, but also a fair bit of classic rock, alternative rock and some classical.” “No hip-hop, rap, techno, dance or electronic music, I take it?” Kyle asked. “None whatsoever,” Seth replied. “That’s too bad. Some stuff’s cool, like Dead Mau5e or Twenty-one Pilots.” Then Kyle started singing, “Wish we could turn back time… to the good old days… when the mamas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out. “And Hamilton,” he went on. “I loved seeing the musical, but I love listening to the cast recording too.” “You saw Hamilton?” I asked. Truthfully, I’d never been to a Broadway musical and would have loved to see Hamilton, but not at a ticket price upwards of $1800. I guess there are some seats that only cost like $500, but they only have a partial view of the stage and they’re sold out for more than a year in advance. “We all saw it,” Roger replied. “Kyle didn’t exactly give us a choice, but man for what the scalpers charged, we coulda all gone to Disney World, all expenses included.” “I do have Hamilton in high-res,” Seth admitted. “The music’s cool for semi-hip-hop. I have a lot of musicals and soundtracks actually. I have all the Star Trek music in digital high-res.” “Yuck! Star Trek is sooo bad,” Kyle replied. Those were fighting words. “What do you mean, Star Trek is bad,” I responded angrily. “Oh come on, Asher, you can’t seriously think it’s realistic.” Kyle replied. “I mean, 2001, maybe, Ender’s Game, possibly, but Star Trek is ridiculous. It’s absurd. “For one thing, FTL is impossible. The speed of light is the defining property the Universe. It’s like infinity… you can never reach it. The idea of warp drive only violates about a billion physical principles, and transporters that convert matter to energy and back to matter again would generate so much energy that they’d vaporize everything in the signal path. Wormholes might work, but that would involve going outside of normal space-time, so I’m not sure how you could build one. “But the most ridiculous thing is the concept that there are all of those aliens out there who speak perfect English and happen to be at the same stage of technological development that we are, and they happen to share enough of our DNA to make interbreeding possible. Come on now!” “Actually, that was addressed in an episode called The Chase,” I countered. “The Chase?” Kyle asked. “I’m not familiar with that one.” So I explained the basic plot, in which there was a chase to find a secret that was buried in bits and pieces in the genome of every living species in the galaxy. “The Klingons of course thought it was the secret for building a great weapon, and Cardassians thought it was the key to unlimited power. In the end, it turned out to be a message from a long-vanished species – the very first one and at the time, the only one, the progenitor of all the others. Finding themselves to be alone, they took it upon themselves to seed the galaxy with their DNA, which became the basis for all life in the galaxy today.” “That sounds really cool,” Kyle admitted. “Finally, something in Trek that makes sense. I’ll have to stream it and watch it. That kind of reminds me of a story I once read on GayAuthors on mental time travel.” “Yes, I remember that story,” I exclaimed. “About how you couldn’t change reality but could only create a new branch of time, and how the Universe was really still a singularity and that the probability of life was similar to that of a pile of iron and sand spontaneously forming an iPhone.” “Actually, it was an iPod,” Seth chimed in. “Yeah, it was an iPod,” Kyle agreed. “But since I’m obviously in hostile territory regarding Star Trek, I’d better change the subject. Just don’t tell me you like Star Wars.” “I like the tech and the special effects,” Seth replied, “but the underlying science is pathetic.” “Something on which we can agree.” Kyle replied, and then asked. “So by any chance do you have a copy of Tommy, by The Who?” “Of course, I do,” Seth replied. “It’s a classic.” “The original or the 2013 re-master?” Kyle asked. “Both actually,” Seth answered. “I bought the original 1996 hi-res version when I first got interested in music, and then bought the re-master when it came out a year later.” “You bought your own music when you were, what, seven?” I asked in astonishment. “Well yeah, Ash,” Seth responded. “Mom and Dad got me an iPod when I was six, but as cool as it was, it didn’t take long to realize it sounded like crap. I saw an ad for the first AudioQuest Dragonfly in 2012 and talked Dad into buying one along with a good set of headphones. The Dragonfly plugged right into our iMac and was way better than the built-in DAC. It came with a coupon for HDtracks, and that was the start of my high-res music collection.” “Have you ever compared the two?” Kyle asked. “I don’t think I’ve even played the original since I bought the re-master,” Seth answered. “How about checking it out?” Kyle suggested. “OK, let’s do it,” Seth agreed. I was certainly curious to say the least. Seth cued up both albums and first played the overture from the original version, and then from the re-master. Even I had to admit that the re-master sounded way better. It sounded much more natural – much more like a live performance. We repeated the procedure with Pinball Wizard with the same result – the re-master was so much better – there wasn’t any comparison. “And there are people who question the advantages of digital music,” Kyle stated. “There are actually people who prefer vinyl!” Raising my hand, I said, “That would be me.” “Oh, how I would love to compare the re-mastered version to an original vinyl LP,” Kyle said. “I have an original vinyl LP in my apartment,” I replied. “And I really mean original… from 1969.” “It’s too bad there’s no way to play it on Seth’s stereo, so we could compare the versions on the same system.” “Actually, we can,” I replied. “Seth just added a turntable to his system. A good one.” “But how is that possible?” Kyle asked. “You have an all-digital system. I mean, I’ve seen turntables with USB outputs, but that’s like putting the motor from a Chevy in a Cadillac. What’s the point?” “I have a phono preamp with a DSD transcoder,” Seth explained. “Analog over digital. Very clever,” Kyle noted. “Why don’t I go and get my vinyl LP, and we can make this a real contest,” I suggested. “Do it,” my boyfriend said, and Kyle agreed. It took me a while to actually run across the street, not to mention dealing with elevators in two buildings on a holiday. It was twenty minutes by the time I returned, by which time everyone but Joel and Clark had arrived. I proceeded to put the vinyl record on Seth’s turntable and played the overture, and then Pinball Wizard in succession. “I have to admit, the vinyl record sounds a lot better than the original digital recording. There’s no comparison,” Kyle stated after I’d finished. “Let’s hear the remastered versions again. Seth cued the remaster up on his system and we listened to both tracks again. This time it was my turn to admit, “The remaster’s better. I hate to admit it, but as good as the vinyl record was, the digital remaster sounds a lot better. There are sounds in the music that I never heard before, even the sense of ambience is much improved.” “Vinyl is far superior for recording two tracks of audio, but the original masters had a lot more than two tracks!” Kyle explained. “Vinyl irreversibly flattens the music to stereo. With the jazz classics, you may never know the difference… not unless the original masters are still around, but you can clearly hear the difference with music recorded in the sixties and seventies, before digital recording fucked it up. Even then, however, digital signal processing makes it possible to recover details from the original recording that would otherwise be lost forever.” There was no doubt that Kyle was a wiseass, but he was intelligent and insightful, and already he had more breadth of knowledge than most adults ever would. In that instant I realized that in spite of the age difference, I’d made a lifelong friend. Walking up to him, I said, “Don’t let it go to your head, but you’re an amazing guy, Kyle,” With a broad grin, he hugged me tightly, and then he approached Seth and hugged him too. A half-hour later, we were still waiting for Joel and Clark. They were more than forty minutes late. The crackers, including a second box of them along with both dips were now long-gone and we were all starving. “Does anyone have another phone number for either of them?” I asked for about the fifteenth time. We’d already tried each of their phones, but they’d both gone to voice mail. They were coming from Murray Hill in Flushing and if there were a problem with their rail line or the LIRR in general, they might have been forced to take a number seven subway train, in which case they’d have been without cell service for long stretches of time. Finally, there was knocking at the door. I was closest at the moment, so I opened it to find the two boys standing there, looking like they’d walked through a tornado. “You wouldn’t believe what happened, “Joel began immediately as he walked in the door with Clark in tow. “First, we got on the LIRR at the Murray Hill station. The train left on time, but before we even pulled into the station at Willits Point, we stopped because of signaling problems. We were, stuck in the middle of Flushing Meadows like forever, when finally, the train started to move, but then it stopped again. I was really starting to get nervous but Clark, as usual, reassured me that I was just being a worry wart.” By now we were all gathered in the living room as Joel continued his story. “Even after it got going again, the train crawled along. When we got to Woodside, I wanted to get off and take a seven train, but Clark reminded me that it was only one more stop to Penn Station which took forever, and that was just the beginning. What we forgot about was a little thing called Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Taking the subway was out of the question. “When we got to Penn Station there were taxis lined up, but the traffic was so gridlocked that the taxis weren’t moving. We walked down to 23rd hoping to take an F or an M train from there, but the platforms were packed six deep and the trains passing through were full. We walked down Broadway to Union Square, but the bus never came and so we just kept on walking down Fourth Avenue to Bowery and then to Grand Street. We did try to call,” he added as an afterthought, “but neither of us could get a signal.” Laughing, I replied, “We couldn’t reach you either. We had no idea what had happened to you. But at least you’re here. I don’t know what we would’ve done without you. No soft drinks. No green bean casserole. It would have wrecked Thanksgiving dinner.” “And I thought that maybe you’d have missed us,” Joel pouted. “Anyway, even though green beans should keep, I didn’t want to take a chance on it spoiling in route, so I brought the ingredients for the casserole and will cook it here. All I need is a stove and a wok and it’ll be done in five minutes. Green bean casserole, Asian style.” “And here’s the soft drinks,” Clark added as Seth took them from him and stuck them in the fridge. “There’s just one problem,” I told Joel. “This is Seth’s apartment and in case you didn’t notice, he’s not Asian. Perhaps you’d consider making the casserole in a skillet instead?” I suggested. “I’m sure it’ll work just as well with a skillet,” Joel said, and I set him up with one. Since the oven was part of the stove, we obviously weren’t going to be able to get to the turkeys or other dishes until Joel was done. “So, I know you two aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving with your families this year,” Seth began, “but I’m curious about the story behind that. Is it because you’re gay?” “Not at all,” said Clark. “Both fathers are supportive. We’ve been best friends since we were in diapers and I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when we announced we were boyfriends at the start of sixth grade. The problem is, both our dads work for the MTA and both our moms died a long time ago. Our fathers always work on the holiday and collect the overtime. We’ve never had a real Thanksgiving dinner. When we heard that your parents have to work today, and that you had taken it upon yourselves to prepare an authentic Thanksgiving dinner, we just thought that two couples might be better than one. After all, Thanksgiving is a family time.” “Well it’s great to have you here,” I agreed. “OK, it’s done,” Joel announced, and Seth got out a serving dish for him. I was surprised that green bean casserole prepared in a skillet came out looking just the same as if it had been baked in an oven, but in a fraction of the time. With everyone else’s food on the table, I dumped the rice from the cooker into a serving bowl and added it to the table. I cut up the first cornbread into eight pie-shaped slices and placed them in a basket on the table. I got out a serving platter and laid out about half the Cajun turkey on it, placing white meat at one end and dark meat at the other, getting oohs and ahs as I added it to the table. The rest I put back into the oven, most likely to become leftovers. Next, the cornbread stuffing went into a large serving bowl and on the table. Gravy from the thermos went into a gravy boat and on the table. Finally, I got out the roast turkey, but there was no more room! “Take a look everybody. Here’s the turkey, a beautiful sixteen-pound hen, flame broiled on a rotisserie, guaranteed to be the juiciest turkey you ever had. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna slice it up here in the kitchen, and if you guys want to bring your plates, I’ll give you a serving of your choice of meat. The Cajun turkey is already on the table, along with the stuffing and other items.” With my knowledge of bird anatomy, it didn’t take me long to have enough turkey breast meat sliced to feed everyone twice over, and to have parts of the thighs and wings ready for those who wanted them as well. For anyone daring enough, there were two whole drumsticks too. It wasn’t until I got back to my place at the table that I realized Kyle hadn’t come up to get himself a serving of the turkey. Indeed, he had his plate piled high with the candied yams, the green bean casserole, the cranberry sauce and nothing else. “Kyle, didn’t you want any turkey and stuffing?” I asked. “Was the stuffing made in the turkey?” he asked. “Is there any turkey or broth in the stuffing? Was the cornbread made with any eggs, milk or butter?” Oh shit. He was a vegan. Fuck! Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t Roger tell me? “He just decided to become a vegan this morning,” Roger explained, “and I’d hoped he’d change his mind by the time we sat down for dinner. I told him he couldn’t expect you to prepare vegan food for him on short notice, so he’ll make do with whatever you have or he’ll starve.” Looking at Kyle, I said, “I could’ve made a vegan stir fry for you if you’d have let me know when you got here. Hell, I could still order a vegan stir fry for you. My parents own the Asian restaurant on Grand Street that you all passed by to get here. I can have a vegan stir fry delivered here in just ten minutes if you want it. Or there’s Alphonso’s on the next block. I could have a vegan pizza delivered here in a half-hour. It’s up to you. “Naw,” he replied. “There’s enough food here. I’ll be OK. And later I’ll have pumpkin and apple pie,” he added with a smile. “But you need protein, Kyle,” I countered. “You can’t grow into a healthy teenager without protein. Just say the word and I’ll get you whatever you want.” Grinning, he replied, “Thanks for your concern. Really, I appreciate it. It makes me feel loved, and I need a little love right now. But this is something I want and need to do, and I can’t expect you to accommodate me on such short notice.” “That’s utter fuckin’ bullshit, Kyle,” I argued. “I offered you two alternatives… two very good alternatives. How do you think the rest of us can eat and enjoy this feast if you have nothing on your plate?” Looking thoughtfully back at me, he finally said, “You’re right… I didn’t think of how it would affect the others. Perhaps I’ll become a vegan tomorrow, or maybe not. It’s a lot harder than I thought will be. And don’t you feel guilty for talking me into changing my mind. This is my decision and mine alone to make. I’ll wait to become a vegan until after Thanksgiving, and maybe Christmas, and maybe my birthday, and maybe New Years. Maybe I’ll become a vegan for the start of the new year. So, could someone please pass the Cajun turkey, and the stuffing, and cornbread?” “I’ll get you some turkey?” I said as I grabbed his plate and headed to the stove. “Hey everybody,” Seth interrupted just as everyone was about to take a bite of their food. “We need to have a toast. There’s a bottle of Riesling… it’s a semi-sweet white wine and it goes well with turkey. Ash’s and my parents gave us permission to have a half-a-glass of wine with our meals today, and to serve any of you a half-glass if you want it and if it’s OK with your parents. The deal is that it’s up to you to decide if you need or want permission from your parents. Otherwise it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation. And Kyle, you should talk to your brother about whether or not you can drink wine with your dinner.” Getting up, he continued, “I’ll now serve wine for anyone who wants it, and then we’ll have a toast, with the wine or with the soft drink of your choice.” René actually did get out her phone and argue a bit with her parents, but when she closed her phone, there was a smile on her face. Kyle and his brother seemed to be having an animated discussion and at one point I heard Kyle say, “But we have wine on Passover.” Ah, they were Jewish. When Seth got to Kyle, he responded saying, “As my brother pointed out, although I may have the brain of someone twice my age… his words, not mine… I still have the body of a nine-year-old. We do have wine every year during the Jewish holiday of Passover, but it’s only a sip. So, I’m gonna have a little wine… but only a quarter of a glass. I need to wait ’til I’m twelve before my body can metabolize anything more.” What an amazing kid he was. Seth and I were gonna hafta make it a point to always stay in touch with him. Already I was thinking of him as if he were my own brother. Once the wine had been dispensed to all of us, and Seth did end up emptying the bottle in spite of Kyle only taking half as much, he raised his glass in a toast. “To friends. May we never forget this afternoon together. May we always stay in touch. May our friendship be with us the rest of our lives.” “To friends,” everyone chimed in before taking a sip of their wine, and then Kyle added, “La Chaim.” Then it suddenly it dawned on me. “Oh shit! I forgot the pumpkin soup!” The pumpkin soup was still sitting in a cold Instant Pot. Good thing the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker. It wouldn’t take long to prepare. As I got up to take care of the soup, Seth asked, “As long as Ash’s getting the soup ready, would anyone like coffee?” Of all people, it was nine-year-old Kyle that answered first, “I’d love some.” When everyone just stared at him, he added, “Well, I love a good cup of Joe. Can’t start the day without it.” Pretty soon, everyone else added their desires for coffee, including me. Seth got up and joined me in the kitchen to help out. He refilled the hopper on his Grind and Brew, filled the water tank to the top and set the quantity to the max. Checking to be sure that the filter was in place, he pushed the button and the grinder sprang to life. Pluggin’ in the Instant Pot, I removed the plastic lid and placed the standard lid on top, and then I turned it on. There was a clicking sound that seemed to come from the closet that served as Seth’s bedroom, and then the lights went out…
  13. Altimexis

    Part 2

    I slowly came to consciousness as the smell of bacon and sausage permeated my bedroom. Dad must be home, and he was making me a wonderful Cajun breakfast. I had a raging hard-on, though, and my bladder felt like it was about to burst. Something felt like it was in the way, however, and I couldn’t quite get into position to climb out of bed. Then I felt something soft and smooth squirm under me, and then a blurry pair of deep green eyes under an unruly mop of golden curls was staring at me, right in front of my face. Now I remembered. Seth had spent the night. It had been our first time and although we’d decided to take things slow, what we did felt incredible. For the first time outside of gym class, we saw each other naked and felt free to explore each other thoroughly. We’d crawled into bed almost as soon as we got home and made out for hours, discovering just how much fun it was to kiss and be kissed on places other than our mouths. The friction of our bodies against each other, and with our hands, we brought each other to climax more times than I could remember. “What’s that wonderful smell?” my boyfriend asked as he nuzzled against me. “My dad’s cooking,” I answered. “It smells wonderful,” Seth responded, “but if your dad’s out in the kitchen, how are we ever gonna get up and go to the bathroom without him seeing us? And I really need to go.” “Me too,” I answered. “Usually I just wear my underwear in the morning. Mom’s already at work, doing the morning shopping for the restaurant, so it’s just Dad and us, and he knows what we look like.” “You’re Mom’s already at work, this early in the morning?” Laughing, I replied, “She starts her day as soon as the fish markets open in Chinatown, usually around six. When she finishes, she’ll get the soups going and start preparing all the ingredients, chopping everything up and storing it in the refrigerator for the lunch crowd. Then she’ll come home and take a nap while Dad takes care of the lunch crowd, which isn’t nearly as large as the dinner crowd. She’ll then join Dad at dinnertime and they’ll both come home after midnight.” “Man, I can’t imagine livin’ like that,” Seth stated. “They’ve been doin’ it that way ever since I can remember,” I answered. “It’s the only life I know.” Then I yanked off the covers, exposing both of us to the cold air in my bedroom, and Seth yelped, “What the fuck?” “Time to get up, darlin’,” I replied. “There isn’t much room in the bathroom, so we’ll hafta take turns in the shower. You get into the shower while I make the bed. It can take a while to get hot water, especially on a Saturday. While you’re in the shower, I’ll come in and shave, and then I’ll shower when you’re out.” “Why don’t you skip shaving?” Seth suggested. “You’d look sexy with a beard.” “Perhaps I’ll try growin’ one when I’m in college,” I replied, “but my dad said if he ever caught me with facial hair, he’d shave off half of it and make me go to school that way. So for now, it’s not an option. It’s been three days since I last shaved and it’s startin’ to show.” Seth looked around and, spotting his boxers from yesterday on the floor, pulled them on. Then pulling open one of my drawers, he got out one of the old pairs I kept for him, so he could put it on after his shower. He slipped out the door, and then I heard the unmistakable sound of piss hitting the toilet bowl. I dutifully made the bed as I heard the sound of the shower starting up. When I heard the sound of Seth getting into the shower, I pulled on my own pair of boxers and grabbed a fresh pair to take with me. When I opened my door and started to head to the bathroom, I heard my dad call out, “You sleep OK, Asher?” “I slept great, Dad, but how did you know that it wasn’t me the first time the door opened?” “That was easy,” Dad said. “I know you, and you’d have never left your guest alone in your room. You’re too polite for that.” I hadn’t really thought about it, but he was right. It was just instinctual to stay behind and straighten up, giving first rights for the bathroom to Seth. Opening the bathroom door just enough for me to slip inside, Seth looked so sexy through the foggy glass of the shower. Popping up the toilet seat, I let loose into the toilet, then closed the lid and flushed. “Holy fuck, that’s hot,” Seth yelped. “You coulda warned me you were gonna flush,” Seth admonished me. Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “I’ve never been in here when someone else was showering, or vice versa. I didn’t know that would happen.” Getting out my shaving kit, I made quick work of the light stubble that was on my face. Unfortunately, although my hair was as black as both of my parents’, my skin was a very light brown – coffee and cream as they say. That meant that virtually any facial hair at all was apparent, so I couldn’t let shaving go for more than two or three days. I was only fourteen and most kids I knew at school weren’t even shaving yet. Of course, most kids I knew at school were Asian and probably wouldn’t shave for years if ever, and Seth was such a light blond that he might well never need to shave. As I contemplated this, the water turned off and Seth opened the shower door grabbed his towel and began to dry himself off. There wasn’t a lot of room for the two of us to maneuver in the tiny bathroom, so he stayed in the tub as he dried himself, trading places with me when he was ready. I turned on the water and began my shower as he put on his deodorant, blow-dried his curly blond hair, and brushed his teeth. When I was done washing, I dried myself in the tub, and had Seth sit down on the toilet while I put on my deodorant, brushed my wavy black hair and brushed my teeth. Donning our clean boxers and making our way back to my bedroom, we quickly dressed in t-shirts and jeans, and then joined my dad in the kitchen. He was just dishing up Cajun omelets as we sat down. “That smells wonderful, Mr. White,” Seth began. “Seth, I’ve told you before,” my father replied. “Mr. White was my father. Please call me Gary.” “Well, it does smell wonderful, Gary,” responded my boyfriend. “What is it, and what’s in it?” “It’s just a Cajun omelet,” Dad replied. “Nothing special. It’s three eggs apiece, some spicy sausage… turkey sausage, at the insistence of my doctor. There’s cut up green peppers, red peppers, onions, chilis, paprika, chili powder, cumin and ground black pepper. The bacon is turkey bacon, by the way.” Then pointing to the bottles, he added, “There’s ketchup and salsa for the omelet and the potatoes if you wish.” Being used to spicy foods all my life, I reached straight for the salsa, but when Seth started to do the same, I shook my head, and he instead reached for the ketchup. After taking a bite of the omelet, Seth moaned, and said, “Wow, that’s good! Like I was tellin’ Ash, you guys should open up a Cajun restaurant.” Laughing, Dad replied, “One restaurant at a time is more than enough for the two of us, with the emphasis on more.” “Yeah, but you’ve got all of Chinatown nearby,” Seth countered. “There’s nothing else like this food anywhere else in Manhattan. You’d clean up! “What you need are investors,” Seth went on. “With investors, it’ll be their money on the line… not yours. With investors, you could hire more help for the Asian restaurant, rent space nearby, perhaps north of Delancey or in the East Village, fully outfit your new place in a New Orleans theme, hire and train new staff and put together a menu of your best dishes.” “And I suppose you’re going to find me these investors?” Dad asked my boyfriend. “Actually, yeah. I know people, Gary. Actually, it’s my dad who knows people, and he can get you a solid group of people who won’t take advantage of you.” Shaking his head at my boyfriend’s brashness, Dad replied, “Seth, your father’s our state assemblyman. He’s a politician. Don’t you think it would look a little funny if his son’s boyfriend’s father suddenly opens a new restaurant using funds from your dad’s associates. There’d be allegations of kick-backs and corruption that your father can’t afford.” “I hadn’t thought of that,” Seth answered as he cleaned his plate. “I’ll have to ask my dad about it. There must be a way of setting it up in a way that he has nothing to do with it. If he can come up with a legal and legitimate way of funding your Cajun restaurant, would you open it?” Chuckling, Dad answered, “I won’t say ‘no’, but I won’t say ‘yes’. Something tells me you won’t let me say ‘no’, but I’m not going to hold my breath.” As Seth and I cleared the table and put the dishes in the dish washer, Dad asked, “So, do you boys have any plans today?” Whoever said that it’s easier to seek forgiveness than permission, didn’t know my father. He’d blow his stack if he came home to find that our stereo had been completely replaced by something new. We needed to tell him now, but in the right way. As me and Seth had discussed, we began with Seth telling my dad, “I just bought some new stereo equipment, and it’s gonna be delivered and installed today. That means I’ll have a bunch of equipment that I don’t need anymore. I was talking to Ash, and what I thought I’d do is to give it to you guys. It’s much nicer and newer than what you have now, and I could set everything up after the guys finish installing the equipment in my place.” Taking a deep breath, Dad asked, “If the old equipment is still any good, why are you getting new stuff?” “Because I’m a hopeless audiophile, Gary,” Seth replied without missing a beat. “I’m always looking for ways to improve the sound of my stereo equipment. I often buy new equipment, hoping to improve the realism of the sound, and then I sell the old stuff, but why sell it when you guys could get so much enjoyment out of it?” “If you were going to sell it, then Asher should pay you what you could have gotten for it, out of his allowance,” Dad answered. Oops. I shoulda known he’d say that. “Gary, there’s no need for that,” Seth replied. “I’m doing this as much for selfish reasons as I am for Ash. Like you and Ash, I love the jazz classics, and you have a phenomenal record collection. But listening to any of it on your old stereo is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. The tonearm on your turntable resonates at around 600 hertz, the platter wobbles, the speaker cones have gotten stiff and there’s horrible feedback between the speakers and the turntable.” “Yes, and there’s an intermittent problem with static if you adjust the treble on the left channel,” Dad added, “and I knew the Bose speakers were a mistake from the moment I got them home. I thought the direct-reflection technology would make them sound more open in a tiny apartment, but it only served to annoy the neighbors, and the sound isn’t very good. “I should have replaced the stereo years ago, but I was just too busy with the restaurant and once Asher came along, it was no longer a priority.” “It doesn’t do your record collection justice,” Seth continued. “Do you have any idea how much that record collection is worth?” “About a quarter of a million dollars,” Dad replied, utterly shocking me to the core. I guess I showed my shock, as dad said, “What, you think I didn’t know that? One thing I’m not is stupid. I’ve had the collection appraised every few years, and it’s fully insured. If things ever became desperate, I’d sell it in an instant to fund your education, but that would only be as a last resort. “Did you ever stop to think what it took me to put that collection together?” Dad asked. “I know… to you, I’ve always had it, but you have to remember that those records were cut decades before I was born. I started collecting them when I was about your age, Asher, but I could have never afforded to buy them from collectors and dealers. No, I had to resort to buying from garage and estate sales. Once I got my license and could drive, I scoured the countryside, looking for yard sales and people getting rid of their parents’ and grandparents’ old junk, not really knowing its worth. “The best thing that ever happened to me was when the record stores stopped selling vinyl. Everyone was switching over to CDs, not fully appreciating what they were losing in the process, but their loss was my gain. I went through hundreds of people’s old record collections, looking for hidden gems. That original pressing of Kind of Blue was something I picked up at a yard sale in Picayune for five dollars along with 24 other records… not just that one record. The people who sold it to me didn’t know what they had.” “Didn’t you feel like you were taking advantage of them?” I asked. “Son, I could have never afforded to pay market value for my collection,” Dad answered. “Besides which, it really isn’t the buyer’s responsibility to inform the seller of an object’s worth. If a seller misrepresents something, then yes, that’s fraud. But if they correctly identify an item for sale but fail to appraise it’s worth, then it’s their problem. The Internet may not have been around back then, but the woman who sold me Kind of Blue could easily have looked up its worth at the library if she’d only taken the time. She assumed that her father’s old collection of vinyl records was worthless and priced it accordingly. “So, you see, with as much time and effort as it took me to build my collection, it’s not for sale at any price. Someday it’ll be yours. I had hoped that you’d eventually pass it on to your children, but at least it’ll be there for your retirement, if you need it.” “Gary,” my boyfriend said as he came up to my dad, “We’re gonna have children. We’ve discussed it and we both want them. When we’re ready, we’ll probably adopt. We have every intention of passing the collection on to our children and maybe eventually to our grandchildren.” Wiping away the tears in his eyes, Dad said, “You don’t know how happy that makes me feel.” Then turning back to Seth, he asked, “so tell me about this stereo system you’ve bought for my son, and don’t give me any malarkey about giving him your old stereo equipment. I don’t miss much, and I distinctly remember Asher talking about how fantastic your stereo system is, but lamenting how he couldn’t play any records on it, because it was all digital and you didn’t even have a turntable. So, spill it.” Sheepishly, I admitted, “Busted!” “What the two of you didn’t realize,” Dad continued, “is that I’d already planned to buy a new stereo as a Christmas present for the family and particularly for Seth. I’d already priced a pair of LS50W amplified speakers and a Debut Carbon Esprit turntable. I hadn’t bought them yet, hoping I might find something for a better price on sale this Friday.” I was flabbergasted, and ecstatic. I flung myself into my father’s arms and hugged him for dear life. Seth, however, recognized that there was unfinished business. “The LS50 is a phenomenal speaker for the money, but the amplified version is a bit underpowered for your living room. And they really don’t have much of a low end, so you’d need to add a sub. The Debut is an excellent turntable, but for a hundred more, the LP7 is significantly better. Audio-Technica is known for making high-quality components at an affordable price. To beat the LP7, you’d hafta spend more than twice as much. “Gary, you were gonna spend a bit under three thousand, not counting the cost of the cables, setup and tax. For $3000, including cables, setup and tax, I got you a much better system. Further, it’s expandable, to meet your future needs. Expanding the LS50Ws would mean buying a lot more equipment.” “What exactly did you buy,” Dad asked, “and how in heck did you get it for less than I was going to spend?” “Well, I know of a great stereo place on Canal Street and have been buying from them for years,” my boyfriend answered. “They sell a lot of used equipment and if you know what you’re looking for, you can save a fortune. The only thing we’re getting you guys that’s used, however, is the amp, a Nova 300, which is still the current model and is less than a year old. The only reason it was returned is that, like with so many audiophiles, the buyer found something they liked better and was willing to take a loss. For speakers, we got a pair of R500s as a close-out floor model, for a steal. They’d just been put on display when the model was discontinued, so they’re essentially brand new. “The store provides a lifetime warranty on everything they sell, so if anything ever goes wrong, they’ll fix it, free of charge for as long as you own it.” “That’s all top-shelf stuff,” Dad noted. “Well, maybe bottom-shelf for you, but excellent quality at an amazing price. But of course, I must pay you back for it. It’s almost exactly what I was gonna pay anyway and I could never let you spend so much money on a gift for my son.” “But I want to get it for Ash,” Seth lamented, and then he put his foot in it by saying, “Besides, it’s not a gift.” “What do you mean it’s not a gift?” Dad asked. Of course, we ended up having to explain the nature of our bet. When we’d finished, Dad responded with, “Well, I don’t approve of such a bet, nor can I allow it, particularly when it’s so grossly unfair.” “What do you mean it’s unfair?” Seth asked. “I mean there’s no way my son can lose, and so it’s not really a bet… it’s a gift,” Dad answered. “You really think Ash will be able to tell the difference between vinyl and a high-resolution digital version?” Seth asked. “Of course he will, just as I would,” Dad responded. “Frankly, Gary, I don’t think you realize just how good digital audio has become,” my boyfriend admonished my father. “The digital signal processor that used to cost ten grand, can now be had on a tiny chip for under a hundred bucks. A high-end DAC such as the one in the Nova 300 can outperform the best analog circuitry from a few years ago. That’s one of the reasons I chose to go with an all-digital system. It significantly simplifies the wiring, reduces the cost and improves the sound quality. “I have to laugh when I see a kid shopping for vinyl in Barnes and Nobel at Union Square,” my boyfriend continued. “They’ll pick out and buy the latest LP from their favorite band. They’ll spend thirty or even fifty dollars for a record that was recorded digitally, edited, sliced, diced, and processed the hell out of digitally, and then converted to analog and pressed onto a vinyl disc. Not that I’d want the same album, mind you, but I can go online with HDtracks, purchase a copy of the original digital master for about twenty-five dollars, upload it to VOX and listen to it using my phone and my Dragonfly DAC, anywhere in the world in master quality audio. What really gets me, though, is when that kid uses a cheap turntable with a USB cable… a USB cable of all things, to play it through their laptop using a cheap pair of computer speakers or worse, a stock pair of earbuds.” “Today’s vinyl is crap… I’ll grant you that,” Dad agreed, “but nothing can touch a vintage vinyl record from the jazz masters.” “But with digital, you can take a bunch of vintage vinyl records of the same original recording, or you can take the original master, recorded using a reel-to-reel Apex tape recorder, and you can completely eliminate the effects of tape hiss, scratches, general wear and even original imperfections. You can recover recordings that were previously unlistenable,” Seth pointed out. “And I’m telling you, son, none of that can compare to a vintage vinyl record that’s been taken care of.” “Are you willing to bet on that?” Seth asked and my dad nodded his head. “OK, once my new turntable and your new stereo are set up, you choose the date and time, just so long as it’s not during school. You send me the names of five vintage vinyl jazz albums you have in your collection. I’ll make sure I have hi-res digital downloads of all of them. You select two tracks from each of them. The three of us will listen to each track in its entirety, first from one source and the the other, but in random order.” “Wouldn’t it be better to use an A-B design?” I asked. “No babe, ’cause you might pick up on clues as to which was which from switching artifacts rather than the music itself. It would introduce unfair bias,” Seth explained. “So,” he continued, “the three of us will listen to a total of ten tracks from five albums on two stereo systems. An independent party will switch the sources at random and record the order out of sight. Each of us will record our answers as to which source was which on paper. Each of us will be scored on accuracy. A score of 50% would indicate random chance and hence failure. 67% is one standard deviation from chance, so a successful test has to be at minimum better than that. I propose that we designate eight out of ten correct responses on either system to be definitive for the ability to differentiate vinyl from digital. Conversely, six or fewer correct answers would indicate chance and hence a negative result.” “Are you sure he’s a thirteen-year-old kid?” Dad asked, turning to look at me. “He was home schooled,” I answered. “Ah, I see,” said Dad. “So if we accept your…” “Metrics?” I suggested. “So if we accept your metrics, Seth, what should be the bet?” Dad asked. “You want me to make a wager with you?” My boyfriend asked, obviously as incredulous as was I that Dad would propose something so preposterous. “I can’t let something as absurd as your ideas on the superiority of digital music go unchallenged,” Dad explained. You proposed a bet in the first place and now you should stand by it. A friendly bet if you will. But I can’t let you give my son a new stereo system in any case. I’d already planned to give him one for Christmas and you mustn’t take that away from me. Either you take yours back or you let me pay for it.” With a smile, Seth responded, “That’s the second time in the last 24 hours I’ve been accused of taking away someone’s right to give, just because I can.” Then looking my father right in the eyes, he continued, “The last thing I want to do is to come between my boyfriend and his family. I think I got a great deal on stereo equipment and frankly much better than you could’ve gotten. Since the cost was virtually the same as you’d planned to spend, the best thing would be for you to simply pay me back for it. That’s fair. “Regarding the bet, I believe I have four separate bets with each of you… that each of you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on your stereo and on mine, and that I can tell the difference on your system and on mine. Four bets between me and each of you. And no matter what the outcome, it should be fair and even the loser should have fun… “How about this,” he continued. “For each bet I win with you, Gary, using my metric, you will cook breakfast for me for a month…” “But I usually do that anyway for Asher,” Dad protested. “How would that change things?” “Like I said,” Seth explained, “even for the loser, it should be fun. So, for each bet I win with you, I’ll get to have a month of sleepovers with my boyfriend, complete with one of your fantastic breakfasts… served in bed if I wish.” “What if I win?” Dad asked. “If you win, I’ll make deliveries for your restaurant for a month. I’ll need to buy a bike, so I’ll keep the tips, but I’ll work for tips only, and of course dinner.” Nodding his head, Dad replied, “Monday through Thursday, six to eight, during the dinner rush. I already have enough weekend staff.” Dad extended his hand and he and my boyfriend shook on it. Then Seth turned to face me and said, “Our deal will be the same as before. For each bet I win, you’ll make me dinner for a month. For each bet you win, I’ll make you dinner for a month. ’Course you’ll have to teach me how. Deal?” Comically, he extended his hand as if we were businessmen. I grabbed his hand, gave it a quick shake and then pulled him in for a kiss. “Hey, no fraternizing with your adversary,” Dad admonished me. Had it been anyone else, I’d have given him the finger and kept on kissing Seth, but I couldn’t exactly do that with Dad, so I just ignored him and kept on kissing my boyfriend until Dad left the room. <> <> <> “I can’t believe something that small costs five hundred dollars,” I exclaimed as I watched the guy from the stereo store plug a device that looked like a USB thumb drive into the back of one of Seth’s speakers. Laughing, the guy – I think he’d introduced himself as Tyrone – replied, “You should see some of the high-end in-ear monitors we sell. The only thing smaller would be if it was implanted directly into your brain.” That prompted Seth to say, “I am Locutus of Borg…” “From this day forward…” I joined in. “You will service… us.” Tyrone added, then we all high-fived each other. Tyrone, evidently, was also a Star Trek fan. “So, what I’m doing, gentlemen,” Tyrone explained, “is I’m plugging in an external DSP into the USB jack on the back of each speaker. The external DSP gets its power through the USB port, so it’s truly plug-and-play. That’s all there is to it,” Tyrone continued. “These DSPs are interchangeable too, so if you ever have a problem with one, you can try swapping it with another to see if that fixes it.” He then proceeded to move around the room, repeating the procedure with each of Seth’s seven speakers and two subwoofers. After he’d finished, he turned to Seth and asked, “OK, where are we going to put the turntable?” “Shit, I hadn’t thought about that,” Seth replied. “I guess I just assumed I’d work it in with the other stereo components somehow. “If I could make a suggestion,” Tyrone said, “there’s a lot of cabinet space under the TV. If you could talk your parents into moving their liquor someplace else, we could put the turntable there.” “That’s an excellent idea, Ty,” Seth replied. “If need be, I’ll buy them a separate liquor cabinet for Christmas.” Tyrone then proceeded to remove the liquor from the cabinet under the TV, and then slid the new turntable into place along with some electronic equipment. He connected several cables and then put a marked-up rubbery disc on the turntable and made some adjustments. “Now, we just have to reprogram your CPU to take advantage of the external DSPs,” he said as he got out a laptop and plugged it into another piece of electrical equipment, located under the TV. I wouldn’t have even known it was there, but Tyrone knew exactly what to look for. In no time Tyrone’s fingers were flying across the keys of his laptop. “The first thing I’ve gotta do is to upgrade your firmware,” he relayed. “This’ll take a few minutes.” After a few key-presses, he just stared at his computer screen. I couldn’t tell that anything was happening at all, but apparently Tyrone could. After a while, he said, “There, now that that’s done, I’m going to log onto your CPU and upgrade the software to the latest version.” This time I could tell he was on some kind of website, as he had a browser window open. “OK, the new software’s ready to install. This could take a while.” And then he punched some more keys, and the browser window went blank. Standing up and stretching, he said, “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for some water or something to drink.” “We don’t keep soda in the house,” Seth replied, “but I do have some natural juices, including cranberry juice, cranberry mango, cranberry peach, tomato juice, V-8, and aloe juice.” “Aloe juice?” Tyrone asked. “That sounds intriguing.” “Would you like to try some?” Seth asked. “Sure, why not?” Tyrone replied. My boyfriend poured each of us a glass, which we proceeded to sip. “Mmm… sweet, but not too sweet,” Tyler commented, and then he asked, “So, I hear you guys go to Stuyvesant. No offense, Seth, but you look way too young to be in high school.” “He was home schooled and he’s a year ahead of the rest of us,” I replied with evident pride. “He’s thirteen, but his dad’s a politician, so he’s much wiser to the ways of the world than the rest of us.” “You’re fourteen?” Tyrone asked, and I nodded my head. “I know you must get this all the time, but did you know you look exactly…” “Like Tiger Woods,” I interrupted. “Yes, I know. My mother’s Chinese and grew up in Flushing. My father’s African American and grew up in New Orleans. They met in Poughkeepsie, at the Culinary Institute of America. They own a take-out place on Grand Street.” “And Seth,” Tyrone asked, “With your last name and all, is your father THE Frank Moore?” “One and the same,” Seth answered. “He’s one of the most powerful men in Albany.” “Probably the next speaker,” Seth responded, “and then maybe he’ll try for Congress or the Senate. He’s kinda got his eyes on Schumer’s spot for when he retires.” “Hopefully not until you’re in college,” Tyrone commented. “It’d be hard on your relationship if you had to move away.” Realizing that he was talking about the two of us, I asked, “How in the world did you know?” “It’s pretty obvious from the way you two interact. And besides, Paul mentioned it before I left the store this morning.” “And here I thought you had gaydar,” I said. “My girlfriend would be surprised at that,” he replied. Then glancing over at his computer screen, he said, “Excellent… the new software’s up and running.” Then getting back on his laptop, he said, “all of the new DSP’s have been recognized and incorporated into the network, so I just have to reprogram the CPU to take advantage of their capabilities.” That actually seemed to take a lot of time as he kept tapping on his keyboard. “Now, it’s time to balance all the speakers.” He got out what looked like an array of fancy microphones – maybe nine microphones mounted on a square grid – and set it up on a tri-pod directly opposite the TV, just behind the sofa. There was a long cable coming off of the grid, and he plugged it into his laptop. “Please be quiet while the system tests the impulse response curve for each speaker.” Then there was what sounded like loud static coming from one speaker at time. Then he said, “Excellent. The curves are flat for all speakers across the listening area.” He then dismantled all of his equipment, including the laptop, and put it all away. “You are set, my friend,” he said to Seth. “Would you like to try out your new turntable?” “Of course,” Seth replied. I retrieved a small stack of records I’d brought with me from Dad’s collection, and selected the same Sarah Vaughan album we’d listened to the other night. Tyrone took it from me and showed Seth the ‘proper’ way to handle a vinyl record album, which of course he already knew. “Vinyl must be handled only by the edges, and by the center hole. The playing surface must never be touched by human hands. Now if you go to the main menu on your TV, you’ll see that there’s a new selection for ‘Turntable’, but you don’t need to select it for it to work. Simply putting on a record will cause the pre-amp to turn on and the CPU to switch to it.” Tyrone set the album on the platter and started it up. “This is a strictly manual turntable,” Tyrone continued. “That means that you have to set the needle into the groove by hand at the start of the record, and to lift it off the record at the end.” Tyrone then used the damped cueing lever to lift the tonearm, he moved it to where it was just hovering over the start of the record, and then he released the lever, letting the needle find the outside groove. Within seconds, the sound of Sarah Vaughn’s stellar voice was filling the room. I couldn’t believe how fantastic the music sounded on Seth’s new turntable. It was just sooo much better than on my old one. There was no way in hell that digital could sound this good. Echoing my thoughts, Seth said, “Let’s see how that compares to my digital copy.” Then turning on the TV, Seth maneuvered through a series of menus until he had the same album cover displayed, and then he pressed a button to start playing the digital version. I had to admit, it sounded pretty good – definitely better than it did on my turntable at home – but to me there was no comparison. The original vinyl recording from my Dad’s collection sounded like a true live performance. I could have sworn she was right behind the TV, and that Seth’s living room was a real jazz club. Even though the original recording was only in stereo, I could have sworn that the sounds of clanking glasses and silverware on plates were coming from all around me. This was what a live performance was supposed to sound like. The digital version was good, but it sounded flat in comparison. “Out of curiosity,” Seth said, “lets see how that compares to the DSD version I downloaded over the Internet a few days ago.” Seth then maneuvered through another series of menus on his TV, and pretty soon the same track was playing. Damned if I could tell the difference between it and my Dad’s vinyl, though. The same sense of realism was there. Perhaps not quite as vibrant, but it was much the same. “Of course, you wouldn’t expect there to be much difference between the vinyl version and the DSD. The vinyl recording is being converted into a DSD on the fly, after all. The only difference between the two is that the DSD you downloaded is DSD 128 and the version generated by your phono pre-amp is DSD 256, so the vinyl version is represented by twice as much data, but as you can hear, the effect is pretty much negligible.” “Our bet doesn’t include DSD downloads, does it?” I asked. “Perhaps it should, now that I have the option to download DSDs when available, but I wouldn’t do that to you. It wouldn’t be fair. No, the bet is between digital and vinyl. DSD is a hybrid and it shouldn’t count.” <> <> <> “Wow, I can’t believe this equipment,” Tyrone exclaimed when we got to my apartment. “This stuff is from the dark ages. And Bose speakers? Eew!” “They were considered state-of-the-art when my dad bought them,” I countered. “So was the eight-track tape player,” Tyrone responded, “but I wouldn’t want to listen to one of those either. Once we get the new stuff set up, you’re in for a treat.” Pulling the speakers off the shelf, he set them aside and said, “These go right into electronics recycling, as does the rest of your old stuff. No one would want them.” He seemed to look in horror as he pulled away the surge suppressor that was plugged into the wall. “This thing’s well past its prime. What you really need is a power line conditioner. It not only protects against surges, but evens out the flakey voltage fluctuations that are typical in older buildings like this one. Fortunately, I happen to have one with me. Paul figured you’d need one and told me to throw it in at no charge.” He then proceeded to plug it into our wall outlet, and immediately a series of lights lit up on the front of it. Then, he set the Nova 300 on top of it and plugged it in. Next came the LP7 turntable, which he set down next to the amplifier. He went through the same calibration procedure he had with Seth’s turntable before going on. Tyrone set one R500 speaker down on each side of the television, and got out several cables and some weird-looking wires and hooked everything up, including a fiberoptic cable from the TV to the amp. Once he was finished, he showed me the remote and said, “The only source buttons you’ll use are Opt-2 and Aux-2. Opt-2 is for the TV and Aux-2 is, of course, for your turntable. Your turntable is fully manual, just like Seth’s, and you’ll need to handle it the same way, but then so was your old one, so nothing has really changed there. “We need to set-up your TV to output sound only to the stereo.” Grabbing the TV remote from the coffee table, he turned the TV and cable box on, and then went through a series of menus on the TV until the sound was indeed only coming through the new speakers. I couldn’t get over how different the TV sounded. It actually sounded good. I hadn’t realized how terrible it sounded through the built-in speakers. “So, how would you like to try out your new turntable?” “I’d love to,” I replied. Seth handed the Sarah Vaughn album back to me and I immediately put it on the turntable and set the tonearm into the outer groove, but no sound came out. “You do have to remember to switch inputs,” Tyler pointed out as he pushed the Aux-2 button on the remote. Soon, the sound of her voice filled the room. No, it didn’t sound as rich as it did on Seth’s stereo. He had simulated surround sound, after all, which brought out the natural ambience of a live recording in a way the Bose speakers never did, but compared to the only way I’d ever heard the music before in my living room, it was incredible. It was the next best thing to a live performance. Tyrone was kind enough to take away all the boxes and old components when he finished. Seth paid up the balance in cash, and then slipped him an additional fifty-dollar bill as a generous tip for all the time he spent with us. It was nearly five o’clock when he left, and he’d been at it for hours. I showed my appreciation to Seth for buying me a new stereo by cooking dinner. We didn’t have time to go shopping, so I made a simple meal using ingredients I had on hand. I prepared a Cajun chicken and vegetable stir-fri, which he said was fantastic. Afterwards, we showed our appreciation for each other as we soiled another set of sheets. Doing laundry was definitely on the agenda for tomorrow.
  14. Altimexis

    Part 1

    “Ash, I can’t believe your parents are gonna be working on Thanksgiving!” Seth said as we walked past City Hall on our way home from school. Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving… after all, they own a restaurant.” “But who the fuck would want Chinese food on Thanksgiving?” Seth practically shouted as much as asked. “You’d be surprised,” I answered. “A lot of people are lazy, and then there are the young couples trying to make their first Thanksgiving dinner. When the turkey comes out tasting like shoe leather, guess what they end up doing?” It was a glorious late fall day with ample sunshine and the temperature was well into the sixties. Before meeting Seth, I would’ve just taken the bus home, but now that I had a boyfriend in my life, it seemed a shame to spend our time cooped up on a city bus when we could be alone together. It didn’t take much longer to walk home than to take the bus, and with weather like this, it was sooo much better to walk home with the boy I loved. “But Chinese?” Seth asked again. “Why not,” I replied. “You’ve tasted my parents’ cooking. You’ve tasted my cooking. If you’ve just made Thanksgiving dinner, and the turkey came out tasting like shoe leather, would you really want to be reminded of just how badly you fucked it up by eating turkey from a restaurant?” Imitating a much lower voice, I parodied, “No Honey, that’s OK. Why don’t we send out for Chinese from our favorite take-out?” “OK, I see your point, Ash,” Seth continued, “but does that really happen that often?” “Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “Thanksgiving is second only to Mother’s Day and Christmas in terms of our business every year. There’s no way my parents could take it off. At least they’re not asking me to help out… not yet, anyway.” “Your parents hafta work Christmas too?” Seth asked. “Haven’t your heard of a Jewish Christmas?” I asked. “If you’re Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, what else is there to do? Watch a movie and eat Chinese food. It used to be people went out to the movies and ate at a Chinese restaurant, but now they often stream a movie from Netflix and order takeout from us.” “But I was counting on spending Thanksgiving with you,” Seth said with a pout as we passed through the Dinkins Municipal Building and turned onto the footpath for Park Row. “Oh, so you were gonna invite yourself to spend Thanksgiving with me and my parents?” I asked in amusement. “Well yeah.” Seth replied. “My parents have been invited to spend it with the Governor, and I wasn’t exactly invited. It’s not like they have a choice. So, either I spend it alone or I spend Thanksgiving with you.” “But just because my parents have to work on Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean we can’t spend the holiday together,” I suggested. “We could even cook our own turkey.” “Are you serious?” Seth asked as a grin took over his face. “Of course I’m serious” I answered. “I’ve never roasted a turkey before. It’d be fun!” “But you do know how to make a turkey dinner, don’t you? I mean you’ve seen how your mom makes it, right?” Seth asked. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?” I asked. “My parents work on Thanksgiving. They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving. As far as I know, they’ve never roasted a turkey before… at least not that I can remember.” “You’re shittin’ me. You’ve never had a turkey dinner before?” Seth asked incredulously. “I didn’t say that,” I replied. “I’ve never had it at home, but the Good Stuff Diner makes a turkey dinner that I’ve heard it is second to none. Their apple walnut stuffing is incredible.” “The Good Stuff Diner?” Seth asked. “Not that I eat out very often, but it’s definitely one of my favorite restaurants in New York,” I replied. “It’s on Fourteenth Street, at Sixth Avenue, just north of The Village. It’s right next to the Y – M – C – A. It’s fun to eat by the YYY – M – C – A-A,” I broke into song. “Oh, that is sooo bad, Ash,” Seth responded, pretending to puke on the sidewalk as we passed through Chatham Square, walking by the statue at the foot of Chinatown. We turned onto Oliver Street, and then headed up Henry Street, toward home. We dropped our hands once we passed under the Manhattan Bridge. We were out and proud, but there was no reason to attract the attention of a street gang from the projects. “So, you’re gonna show me how much you love me by giving me food poisoning on Thanksgiving?” Seth joked. “Jerk,” I replied as I gave him a little shove to the side. “You know that I’ve been cooking for myself ever since I could reach the burners on the stove. Sure, I usually eat at my parents’ take-out. They expect me to eat there with them, but when they’re busy, I’d starve if I didn’t know how to cook for myself.” “My parents aren’t around either, but I never needed to cook for myself,” Seth countered. “And what healthy, nutritious things do you eat for dinner?” I asked. “Pizza, or a sandwich from the deli, or takeout from your restaurant.” “I rest my case,” I chided my boyfriend. “But seriously, if we do this, you’re gonna help.” “You expect me to make Thanksgiving dinner?” Seth asked in shock. “It’ll be a learning experience for the both of us,” I replied, “and if we don’t manage to poison each other, then maybe we can spend the night together.” “Seriously?” my boyfriend replied. “You think your parents would go for that?” “They might, but we’ll never know unless we ask.” I responded. “After all, they’ve always felt guilty about never spendin’ Thanksgiving together. I’d just be spendin’ another Thanksgiving alone otherwise. If there’s any time they’d allow it, this would be the time.” “Holy fuck!” Seth exclaimed. “That’s a distinct possibility,” I joked. “Doofus,” he replied as he gave me a playful shove to the side. We turned onto Grand Street, then headed into my parent’s restaurant. Mom was at the counter, so I greeted her in her native Mandarin Chinese, saying, “Good afternoon Mother.” “Good afternoon, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin, then turning to face my boyfriend, added in English, “Good afternoon, Seth. Are you boys hungry?” What a stupid thing to ask a couple of teenagers. “Of course we’re hungry, Mom.” “Then let me get you boys a snack,” she replied, “and send you home with your dinner.” As usual, she disappeared for only a moment, and then returned with a full plate of food for each of us and set them down on one of the few tables we had in the front of the restaurant. She’d obviously been expecting us. As Seth started to dig into his, before starting to eat, I looked up at my mom and asked in Mandarin, “Mother, Seth and I thought we might spend Thanksgiving together. We thought we could maybe make Thanksgiving dinner together too.” “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin Chinese, “but do you realize how much work it is to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?” “Yes, I believe I do, Mother,” I replied. “We will have to do our own shopping, and spend hours in the kitchen, and then clean up after ourselves too.” “If anyone can pull it off, you can, my son,” she replied, “but you must know that with so many dishes in the oven and on the stove at once, something is bound to go wrong.” “Nothing is going to go wrong, Mother,” I replied, “but even if it does, I know how to handle it. I know where to buy the best turkey… a fresh one… not frozen. I know where to buy the best ingredients. I know my way around Chinatown. And I’ll keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case.” Nodding her head and laughing, she responded in English, “Perhaps you boys should spend the entire holiday weekend together. You two have much work ahead of you, and it would be much easier if you didn’t have to go home at night to separate apartments. You will need each other’s support.” “Thank you, Mother, for trusting us,” I replied in Mandarin. “Of course I trust you, Asher,” she replied in English. “I trust your judgement and I know you and Seth respect each other. The two of you are together every afternoon after school, I know, and you have ample opportunity to get into mischief. I know I don’t have to worry, as you are responsible. I know you must want to explore your relationship and that is fine with me. I expect it. I know that if you are not at home, I can find you at Seth’s. I only ask that you get permission from Seth’s parents as well.” “Thank you, Mother,” I replied, and then I stood and hugged her tightly. Then in a gesture that really touched my heart, Seth got up and did the same. Noticing that we had finished our ‘snack’, my mom took both plates and said, “I’ll be right back with your dinner for tonight.” Moments later we were on our way, laden down with several containers of Chinese food for the evening. <> <> <> We’d agreed that we would wait until the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend the night with each other. It was just as well, as we both had a lot of homework and there were several term papers due before the holiday recess. Of course, we still spent our afternoons together, walking home when the weather permitted it, doing our homework together, usually at Seth’s, where we could enjoy the sunset together, and eating together with food from my parents’ restaurant. Occasionally I would cook a meal for us, and we’d stop on the way home to buy the necessary groceries. It was nice to have someone to cook for. So, it was that a few days later, we found ourselves walking home through Chinatown. We stopped in a seafood shop, where I picked up a pound of fresh shrimp, and then a butcher shop, where I picked a small but meaty chicken that was hanging in the window. Finally, I picked up a couple of bell peppers, an onion, a clove of garlic and some chilis, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes from a local market. “I still can’t believe your parents are OK with the two of us having sex,” Seth reiterated as we began our walk home from the market. “Yours are too,” I pointed out. “Yeah, but they’re liberal to the core,” Seth pointed out. “Your dad is practically a Republican, and your mom is so traditional.” “Both my parents are moderate Democrats,” I countered. “You know as well as I do that the Mayor’s totally incompetent, so you can’t blame them for voting Republican in the last election…” “Yes, I can,” Seth challenged. “In politics, sometimes you have to hold your nose when you cast your ballot if you want to get ahead.” “Well my parents aren’t in politics, nor am I,” I reminded Seth. “A person’s integrity is always more important than their party affiliation. And you can’t spend what you don’t have as the mayor does so freely. ’Course the Republicans used to be more responsible that way, but that was before they became fanatical about cutting taxes. Just the other day the Times had an article on how the IRS is leaving billions of dollars on the table, just ’cause they don’t have the budget to go after it. That’s not a matter of cutting waste… it’s just plain stupid.” “Yeah, but the Republicans wouldn’t keep New York as a sanctuary city,” Seth argued. “That alone is reason enough not to vote for them.” “And the Democrats would open the borders, taking in all-comers,” I countered. “I strongly disagree with what Trump has done with immigration, but we can’t take in the whole planet.” “But the Hondurans have no place else to go.” “Sure they do,” I responded. “Why not Mexico. Mexico’s not rich, but it’s not poor, they speak the same language. Why does it have to be the U.S. that takes them in?” “A lot of them have sought refuge in Mexico, but the gangs can still get to them there,” Seth pointed out. “In the U.S., there are support networks ready to take them in.” “With government assistance… our tax dollars… paying the way,” I replied in exasperation. “Look Seth, I understand what you’re talking about, but we can’t be the world’s savior. Unless and until the entire planet develops the resolve to put an end to war, famine, corruption and crime, there will be refugees. Look at what’s happened in Europe. The migration crisis has only fueled the rise of the radical right and fascism. If we take in all refugees, we’ll end up with a wrecked economy and environment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do what we can, but our resources are limited.” “But not even a wall can stop them from entering the country,” Seth countered. “Look, not even the Trump Administration’s deplorable policy of separating children from their parents has stemmed the flow. And it’s only gonna get worse with climate change.” “With climate change, someday we’ll be the refugees,” I declared. “All of Lower Manhattan will be under water, perhaps even in our lifetimes.” “Sadly, I have to agree with you there,” Seth stated as we entered my building and took an elevator to the ninth floor. As we entered my apartment, we both kicked off our shoes and, while I changed out of my school clothes, Seth headed for the living room and riffled through my dad’s record collection selecting music to suit the mood. One of the things we’d discovered about each other, besides our shared love of sci-fi in general and Star Trek in particular, was a shared love of the jazz classics. Not that we didn’t like rock music too, and classical for that matter, but the combination of African rhythms with European folk music had resulted in some of the most enduring music of all time. It was jazz that put American music on the map – not rock, not rap and certainly not hip-hop. Jazz was timeless. Soon, the unmistakable sounds of Billie Holiday filled the apartment. By the time Seth joined me in my room, I was already down to my boxers and socks. By the look of his stare, it was obvious Seth liked the way I looked in just my underwear, though I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. As he too got undressed, I tossed him and old t-shirt and a pair of shorts that I’d worn last year, which were way too small on me now, and I got out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt for myself as well. Heading to the bathroom, I slipped off my socks and dropped them in the hamper and Seth did the same. I much preferred barefoot to stocking feet, and Seth followed my example. Lifting the seat on the toilet, we both unzipped and let loose our streams, then I flushed and we both washed our hands. Back in the kitchen, I got out the rice cooker and other cooking equipment. When I placed a large pot on the stove, however, Seth asked, “What, no wok?” “Tonight, we’re having something totally different… jambalaya.” “Jambalaya!” Seth exclaimed. “Where the fuck did you learn to make jambalaya?” Shrugging my shoulders, I pointed out, “My dad’s Creole and from New Orleans. His Cajun food’s fantastic. I learned from the master.” “Why doesn’t your dad open a Cajun restaurant?” Seth asked. “He probably should,” I answered, “but the Asian restaurant is doing so well… he doesn’t want to chance it while he has a sure thing.” Putting his arm around my shoulders, he suggested, “What you need, my man, is an investor. There’d be very little risk to you if you use someone else’s money.” “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” I replied. “It might,” Seth answered. “My dad has connections.” “And how might it affect us if the restaurant fails?” I asked. “I’d rather not have that hanging over our heads.” “Well at least your dad could add some Cajun items to the menu?” Seth suggested. “He tried it once before,” I responded. “No one ordered any of it.” “They probably didn’t know what it was,” Seth replied. “Actually, I’ve never tried Cajun food. I have no idea if I’d like it.” “Then you, my man, are in for a treat,” I responded. Getting started, I set my boyfriend to work peeling potatoes and scrubbing carrots while I set up the rice cooker. I put the potatoes, carrots and tomatoes on a slow boil and had Seth peel the shrimp while I skinned and boned the chicken. I threw the chicken and shrimp into another pot and started the meat browning while Seth diced the bell peppers and chilis and I diced the onions and minced the garlic. Once the meat was brown, I added the peppers, onions and garlic and covered the pot. The smell was incredible. I drained the water from the vegies and threw them into a food processor, puréeing them to a bisque. Finally, I poured the purée over the stewing meat, added some spices, stirred the mixture, covered it and left it to simmer on low heat. Twenty minutes later, I scooped some rice onto a pair of plates, spooned some of the jambalaya mixture on top of it and dinner was served. The first thing that happened when Seth tasted it was that he moaned. “Oh, this is heavenly,” he said. “This is incredible. Your dad taught you how to make this?” “Well yeah,” I replied, “but it’s really quite simple. You saw… there were only about a dozen ingredients and it only took a few steps to make. And there’s enough left over for tomorrow at least.” “Maybe simple for you, but I could never do this,” Seth exclaimed. “I’ve never tasted anything like it before… anywhere in New York. You could definitely get investors for this. A small restaurant north of Delancey or in the East Village, and you’d be packed all week.” We were already on our second record album of the evening and when the music stopped, Seth got up and picked out another – our third of the evening. Recognizing it immediately, I said, “Nothing like a little Sara Vaughn in the evening, and nothing sounds better than Sarah on vinyl.” “Except Sarah in 24 bits at 192 kilohertz,” replied my boyfriend, touching off an ongoing argument we’d been having since we first discovered our shared passion for jazz. Sighing, I countered, “When it comes to the golden era of jazz recording, there’s just no comparison.” The golden era of jazz referred primarily to the 1950s and the early 1960s, when most of the jazz greats were still alive and high-fidelity recording was in its prime. We could argue about the merits of monaural versus early stereo, but we could both agree that the best jazz recordings of all time were made during about a ten-year timespan. I had to admit that in recent years, digital signal processing had made it possible to recover jazz recordings previously thought to be lost forever to time. In my opinion, however, digitally recovered music was a poor substitute for an original vinyl record in mint condition, and thanks to my father, I had an extensive collection of them. “You’re sitting on a six-figure collection, Ash, and for all practical purposes, it’s uninsured,” Seth reiterated for about the twentieth time. “That collection could pay for your college education, or it could be destroyed in a fire or by the next hurricane. Your dad’s original pressing of Kind of Blue could fetch five figures at least… and it’s just sitting there. But sell it to a collector and you could buy a whole ‘shelf’ of digital versions that will never degrade. Digitizing preserves them in pristine condition form for all time.” Getting up and grabbing the dishes to take to the sink, Seth followed suit in helping me to clean up after our dinner. As I sealed what was left of our meal in a plastic container and put it in the fridge, I argued, “In the same way that a lithograph preserves a Picasso, but wouldn’t you feel gypped if you went to a museum and all they had were reproductions? Like you said, I’ll talk to my dad about having his collection appraised and insured, but I’d be heartbroken if he sold it to pay for my education. Those records will last for decades. I’d like to be able to hand them down to our kids someday.” “Oh, so you’ve decided we’re gonna have kids?” Seth asked with an obvious tease in his voice. “I’d like to,” I responded, “but only if you want them too.” Throwing his arms around me and hugging me from behind, he kissed me on the neck and said, “Actually, I do want kids someday, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Miles Davis sounds much better on my stereo than on yours.” “And your stereo must’ve cost about, what, ten thousand?” I asked. “More like thirty thousand,” my boyfriend admitted, “but that’s beside the point. For an investment of about two thousand dollars or maybe twenty-five hundred, your stereo could sound nearly as good as mine, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital.” Sighing, I admitted, “My dad would never go for spending that kinda money, but if he would, I’d take you up on that bet, and I’d win it easily. I’d even be willing to bet that if you added a turntable of comparable quality as the rest of your system to your system, I’d be able to tell the difference too. I’d even be willing to take it a step further and bet that you could tell the difference.” “Oh, that’s a bet that’s just too good to pass up,” Seth responded. “We just hafta come up with a fair wager.” “But wait a minute,” I replied. “Isn’t it a moot point, ’cause there’s no way to test it?” “But we can test it, Ash!” “How, might I ask?” “That’s easy,” my boyfriend started to explain. “You know I get an allowance every month, but I don’t come close to spending all of it. I have more than enough to get you a decent sound system, and to add a decent turntable to mine.” “But I could never let you do that, Seth,” I responded. “My dad would never let you give me that kind of money, and he’d be right.” “Don’t worry about your dad, Ash,” he countered. “We could always tell him I got myself a new sound system and gave you my old one, and he wouldn’t know the difference. It wouldn’t be a lie either… not really. I’d be getting you a system similar to what we used to have, before we moved into the new place.” “Still,” I admonished. “What if we made your new stereo part of the bet?” Seth suggested. “Let’s say that if you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on both your new stereo and on mine, the stereo is yours, free and clear.” “And if I can’t?” I asked. “Most high-end stereo stores will let you audition their equipment in your home for as long as a month. So, if you can’t tell the difference on either system, then the equipment has to go back.” “And what’s in it for you?” I asked. Thinking for a moment, Seth replied, “If I win the bet, you have to cook me dinner every night for the rest of the year.” “Meaning the end of December?” I asked for confirmation. “Well, I was kinda hoping you’d take it to mean the end of the school year…” “In your dreams,” I replied, “And what if you can tell the difference?” I asked. “Then I’ll have to cook dinner for you ’til the end of the year.” “But you can’t cook,” I pointed out. “True,” Seth acknowledged, “So I’ll hafta let you teach me how to cook.” Since I’d been trying to get Seth let me teach him to cook since we met, that was just the kind of pot-sweetener I needed to seal the deal, and so I agreed, “You’ve got yourself a bet,” and then we shook hands on, and followed it with a kiss. <> <> <> Thanks to homework, it was actually two days later that we had a chance to go shopping for stereo equipment, so we could make good on our bet. It was also the Friday before Thanksgiving, and it was to be our first sleepover, as we’d be doing our grocery shopping for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Needless to say, we were both excited about what was to happen later, but first we had some stereo equipment to buy. When I’d suggested taking an R train to Union Square and checking out the sales at Best Buy, Seth laughed at me, and not just a chuckle either. It was a good full-body laugh-your-head-off kind of laugh. “Shopping at Best Buy for a stereo is like buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” Seth admonished me. “What’s wrong with buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” I asked, just not getting the analogy. “Nothing at all if you like wearing loud and obnoxious clothes,” Seth tried to explain. “Isn’t that the whole idea of wearing a Hawaiian shirt?” I asked. “When we get home, go on-line and look up Hawaiian shirts at Walmart.com versus The Territory Ahead,” Seth suggested. “It’s like the difference between metal and Mozart.” Like a lightbulb turning on in my head, I suddenly got it. “So, you’re sayin’ we aren’t going to find a decent stereo at Best Buy.” “You’d end up spending nearly as much money for a lot of features you don’t need or even want, and disturbing the neighbors with crappy sound.” And so that’s how we came to find ourselves spending a perfectly good Friday afternoon at a place on Canal Street, near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. It only took us about fifteen minutes to walk there from school. “This place is awesome,” Seth began as we looked around. “Most of their business is in rentals for parties, but they also do a phenomenal business in sales over the Internet. Their eBay store is renowned for their outstanding selection of high-end, used equipment, which is the main reason we’re here, and their service is outstanding.” Horrified at the thought, I practically shouted, “Used equipment? Won’t it be obsolete, won’t it be out of warranty? And if it was used for parties, won’t it be all banged up?” “I wouldn’t even suggest buying used party equipment,” a guy who looked like an aging hippie said as he approached us. “Seth, how you been?” He asked. “I’ve been great, Paul.” Seth answered, “Couldn’t be better.” “How’s the Bryston working out for you?” he asked. “It’s outstanding. Just what I needed. But we’re here today, mainly to look at equipment for my boyfriend, Ash. And maybe a turntable for me.” “A turntable!” Paul exclaimed. “With your setup, that won’t be easy… or cheap. You kind of burned your bridges when you went all-digital.” Paul and Seth bantered back and forth for quite a while, and I didn’t have the slightest idea of what in the world they were talking about. Finally, Seth turned to me and said, “It’s not gonna be so simple to add a turntable to my setup, Ash. My home theater is all digital. Each of my seven speakers and two subs has its own amp and DAC,” whatever that was. “It saves the complexity of running speaker wire between the amp and each speaker. Good speaker wire can cost hundreds of dollars per foot, and I’d have needed hundreds of feet of it.” “Holy fuck,” I couldn’t help but say. “What’s it made of… solid gold?” “The best stuff is solid silver,” Paul chimed in, “But most of what we sell is multi-strand, oxygen-free copper, which is a lot less expensive.” Seth went on. “With all digital, I only need connect each speaker to our home network using thin, inexpensive ethernet cable or WiFi, but that won’t work with a turntable. So, I either hafta to buy a phono preamp and connect it to the two front speakers and live without surround sound, or I could digitize the output of the turntable, but that would defeat the purpose of having a turntable in the first place.” “There is a third possibility,” Paul suggested. I have a phono preamp that can encode DSD and a digital signal processor that plugs into the back of each of your speakers, to decode it.” Noticing my confusion, Seth turned to me and said, “DSD is like FM on steroids… It might be a way to send the analog signal from a turntable over a digital network.” “Exactly,” Paul continued, and then turning back to Seth, he said, “As a bonus, the DSPs would add MQA, MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and extend your PCM to 32 bits and 768 kilohertz.” What the fuck was he talking about? “Not that many folks believe the human ear is even capable of discerning music to that kind of precision or frequency.” Laughing, Seth replied, “There are music critics who insist the human ear can’t discern anything better than the sixteen bits and 44.1 kilohertz used on audio CDs.” Laughing, Paul chimed in. “There are people who can’t tell the difference between a CD and Apple Music or Spotify. That’s what listening to loud music does to your hearing.” “Well I sure as fuck can tell, but how much is all this gonna cost?” Seth asked. “I can sell you the phono pre-amp for a grand. The DSPs list for $500 each, and you’d need nine of them. I could let those go for an even it $2500…” “How about $2500 including pre-amp,” Seth interrupted. “An even three grand for the phono pre-amp and the DSPs,” Paul countered. “OK,” Seth said as he nodded his head, “and what about a turntable.” “I have a barely used V12 that I could let you have for $8500.” “$8500!” I exclaimed. “And if it’s barely been used, doesn’t that mean it was returned because it was no good?” I asked. “On the contrary,” Seth answered, “a lot of audiophiles constantly swap components, trying to find the absolute perfect sound. But even at half price, that’s really quite a bit more than I intended to spend.” I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of spending $8500 on a stupid turntable, let alone $17 grand. “Frankly, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the V12 and an 11.1 on your system,” Paul suggested. “That’s still a $4500 turntable,” Seth countered. “Why would you spend $4500 on a turntable?” I naively asked. “All it does is spin records.” Two heads swiveled and looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted horns. I ended up getting a thorough lecture on why a turntable does so much more than spin records. I was sorry I asked. “The 11.1 lists for $4459,” Paul responded, “but I have a used one in mint condition, with a brand-new cartridge. I could let that go for only $2500.” “How about we make it an even five grand for everything?” Seth asked. Nodding his head, Paul agreed, “I think we can do that.” I could barely wrap my mind around spending five grand on a stereo system, let alone just to add a turntable. Then turning to me, Paul asked, “Now what can we do for you, Ash,” “Well, our stereo is my dad’s, and I think he once said he bought it in like the mid-eighties,” I answered. “That’s over thirty years old!” Paul exclaimed, obviously astonished. “It still plays?” “Surprisingly well,” Seth answered. “Other than the Bose speakers, it’s decent for the era, but his father’s record collection deserves much better. He has a huge collection of original jazz recordings from the fifties, including a first pressing of Kind of Blue.” “Do you have any idea what that’s worth?” Paul exclaimed. “Yeah, I do,” Seth answered. “So how much can you afford to spend on your new stereo system?” Paul asked. I started to open my mouth, but then Seth spoke up and said, “I told Ash we could get a decent stereo for around $2500, but that might not be enough to do that record collection justice. “You might be surprised,” Paul responded. “I think we can do something decent for two or three grand if we stick to used components… except for the turntable. In that price range, you just can’t do better than the LP7 for 800 dollars. “How about the TV,” Paul asked. “Is it mounted on the wall, or on a stand, and do you use the internal speakers or the stereo to listen to it? Do you have a blue-ray player or other devices connected to it?” “We have a Panasonic, a sixty-inch plasma, I think,” I answered. “It’s only a few years old. We have it mounted on the wall, but the only thing it’s connected to is the cable box.” “What’s on the other side of the wall, Ash,” Paul asked, “I’ve no idea,” I answered, “I’ve never been inside our neighbor’s apartment.” “So, it’s on a shared wall with your neighbor,” Paul asked and I nodded my head. “Your poor neighbors! The speakers in most TVs are very small and in order to move any air, they have to vibrate quite a bit. That’s just Newton’s first law…” “The conservation of linear momentum,” I interrupted. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Paul agreed. “And the speakers face backwards toward the wall, so the sound actually bounces off of the wall before reaching your ears. To put it mildly, your TV’s speakers do a much better job of transmitting sound into your neighbor’s apartment than into your own.” “Do you have any kind of streaming device such as a Roku, an Amazon Fire TV, an Apple TV or a Chromecast? “What are those?” I asked. “How the fuck did you watch Star Trek Discovery?” Seth asked. “I watched it on my Chromebook,” I answered. “I would definitely recommend adding a streaming device to your TV,” Paul responded. “It would add may options for streaming TV and music. You might even consider getting rid of your cable subscription and just subscribing to broadband and something like Sling TV. Where do you have your turntable, your receiver and your speakers?” “They have a set of wall-mounted shelves under the TV,” Seth answered for me. “The turntable and speakers are on the same shelf, and the resulting feedback is obvious.” “Ouch!” Paul exclaimed. “How much empty space do you have on either side of the TV?” “I dunno,” I answered. “Maybe two or three feet on either side.” “I think you should use a pair of floor-standing R500s on either side of the TV,” Paul suggested. “They’re a closeout model and on sale for $950 per speaker. We have a pair of them on display right here,” he added as he pointed to a couple of speakers that were nearly as tall as Seth was. “No sooner did we put these out than we got word the model was being replaced, so they’ve just been sitting here collecting dust. Customers don’t want to listen to a discontinued model. I’m willing to let you have the pair for $1100. To drive them, I’d recommend the Nova 300. It lists for $2200, but I have a used one that’s less than a year old that I can sell you for half that. I’ll also throw in all your interconnect cables and your speaker cables at no extra charge. That’s at least a $500 value. “So altogether, I’m offering you a complete stereo system that incorporates your TV too, for a total of $3000 plus tax. With in-home installation and a lifetime warrantee on everything we sell, you can’t do better than that.” “So, the total for Ash’s system and mine is $8000 even plus tax? How much is the discount if I pay in cash?” Seth asked. “I can absorb the tax if you pay me in cash,” Paul answered, “with half down today, check or cash.” “Great, when can you install?” Seth asked. “Next week’s pretty busy, as you can imagine,” Paul answered. “Everyone and their grandmother will be here for Black Friday, even though our prices always reflect the maximum discount and we guarantee our prices for a month. If we don’t install tomorrow, it’ll be at least another two weeks before we can get to it. Let’s set the installations for tomorrow starting at, say, 2PM?” I guessed we’d have to leave our grocery shopping for Sunday. “Fantastic!” Seth said as he pulled his checkbook out of his pocket and wrote out a check while Paul wrote out an itemized receipt. This was a whole other side of Seth that I was seeing. <> <> <> After spending the afternoon shopping for stereo equipment, I decided to treat my boyfriend to a nice dinner at my favorite diner, the Good Stuff Diner on Fourteenth Street. Getting there was easy – we just walked five minutes to the Canal Street subway station, took the one train to Fourteenth Street, and walked a block to the diner. My favorite table was free, and so we sat in the front window, where we could watch the passersby on Fourteenth Street. The restaurant itself is huge, going back the entire depth of the building, halfway to Fifteenth Street. “Did you see all the desserts?” Seth asked, practically salivating as we took our menus from the maître d. “Trust me, you won’t even want to look at the dessert case on the way out after you finish your dinner. Especially if you opt for the turkey,” I replied. Yes, the dessert case was very impressive, but I knew from experience that the portions were huge and I’d yet to sample any of the desserts. The menu at the Good Stuff is more like a book, with page after page of breakfast items, sandwiches, meals and deserts. I’d been planning to order the turkey dinner when Seth asked, “Are you sure you want to get the turkey dinner, when Thanksgiving’s less than a week away?” He did have a point. “Well maybe not,” I replied, “but everything on the menu’s excellent.” “The turkey dinner’s only $21.95?” Seth asked. “That’s a steal!” “The prices are quite reasonable here,” I agreed, “although some of the seafood is a bit pricey.” “Yeah, the broiled seafood combo is $31.50, but look at what you get! Shrimp, scallops, stuffed sole and salmon, along with a potato and vegetable, and soup or salad? I bet we could share a meal and still have food left over to take home. “Oh, these pastas sound good,” Seth exclaimed as he continued to read the menu. “I think I’m gonna have the chicken fettuccini basil pesto. It sounds yummy, and I still get a soup or salad.” “That does sound good,” I agreed. I was having a hard time deciding between one of the pasta dishes, the salmon burger deluxe and the turkey. In the end I decided on the salmon burger. “Good evening, gentlemen,” the server said as he approached our table, opening his order book as he did so. “What can I get for you this evening. Anything to drink to start the meal?” “Is your coffee really legendary?” Seth asked before I could say anything. “It’s very good,” the server said, but I made it a point to shake my head and finally, caught Seth’s attention. “I guess I’ll just have water to start with,” Seth responded. “I’ll have the same,” I added. “Do you boys need some time, or are you ready to order?” the server asked. “I’m ready,” Seth answered, and I nodded my head in agreement. “What are the soups tonight?” “Tonight, we have tomato, matzo ball, chicken noodle, minestrone and lobster bisque,” the server answered. My ears perked up at the mention of lobster bisque. My meal might not come with soup, but I was gonna have to have some. “OK, I’ll have the lobster bisque and the chicken fettuccini basil pesto,” Seth began. “And I’ll have a cup of the lobster bisque, followed by a salmon burger deluxe, with a sub of sweet potato fries,” I added as I handed back the menu, and Seth did the same. Taking my hand in his across the table, right in full view of anyone walking down Fourteenth Street, Seth said, “Did you realize that this is actually our first date?” Taken by surprise, I thought about it and realized he was right! “We’ve spent all our time together after school since we met, but this is the first time we’ve actually gone out for dinner together. You’re right, it’s our first real date.” Then I added, “I love you, Seth. I can’t believe how perfect we are together.” “I’m far from perfect,” Seth responded, “but I love you too, Ash. I never believed in soul mates before, but I sure as fuck do now.” “And speaking of fuck, I’m excited about tonight.” “Me too,” Seth agreed. “It’s gonna be awesome.” Just then our soups arrived along with a basket of rolls. Taking one of the hard rolls with raisins, I said, “Not that I need to fill up on these, but their rolls are excellent.” I took one and broke it open, buttering it before I ate it. Seth likewise took a roll, and then tasted the soup. I did likewise. “Oh, this soup is good,” Seth responded. “And you’re right about the roll. Both are great.” “I still can’t believe you bought me all that stereo equipment today,” I mentioned as I continued to eat my soup and rolls. “I bought it for you because I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Truth be told, your dad should have replaced your stereo decades ago. His old system just doesn’t do the music justice.” “My dad doesn’t like to replace anything until it’s broken,” I replied. “He’s frugal. It’s just the way it is. As it is, I’m gonna have a tough time explaining why it’s OK to accept your ‘old’ equipment as a gift from you.” “You can leave that part to me, Ash,” Seth replied. “I grew up around politicians and I know just how to schmooze someone without making them feel like they’ve been had. “And don’t worry about having to send it back if you lose the bet either,” he went on. “I still want you to have it. Cooking dinner for me will be more than enough if you lose.” “I still think it’s way too much.” “But I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Think of it as an early Christmas gift, or think of it as a Chanukah gift if you’d prefer… that way I can still give you a Christmas gift. Why have only one? “But seriously, I enjoy jazz every bit as much as you do, so now I’ll be able to enjoy listening to your dad’s records as they were meant to be heard, whether we play them at your place, or mine.” The server came to take our empty soup bowls and the bread basket. He brought me a plate with a pickle and a small cup of coleslaw. Technically they were part of my meal, but I proceeded to cut the pickle in half lengthwise, and spooned half the slaw onto the plate, which I passed to Seth. “Thanks, I love this stuff,” he said with an angelic smile as he ate his portion. I finished what was left in the cup and ate my half of the pickle. Perhaps I shoulda offered Seth the whole thing, but I loved this stuff too. A moment later, the server brought us our portions. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Seth said as the server set his plate down in front of Seth. The portion was huge. My dinner was equally big, with a salmon burger that was enormous – way too big to eat as a sandwich. “Feel free to take some of my fries,” I told Seth as I poured ketchup onto my plate, smeared lemon mayo on the salmon and then piled the lettuce, tomato and onions on top, making a sandwich that was far too big for any mouth to eat. “You’re joking, right?” Seth responded as he took spoon and fork and dug into his pasta. “Man, is this ever good,” he added. I used a fork and knife to cut my burger up into pieces small enough to fit in my mouth. The salmon was excellent, as always. “Out of curiosity, why did you shake your head at the coffee?” Seth asked. “Don’t get me wrong… I love coffee. I’ve just never found a diner that serves good coffee, and this is no exception. I don’t know what it is about diners, but the coffee isn’t even as good as what they serve in the cafeteria at school.” “Oh, that is bad,” Seth agreed. Even as big as the portions were, neither of us had any trouble finishing our meal, and I was thoroughly stuffed. I asked our server for the check, but when it came, Seth snatched it outta my hand. He might be better able to afford it, but I was far from poor and after what he’d already done today, I’d had enough. “Please, Seth, don’t do this man. I invited you out ’cause I wanted to share one of my favorite restaurants with you. Do you know how it makes me feel for you to swoop in and take that away from me? This one’s on me. It’s my treat this time… not yours.” “Well at least let me pay the tip, man,” Seth admonished me. Figuring it was fair, I responded, “OK.” Seth left a ten-dollar tip, which at 25% was frankly more than was warranted, but I wasn’t about to tell my boyfriend how much to tip. I took the check to the cashier and paid the bill. As we passed the desert case, I asked Seth, “Would you like to take something home with us for later? I’ve heard their bread pudding is the best anywhere.” “I don’t even want to look at food until tomorrow morning,” replied Seth. As we exited the restaurant, I suggested, “We could take the 14A across the street and it would practically take us door to door, but this being a Friday night, we’ll have to stand most of the way home and with traffic, the trip’ll take at least an hour. Or we could take an F or an M train to Delancey and walk home from there. I vote for taking the F or M train.” “Same here,” Seth replied. The entrance to the subway was right in front of the restaurant, so we descended into the world under New York City. It wasn’t long before a Brooklyn-bound F train appeared, and so we took it four stops, to Delancey Street. As we passed by Trader Joe’s on the walk home, Seth suggested stopping by to do some of our grocery shopping then, so there’d be less to carry home tomorrow, but the place was jammed. Besides which, I had much better places in mind for our Thanksgiving shopping. We headed to my apartment, ‘cause Seth’s parents wouldn’t be leaving for Albany until Sunday. Not only would we have to sleep separately in bunk beds at his place, but we’d have no privacy at all there. My parents would be home too, but not before midnight, and in my room, we could sleep together in a double bed, behind a closed door.
  15. Altimexis

    Trek or Treat

    Halloween in The City is nothing like what it is in the burbs. Kids making their way from house to house seeking treats just doesn’t mix with rushing taxis, Ubers and city buses. The only real “houses” in Manhattan are brownstones, which are almost unaffordable to all but the super-rich or those lucky enough to have inherited one. The vast majority of Manhattanites live in apartment buildings – 80% of them in rentals and for those who can afford it, condos and co-ops. Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, Bayside in Queens, Riverdale in the Bronx and Shore Acres in Staten Island are neighborhoods with stately homes that are known for their lavish decoration at Halloween and Christmastime, but those are in the boroughs. There are row houses in the boroughs too, but The City is synonymous with Manhattan – another world entirely. Asher White lived with his parents in East River Co-op, one of four cooperative apartment complexes on the Lower East Side. Built originally after WWII as middle-income housing for garment workers, they were still considered relatively affordable for Manhattan. Although they were surrounded by housing projects where tenements had once stood, Co-op Village, as it was called, afforded some of the most breathtaking views in all of Manhattan. Asher’s parents owned a small Asian take-out restaurant in one of the other co-op buildings, right on Grand Street. Not only were Asher’s parents able to walk to work, but although outrageous, the insider rate made the rent somewhat reasonable for Manhattan. However, Chinatown was just a 20-minute walk away, so the only way they could compete was based on convenience and price. Of course, the food was exceptional, and they offered free delivery within the neighborhood too. They did a very brisk business, but their margins were razor thin and they worked very long hours. As a consequence, they were never home, and young Asher was pretty much on his own. Their apartment was a very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom flat on the ninth floor, with a small balcony that overlooked a large playground and park between two of the co-op buildings. By craning his head, Asher could see a tiny sliver of the East River and the Brooklyn Navy Pier in one direction, and the Empire State Building in the other. As one might expect of restaurant owners, his parents had completely remodeled their kitchen and opened it up to the living room, giving the apartment a modern feel, but otherwise the apartment was pretty much as they’d found it when they moved in. The bedrooms were tiny with minuscule closets, and the one and only bathroom was barely large enough for one person to use it at a time. With college being less than four years away, the family had to live frugally and save every penny. Asher’s bedroom was hardly large enough for a teenage boy to sleep in, let alone spend any time, but his bedroom was precisely where he spent most of his time, playing video games on his computer and, increasingly, reading and watching on-line porn. He was fortunate enough to go to Stuyvesant High School, an elite city school located on the Hudson River, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center. The competition to get into one of New York’s elite high schools was brutal and if offered a slot, kids often commuted hours by subway and bus, every day. Asher was very fortunate in that regard, as all he had to do was to get on the 22 bus across from his building and get off at the other end of the route. Because admission was based on test scores alone, without regard to racial or ethnic background, the overwhelming majority of the students who attended Stuyvesant were Asian, and most of them lived in Queens. That made it very difficult for Asher to make friends, as very few of his classmates lived nearby. Making matters worse, Asher was of mixed race, with a Chinese mother and an African American father. A lot of the girls found his Tiger Woods appearance to be cute, but Asher wasn’t interested in the girls, and the boys looked down on his mixed heritage. The fact that he couldn’t afford to wear the latest designer fashions or to carry the newest iPhone didn’t help matters either. Without any friends, when Asher wasn’t in school, he could be found either at the Seward Park Library, or on his Chromebook in his tiny bedroom, seated at his tiny desk. Sadly, Asher’s social isolation was very recent. Although never a part of the popular crowd, he did have friends when he was in middle school. None of them were close friends, but at least they were kids he could hang with after school. However none of them went to Stuyvesant, and with different schedules and coursework, there seemed little point in getting together with kids whose lives no longer had anything to do with his own. Asher wasn’t aware of any kids his age on the Lower East Side who went to Stuyvesant, and so in the less than two months since school began, he had become a loner. The approach of Halloween left Asher with a dilemma. He’d assumed that last year would be the last time he went trick-or-treating with his friends. But the school dance was already over – not that he would have gone anyway – and with none of his classmates living in the area and given his social isolation, he wasn’t invited to any parties either. There were parties for teens he could have gone to, hosted by several youth organizations and by the two settlement houses in the neighborhood, but those were mostly attended by kids in the projects. He assumed he would have never fit in, and so he didn’t even consider going. The last thing Asher wanted to do was to spend the holiday alone in his apartment. That might have been the way he spent most of his evenings anyway, but somehow it just felt wrong to be alone on Halloween. Of course, there was the opportunity to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, but giving out candy on Halloween was optional in the co-ops. A lot of the residents were original owners who were elderly and frail. The co-ops had long ago adopted a policy in which giving out candy was strictly voluntary, and so his parents saw no reason why they should spend money on Halloween candy. Also, all of the younger kids went to a party down in the play room and did their trick-or-treating down there. On the other hand, there was still the option of going trick-or-treating by himself. He’d seen kids his age and even older doing it, although not many, but the thing that sold him on the idea was that most of the teenagers he’d seen trick-or-treating over the years had been alone. That meant he could get his candy and be out on Halloween without appearing to be a loser. He already felt like a loser as it was, but there was no need to advertise it. As a major Star Trek fan, over the years he’d dressed up as just about every major character from each of the television series and from the movies – everyone from James T. Kirk to Benjamin Sisko to Kahn. There was a new series on television, Star Trek Discovery, but it was only available by streaming with a subscription to CBS All Access. It had been hard enough to get his parents to subscribe to basic cable when the local stations stopped using the Empire State Building for their transmissions, but a streaming subscription was out of the question. In the end, he’d been reduced to binge watching Discovery at the end of the season using CBS’s free trial. Because of its limited availability, however, most people would have no idea who he was trying to be if he dressed up as a character from Discovery, even if it was one of the main characters. It was time to try something different – something not related to Trek. The thing was, even though he looked a lot like Tiger Woods, Asher had never actually dressed up as Tiger Woods before. He just wasn’t interested in sports at all, and especially not golf. But Tiger Woods was about so much more than golf. He was the first man of color to break into a sport that was the traditional bastion of white male privilege. He was a celebrity. He was a personality and he’d just staged a comeback. So, on the evening of October 31, Asher donned a white polo shirt, white khakis, a decent pair of sneakers and a light-weight jacket. The only props he had to buy were a sun visor, some golf clubs and a small golf bag. The clubs didn’t even cost him anything, as he was able to get a set of warped clubs for free. The clothes and props alone weren’t enough to define his character, but his combination of Asian and African American features made the costume obvious, especially when he smiled. Although there were four co-ops comprising Co-op Village, he only had access to his own East River Co-op, but with well over a thousand apartments in four buildings, that was more than enough. Only a fraction of them would be offering candy, but he’d have a hard-enough time visiting a hundred apartments, let alone a thousand. The physical layout of the buildings was definitely not conducive to trick-or-treating! Each of the buildings was comprised of three connected towers, each with its own set of elevators. The towers didn’t connect to each other, however, except on the ground floor. Hence each floor was comprised of at most six apartments, very few of which would be giving out candy. Taking the elevators between floors would have been an exercise in futility as he’d have had to wait several minutes, jut to go up or down one floor. Therefore, he took the elevators to the top floor of each tower in each building and walked down the stairs until reaching the ground floor. In order to avoid visiting every floor and disturbing the residents by accidentally slamming the stairwell doors, a sticker was placed on the inside of the stairwell door on each floor where someone was giving out candy. A small pumpkin was placed in front of each apartment with candy, making those apartments easy to spot. The logical thing would have been for Asher to start in his own building, in his own tower, where people might recognize him, but Asher definitely did not want to be recognized by his neighbors. Therefore, he decided to start across Grand Street and to work his way back, saving his own building for last. Grabbing his golf bag, which not only held his golf clubs and served as a prop, but also served for collecting his candy, Asher checked the battery on his phone, emptied his bladder one last time, washed his hands and exited his apartment, locking the door on the way out. He exited the building and crossed Grand Street at the light, and then used his key to enter the building across the way. Taking the first elevator he came to, to the twentieth floor, he got out on the top floor and seeing no pumpkins, entered one of the stairwells across the hall. He had to walk down six flights before he saw a pumpkin sticker, but there were three apartments on the fourteenth floor with pumpkins in front of their doors. Smiling and saying, “Trick or treat!”, he quickly had a pack of Reece’s, a couple bags of M&Ms and a Kit-Kat bar. Proceeding down the stairwells, Asher made stops on several more floors before reaching the ground floor. Already his golf bag was noticeably heavier than when he’d started, and there were two more towers to go, just in this building! Heading to the lobby, the next set of elevators was directly behind the doorman’s desk. Again, Asher worked his way down from the top floor, more than doubling his stash. Finally heading to the other end of the building, he took an elevator to the top and was pleased to see a pumpkin at the end of the hall. Knocking on the door, he was greeted by a smiling boy with the curliest blond hair and greenest eyes he’d ever seen. The kid looked like a young teen – probably thirteen, but he could have easily passed for twelve, and he was wearing a T-shirt with the Star Fleet insignia used in the original Star Trek series. Asher was so taken by the boy in front of him that he jumped right in, without even saying ‘trick or treat’. “You’re David,” he began, “Kirk’s son from The Wrath of Kahn and The Search for Spock, right?” Grinning widely, the kid replied, “Man, everyone gets that it’s a Star Trek character, but you’re the first person tonight to recognize exactly who I am!” Then getting a more serious look on his face, he said, “You’re Asher, right?” Taken aback, Asher responded, “Otherwise known as Tiger Woods but, yeah. How do you know my name?” “’Cause we have Biology together, and World History, and Gym,” the boy answered. “And I’ve seen you on the M22, riding to and from school.” “You go to Stuyvesant?” Asher asked, and the boy nodded his head in the affirmative. “How come I’ve never seen you before? You new to the neighborhood?” Shaking his head, the boy replied, “I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve always been home schooled.” Then lowering his voice, he added, “My dad didn’t think the city schools were good enough. Obviously, my parents did a good job, or I wouldn’t have gotten into Stuyvesant.” “But there’s a lot of choice in schools,” Asher pointed out. “I went to grade school and middle school in The East Village. The schools were excellent, and I got into Stuyvesant too,” he added, sticking out his tongue. “But how come you noticed me when I didn’t notice you?” “You’re just not observant,” said the boy as he stuck out his own tongue. “Actually, I’d noticed you around the neighborhood before, and so I recognized you in some of my classes. After all, there aren’t that many black kids at Stuyvesant. And of course, I saw a lot of you in Gym,” he added as he colored up deeply. Asher couldn’t help but notice how cute the boy was when he blushed. “In other words, you just noticed my hot bod, you perve,” Asher responded as he himself colored up. That only made the boy blush even deeper. “In your dreams,” replied the boy. Just then, the elevator dinged and a group of five kids, who looked like fourth or fifth graders, got off the elevator. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can talk some more between groups of kids,” the boy suggested, and Asher shrugged his shoulders. “Just grab a seat in the living room,” the boy added. Definitely wanting to get to know the boy better, and realizing he could use a friend, particularly one who went to his high school, Asher hoisted his golf bag onto his shoulder, stepped around the boy and walked through the open apartment door. Looking around, he spotted the living room to the left and headed for it, past a series of built-in bookcases. Before he could even sit down, he stopped dead in his tracks and just stared out the picture window, straight ahead. “Pretty neat view, isn’t it?” the boy said as he walked up beside Asher. “I’ve always lived in the co-ops, but we just moved into this apartment over the summer. We used to live in a large two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on a lower floor over in Seward Park. It didn’t even have a balcony, let alone a terrace. We saw this one when they had an open house and we fell in love with the view, even though it only has one bedroom and one bathroom. My parents made an offer on the apartment next to this one, hoping to break through the wall between them, but the owner wouldn’t sell at any price. They tried again with the apartment behind us and the one below us, but still no sale, so this is all we’re gonna have for the foreseeable future. But with a view like this, I don’t care if I hafta sleep in a closet. Besides, in four years I’ll be in college anyway.” “Speaking of which, where do you sleep?” Asher asked. “Come… I’ll show you,” the boy answered as he grabbed hold of Asher’s hand and dragged him away from the window. Directly across from the bathroom and next to the bedroom was what appeared to be a large linen closet with bi-fold doors. However, the boy opened the doors to reveal a tiny bedroom that was literally carved out of what had been a closet. There were two narrow bunk beds above that reminded Asher of pictures he’d seen of old Pullman railroad cars, and there was chest of drawers below, as well as a small desk with a MacBook Pro laptop on top of it. There were some shelves and closet space in the alcoves at both ends that were crammed with the boy’s clothes to the point that Asher wondered how he could find anything. There wasn’t even a window and there wasn’t room to climb up to the beds or to sit at the desk without the doors being open. It was a bedroom in a box. “This is amazing, but you can’t even get dressed in privacy,” Asher commented. “My parents are never around anyway, so I have the entire apartment to myself. I can run around in the nude if I want and no one will be the wiser.” “I can relate to that,” Asher responded knowingly. “You mean to running around in the nude?” the boy asked with a smirk. “No doofus,” Asher replied as he colored up. “I meant that my parents are never home. They own a restaurant on Grand Street, so they work from early in the morning to late at night. Like you, I’m pretty much on my own.” Just then there was a knock on the front door and the boy went to take care of another group of trick-or-treaters. When he came back, he was carrying the pumpkin that had been in front of the door. With a devious smile, he said, “Now, we don’t have to worry about being disturbed by any more trick-or-treaters.” He then set the pumpkin down on the kitchen counter. “What do your parents do,” Asher asked, “and why are you stuck here alone giving out candy tonight?” Straightening up and getting an obviously exaggerated haughty look on his face, the boy replied, “My dad is your state assemblyman, and my mom is his assistant and campaign manager. “And as to why I’m left here alone to give out all the candy, it’s ’cause there’s a little thing coming up in less than a week called the election. Not that my dad’s in any real danger of losing in a district with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, but as I’m sure you know, the mid-terms are a big deal this year. My dad’s convinced we can win back the House and there are a few seats Upstate that are very likely to flip. My parents are at a costume party fundraiser to help make that happen. It’s also a good way to make the connections he’ll need when my dad makes his own run for Senate, when Schumer retires.” Suddenly Asher knew exactly who the boy was, even though he still didn’t know his name. “Your dad is Frank Moore?” he asked. “Guilty as charged,” the boy answered. “Assemblyman Frank Moore, his wife, Dr. Julie Donahue Moore, and their son, Seth.” “Seth,” Asher repeated. “And I was getting used to just thinking of you as, ‘Hey You’.” Both boys laughed, and Seth replied, “I guess my role as host needs improvement.” Then taking hold of Asher’s hand, he said, “Come let me show you the view.” Running back into the living room, Seth pulled Asher through a glass door at the end of the living room, out onto a very long and narrow terrace. It was maybe only five or six feet deep, but it ran the entire length of the living room, making it enormous. To have any outdoor space at all in Manhattan was extraordinary, but a terrace of that size and with such a spectacular, unobstructed view was almost unheard of. Standing together and still holding hands, Asher could see all of lower Manhattan, and much more than that too. To the left was the start of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which he could see from his own apartment, but in addition to the tiny piece of the East River he could see at home, from Seth’s terrace he could see all of New York Harbor, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the foreground. Then noticing a glimmer of green and gold through the right side of the Manhattan Bridge, he asked Seth, “Is that the Statue of Liberty?” Grinning back at Asher, Seth answered, “Very good, Ash. Most people don’t notice it unless the sun’s shining right on it, but yeah!” Asher couldn’t help but grin back. Continuing to take in the view, the financial district was right ahead, with the World Trade Center towering above it all. To the right was what people referred to as the Lego Building, which looked like a narrow apartment tower made up of jumbled Lego blocks, and to the right of that was the vast project under construction at Hudson Yard, and then the unmistakable buildings around Union Square. Then there was the emerging Essex Crossing development with the new Trader Joe’s, Target and the subway station. Further to the right were several tall buildings that he knew were on Delancey and on Houston Street, including a new one that was being built right on top of the world-famous Katz’s Deli. And to the right of that was the unmistakable profile of the Empire State Building, the only other landmark that he could see from his own apartment. “Wow, this is really something!” Asher exclaimed. “I can’t imagine what this must’ve cost.” “Just shy of a million,” Seth responded. “Ours is supposedly worth about half that,” Asher replied. “True, we have two bedrooms, but we have a tiny balcony, and our view’s nothing like this. “I’d be willing to bet you could get more for your place than that, especially with two bedrooms. Our old place went for over a million, even though it had no balcony and no view, but it did have two bedrooms and two renovated bathrooms, a renovated kitchen and nearly double the space. This terrace is nice and the view’s fantastic, but you can’t put your kid out on the terrace.” “Apparently you can put them in a closet,” Asher countered. Lowering his voice, Seth responded, “Technically my bedroom’s not legal. A bedroom has to have a window at the least. Of course, we coulda made it legal by removing the doors, but then I wouldn’t’ve had any privacy at all. We got away with it because we told the management we were just remodeling a closet, which was technically true. We didn’t even get a building permit for the work. “But I don’t mind sleepin’ in a closet, just so long as I don’t hafta live in one. After all, I’ve been outta the closet since I was twelve,” he added with a mischievous smile. Asher couldn’t help but wonder if he meant it literally or figuratively. “Look at this view, man,” Seth continued. “In the summer, the sun sets right down the middle of Grand Street, and at the fall equinox, it sets behind the World Trade Center. I’m guessing that at the winter solstice, it’ll set right over the water. The sunsets are spectacular, but so are the sunrises. Even though the sun rises behind us, the fiery glow reflects right off the windows of the buildings in front of us, and the bright orange glow of the entire skyline against a dark blue sky is unbelievable. “And when they have fireworks over the bridges, it’s incredible. We missed the July Four fireworks this year, and I hear they had them up-river anyway, but they had an impressive display for Columbus Day. It was awesome. “It’s worth sleepin’ in a closet for this view. I’ll never tire of this view. Even when it’s raining or snowing outside, it’s still beautiful. Besides which, who spends their time in their bedroom anyway.” “I do,” Asher sadly admitted. “What a shame,” Seth responded. “You have all of New York at your doorstep, and yet you spend all your time alone, holed up in your room? The student bus pass will get you all over the city. You could go to the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, or to the Metropolitan Museum and the Cloisters. There’s MOMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, Lincoln Center, Times Square and Central Park. And if you get an NYC ID card, you can get free memberships for all the museums for a year, and even after that, most of them have student rates or will let you donate what you can afford for entry. Or you could go as my guest.” Both boys were silent for a while as they just leaned against the railing of the terrace and stared at the skyline in front of them. Finally, Seth turned back to Asher and said, “It must get pretty lonely, holed up in your bedroom alone.” Asher couldn’t help it as a tear escaped his left eye and ran down his cheek. The boys were still holding hands and so Seth used his left hand to wipe the tear away. “I really hope we can spend some time together, Ash,” Seth went on, “but I should probably tell you that I meant what I said about being out of the closet. I’m gay, Ash, and I like you… a lot. I hope that doesn’t bother you, but I was kinda hoping you’re gay too.” Turning a brilliant scarlet, he went on, “Yeah, I like how you look in the showers, but it’s your face in particular that attracts me… and your intelligence. Not only are you one of the cutest boys in school, but when you speak up in class, you’re always insightful. You don’t just say stupid shit to look good in front of our classmates. You say stuff that adds to the discussion… the sort of things I wish I had thought to say. And you have a dry, wicked sense of humor. You recognize the irony in things and have a way of bringing out the humor in them without making it sound like a joke.” Sitting down in one of the chairs on the terrace, Asher sheepishly admitted, “Wow! Yes, I’m gay too… but you’re the very first person I’ve ever told. I have no intention of coming out, though. My parents would freak if they knew.” Then looking up at Seth, he continued, “The only reason I haven’t noticed you in class was because I was so wrapped up in my own problems and fears that I didn’t really pay attention to anyone else. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’ve been a self-centered jerk.” “I think that’s a good part of the definition of puberty,” Seth responded with a chuckle, “but seriously, there really wasn’t any reason for you to notice me before now.” “Yeah there was,” Asher countered. “For one thing, you’re the cute one. I can’t believe I never noticed you in class… or in the showers for sure.” “Let’s face it, I look young for a high school freshman,” Seth countered. “I am young. I’m only thirteen and won’t be fourteen until next May. I don’t even have my pubes yet. I’m so much shorter than everyone else, it’s no wonder you didn’t notice me!” “Yeah, but age doesn’t matter when it comes to smarts,” Asher countered, “and if anything, you’re tall for your age, so I expect you’ll catch up by next year. “You’re obviously very intelligent to get into Stuyvesant a year earlier than me, and the fact that you’re really into Trek elevates you above 99% of the rest of the kids in school.” “It’s a shame that not so many kids care about Trek any more. Everyone’s into Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and DC and Marvel comics… all the fantasy stuff. I like sci-fi ’cause it could be real someday, you know?” “Yeah, I do know,” Asher agreed. “So, what do you think of the Star Trek reboot, and have you been watching the Discovery series?” “Don’t get me wrong,” Seth began, “J. J. Abrams has done a fantastic job with the franchise, but why do they keep having to destroy things? They’ve managed to trash the original Star Ship Enterprise, twice, the Enterprise A, the Enterprise C and the Enterprise D, but is that enough? Nooo, they have to destroy Vulcan itself, so they can change the timeline and start all over again. Killing off billions of Vulcans in the name of a fresh start is wrong, man.” “Yeah, but I can understand why they did it,” Asher countered. “When I go back and watch the original series, the tech looks ridiculous. They really did need to update it to look more like the twenty-second century ought to look, given what we know about tech today.” “But destroying Vulcan went way too far. They shoulda let the original alone and just kept on with the Next Generation timeline, you know?” “Yeah, I agree with you, but look what happened with Enterprise,” Asher challenged. “They had to make it consistent with the original series with all its faults, and so it never did catch on. I didn’t like what they did with destroying Vulcan, but the reboot really does open up the series for development in the past as well as the future.” “Enterprise flopped ’cause it was beating a dead horse,” Seth countered. “They shoulda just stuck to the TNG timeline, but they wanted to try a prequel, and it coulda been great! But instead of sticking with Trek cannon, they decided they needed to do something new, so right off the bat they introduced the Temporal Cold War, and when that didn’t bring viewers, they concocted the Xindi and wiped Florida off the map. Four seasons wasn’t exactly a flop, mind you, but the series didn’t resonate with Trekkers. It was too contrived.” “Revisionist time lines can’t help but alienate viewers,” Asher agreed. “It’s one thing to create and fix a temporal rift, like in City on the Edge of Forever, or Yesterday’s Enterprise, but throwing out everything we thought we knew about Trek… that’s just stupid. “Star Trek and Beyond was good, real good, but Into Darkness was absurd,” Asher continued. “If the Federation really did develop all that advanced tech back then, why in the world would they have lost it. And Kahn might have had superior intelligence, but why couldn’t a whole team of scientists have done the same thing? It was just so… contrived, as you said. You know?” “Yeah, and you see that with Discovery too,” Seth agreed. “I mean it’s a prequel and it was cool to see how they interwove known Trek lore into the plot, and I loved the way they made Spock’s half-sister the main character, but some of the tech was just so advanced, you know? Some of that shoulda survived into the subsequent series. Contrived is the right word for it. Still, I can’t wait for it to come back this spring.” “If only,” Asher lamented. “No way my parents will go for subscribing to CBS All Access, so I’ll have to wait ’til the end of the season again and binge watch it with a free trial.” “Not if you watch it with me,” Seth suggested as he wiggled his eyebrows. “Seriously, we can watch it together when my parents are away. You could even sleep over if you want.” “They’ll let you have friends stay over when they’re away?” Asher asked in surprise. “They trust me, Ash,” Seth answered. “I’ve never given them reason not to. They know I’ll never throw a party without their permission, and they know I’ll be responsible when I have a boyfriend over,” he added as he colored up. A moment of silence passed, and then what began as a chuckle for Asher became a full-fledged laugh. “What’s so funny?” Seth asked. Asher answered, “I think this is the part where we’re supposed to turn and look into each other’s eyes, our lips are supposed to magically come together, our tongues are supposed to end up exploring each other’s tonsils and then fireworks should erupt over the Brooklyn Bridge any moment now. Then we’re supposed to have wild passionate sex right here on your terrace. At least that’s what’d happen in your typical story on the Nifty Archive.” “So, you read that junk too,” Seth replied with a hearty laugh of his own. “Actually, there are much better sites on the Net for gay fiction than Nifty… sites like GayAuthors and IOMFATS.” “Not to mention AwesomeDude and Codey’s World,” Asher added. “Yeah, I know, but Nifty seemed more… entertaining for what I was thinking.” “You mean about having wild passionate sex out here in the open?” “Yeah, and maybe we will… later,” Asher replied with a blush. “Much later. For one thing, it’s too cold out here.” “At least you’re wearing a jacket,” Seth agreed as he gave an involuntary shiver, sat down next to Asher and wrapped his arms around his body. Asher responded by putting his arm around Seth and pulling him close to his own body. Immediately the mood shifted, and neither boy was feeling cold anymore. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Seth responded. “I’ve been crushing on you since school started, and here we are, cuddling together on my terrace and lookin’ at this view. “Yeah,” Asher responded, “This is nice. Here I’ve been feeling so alone, spending all my time by myself in my bedroom. Now, maybe I’ve found a friend… a close friend. I really like you, Seth. We seem to have a lot in common.” “I like you too, Ash. I think we’re already close friends. Maybe this is even the start of becoming boyfriends.” “’Course if this was a Nifty story, this bein’ Halloween and all, one of us would turn out to be a zombie tryin’ to eat the other’s brains out, or possessed by a ghost tryin’ to steal the other’s soul.” Rather than reply, Seth turned and brought his lips toward Asher’s, gently kissing him. “Nope, neither of us is dead or undead.” He then initiated another kiss and this time Asher kissed him back. Pulling each other into a tight hug, the kiss deepened and what started out as a tentative gesture of affection turned into a full-blown make-out session. When they finally came up for air, Seth said, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you recognized my character.” “I’ve been wanting to do that since you answered the door,” replied Asher. After an awkward moment had passed, Seth suggested, “I seem to have a lot of candy left over. You wanna help me polish it off?” With a wicked grin, Asher responded, “Can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween than munchin’ on candy and makin’ out.” Once inside, Seth grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms and a bag of Reece’s glow-in-the-dark peanut butter cups and poured them out into a big bowl. Setting it down on the kitchen table, he and Asher sat next to each other and started to devour the candy. “So, I know you like Star Trek, but what do you think about Star Wars?” Asher asked Seth. Chuckling, he answered, “If you looked at my Blu-ray collection, you’d think I’m a fanatic. I have steel book versions of all ten movies, with the most recent ones in 4k HDR and 3D, but when it comes to Trek, I have all the movies, all six TV series including the animated one, I’ve pre-ordered the first season of Discovery, and I’ve got whole bookshelves of Trek books. There’s no comparison. I don’t have any Star Wars books. “The thing is, Star Trek is true science fiction. Everything in Trek is plausible. It seems real. The first-released Star Wars film, Episode IV, A New Hope, was more like that. It was real sci-fi. Even The Force was introduced as sort of a collective consciousness shared by all living things. It was in all the subsequent episodes that it took on more of a mystical role, which made the whole series more science fantasy than fiction. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed watching every movie, particularly because of all the tech, but it’s no Star Trek.” “I couldn’t agree more,” Asher stated as he munched away. “But even Trek has taken largess with science, particularly with all the altered timelines.” “A lot of cosmologists believe in alternative timelines, you know.” Seth countered. “Yes, and I understand the ‘Many Worlds’ hypothesis and why it’s gained in popularity,” Asher responded. “It fits nicely with String Theory, but there isn’t exactly a way to test it. Even if it’s true, the way I see it, the many worlds concept really only works at the quantum level. The concept of multiple realities or altered realities is truly the stuff of science fiction. It’s a pretty big leap in going from any and all possible quantum states of subatomic particles, to people being both dead and alive in different realities of the universe, Schrodinger’s Cat notwithstanding. If every random event leads to every possible outcome, how can you determine what’s real from what’s not?” “But that’s just it,” Seth disagreed, “Everything is real in the Many Worlds hypothesis. All possibilities exist, side-by-side.” “Which would infer that there are millions upon millions of alternative universes with me and you in them, but in slightly different situations, and there are a far larger number of universes in which we were never born.” “All things are possible in the vast infinity of space and time,” Seth pointed out. “But space and time are not infinite,” Asher countered. “The Universe arose from a singularity and unless our understanding of the Big Bang is wrong, there can never be more matter and energy in combination that there were at the moment of the Big Bang.” “Fuck, you’re right,” Seth realized, “but that has implications for the Many Worlds hypothesis too. No matter how many outcomes there are, the number will always be finite, which means that even if every outcome occurs, the number of universes will be finite, too.” “And there’s more,” Asher went on. “The conservation of mass and energy still applies, so even if all outcomes occur, it cannot increase or decrease the number of universes without affecting the mass of each universe. In other words, the number of universes has to remain fixed and therefore each random outcome has to be balanced by an equal and opposite outcome.” Nodding his head, Seth replied, “That makes sense, but it could lead to some pretty bizarre consequences… You know there was a really neat story where everyone on earth disappeared at once except for two boys…” “Yeah, that was on AwesomeDude, right?” “I take it you read it?” Seth asked. “Once again, we seem to have the same interests,” Asher answered with a grin. “You know, I really liked that story, but there’s a fundamental flaw in the logic. The idea that a person could simply vanish without a trace must be due to proton decay, which is hypothetical to begin with. The theoretical half-life of a proton is…” “somewhere around ten to the thirty-second and ten to the thirty-seventh power in years, I think I read,” Seth interjected. “Good memory, and right! But the universe is only about…” “Thirteen billion years old,” answered Seth. “The typical human body contains some ten to the twenty-seventh protons,” Asher continued, “so the probability of even one proton decaying in a typical lifetime is at best one in a thousand. The probability of all protons decaying in just one second is…” Seth whistled, and then made the calculation aloud, “In a year, one in ten to the thirty-second power, raised to the twenty-seventh power, which is one in ten to the 864th power, and we have to divide that by the number of seconds in a year, which is 31,536,000.” “So, it’s about one in three times ten to the 870th power, give or take, at best,” Asher agreed. “Now if the universe were truly infinite, the chance of that happening to one person, simultaneous with everyone else, would still be infinite, ’cause any subset of infinity is infinity.” “But the universe is finite,” Seth added, “and so it all boils down to time!” “Exactly!” Asher agreed. “And it’s the age of the earth… not the age of the universe… that matters.” “Actually, it’s the age of humanity that matters,” Seth corrected. “Any way you look at it, the probability of one person disappearing is about as likely as that of the Red Sox winning the World Series, 2018 notwithstanding.” “The Red Sox?” Asher asked. “You’re comparing it to football?” “It’s baseball, doofus,” Seth corrected, but then added, “I think. In other words, it’s pretty near zero, except for rare aberrations. But is it even possible to go back in time at all? They do it all the time in Trek, but if you could go back in time, could you actually alter time, or would you just create an alternate reality?” “You’d still have to deal with conservation of mass,” Asher challenged. “Not if you could split time without splitting the universe,” Seth suggested. “Oh, I think I read a story on AwesomeDude about that too!” Asher exclaimed. “The cool thing was that you didn’t need to actually travel back in time, which violates a whole host of things and requires negative energy. In the story I’m thinking of, they sent their thoughts back in time through their dreams. But information has no mass, so it doesn’t become infinite as it approaches the speed of light and energy doesn’t become negative when it travels faster than light and, hence, back in time. “The question is, if you send information back in time, do you alter time, or does time split to create a new reality? And if time splits, does it create two versions of the universe, each with half as much mass and energy, or is really just one universe with two versions of time?” “In Star Trek, they kinda treated it both ways, you know?” Seth interjected. “There were several instances of temporal rifts, which are like wormholes back in time. Now that I think, is utterly possible. Look at what happened in Yesterday’s Enterprise. The Enterprise C was thrown forward in time and everything changed. Instead of having peace with the Klingons, we were at war with them, and losing badly. And Tasha Yar was still the security officer on the Enterprise D, instead of being dead, which was just as well, ’cause Warf couldn’t exactly be in Star Fleet if we were at war with the Klingons. So, Tasha helped get the Enterprise C back in time to where it was supposed to be, but to do that, she had to go back with the Enterprise C. In the end, the timeline was restored, and all was as it should be…” “Except that Tasha ended up having a daughter who was now an officer in the Romulan army.” Asher interrupted. “Exactly! But did time split or was it actually altered?” Seth asked. “We may never know,” Asher replied. And then noticing that the candy bowl was empty, Seth grabbed another two bags of candy and refilled it. After a pause, Asher continued, “Yesterday’s Enterprise was definitely one of my favorite episodes of all time, right up there with The Inner Light, and The Visitor from Deep Space Nine, and of course City on the Edge of Forever from the original series. Perhaps the most profound episode of all, though, was The Chase from The Next Generation.” “That was cool,” Seth agreed, “but not very realistic.” “What do you mean it wasn’t realistic?” Asher questioned. “I think it was very realistic. All through the entire Star Trek series, we encountered species after species of humanoids, all with the same compatible DNA that allowed them to interbreed, and many of them were at the same level of technological development as our own, with no explanation as to why that was. The Chase explained the whole thing. Instead of there being hundreds of different courses of evolution, each with its own version of DNA and each with its own rate of development, there was only one place in the galaxy where life evolved to the point of intelligence, and that one species planted their DNA all over the galaxy, seeding it with the roots of what became their progeny, including us.” “It may have explained why the Star Trek universe was the way it was, but certainly not the real universe in which we live. Given enough time and space and the right conditions, life is inevitable, and intelligent life a near certainty.” “Oh, that idea is sooo twentieth century, my man,” Asher countered. “What makes you say that?” Seth asked incredulously. “Do you remember in that story on AwesomeDude about sending information back in time, they said that the formation of life was about as likely as a pile of iron and silicon spontaneously assembling itself into an iPhone?” “I think it was an iPod, actually,” Seth countered, “but it doesn’t matter. That story was fiction. The reality is that DNA will assemble itself in a Petri dish. The formation of chains of DNA is bound to happen, and with it the fundamental building blocks of life will form on their own without the need for any external intervention.” “Yes, DNA will self-assemble,” Asher agreed, “and yes, strands of DNA will replicate themselves, but that doesn’t equate with life. Naked strands of DNA aren’t even as alive as the most basic virus, let alone bacteria, algae, fungi or ferns. Unless that DNA encodes something that can maintain and facilitate the reproduction of the associated DNA, it isn’t alive. Life requires that the instructions encoded in DNA be transcribed into proteins. Even the most basic bacterium contains the machinery to do that. Those proteins then form the structure of the cell, the enzymes that transcribe and replicate DNA, the enzymes that metabolize nutrients and the enzymes that process and excrete waste products. DNA can encode for the structural proteins that make up ribosomes, but they can’t actually make ribosomes without there being ribosomes to begin with. “It’s the ultimate chicken and egg scenario. You need ribosomes to transcode DNA, but you need DNA transcription to make ribosomes.” “Are you suggesting intelligent design… that there had to be a god to create the building blocks of life?” Seth asked. “To paraphrase another story I read, if there is a god, they’re nothing but a highly intelligent entity. I’m not discounting the possibility of intervention by an extracorporeal life form, but the main point I’m making is that life is rare. The only reason we’re aware of it is because we’re here. The reality is probably that life arises so seldom and is separated by so much space and time that we may never encounter it outside of our own solar system.” “Playing Devil’s advocate, I once read that life could have been brought here by a comet,” Seth responded. “Conversely, life that arose on Earth could have been spread elsewhere by comets and meteors. For example, that asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs caused tons of debris to be ejected into space. That debris would’ve included some living cells, and some of those would’ve survived in a field of debris around the sun. A comet could’ve carried some of those cells out into the outer reaches of the solar system, and a meteor could’ve captured or nudged the comet, sending it to another star system, spreading our life throughout the galaxy.” “Planet of the dinosaurs,” Asher agreed with a laugh. “I don’t discount the possibility of just such a mechanism for dispersing life to other planets, but I’m pretty sure that if there is anywhere in the universe that life arose spontaneously, it did so right here on Earth. We’re in the so-called Goldilocks zone, with liquid water. The planet’s geologically active, has a thick atmosphere, a preponderance of organics and a large moon to create tidal basins, the perfect incubators for life.” “Actually, I think the gaseous giants would be much better incubators for life,” Seth countered. “With them, you have a very active atmosphere that’s rich with organics, charged with huge storm systems that could combine and recombine molecules in every conceivable way. I’m not saying that life as we know it developed on Jupiter, but the fundamental building blocks of DNA, RNA, ribosomes and so on may have developed in the atmosphere of a gaseous giant, and then been carried here by comets. The tidal basins might have then been seeded with those precursors of life, and served as the incubators for actual cells to form.” The discussion continued on and on as the two boys consumed bag after bag of candy, discussing every nuance of life, reality, the existence of God and the nature of time, all the while invoking Star Trek lore as if it were the Bible. The entire time while as they argued, discussed, conjected and supported one-another’s ideas, they became closer and closer to the point that they were becoming inseparable. Although unaware of it, their closeness and friendship were infused with an undercurrent of admiration and love that would cement their relationship for a lifetime if they’d let it. As the hours passed and the supply of candy diminished, the arguments gave way to teasing, trash talk and more and more frequently, to kisses and episodes of making out. But it was the talking that formed the true bond that would bring them together as one. Each point and counterpoint showed them a little more of their thought processes, and increasingly they came to respect and assimilate each other’s way of thinking. And so that was how Seth’s parents found the boys when they returned from their party in the early morning hours of November 1. The first thing they noticed on opening the door to their apartment was the banter of two teenage boys engaged in an animated conversation. As they rounded the corner and entered the living room, they came upon the boys, seated at the kitchen table, an empty bowl between them and the two of them holding hands. Their son was dressed exactly as they’d left him earlier that evening, and the other boy was dressed in a golf outfit. Indeed, a bag of golf clubs lay on the living room sofa. From his mixed Asian and African features, they knew immediately who he had to be, as they knew his parents and were frequent patrons of their restaurant. The boys were so engrossed in a conversation about the Klingon language that they didn’t notice they were no longer alone, and so they were stunned when Frank Moore cleared his throat. “Dad!” Seth exclaimed. “I thought you and Mom weren’t gonna be home ’til after midnight!” “It’s 1:13 in the morning,” Julia Donahue Moore responded, surprising both boys. Then going up to her son’s guest, she said, “You must be Asher White,” as she extended her hand to shake his. A look of shock extending across his face, Asher asked, “How did you know my name?” “Your parents serve the best Asian food north of Canal Street,” Frank said as he too shook Asher’s hand, and then he asked, “By the way, do your parents know where you are?” “Oh fuck! I forgot!” Asher blurted out. Then realizing what he’d said and to whom he’d said it, he quickly apologized… sort of… saying, “Shit, I’m sorry. I had no idea it was so late!” Chuckling, Frank said, “It’s nothing we haven’t heard coming from the angelic face of our own son, so don’t sweat it, but don’t make a habit of it either.” “I won’t, I promise,” Asher swore as he shook his head with such sincerity that it was almost comical. “Why don’t you call your parents to let them know you’ll be right home,” Frank suggested. Pulling out his phone, Asher speed-dialed his landline and immediately got his dad. “Where the hell are you?” screamed his father so loudly that all could clearly hear what he said. “I’m sorry, Dad,” Asher began. “I went trick-or-treating, but then I came to the apartment of a friend from school, and we spent the entire night talking and eating candy,” he explained. “Here, let me,” Frank said as he took the phone from Asher. “Hi Gary, it’s Frank Moore,” he said into the phone. “Our sons really were just talking when we walked in a few minutes ago. Talking… and holding hands.” “What!” Asher practically screamed. “Yeah, they were very cute,” Frank continued. “They were so deep into discussing Star Trek, they didn’t even notice us.” Then after a pause, he continued, “Yeah, that’s our son too… obsessed with boys, but much more obsessed with Star Trek. “Anyway, nice talking to you. I’ll send your son right home.” “You told my parents we were holding hands!” Asher practically shouted, as soon as Frank had hung up the phone and handed it back. Shrugging his shoulders, “They’ve known about you for a while, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Frank answered. “It was maybe a year ago that I mentioned that Seth had just come out to us, and Gary responded that he was pretty sure his son was gay too, and so we’ve chatted a lot about the issues in raising gay kids, just about every time we come in for take-out.” Sitting back down, Asher said, “I can’t believe my parents know.” “But think about it,” Seth responded as he draped his arm across Asher’s shoulders. “We can both be out and proud… and boyfriends.” “There is that,” Frank echoed. “Dad, don’t try to talk kidspeak,” Seth admonished his father. “Seth, ‘there is that’ was a common expression back when I was a kid,” Frank explained. Standing up, Asher said, “I better get on home.” “See you in the morning,” Seth responded as he kissed Asher, right on the lips and in front of his parents. Asher kissed Seth back. Grabbing his golf bag, he headed out into the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. Seth watched him from the door, right up to the point when Asher got on the elevator and the doors closed behind him. In contrast to suburbia, where no parent would feel safe letting their young teen walk home at 1:30 in the morning, neither Asher’s parents nor Seth’s gave a moment’s thought to letting Asher walk home in the big bad city. For one thing, the crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and New York really is the city that never sleeps. There was a 24-hour bodega at the corner of Grand and Madison, and there was a steady stream of patrons stopping there for a late Halloween snack. There were three cross-town buses running 24 hours a day along Grand Street, and a lot of people were still out and about. And as always, a police van was parked nearby. Asher truly never was really alone on the street. Asher could barely look at his parents when he walked in the door. They knew! But it was a school night and they weren’t about to discuss it at such a late hour. High on sugar, Asher tossed and turned in bed for quite a while, but the next thing he knew, his cell phone alarm clock was going off. Quickly grabbing a shower, shaving and brushing his teeth, he dressed in his best pair of jeans and a polo shirt, and plopped down into his usual seat in the kitchen, where his dad had a plate of Cajun scrambled eggs waiting for him. It was ironic that his father, who grew up in New Orleans and was an outstanding Cajun chef in his own right, should spend his days preparing Asian food, but the Asian restaurant was a sure thing and it was essential to saving for Asher’s education. Perhaps someday, he’d try his hand at opening a Cajun restaurant, but now was not the time. Digging into his eggs and drinking his coffee, Asher couldn’t help but ask, “How?” “How did we know you’re gay?” Gary asked, and Asher nodded his head. “The first inkling was when you were eleven and we stopped in the bike shop next to the restaurant, just to look. You really wanted a bike for your twelfth birthday, but thankfully you came to realize you didn’t need one, and the only ones we could’ve afforded were used and pretty beat up. But there was another boy there at the time… a kid who was maybe thirteen… and you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.” “I remember that,” Asher admitted, “but I thought I was being discreet.” “Ash, you were anything but discreet,” Gary responded. “Boys get crushes on other boys at that age, but your eyes showed something more than infatuation. You just couldn’t look away. It looked more like lust.” “It was lust,” Asher admitted sheepishly as he turned bright red. “I didn’t think it was that obvious.” “It was,” Gary sighed, “and there were other times too. I’ll admit that at first, we were freaked out about it, but you’re our pride and joy and your mom and I talked about it, and we realized that if you were gay, it wasn’t something we could change. And so, we resolved that we weren’t about to let your sexuality change the way we feel about the extraordinary son we have.” Asher couldn’t help it as tears sprung from his eyes. His father grabbed him from his chair and they hugged each other tightly before Asher grabbed his jacket and his book bag, checked the MTA Bus Time app on his phone, and left the apartment. Asher crossed Grand street and noticed that the bus was already parked nearby, but the driver was nowhere in sight and was undoubtedly taking a restroom break. Asher found Seth waiting for him, standing next to the bus shelter and dressed in a lavender polo shirt, black jeans and a black leather jacket. The combination was stunning, particularly in contrast to Seth’s curly blond hair. “Hey,” Asher said as he approached, “I wasn’t sure if you took this bus ’cause I’ve never seen you get on at this stop before.” Chuckling, Seth answered, “I usually get on at Jackson. It saves me about two minutes, which is another two minutes of sleep. Sometimes I miss this bus though…” “But the next one barely gets you there in time!” Asher noted. “And if there’s heavy traffic…” “Yeah, I know,” Seth acknowledged. “Detention is not fun.” “Well now you have an incentive to get to the bus on time,” Asher stated. “Definitely,” Seth replied with a sly smile. Just then, the driver got on the bus, started up the motor and pulled up to the bus stop, opening the door as he did so. The boys got their student bus passes out of their wallets and each one dropped it into the MetroCard scanner as they boarded, putting it back in their wallets afterwards. Because this was the start of the route, the boys had their choice of seats. In the past, Asher would have taken one of the three single seats, so he could think to himself during the journey and not be bothered by a chatty old lady or a man speaking loudly into his phone in Chinese. Today Asher headed right for a double seat and plopped down into the window seat, Seth sat down next to him and right away, grabbed Asher’s hand and held it tightly. “You ready to be out, Ash?” Seth asked with evident tenderness in his voice. “I’ll never be ready for it,” Asher replied, “but I’m more than ready to be your boyfriend,” he stated as he tightened his grip on Seth’s hand. The bus lurched forward and made its usual loop around the co-ops on Cherry and Jackson Streets, and then turned onto Madison and passed through the Vladeck and Rutgers housing projects, before turning off at Pike and then heading down East Broadway, right through the heart of China Town. At first the boys were quiet, being too nervous to think about talking, so they just held each other’s hand and smiled at each other. Finally, Seth said, “Spending last night with you was great.” “I can’t believe we spent more than five hours together,” Asher chimed in. “It went so fast.” “I know,” agreed Seth. “Truthfully, I’ve never found anyone before that I could talk to the way I talked to you.” “Likewise,” Asher agreed. “You’re the first person I’ve met who can hold an intelligent conversation!” “I love you, Ash,” Seth said out of the blue, and he clearly meant it. “I love you too,” Asher replied with equal sincerity. The bus turned onto Bowery as the boys sat, holding hands in companionable silence. It then immediately turned onto Worth Street, making a short detour for the construction at Center Street that had seemingly been going on forever. It turned down Lafayette and then turned right onto Chambers Street, just past City Hall and in front of the impressive architecture of the David Dinkins Municipal Building. The bus headed down Chambers until it ended at North End Avenue, right in front of Stuyvesant High School. As the bus came to a stop at the city bus stop in front of the school, Seth and Asher got up from their seats and moved to the rear door, never letting go of each other’s hand. They continued holding hands as they got off the bus and approached the front entrance of the school, getting a few smiles in the process and not a single derogatory comment. Turning to look at his boyfriend, Seth asked, “You ready?” Meeting his eyes, Asher answered, “With you, I’m always ready,” and then he reached out and pulled open the door. The boys walked through the door and into their future together.
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