Andrew Arthur McKinnon, Jr., stood with his feet spread wide, his arms across his chest. His head leaned forward, his jaw was clamped shut. One eyebrow, the left, was high and the eye opened wide; the other brow was scrunched low, and the right eyelid was clamped shut. He stared into the face of a mirror that showed himself in twenty-five years. A bit pudgier, some extra lines, and the jet-black hair was grayed at the edges. There were some tell-tale lines around the blue eyes and a scar or two on the high upper lip that served as a reminder not to turn too quickly when there was a fight in a bar room. The glasses had slid down the long, angular nose, nice expensive gold ones that had been sat on, dropped, and found themselves under heavy boxes too many times. They were askew to the right as usual. The younger McKinnon was grateful for wearing his contacts, since his glasses always slid down the same way. He hated that look, it made him feel ridiculous. At least his glasses didnít have that trampled look since young Drew was a bit more careful with things.
But Andrew Arthur McKinnon, Sr., didnít need them for close vision so he didnít push them up. He struck the exact pose of his son. Or actually it was the pose the son had adopted as his own.
They leaned in close together, almost nose to nose.
"And I said, youíre going, and thatís IT!" McKinnon, Sr., growled.
McKinnon, Jr., glared. "Iím almost fuckiní eighteen. You canít make me."
The older McKinnon drew up to his full (barely) five-foot-eight-inch height as his backbone stiffened, and his lips drew tight. "The operative word there is almost eighteen. Until the Ďalmostí gets dropped, I can do any damn thing I want with you, and that includes puttiní you in a dress and marchiní you down Essex St. in broad day-light if thatís what it takes." He paused, then peered at his son again. "And I donít want any of your fuckiní gutter-mouth. Whereíd you learn to talk that shit?"
By way of an answer, the young Drew McKinnon arched both eyebrows even higher, and smirked.
Sixty-seven year old Rita McKinnon chuckled as she eased herself back in her rocker. "Yeah, I wonder where he got it," she said sarcastically. "Talk about lifeís mysteries."
Andy McKinnon glared at his mother. "This is between us, Ma. If youíre not gonna help, then it might be a good idea if you just stayed out of it. As a matter of fact, you shouldnít even be here. This is between him and me."
Rita, simply because she was Rita, wasnít about to be cowed. "I donít care what the will said, Andy. That was just getting around taxes. This was my house before your father died, and itís still my house. And this is my kitchen, and Iíll sit wherever I choose. Another thing, " she pointed out grandly. "Youíre still MY son even if youíre 42, and Iíll thank you to behave."
She let it sink in slowly. Her pale gray eyes drilled both of her men, and she spoke in a low, soothing voice, but still an authoritative one. She sat in her rocker with the thin trail of smoke slowly rising from her left hand.
"Iím here because somebody has to referee between you two," the older lady said evenly. "It donít fall far from the tree, Andy McKinnon. Heís got your mouth and heís got your stubborn streak. And I know where you BOTH got it, because I was married to him for thirty-seven years. You might say Iíve been through this before." She sucked in a deep puff off her Marlboro Gold, coughed, and sipped her coffee. She wasnít about to miss the replay of a fight sheíd watched years ago. The situation was different, very different, but the attitudes were the same. There hadnít been any blood on the floor that time, and she had little doubt there would be this time. Her men had big mouths and hot tempers, but they were neither violent nor mean spirited. They were justÖ opinionated. Sometimes loud in the expression of their opinions.
That argument hadnít ended well. She was determined this one would.
Andy turned back to his son, who was still cross-armed but now holding himself upright, trying to stretch his slender, 5í11" frame up to its fuller potential of the six feet he yearned for, just so he could enjoy the privilege of looking down at his old man a little more. His eyes were slits. It wasnít working, though. Somehow or other, Drew still felt five years old, and his father was still glaring over the edges of his glasses at him with that hard look in his eyes like he did when Drew was five. The only difference was he had to look up these days.
His voice didnít get any warmer, though. "Look, kid. Weíve been stepping around this thing for a week. Iíve looked into the program, and I think itís a good idea. Itís what you need."
And young Drew still wasnít prepared to give ground. "Yeah, well I donít. Itís my fu- er, itís my life, and I donít need you messiní with it. Case closed. Iím not goiní to no Christian Formation Center, and Iím not goiní to no brain-washiní program."
Andy scrunched his mouth up. This was really beginning to piss him off. Where did the kid get this kind of stubbornness?
"For the last time, it is not a brainwashing class," Andy hissed. "This thing looks at all sides of the issue, and forces you to deal withÖ withÖ stuff."
"Thereís nuthiní to deal with," Drew snapped. "I donít need to be cured of anything!"
"Goddam it, Iím not talking about Ďcuringí you of anything. I am talking about counseling. Thereís a lot to deal with, and youíre gonna go up stairs, shower, and change into some decent clothes. Iím driving you there myself - I donít trust you to go on your own."
Drewís lip curled. "What? So Iím like eight and daddyís gonna make me go to the cub scout meeting? And daddy is gonna make me walk into the building when we get there, too? I can always blow the place after you leave, Dad."
Andy narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists. "When you were eight, all it took was a swat across the ass. Your almost eighteen as you keep reminding me, so itíll probably take a baseball bat: but if thatís what it takes, thatís what it takes . Youíre going to the Formation Center, and thatís all there is to it. You got no place else to go. Itís February, so knowing your love for the cold there wonít be any hanging around the parking lot. And yeah, you could walk, but the CFC is way out in the sticks, so itíll be a long cold walk, too. Those cars out there are still under my name, and if you take off in one on me, Iíll just have that mouthy ass of yours hauled off to jail, Drew. You donít wanna deal with the homo stuff at the Center, you can deal with it as the Bottom Boy of Cell Block C. And they wonít care whether or not you like it!"
Drew flushed deeply at the reference and felt the heat rising inside him. He stood there with his mouth opening and closing for several seconds before he actually managed to speak. "Iím your son, for Chrissake," he croaked. "I canít believe youíre going to put me through all thisÖ this shit!"
Andy let his breath out, and tried to find a cooler, calmer tone. It wasnít easy, though. The kid was never reasonable about anything. "And Iím your father, and I can do this, and Iím going to. Itís for your own good."
"Youíre sending me to a place to be re-programmed. I am not sick!"
Andy shook his head, staring down at the floor. "And for the last time, Iím telling you this is NOT some cult thing where theyíre gonna show you pictures of guys and give you electro shock. This is counseling, thatís all."
Drew gave him the single squint-eye again. "Why donít I believe that?"
Andy sighed, and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "íCuz sometimes youíre dumber than a rock. Not to mention pig-headed."
Rita set down her coffee cup and inhaled deeply. "And I know where those qualities come from, too."
"Okay, Iíll shut up."
Drew McKinnon stomped out of the room, and banged his way through the house and up the stairs to the second floor. The comfort of a solid wood door slamming wasnít lost on him, and he made the most of it, two, three, four times in rapid succession once he got to his room. His face was flushed red and his eyebrows were knitted fiercely together. He flipped over the privacy lock - and it wasnít lost on him that this single action could have saved him a lot of trouble if heíd remembered to do it a few days before. He flipped on some music, cranked it as loud as the speakers could bare, and tossed himself down on his bed, face perched on his folded arms. As an after thought he opened his night-stand and fished out a package of rarely smoked cigarettes pilfered from his grandmotherís ever-present carton and lit one up. He gagged, ground it out, and decided he really didnít need one after all.
All of this was so damn unnecessary. He really couldnít understand why his father was making such a fuss about it. Okay, heíd caught him "playing" on-line, but what was the big deal? It wasnít like he was out and actually doing something with somebody. Not like the times last summer when -
Donít go there, he told himself.
Heíd put all that stuff behind him anyway. And last Saturday night was just for a kick, nothing more, and it was all because of that prick tease, Melissa.
Drew had come home from his date with Melissa just like he always did when heíd been out with her, frustrated and incredibly horny. Sheíd teased and used every excuse she had to come in contact with him through the night. And like every good little straight boy, Drew dug into his wallet and paid for everything she wanted or hinted at. He wasnít even sure why, either. Melissa didnít even turn him on that much. He liked her ok, but that was all. But something in him said "I need her," and heíd been determined to keep what they had going. Sheíd made a major difference in his life.
Truth was, Melissa stopped a lot of talk about him.
Heíd known her for years, and for all that time sheíd flirted, trying to get his attention, but Drew treated her like he did all the girls who seemed to fight for his attention; he paid no mind to her at all. He had dates of course, nice safe oneís with girls that didnít much matter to him. Never anything heavy, and if things started to get heavy, he found a reason to call it quits. And right up to his junior year, it had worked.
Then one afternoon on his way to study hall he over-heard something at school late in his junior year, just after heíd turned seventeen. Two of his friends who werenít quite as out of earshot as they thought let it slip that maybe Drew wasnít really interested in chicks at all. One mentioned he was pretty sure heíd seen Drewís gray Sebring convertible down near the Common in Lawrence late at night. The Common served two purposes after dark. One was a place to deal drugs. Lawrence still had its reputation as the drug clearing house of northern Massachusetts. Except it was known that while Drew liked his beer, he never touched anything heavier than the occasional bit of weed.
"Drew donít do drugs," Doug said firmly.
"Maybe not," Reggie said with a leer. " But itís one of those places fags go. To hook up," he added pointedly.
Doug turned to Reg in wide-eyed wonder, with a face that wanted to believe. Or at least believe enough to spread a rumor. "You think?"
Drew didnít wait to hear what Reg thought, or even to wonder what Reg was doing there in the first place since he didnít do drugs either. He ducked into an open classroom and leaned against the wall in a panic, breathing heavily. That Wednesday afternoon he asked Melissa to go out with him on Friday. By the following Friday, they were popularly known as the Ďnew coupleí around Lawrence Catholic. So far as he could tell, Doug and Reg accepted the new situation, and gave no sign that they thought it was some sort of sham. More important, no ugly rumors started to float. Drew had dodged the fag tag before and he didnít want to do it again this late in his high school career. And having learned an important lesson, Drew changed his nocturnal habits and dealt with certain things in a much different way after that.
One of those ways was like last Saturday.
Heíd dropped Melissa off around midnight. Sheíd done her best to tease Drew all night long, constantly rubbing against him when others were around, making the most of being out with one of the best looking and hard-to-get guys in the school. She knew that for some reason Drew never pressed much for her to put out, and she liked that. He went through all the motions, but when the final moment came she would just say "No" and obedient little Drew would pull back. She never noticed that this was a relief for him too, but then worrying about other people wasnít Melissaís style. Sheíd offered him a couple of hand jobs, even started them a few times, but Drew never went through with it. That didnít keep her from doing her best to get Drew as worked up as possible, and Saturday sheíd done her best to get Drew right to the edge before saying she had to get home for her curfew. Drew was ready for the hand job that night, too. He hadnít touched himself for three days before their date. Usually he pumped off before he left the house.
Clenching his teeth but without a word, Drew started the engine of the convertible and driven her to her door. Melissa gave him a quick kiss, not enough to get Drew started up again, but enough to keep her in his fantasies that night. She liked the idea of a tortured Drew pounding himself thinking about her. Of course it never happened, but she couldnít have known that. Sheíd walked slowly to her door, hoping to look as sexy as possible, and never looked back at her boyfriend as the light sensors saw her and the yard was filled with light. She did note with some satisfaction the sound of a gunned engine and the chirping of the tires as he drove off into the night. She wouldnít have liked the flipped finger though, since Melissa loved to be in charge.
All the way home, Drew sat there with his cock throbbing in his pants, cursing Melissa. He could still feel her hand rubbing and stroking him through the coarse denim, exulting in her feeling of control as she watched his clenched eyes. Of course, what she didnít realize was happening behind those closed eyes was a completely different scenario than the one she was playing out. Drew pictured quite a different body connected to that fondling hand.
With all the control he could muster, Drew drove back to his house in North Andover, fighting the voice in the back of his mind that told him to get on the highway and drive to a place he knew he could get some satisfaction, real satisfaction. Drew was a good looking young man, and he could always count on finding someone interested in him if he went to the right place. Heíd proven that over and over again since last spring and summer. But this was a Friday night in February and everyone was out and he was desperately afraid of being spotted again, parked some place he shouldnít. That kept him in check. But he had an idea what he could do, and he grinned. Heíd sped home, knowing exactly which alternative he was going to indulge in.
He jerked the car to an abrupt halt in the long driveway, next to his fatherís F-250 and fairly run into the house, Need thumping in the crotch of his faded jeans. The house was dark, about what he would expect for that hour. His father and his grandmother would have turned in long ago. He moved stealthily through the house praying neither of them got up and started their cheery "Well how was the date?" routines. He just wanted to get into his room and peel off his clothes.
Once in his room heíd almost slammed the door but caught himself just in time. He flicked on his temperamental Compaq Presario and tossed shed clothing until he was only in his boxers and white sox. He pulled on a Red Sox cap, the brim low enough to shadow his face, hiding his features. He flicked off the ceiling light so the rest of the room would be in shadow. He aimed a small reading lamp that was angled down from the side so the light washed across his chest and lower body. It spot lit his body, but not his face.
Setting up his mood, he clicked over his display to show "web content" on the monitor, and a collage of guy-on-guy pics sprung up on his screen, replacing the wallpaper display of the Earth seen from space. If heíd been solid before, he managed to stiffen more just looking at the photosÖ He was well aware that his cock was no longer tenting out the front of his shorts but had sprung free. He gripped it lightly and gave it a few tentative strokes, but fought the impulse to go even further. He logged into gaychats.com under his well-known cyber name and flicked over to the youth floor. His profile was there, laying out exactly what he was up for. It took awhile to get into TeenBoys1 just like it always did but once inside windows opened for him just like always. Drew saw a name he recognized well and shut down the others. The two made arrangements to meet at KameraBuddies and Drew switched on his net cam and plugged in is head phones. As an extra treat he fired up some hot dance trax to play in the background. The other boyís image appeared in the window, and his low voice crackled over the headphones, over the sound of the music.
"Hey, bro. Long time no see."
Unlike Drew, his partnerís face wasnít hidden, and Drew saw again the clear blue eyes and the short-cropped corn-yellow hair. He had one of those faces you expected to see in a Marine recruitment ad. This guy was the opposite of Drew in almost every way. He was built solid as a rock to Drewís slender body, a weight trainer type. Drew worked out, but it was more in the nature of toning exercises. He never really felt the desire to bulk-up. But he didnít mind looking at a builder by any means, and this guy filled the imagination as well as the screen.
It got better though. Drew had run into the guy twice over the course of the summer, and theyíd lived out some of their cyber sessions. Theyíd run into each other a third time too, but Drew didnít want to deal with that memory much at the moment. So it was an even better reason for him to be wearing the cap.
It didnít take long to get into the main event. "LoadBoi" angled the camera down slowly over his body, and Drew took in the built up, almost hairless chest. Then the wispy treasure trail that began under the navel, and finallyÖ
God, the guyís hung.
Drew wasnít at all bad in that department, but he couldnít hold a candle to what LoadBoi displayed. The other young manís hand was wrapped around the incredible tool and slowly tugged at himself. Drew followed suit, but careful not to go too far. Loady liked to take his time. He angled the camera onto his chest and began to tweak over a nipple. He began speaking the details in his low, hoarse, but somehow sexy voice of what he was doing to Drewís chest, all the while showing himself on display, and his hand slowly working himself. Drew closed his eyes and fell into the fantasy whispered in his ears by that strange, voice, occasionally opening the lids long enough to see Loady working himself, and that just got him hotter and hotter.
LoadBoi shifted his attention lower, and Drew responded by lowering the angle of the camera and easing back in the chair to better put himself on display as he slipped his boxers down and let them gather at his ankles. God, what Loady was describingÖ and better, it was exactly what Drew had done to the boy on two of the three occasions theyíd met. Drew quickened his pace, knowing what would be coming before long, and he wanted the timing to be close. Maybe he couldnít actually be there, but he wanted their session to be as close to the real thing as they could manage sinceÖ well, there wouldnít be any real sessions anymore.
Drew knew he wasnít exactly straight, but he wasnít about to give in completely and ruin his life. Thatís why he had Melissa, and when that was over heíd find another like herÖ but just maybe someone a little more giving and then maybe Drew could abandon the kind of thing he was indulging in right now. Maybe Drew wasnít all straight, but he didnít like the idea of being all gay. Bi would be ok. But just a little bit bi. Once he had the right girl, he was sure heíd be able to function in life like any normal guy and not waste his time with this stuff anymore. How many grown men got into cyber sex?
Load talked him through it, and Drew was getting closer and closer to his finish. His cyber partner was close too, Drew could hear the tell-tale sound in his voice and he kept stealing looks at the real-blondeís busy hand. He clenched his eyes, and - oh, yeahÖ
Drew heard the word "SHIT!" through the head phones and his eyes flew open expecting to see his blonde studís abdomen covered with semen as much as his own was, but all he saw was the blank spot in the middle of all the rutting and sucking men that decorated his screen. Then he felt his chair swing smartly around, and he saw the face of his father glaring down at him as he still sat with only his boxers gathered around his ankles and his belly and hands covered with --
It was at that moment he remembered the words of a chat buddy whoíd once been caught by his older brother in a similar situation:
"Never, ever, cyber with head phones on, unless youíre absolutely positive youíve locked the door to your room."
Drew got up off his bed, and began stripping down for a shower, lowering the music level to a more manageable level.
Heíd waited all day Sunday for the inevitable conversation with his father, even canceling his afternoon date with Melissa. Heíd hung around the house, volunteering to do his homework instead of screwing around on his computer, which he now regarded as the source of all his problems. He wished his father would just get it over with, and Drew could relax in the knowledge that the worst was over, but nothing happened. That was the worse thing with the old man - waiting for the melt down. Sunday became Monday, and that was followed by Tuesday andÖ well, you get the picture. Andy McKinnon was short with him, but not cruel. Drew sighed with relief. He wouldnít have to pack up and move off after all. He knew that was a possibility. Heíd read about it, seen it in the news. That was another reason he fought down that part of himselfÖ
There was a soft knock at the door, and the sound of his grandmotherís voice. "Drew, honey? Can I come in?"
Drew pulled on his shower robe and opened the door.
"Whatever," he said listlessly, and slumped into the desk chair, careful to keep the robe closed.
Rita McKinnon slipped into the room, and gently eased the door shut. She walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, but not before opening the night-stand drawer and pulling out the package of Marlboroís, lighter, and the small ashtray hidden there.
Drew raised an eyebrow.
"Guess I donít have any privacy at all, huh?"
Rita narrowed her eyes at him. "Donít be gettingí pissy with me, kid, Iím not the enemy. If you werenít such a slob I wouldnít have to come in here at all, like with your laundry and to change your bed. And if youíre gonna hide something, donít leave the drawer open. I figured out why I had the stray pack of butts missing a long time ago. But it was maybe one every three weeks so I just kept my mouth shut."
Drew made a face, and even tried a half-hearted grin. "Sorry, Nan."
She nodded. "You ought to be. And unless you want to wind up like me, fighting for every breath you take after you come up those stairs, you wonít mess with these things."
Drew prepared for the onslaught of anti-smoking lecture from a woman who had smoked two packs a day for over fifty years but was spared. Rita had other ideas.
"Weíve got some business to talk about, kid. Your dadís real worried about you andÖ wellÖ all this."
"Iím not a queer!" the boy shouted desperately.
Rita flicked her ashes, not sure how to proceed. Sheíd wheedled the whole story out of her younger son, a story Andy didnít want to talk about much. Sheíd developed her own ideas on the subject of Drew a few years earlier. It wasnít an unfamiliar one in her life. Sheíd made some mistakes handling it the first time around. She was determined not to have history repeat itself.
She took in her grandsonís face. Anger on the surface, the eyes squinted up as they had been not long ago on the kitchen when the boy had squared off with his father. Under the anger, she saw fear and confusion. Part of her wanted to rush the boy, to take him in her arms and tell him it was all going to be okay. But Rita knew her McKinnon men and whatever damned defective gene it was that made them shun comfort and tenderness. God they were stubborn! Until she got him calmed down, Drew would just push her away and ignore her.
"Honey, I never said you were. I just want you to know that whateverís going on inside you, Iím here. Youíre my only grandchild, and the only thing I want for you is whatís best. Whatever you are or arenít doesnít matter to me. As long as youíre not some conscienceless killer or a thief, or a molester or anything, Iím here for you. And even if youíre one of those things, it doesnít make me love you any less. Be afraid of you maybe, but not stop loving you. And if you happen to be gay, I donít care, and Iím not afraid of that. NO! Donít go off again, Iím not saying that you are gay. Iím saying it doesnít make any difference if you are."
Drew stared at the floor, stealing a stealthy upward glance at his grandmother. He didnít remember much about his real mother, only this woman who had taken him in charge. Most of the time part of him thought of her as "mom". He knew that tight look on her face, knew there was no danger to him, just concern. Part of him wanted to tell her everything; another part of him wanted to run out of the room and hide himself in shame.
Rita looked at the boy, and the lines of his almost-a-man face softened into the face of a terrified five year old watching his mother taken down a flight of stairs strapped to a gurney, a white body bag zipped up and over her face. She saw the same fear, desperation, and loneliness sheíd seen then. She also saw the hard blue nuggets that wouldnít cry in front of her or anyone else.
"What the hell does he want from me? Whatís he trying to do to me?"
"He wants whatís best for you, Drew," she began. "He doesnít want to hurt you, and this thing he checked out isnít some kind of aversion therapy. Itís a group for kids who are or think they might be gay."
He shrugged and made a pale laugh. "Hey, no problem then. I ainít gay, and I donít think I am, so thereís no need for me to go. Kewl, Nanny. Tell him Iím goiní out with Melissa instead."
Rita pressed her lips together, then let out a sigh. She sought comfort in a deep drag on her cigarette and coughed. "Itís not that easy, kid," she said gently. "He knows what he saw you doing, he knows what he saw someone else doing on that screen, and he saw the pictures you had all over your monitor. Itís not the kind of thing your ordinary straight boy does. And as for Melissa, well to tell the truth, I couldnít think of a better reason for you to be gay than her. Sheís a nasty piece of business."
Drew didnít say anything, just hung his head over his arm. It occurred to him he should defend his girl friend, but it didnít matter. Melissa really was a bitch.
"Now go take a shower and get dressed. Your fatherís determined to go through with this."
"Yeah," he said bitterly. "And I gotta have Daddy drop me off and pick me up too, just like Iím some little kid. Donít that beat everything."
The old lady raised her own eyebrow this time. "You expect me to believe that youíd go any other way?"
Drew didnít even try to play a game with her. He just looked up and smiled. "Probíly not."
"Thatís what he figured too. Now go get cleaned up and dressed. Andy meant it when he said heíd call in the cops if one of those cars disappeared from the driveway, so if youíve got any ideas about sneaking off Iíd let them go. Heís not a monster, Drew. Heís trying to help you. He only wants whatís best for you."
Drew looked up at her almost pleading. "I ainít queer, Nanny. Honest."
Rita rose slowly from the edge of the bed, and ran her fingers through her grandsonís hair. Then she hugged the head to her hip for a moment and left the room as quietly as she had come. Half way down the staircase, she heard the door open and Drewís feet plodding along the hall, then the sound of water running and the light slam of the bathroom door. She smiled, and continued downward to deal with her other problem, who was still seated in the kitchen, his head propped on his elbows.
"Iíve got him started, anyway," she said to her son.
Andy sat at the table and grunted. "Itís about time. I thought I was gonna have to bathe him, too."
"Now, that would have been a sight. I wonder who wouldíve drowned who?"
Andy looked up at her and squinted one eye. "You know, I really could use a little support here, Ma. Itís not like Iím trying to have him committed or anything."
"No, it isnít, but to be blunt, your methods suck," Rita said as she settled back into her rattan rocker. "You couldíve tried talking to him about this in advance instead steam rolling him the way you did. Youíre just like your father that way." She pulled over the floor-standing ash tray and ground her cigarette out before lighting up another.
Andy was going to make his usual remark about her chain smoking but decided against it. "I didnít try to steam-roll him, Ma. I spent all week looking for local programs that could help him out a little. Believe it or not I put a lot of thought into this. Iím worried about him, and I donít want to see that kid hurt. And you heard him - he keeps swearing up and down that he isnít gay."
"Maybe heís not." She nudged the hassock with her foot and set the rocker in motion. "That ever occur to you?"
Andy shook his head. "I know what straight boys do when theyíre looking for a little lonely fun, ma. And they donít get on line with another guy and - and -"
Rita inhaled deeply and fought down a hacking cough. "The phrase is jack-off, Andy. I seem to recall you being rather an expert at it when you were younger."
Andy flushed a deep red.
"And you werenít always so careful about locking your door, either. And maybe you didnít have a computer, but you had plenty of magazines stashed all over the place, so donít get all high and mighty about it to me."
Andy McKinnon sat bolt upright at the table working his jaw open and closed, and crossing the line from red to crimson.
Rita kept firing on her target. "The only difference between the two of you is the subject of the fantasies, and the fact he had some company to make it a little more Ďrealí. Iím not saying what he did was ok, but I am saying it wasnít a major crime, either."
Andy was shaking his head, trying to keep his voice reasonable. "Ma, Iím not saying it was a crime either. Okay, maybe you knew about my magazines, and maybe I was keeping them a secret, but I wasnít keeping what I wanted some dark secret, either."
"No, you werenít. You were straight, so it was easy for you to talk about it and deal with it. You could talk to anybody. But itís different with Drew. Drew isnít straight, or not completely. He at least has bi tendencies, thereís no mistaking that. But for him to admit that is a very hard thing right now, and youíre pushing it."
Andy looked up at her. "Am I that much of a monster, Ma? Do I make fag jokes or anything like that?"
"You donít. You might use the words now and then, God knows youíve got a mouth on you, but you never make fun of people for that. But if you think about it, youíre probably the exception. Drew hears it every day at school - fag. Homo. Cocksucker. You even use that one when youíre pissed, and you know better." She gave him a sidewise glance and a wry smile. "Think I donít remember what you and your friends called each other when you thought I couldnít hear you? Iím pretty sure boys his age still call each other cocksucker when their ticked off, or run across a kid whoís a little different from them. At least it seems that way to me when I hear Ďem on the street, and I donít think things have changed that much over the years. Thatís what Drewís dealing with, Andy. Heís different, he knows it, and heís afraid of it. He doesnít even want to admit the possibility of his being gay to himself, even if heís playing out some fantasies. So can you imagine how hard it is for him to admit it to you? Or go into a room tonight with a bunch of other teenagers and admit it to them?"
She paused, letting the message sink in.
Andy slumped down onto his elbows again shaking his head. "I guess Iím kind of cornering him after all, arenít I?"
"Youíre just like your dad, Andy. Except where he wouldnít budge an inch on his views, you want to go overboard and bury the kid with acceptance. But if youíre not careful, youíll drive Drew away the same way your father did Brian."
Andy banged an open palm onto the table, his face flushing with anger. "Dad threw Brian out, ma. Iím not doing that. Iím not dad."
Rita didnít like the way Andy disowned his own father, but she understood. Andy never quite forgave his father for the way he treated his older brother, but there was more to it than that. "No, but you can drive him out, for sure. And donít lay it all off on your father either, Andy. You made it pretty easy for Brian to leave."
The memory made him miserable. He could still see the look in Brianís pale, gray eyes the last time Andy was ever to see him. Brian had come to say goodbye, and instead of throwing himself at his older brother the way he wanted, Andy had taken his fatherís line. Heíd cursed him and spat on the floor. It was the most vivid memory of his childhood, and the one Andy McKinnon wanted least to hold on to. "I was fourteen. I didnít really understand what was going on."
"And your brother was eighteen, and he did everything he could to explain it to you, and you gave him the same crap your father did. You forgot he was your brother and you treated him like he was some piece of garbage that fell out of the trash. I never forgot that Andy, even if you try stepping around it. I know Brian never forgot it either, and he was afraid to even talk to you after that. Afraid to talk to any of us, for that matter. So he went away. And years later he died alone, and had a friend of his write us about his funeral - after it had taken place. Part of what youíre doing with Drew is trying to make up for Brian, and you know it. Just donít push too far to make up for the past and lose him, too."
"Thatís why Iím doing this, Ma. Iím making sure I donít lose him the way I lost Brian."
Eileen Curran stood in the doorway of her brotherís room, watching quietly. Alan scared her, sometimes. The kid was seventeen, and he was like an automaton around the house. He was so damn silent. Not the sometime sullenness of a teenager, just silent. He moved soundlessly.
Alan left no trail of himself. He cleaned up either his own mess or any other small mess left behind with a quiet precision that left her unnerved sometimes. Eileen was used to clutter from long years of living alone since her quick marriage had dissolved into a slow divorce. Not actual dirt, just the clutter of a person accustomed to living alone and resigned to the fact that things were most easily found where they were last left. Sheíd never been one much for organization, and attempts to "put things in their place" around the house usually meant she didnít have the damndest idea where things were. Now she just asked Alan, since he took care of all that.
He was sitting at his computer, quietly clacking away. He knew she was there, he had ears like a cat. Sheíd seen his shoulders stiffen. She asked a question she already knew the answer to. "Hey, kid. Going out tonight? Itís Friday, after all."
Alan turned, and looked at her politely. He gave her a smile, which was something new these days. Alan never smiled much, always kept a proper poker face. But then, she told herself, he never had much to smile about before.
It wasnít bad after a year and a half if Alan could smile and mean it. Sometimes he even looked relaxed around her. Once or twice in the last few months heíd even made jokes. His eyes were still hooded sometimes, and there was suspicion deep inside him, but it wasnít like it used to be. Wasnít all that long ago that to look Alan in the eye meant looking at the eye of fear. And he didnít shake like he used to when you came up on him.
He minimized the open chat window, but left the image on screen. Alan was online with his new friend, David. David must have seen her in the range of the web cam, and he waved. She couldnít be sure but she thought his mouth formed a "Hi, Eileen." David had become a fixture in Alanís life these days, which was fine with her. Alan didnít have many friends. Correction, she told herself. Until David, Alan never had any friends.
Lee had a good idea that they were more than just friends, but she didnít say anything about that. Her father made sure there was no secret about Alanís sexuality the day sheíd helped her brother pack up his pathetic bundles and move out of the house sheíd grown up in. It had been a nice home then, with her mother still alive. She wouldnít go so far as to say it was a perfect home, but it wasnít a bad home by any means. But once she was gone, her father had changed and so had the house. For her brother, it was a prison.
She still had memories of that first day. Alan arrived with little more than a hand full of clothing. Lee had left behind the old furniture, stuff remembered from her own childhood and cheap even then. God, even the mattress was the same, and it was worn out when she left. Other than that there wasnít much more than a cheap boom box with a blown speaker and an old black-and-white 8" Hitachi TV set, also left behind when she went off to her first and only year of college.
How could her father change so much? How could he let his son have nothing?
The same way he could kick the shit out of the kid and not see anything wrong with that, was the obvious answer.
The two of them made some fast stops after a quick, early lunch. The first was to the Marshallís discount outlet where she dropped three quarters of her fatherís first monthly support money on new clothing for Alan. The kid almost literally had nothing to wear that was in decent shape. The second stop was Best Buy. She parked him at the CD racks and told him to pick out a hundred bucks of music and walked off. One moderately priced TV set and stand and a decent pair of speakers and CD player later, they were on their way home again. Lee still had her old receiver back at her house gathering dust in a closet. Itíd been state of the art when she bought it. It was still pretty damned good. Sheíd only replaced it when Frank bought her a new surround system for Christmas.
When they pulled into the drive, she and Alan struggled the TV set out of the back of her Escort wagon and into the kitchen. Alan pushed the box to the living room than paused, staring at her 36" Panasonic, confused.
"All the way down the hall, and through the door at the end. Thatís going to be your room," she told him. Something flickered in the boyís eyes but he didnít say anything. Eileen followed with the speakers, then left to dig out her old Pioneer receiver. Alan was just staring when she got back.
"This stuff is yours, kid, just like all the clothes we bought today. When you get things set up I want you to sort through all the crap we brought from Daddy Dearestís. Anything that fits and looks decent we save. Anything too small and looks decent, we give to the Salvation Army. The rest goes into the ragbag. I wonít have my brother looking like he stepped out of Poverty Row. Now set up that TV stand and get going. I want everything done before we eat dinner. Put the TV over there," she said, pointing to a corner. "Thereís a cable outlet still active. Weíll get a new converter box on Monday."
Sheíd watched him struggle with the boxes, all the more awkwardly because of the bandages on his hand and the splints on his fingers, but Alan had managed. It didnít take him long to get the stand set up. Lee returned with the second VCR she had set up on her own system, which she didnít really need since she couldnít remember the last time sheíd bootlegged a movie. Alan wired everything into the receiver once she told him how to plug the audio from the cable into the VCR for stereo sound. Everything else went together normally. Then she told him to get busy sorting through the clothing and she left to make them some dinner.
When theyíd finished eating Eileen made a call to Frank, and asked him to drop by to meet her brother whoíd be staying with her "for awhile". Alan had eaten his dinner as he did everything else - silently. As soon as she picked up the phone Alan got busy cleaning up the dishes and wiping down the counters and table. When he heard the phrase "for awhile" he froze. Then he folded the rag carefully, draped it over the spigot and set off slowly down the hall, walking lightly on the balls of his feet.
Lee watched him creep silently past with his head down. She wrapped the call up fast and went after the boy. Alanís door was open and he was seated on the edge of what was now "his" bed, a comfortable full size, still unmade.
"Alan? Whatís wrong?"
He looked up with those dead lizard eyes. "I heard what you said, thatís all. About me only staying for awhile." He paused, and looked away. Then his head snapped up, and his face and tone reminded her of Haley Joel Osment looking up and stating so matter of factly "I see dead people." Eileen saw the pain in his eyes.
"Please donít send me back there. I heard him tell you Iím a cocksucker, and its true, but I swear Iíll stop if you let me stay here. Iíll never do it again."
It was exactly the phrase her father had used, among others but Eileen didnít care. Maybe her brother was a stranger to her and they could never have been called close, but that didnít mean it was right for him to be treated the way he was. That was her fatherís way of daring her to take the boy away. He didnít try to fight her in court, a few revelations would have meant jail time for him. The informal agreement between the DSS investigator granted her custody of the child and a support payment from her father. Eileen didnít care about the support payment. She wasnít rich from her job but she had enough, even to support Alan although there would be odd times when they would just scrape by. That support money went into a joint account with Alanís name on it and to buy the boy the "extras" in life heíd been denied. Extras like decent clothing and a comfortable bed.
Eileen tried to hug the boy, but it was like trying to embrace a marble statue. She calmed him down, told him the truth - he was never going back. The tears stopped, but the body she tried to hold stayed rigid all the same.
She never said anything to hint his living there was anything but permanent again.
Eileen blinked, and reality came back to her, and Alan was still seated at his computer desk, answering her question.
"Donít think so, Lee. Just gonna be on-line for awhile, maybe watch some tube later. You going out with Frank tonight?" He asked the last part in what for him were eager tones, for anyone else mild interest. She wondered if maybe David might be "dropping by" after she and Frank left.
Eileen smiled. Alan liked Frank, even though Frank swore the kid looked right through him sometimes. Heíd had the short version of Alan Curranís life and he tried to understand.
"Yup. I have to sit through some action-adventure tonight. After all, I made him do my movie last week. Should I leave the door open?"
Alan nodded. "Please."
She walked down the hall to her own bedroom. The door was a question mark to her. She remembered how sheíd fought to keep it closed at his age, defending her privacy. But Alanís experience was different from hers. A closed door didnít mean privacy to him. Part of Alan still believed he was locked in his room if she closed the door. Just like he played the radio or television at the lowest possible volume level, so it wouldnít disturb and irritate her.
And walked on the balls of his stocking feet, just so he wouldnít make any noise, as he had just done now and was standing at her door. Now, that bothered her, although she knew it was just Alan trying not to disturb her. It was like being snuck up on, even if that wasnít true. Alan just didnít want his presence known unless it had to be. Thatís what he was raised to think was "correct" behavior. So she wasnít really shocked when she looked back and saw that Alan appeared at her door and was waiting for her to notice him.
"Lee? You think it would be okay if I went out with David in a little while? He says he can pick me up."
Eileen laughed. "Alan, youíre seventeen. I donít expect you to ask my permission to go see a friend now and then, just let me know where youíre going. Be home at a decent hour, okay? And if youíre going to stay over Davidís again, make sure you call."
And have some fun for yourself, she thought smiling.
Alan pushed off eagerly from the door jamb and Eileen heard his door gently close. Guess he has to get dressed for a date, too, she told herself. Wherever you came from, David, thanks for helping him find a life.
Alan began clicking away into the message window for David:
>"All set, pick me up and we go to group. You ask Chris, or he still moping?"
<"Heís coming. Pick him up then swing over to you. See you in about half hour."
Alan closed the Yahoo chat window and shut down the KameraBuddies window and David disappeared.
They were both still worried about Chris St.Jacques, even though heíd broken up with his boyfriend over three months ago. It hadnít been an easy break-up either, and Chris still had his bad moments. Of course seeing each other at school every day didnít help. David said they didnít have any classes together that term, which helped Chris a lot, but they ran into each other often enough. It didnít help that in other ways, Jamie Levesque was a nice guy. He just couldnít keep it in his pants.
Still, Chris was better off than Alan had been back when heíd been a freshman at Lawrence Catholic High. His only neighborhood friend back in North Andover had been a year ahead of him at school, and for awhile they hung out together, which was cool for Alan since they also had something going on the side between them for a year. They hadnít exactly been what you would call boyfriends, really. But when the sex started, Alan welcomed it even if it wasnít his idea. They were the only kids close to each other in age in that neighborhood, and no one seemed to pay much attention to how much time they spent together.
Being together in the same school made a difference.
Alan didnít fit in. Alan was mousey and quiet. Alan didnít play athletics.
Speculation started since they were together so muchÖ and that scared his friend enough to break them up.
Then people wanted to know just why they used to hang together so much, but suddenly didnít any more..
And one day he started telling everyone how Alan had turned into a fag on him, and tried to get in his pants. What few friends Alan had at school bailed on him quick after that. Then his father got wind of the news, he was never certain how but then thereís always someone happy to spread bad news, and his miserable life got worse. The beatings started again. Both at home and at school. He couldnít do anything at school, or the Brotherís might see the scars and all hell would break lose then. Alan didnít have much, but at least he had a home, and the last thing he wanted was to trade it for was some state home.
Hey, screw all that, itís over, Alan told himself and began to turn to something more important. Like finding the right clothes for tonight so heíd look good next to David in a room full of other gay kids. It still amazed him anyone like David could be interested in him.
And who knew, maybe Chris might meet something hot and bounce back. After all, 90% of the reason for going was Chris.
Drew McKinnon stood in front of what had once been the Franciscan Seminary tucked into a quiet corner of Andover on River Road. It hadnít been a seminary for decades, although the Franciscan Order of Friars still maintained a small presence there. The bulk of the building had been turned into the Christian Formation Center, a Catholic organization that was connected officially to the Archdiocese of Boston, but still under the control of the Franciscan Prior who reported elsewhere. Among other things, the CFC offered CCD classes - religion classes for Catholic youth who went to public or private sectarian schools, but whoís parents still wanted the foundation of their faith taught to their children. Drew had been sent to a parochial school until eighth grade and then enrolled at Lawrence Catholic High School from grade nine on. Heíd never set foot in this building, had never done more than just pass by a few times. This end of River Road was well out of the way for anything in his life.
This particular stretch was still mostly in the woods, although expensive homes cropped up here and there. The nearest neighbor was the decrepit Monastery of St. Claire across the road. Unlike the former Franciscan Seminary, the Monastery really was deserted, a fabulous looking shell with little plumbing and less electrical wiring that would soon be knocked down in favor of either becoming another elegant development of pricey condos or small McMansions perched on five or more acres of land. Some suggested other low cost alternatives, but Andover was a wealthy town that gave lip service to many liberal causes - as long as it meant housing lower-income people elsewhere, like in nearby Lawrence. Lawrence had always been the Immigrant City, where the first generations of newcomers without money settled to work in the mills. Those who did well would be able to afford the small homes of Methuen, and if they did better the larger lots in North Andover although that was changing. Those who did really well would secure an Andover address, and therefore understand the need to maintain the status quo of the housing situation, no matter what the state said with its un-enforced anti-snob zoning statutes.
Of course, none of that meant a damn thing to Drew McKinnon as he reluctantly pushed open the door of the Christian Formation Center, cursing his father yet again. The old man had not only insisted on driving him there and picking him up later, but heíd also taken away his cell phone to make sure Drew didnít call any friends to pick him up. Fat chance of that, Drew told himself. The last thing he wanted was his friends knowing he was here the same night some gay group got together. Jesus, if that got out around schoolÖ
There was a blond guy around his own age sitting at a small table in the middle of the lobby. If I werenít straight, Iíd say he was cute, Drew thought fleetingly. Oh man, now Iím even starting to THINK like a fag!
The boy flashed him a big smile with his large mouth. "You here for the UUSCGLBTY meeting?"
Drew stood in front of him blinking his total lack of comprehension.
The blond guy laughed at his expression. "The Universalist-Unitarian Student Conference for Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgendered Youth. We meet here every other week. Thereís no forms to fill out, no telephone lists or anything like that, you just hang out and talk. But if you turn into some kind of basher we call the cops and prosecute under the Massachusetts Hate Crimes Act. Anyone else between the ages of thirteen and twenty-two are welcome to attend."
Drew stepped back. "You guys get bashers here? Straight guys looking for trouble?"
Blondie smiled, casually looking Drew over. This one wasnít afraid of being physically bashed. Just being outed. He knew the closet type well. He should. Heíd spent enough time there himself. And damn, this one was cute enough to slip into a closet with.
"Not too often. Every now and then we get a couple straight guys in here looking to make trouble, but once they find out the Universalist Church doesnít give a damn WHOS kid they are and prosecute they donít come back much. I seen two events since I started coming three years ago - and I looked pretty much scared as you, so ease up, okay?"
Drew was aware of being checked out, and while on one level he was angry another felt more than a bit flattered. In spite of what he kept telling himself, this guy was attractive, and he liked the attention.
No. Donít go there, he told himself. Think of Melissa. Shit, bad example. Think of any chick BUT Melissa.
"I thought this was a Catholic Center?"
Blondie shrugged. "It is, but the Franciscans are pretty liberal and donít mind dealing with different churches that need space. The Universalist groups in the area got together and they rent some space here, and run the meetings. The Archdiocese of Boston doesnít bitch about us being here since they canít control what the Franciscans do, anyway. Oh, and Iím Marc. Marc with a Ďcí," the guy said, and held up a hand to be shaken.
Drew stared at it stupidly, then very tentatively reached out and shook it.
The boyís face took on an amused look. "Uh, people do call you something, donít they? I mean, besides the hot lookiní blue-eyed dude with black hair?"
Drew blushed but was still hesitant. Should he give his real name? When heíd met guys before, he never had. But this was different, wasnít it? This was a meeting for gay kids, not a cruise party for -
From behind him, Drew heard the door from the parking lot open and he turned, half afraid it was someone he knew. He relaxed for a moment, seeing a very attractive Italian-looking guy stepping into the lobby with a good looking shorter kid with a long, slightly pointed nose. Then there was a movement directly behind them, and another body stepped out and took his place next to the Italian babe.
Drew froze. He knew the face, all too well. Theyíd even been friendsÖ once. But Drew had thrown the guy to the wolves to cover his own tracks. The last person in the world he wanted to run into tonight was Alan Curran.
But it wasnít Alan who spoke, it was the short guy with the nose, whoís face was twisted into a look of anger and disgust.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Chris St. Jacques growled.