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    Jason MH
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Between the Shadow and the Soul - 5. Mothers and Intuitions Part 1

June 26, 2016

Equal parts understanding and fear shot through me as I looked at Basketball Boy's mother standing on the front porch. Suddenly I knew where Kyle learned to shake hands. I also knew the source of his blue eyes and slim face.

In addition to the source of some of her son's features, however, I also saw before me a mama bear, petite for sure, but still a mama bear. Though I had no ill intentions toward her son, my own mother had taught me that moms are a universal force to be reckoned with.

As she released my hand, I gestured inside with the other as I asked, "Would you like to come in, Mrs. Barton?"

With a marvelously warm grin she nodded. "That would be lovely, thank you." Stepping past me she cut her eyes toward me and added with disarming exasperation, "And please call me Teresa. Calling me Mrs. Barton makes me feel old."

"I hear you," I chuckled as I guided her to the living room. "When someone calls me Mr. Beaumont, I always look around for my dad. So please call me Greg."

She looked up at me and beamed. "Greg it is."

Gesturing toward my best friend as he stood from the couch I said, "This is Nate Sawyer."

Once they shook hands, I waved toward the loveseat. "Please make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you."

"Would you like something to drink?" Nate offered.

"No, I'm fine, but thank you. I won't be taking up too much of your time."

Looking sheepish, I ducked my head as I explained, "If you give me a minute I'll go put on a shirt. We just finished working in the garage, so we're tragically underdressed for company."

She gave a dismissive wave and smiled as she said, "Oh please! I'm no prude and you're not offending me. Trust me when I say I've seen men wearing a lot less." With a wink she added, "And I will again if my luck holds."

That earned a chuckle from all of us.

Then she pointed out, "Besides, it's your home."

Feeling more relaxed, both Nate and I sat on the couch and faced her.

"What can we do for you, Teresa?"

Her eyes locked on me with a hawk's focus even as her features softened to show a kindly request. "Kyle said something about going to the gym with you."

She had a washed-out Texas accent that lacked a harsh twang but still held gentile warmth. Were I straight, I would fawn and gush just to hear her talk to me. With her plain prettiness and comfortable presence and eagle eyes, she had all the charm of a Southern belle trained by the Mossad.

She reminds me of Mom.

"Oh, right." I grinned as I settled against the armrest. "He mentioned he recently got into working out, wanting to get in shape and such, but he doesn't have a regular partner to help with spotting."

"Also," my best friend tossed in, "I'm a personal trainer. I told Kyle about the importance of using proper form during exercise, but he'd need someone with experience to teach him that."

"Since I go to the gym several times a week, Nate and I thought maybe Kyle could tag along. Assuming that was okay with you, of course."

Hopefully she'll say no and that'll be the end of this nonsense.

"In the last several months he's gotten really serious about getting in shape. Have you seen his abs?"

"I hadn't really noticed."

I just lied to her. Mom would be horrified!

Seriously, though, if Teresa knows I'm a gay man who thinks her son is attractive, who's actually noticed his six-pack abs, where will this conversation go? Downhill, I'd bet.

Despite the day and age, gay people were too often vilified, made pariahs by rumor and innuendo from the ignorant who felt threatened by what they wrongly perceived as different, other.

God forbid that a gay man notice a neighbor boy is attractive. Clearly that meant the man was a pedophile, which would only serve to reinforce all the bad things stupid people think about those who don't fit the old, white-men-only, conservative-Christian mold.

So I lied. Who cares. It's a white lie, one meant to smooth relations between two people. She'll never know.

Resting her hand on my knee and giving it a light shake, her eyes twinkling and a devious grin on her face, she chuckled in a knowing way. "Oh, my dear Greg," she began with all the coyness of a rototiller, "of course you've noticed. Weather permitting, he runs around in as little clothing as possible. If you've seen him, you've seen his abs."

Both Nate and I chuckled. And I bit the inside of my cheek to override my blush with pain.

As she put her hand back in her lap she continued, "Did you know he accomplished that with nothing but sit-ups?"

"That's impressive," Nate pointed out with a bit of professional appreciation.

"I suppose he's at the age where a little goes a long way."

"Precisely," she said with a smile. "And he's been doing lots of push-ups, too. That's why he looks like he does."

"Sounds like he's serious."

"He is, Nate. I'm sorry, that was presumptuous of me. May I call you Nate?"

Holy cow! She's good.

"Please."

"Thank you. Anyways, he's pretty serious about this exercise stuff. His friend Duane works out a lot. I think that's where Kyle got the idea."

"He mentioned working out with Duane from time to time."

Giving my best friend a minor grimace she said with a bit of disdain, "I don't know about that being a good idea. Nothing personal against Duane, mind you, but he's not the best influence on Kyle."

"I see."

I didn't see, though, not really. Kyle had implied that Duane was an example to follow, at least insofar as fitness was concerned, but otherwise I didn't know Kyle well enough to comprehend what Teresa was saying, and I certainly knew nothing of Duane save what Kyle had mentioned in passing during our previous night's conversation. Which wasn't much.

Ah, but Basketball Boy's mother remained well ahead of me. Well ahead of Nate, as well, if his expression meant anything.

She squared her shoulders as if preparing to do battle. "Kyle's been in more than a bit of trouble lately."

"I didn't realize."

She doesn't need to know Kyle mentioned that. It's also none of our business.

Apparently she disagreed.

"It's mostly his friends, you see. He was a good kid before we moved here—smart, did well in school, responsible, helpful, never in trouble except for the usual teenager stuff." She gave an exasperated exhale. "But then he got mixed up with the wrong crowd."

Nate and I remained silent. This conversation hadn't gone the way I thought it would, and I suspected he felt the same. Our opinions and impressions had little to do with the reality of her life. It also seemed strange to share this kind of information with strangers.

But we were learning—were learning and would learn—that Teresa knew precisely what she was doing even if those around her didn't.

A soft sigh passed between her lips, then she continued, "Before we moved here he had an excellent circle of friends, very open-minded and progressive. They were a smart bunch, collectively a good influence on Kyle. But here... Well, the first kids to take a liking to him were part of the... Goodness, what's it called? Oh, I remember. They're part of the hip hop culture, I believe you'd call it. You know what I'm talking about?"

"The rap culture?" I inquired, though it really came across as a clarification.

"Yes. That's the kind of music they listen to. Which I don't mind," she interjected with a dismissive wave, "because I'm the first to admit my parents hated the music I listened to when I was a kid. They said it wasn't music at all. Times and tastes change and I'm okay with that.

"I couldn't care less about the style of music. It's that group, that culture... Well, they're not exactly known for tolerance and inclusiveness, are they?"

Though I didn't take my eyes off her, I felt certain Nate's eyes had widened slightly like my own.

She didn't pause long enough for us to comment. "Kyle's at that age right now when he's finding himself. I'm sure you remember what that was like." She added that last part while staring at me.

Perhaps I blinked, perhaps I flinched, perhaps my mouth opened and closed as I tried to formulate a response, or perhaps I gave some other indication of that time in my life. I know I didn't move my hand even though it tried desperately to find its way to the phoenix tattoo.

No matter what happened, no matter what sign I gave her, Teresa's eyes narrowed into a discerning gaze as she nodded once. "I see. You have your own story. That probably makes this even more important.

"Kyle falling into this crowd doesn't help him. It hasn't helped him. So far it's only hurt him. They could be great friends, I have no doubt, but the culture of the thing is bad for him. That's not what he needs right now." Glancing between the two of us Teresa added, "I know the two of you understand what I'm saying."

We both murmured positive responses, or nodded, or at least thought about nods and positive responses, because by that point I think she'd overwhelmed us. For a great many reasons.

"You guys moved in not too long ago, is that correct?"

I suddenly realized where Kyle got his gift for tangential thought. His mother certainly had the same gift for dramatic redirection.

Shaking my head as if coming out of a daze I murmured, "Yes."

"We've been here a couple months," Nate said with a bit more firmness.

"How are you liking it so far?"

"We love it."

"I'm close to my work," I added.

"And I'm not, which is how I like it."

"We love the neighborhood and the people." I was warming up again, finding my feet on this new path. "Everything's convenient but we're not in the middle of the urban jungle."

"And we like the rabbits!" my best friend enthused.

Smiling warmly and nodding, she giggled, a soft tinkling sound that gave me chills of delight. "That means the world to me. If you've noticed our little wildlife visitors and you enjoy them as much as I do, then you're my kind of people."

Once again knocking us off our mental feet, she yanked the conversational rug out from under us when she inquired, "So you two are best friends, is that correct?" A slight change in her tone meant she was asking more than the obvious.

Thus I volunteered more than a simple answer. "Sure are. We've been best friends for twenty years."

Elbowing me gently Nate added, "Eventually one of us will settle down and the roommate thing will end, but for now it works well for us."

With an approving smile that reached her eyes, she said without the inquiring tone, "That sounds wonderful. If only all friendships could last so long with the same commitment." Then to Nate: "You said you're a personal trainer?"

"Have been for about a decade," he answered proudly. "I'm very successful at it, in fact."

Turning the full force of her gaze on Nate, as if reading everything his body said as she listened to what his mouth said, she asked, "And you think it would be safer for Kyle to have a partner for... What did you call it? Spotting?"

"Spotting is when you're there in case something goes wrong. Like if someone starts to drop weights, it could cause serious harm. A spotter is there to catch and recover the weights before anyone gets hurt."

"That sounds like a smart idea."

"It is, I assure you. I've seen people badly injured because they didn't have a spotter."

"And he should know how to do these exercises properly, is that what you said?"

Again I let Nate answer. She was, after all, fishing in his pond.

"Of course. Doing them correctly gets you the best and fastest results. But it's more important than just that. The human body moves safely and efficiently when it moves correctly. If you're straining and stressing it using improper form, you can cause acute or chronic damage. Some of it may never get better. If you're going to push your body like that, you need to do it right."

"Hmmmm..." She remained silent for a moment and we left her to her thoughts. I wondered what those thoughts were. Then I found out. "How old are you, Greg?"

Fucking hell! Conversations with this woman can cause whiplash.

"Thirty."

"You're okay having a fifteen-year-old boy tagging along to the gym with you?"

I wondered if her real question was slightly different, like "Don't you think it strange for a man your age to want to spend so much time with a boy of fifteen?" Or something along those lines. And yet I didn't detect anything in her tone.

"I consider Kyle a friend. I wouldn't mind helping him reach some of his exercise goals, especially since I go to the gym regularly anyway. He can learn from me, we both get to work out like we want to, nobody is inconvenienced, and—let me be honest here—we get to exercise with a friend, making the experience slightly less unpleasant." This last I added with a chuckle and grin.

She returned the grin and pointed out, "He said pretty much the same thing."

Another silence followed. Again Nate and I refused to fill it. Just when it stretched toward uncomfortable: "We've known Malinda and Brandon since we moved here three years ago."

My face expressionless, once again my mind scrambled to find this new path.

Sounding confused—I couldn't imagine why—Nate offered, "We met them a few days after moving in."

Like me, he wasn't sure if what he said had relevance. Once again my best friend and I were scrambling to catch up with the discussion's abrupt shift.

"They both have nothing but good things to say about the two of you," she explained with a warm smile, her eyes twinkling.

She's been checking up on us? Asking about us? Should I be worried?

"You shouldn't worry," said the apparent psychic in my living room. "I'm not a nosy neighbor checking up on everyone who moves in."

Scooting to the edge of the chair, she rested her hand on my knee again, squeezing gently, her eyes locked on mine the entire time. "When my son said he was at your place last night and planned to stop by again today, I wanted to know what kind of people he was spending his time with, especially because it was obvious this wasn't a temporary interest. Malinda and Brandon understood why I asked."

"I'd expect nothing less from them, Teresa." Though I did feel taken aback by the idea of having her running around behind our backs asking others about us.

She should have come over and spoken to us directly.

Oh. Wait. Um... Never mind.

Her hand tightening just a wee bit, her gaze tightening as well, she remained locked on me. "Kyle needs good influences in his life right now. He needs people he can look up to. He needs people who can show him through how they live that inconsequential differences don't make people bad or less than. And he needs to figure out who he is with support from those around him.

"Perhaps my husband and I don't fully understand what my son's feeling—"

She startled when my hand flew into the air, fingers splayed and palm facing her, giving a clear indication she should stop talking. Teresa's eyes widened somewhat, not so much from shock as from interest in the reason for this sudden interruption.

At the same time Nate's hand came up and rested on my shoulder, squeezing gently. He knew our neighbor had just waltzed into the minefield of one of my greatest pet peeves. And he knew I wouldn't ignore it.

I gave her a neutral look to let her know I meant this as education rather than chastisement. "I don't mean this as condescension, Teresa, so please don't take it that way.

"You've talked around Kyle and I think Nate and I have followed your meaning. But let me stop you right there, because what you just said is part of the problem people face today.

"Assuming you're right about Kyle, there's absolutely no difference in what he's feeling and what you feel—or felt, rather, back then as a kid. Those feelings are universal, so you know them as well as you know yourself.

"Maybe you don't understand the target of those feelings, but if that's the case it's not a lack of understanding of the feelings themselves.

"To say otherwise is to dehumanize him and what he feels. It's to make him other, 'less than' to borrow your own phrase. And that's wrong on so many levels, especially coming from his parent.

"If you're assumption about him is true and I've interpreted your meaning correctly, I'll buy that you might not understand what he's going through and what he faces. In that you're absolutely correct, I assure you.

"But to dismiss his feelings as something alien to you, and therefore to everyone like you, is to dismiss him as human. Do you see the harm..."

My argument had lost steam as a knowing smile grew on her face, her eyes sparkling with amusement and approval. Her hand on my knee squeezed a bit tighter as well.

Nodding once before releasing my knee and my gaze, she stood, so sudden that both Nate and I flinched back on the couch before rising to our feet.

She glanced between us before settling her eyes back on my own. "I see nothing wrong with Kyle going to the gym with you, Greg. I think it'll be good for him. And I don't just mean his physical health, if I might add. You're clearly successful and professional from what I've seen and heard, so I gather you'll be a better influence than Duane and that crew. Plus you obviously have experience and understanding that he needs. Besides, I think he's going to need guidance from somebody like you."

My mouth dropped open to inquire what precisely she meant by "somebody like you," but she gave me no time to inquire.

"And you," she directed at Nate, "have already helped. I had no idea working out could be dangerous. Once you explained it though, it seems so obvious that he should have someone teaching him and helping him."

To both of us she added, "I'm glad he'll have someone like you two watching out for him so he doesn't get hurt."

Reaching out she shook Nate's hand as he tried to control the dumbfounded look on his face. "It was a pleasure to finally meet you, Nate. I hope we see more of each other." Then to me: "Will you walk me out, Greg?"

"Of course." I gestured toward the entranceway and let her lead, tossing a wide-eyed questioning face at Nate.

What the hell?

Just as she reached the door she turned back into the room. Nate still stood by the couch watching after her, wearing an interesting look of confused admiration.

"Oh, something I forgot to mention."

I doubt you ever forget to mention anything, dear neighbor. You strike me as someone who's always right on time and right on topic.

"Kyle started smoking marijuana shortly after we moved here. My husband and I absolutely don't like it, but we can't be with him all the time, can we? No, of course we can't.

"And never you mind that we like to indulge now and then. What kind of hypocrites would we be if we made a federal case out of this? Big ones, I think.

"So we've tried to teach Kyle that that's something he shouldn't do at his age." She let out an exasperated sigh. "But he still does it. Only here he's with the wrong crowd. There have been a few times when he got in serious trouble because of it. Due to the company he keeps, mind you.

"If he's going to do it, we'd like to know he's doing it in a safe place with responsible people. We can't babysit him around the clock, so we can't really stop him, can we? Besides, it's clear to us he's not abusing it or addicted to it; it's more like he's just enjoying it when he can.

"My son seems to look up to you two, especially you," she added with a direct look at me, "so I'd appreciate it if you could maybe guide him to a more responsible way of handling it. Perhaps by suggesting an appropriate place and appropriate people, for instance, should you be so inclined.

"I don't want him to do it, but if he's going to, I'd at least like to know he'll be safe and out of harm's way. As any mother would want for her child."

Giving us a quick nod that said "I spoke my piece and that's that," she turned back toward the door.

I opened it for her and stepped outside after her, pulling it shut behind me.

Stopping on the porch, she faced me and offered her hand. I shook it, again receiving that prim and proper handshake, firm and decisive and genuine.

"Thank you for your time, Greg. I appreciate you letting me meet the two of you and get to you know you a little better."

"My mother would have done the same thing you did," I assured her.

She did, in fact, though she ran into someone a lot smarter but a lot less nice.

Reeling in my thoughts and my actions, I cast my hand into my pocket to stop it from doing something obvious. And I refocused my thoughts on the woman in front of me.

"I'll tell Kyle it's okay to go to the gym with you. Just be sure he lets us know when he's going so we're not left worrying about him. That's been one of his more frustrating tricks lately."

"I'll make sure you know, even if I have to call you myself." Pulling a business card from my wallet, I handed it to her and added, "My personal cell number's on the back. Just text or call so I have your number."

Taking the card she said, "I'm glad that's worked out then. I'll send you my number as soon as I'm home." Lifting her eyes to mine, she took a deep breath and exhaled as though releasing tension. Then: "It's been a refreshing pleasure, Greg. Thank you. Not just for helping my son, but also for being his friend."

"You're welcome, Teresa."

With that, she gifted me with that brilliant smile that was as real as it was beautiful, then she turned and walked across the porch, down the steps, and along the walkway to the sidewalk. Tossing me a brief wave, which I returned, she then headed home.

After stepping inside and locking the door, I dropped onto the couch and held my head in my hands.

"Holy shit," Nate said quietly.

"Right."

"That woman knows how to write between the lines."

I grinned at him. "She's a piece of work, isn't she? I wouldn't want to cross her."

"Dude, it's like she's psychic."

"I felt like she had that entire conversation scripted."

"Thankfully we didn't miss our lines."

"You know who she reminds me of?"

We faced each other, both smiling, then together yelled, "Mom!"

That made us laugh. And shudder.

Because just like my mother, Teresa Barton was a force of nature.

Once I'd stopped chuckling, I gave Nate a serious look as I said, "Before she got here—"

"Don't!" He stood, grabbing his untouched beer and tablet from the coffee table.

"We need to talk, Nate."

"No, G-Man, we don't."

"But you said—"

"I know what I said." He headed toward the stairs without looking back. "I don't need you giving me the replay from that tape recorder in your head."

"But Nate—"

"No, Greg!" he shouted as he looked at me from the foot of the stairs. "I shouldn't have said anything. You're not there yet. Just leave it." He only took a few steps up before stopping and facing me again, adding, "Leave it for now, G-Man. It'll still be here when the time comes."

Then he was gone.

Copyright © 2018 Jason MH; All Rights Reserved.
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Teresa Barton is a charming and exhilarating hoot.  Your own style of writing helps to account for the ellipses in her remarks.  I very much enjoy that you do not spell out just what your characters are thinking while they are talking.  For instance, I have some notions about what Nate is saying to Greg at the close of this chapter; but I, happily, do not know, even after going back and rereading the close of the preceding chapter, precisely where "there" is.  What a satisfying and occupying story.

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On 1/6/2019 at 8:25 PM, everett Weedin jr said:

Teresa Barton is a charming and exhilarating hoot.  Your own style of writing helps to account for the ellipses in her remarks.  I very much enjoy that you do not spell out just what your characters are thinking while they are talking.  For instance, I have some notions about what Nate is saying to Greg at the close of this chapter; but I, happily, do not know, even after going back and rereading the close of the preceding chapter, precisely where "there" is.  What a satisfying and occupying story.

 

I loved writing Teresa, so I'm thrilled you find her character engrossing.  She's the first of three mothers in "Mothers and Intuitions," the fourth part of which is the second interlude.

 

As to the rest of your comment, thank you! I'm so glad you're enjoying how this was written.

 

And let me say this: I'm a fan of breadcrumbs; I like stories that credit the reader with intelligence, so I do the same with mine.  There are three main characters, each of whom needs something, and without spelling it out they all work their respective ways towards fulfilling those needs.  I just like to put the impetus on the reader to figure out the details before they're finally revealed in the narrative. Personally, those are the kinds of stories I love most.

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"Assuming you're right about Kyle, there's absolutely no difference in what he's feeling and what you feel—or felt, rather, back then as a kid. Those feelings are universal, so you know them as well as you know yourself. 

"Maybe you don't understand the target of those feelings, but if that's the case it's not a lack of understanding of the feelings themselves. 

"To say otherwise is to dehumanize him and what he feels. It's to make him other, 'less than' to borrow your own phrase. And that's wrong on so many levels, especially coming from his parent.”

 

These are some of the most compassionate, equalizing words I’ve ever read in defense of gay children, gay people.  I love it.  

 

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     Okay, time now to breathe, not a sigh of relief perhaps, but some small relaxation. Bboy's Mother is a force of nature that has just blown through Greg's life with some level of permission. In other words, your relationship with my son is OK, just don't take it too far.

     That is one wise woman. I am pleased to have met her as I am sure Greg will be, at least after he has had the opportunity to let the shock pass by. Wow!

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Teresa is an incredible character!  I cannot begin to tell you how awesome her interaction with the guys was! I was equally amused and amazed. 

Greg’s words to her about understanding the feelings but not the target...that’s one of the best ways I’ve ever heard that expressed!! 

And I love the relationship between Greg and Nate. I think we all hope for a friendship like that. 

Awesome!!!

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