Book 2: The Return Home
by Rick Beck
Being Informed & Not
I'd become bored watching guys run around in circles by the end of the first week of springy weather. I left Simon sitting on the corner of the bleachers and told him that Jack had left me a note at the library recommending another book. Simon said he'd drop by later and I headed home. I really wasn't in a reading mood, although I had enough homework to keep me busy. After having a cup of tea and some pecan cookies my mother had just taken out of the oven, I went upstairs to study.
By the time Simon got upstairs with a plate of pecan cookies and a glass of milk, I was finishing up a paper for English. It wasn't due until the following Monday but I liked keeping ahead in case something came up that interested me enough to keep me away from my school work. It was all coming to an end soon and it felt good not to be applying extra pressure on myself by failing to do my school work on time.
Simon kicked off his shoes and reclined on my bed, studying each cookie before consuming it.
"These are good," he finally said as I closed the book I was studying from.
"Yes, they are and you are going to weigh a ton if you aren't careful."
"Billie Joe, I don't weigh all that much."
"No, not yet you don't. You keep eating those things and how long do you think you'll stay thin? You are leaving childhood, Simon."
"I know that but I like these cookies. They're so thin and taste so good."
"The taste comes from calories, fat, and sugar."
"Yuk!" Simon said, nibbling away and washing the cookies down with milk.
"I just gave Brit his first blow job. Do you know they go under the bleachers to pee?"
"Do you know they go under the bleachers to pee?"
"No, not that. What did you say before you said that?"
"Oh, yeah, I blew Brit."
"How did you get the nerve to do such a thing."
"You know those celery sticks on his plate?"
"It was like that. There it was on his plate and I touched it. Speaking of sensitive tissue. He got hard in the blink of an eye. Then he couldn't pee. He turned all red like he does at lunch. I told him, 'there's one way to solve that problem.'
"What was that?"
"I told you already. It wasn't as exciting as it could have been. I got down in front of him and let my lips and tongue do the talking."
"What do you think happened? I got some of it on my jersey. It was kind of bitter but not much I could do once he shot it down my throat. You know how red he gets when he's embarrassed?"
"He was white as snow. He shook and I thought he'd faint for a minute. He just stood there after I was done. When I stood up he just looked at me with this strange look on his face."
"Well was he angry?"
"You're kidding me right. He was like a puppy when I went back to sit in the bleachers he came and sat next to me."
"What did he say?" I asked.
"Nothing. He sat there looking at me. I finally told him I was leaving."
"What did he say?"
"Can I see you after practice?"
"Can he?" I asked.
"Silly boy. He can see me any time he likes."
"I didn't think you did that kind of stuff," I chided him with a smile.
"I didn't until today," Simon said in a wicked voice as he smiled back. "I guess I do now."
I went over and we lay together on my bed. I had him go through each detail of his encounter and we giggled and held each other both happy for different reasons.
Simon had changed. He was every bit as gay as ever but you couldn't really tell it by looking at him. Even his colorful clothes fit him differently. He walked more like a boy than a girl. He'd already been determined and focused but the changes he'd undergone made it easier for me to relate to him. I'd started dressing in more colorful clothes, much to the displeasure of my father.
The next day at lunch nothing had changed. Maybe Brit was a bit more focused on Simon. Even after arranging for a second health nut plate for Simon, it didn't stop him from reaching into Brit's plate for celery and carrot sticks. Either Brit ignored it or wasn't aware of it as he scooped and nibbled his way through his fruit and nuts. I was certain he burned more calories chewing than the food could supply him. He seemed thinner than ever to me, but he did run round in circles all afternoon every afternoon. I wondered what that was about.
By the end of the week both Simon and I were invited to accompany Brit to church on Sunday to hear him sing. I found this hard to believe. As good as Brit looked I couldn't believe he sang. Why would someone run around in circles everyday if there was some other hidden talent? It made no sense to me either. Simon reminded me he wasn't from here and was probably in the choir and wanted us to come see him as he'd come to see the senior play.
I'd distinctly heard the word solo. It wasn't surprising Simon didn't hear it as he was almost staring at either Brit or his food and unable to pay attention to anything else that was going on around us. I decided that Simon was probably right. It had to be some misunderstanding but even if Brit merely sang in the choir, he invited us and I was going.
My relationship with God had grown strained, since my excursion into the bowels of San Francisco. What I'd seen and what I'd been exposed to convinced me that God either didn't care or he was far less influential in our day to day lives than the priests and preachers wanted us to believe. A good and benevolent God could not possibly allow man to get away with mistreating or ignoring the plight of homeless kids on the streets of major American cities. This qualified everyone responsible, who tried to convince voters how responsible they are in order to get elected to political office, to a one way trip to hell.
I wasn't dumb enough to condemn God as a malevolent bully. Besides, the disparity between what preachers said God was about and what God could do wasn't necessarily true. I found that men with power tended to want you to believe that they knew all about the power and what to do with it, but it didn't add up. And while God and I were not about to square off about my doubts, I didn't want to insult someone or something that obviously had to be a little perturbed by how man portrayed Him.
There was false advertising going on somewhere along the line and I wasn't willing to blame God for the discrepancy.
My mother was pleased and my father shocked, when I dressed for church Sunday morning. I explained my friend was singing at his church and had invited Simon and I. Simon already had a standing invitation to Sunday dinner and I was told to invite my other friend as well. My father dropped me off at Simon's front door on his way to church.
We were excited though we'd never gone into the church the directions took us to. Luckily we had dressed for the occasion. Everyone was dressed in coat and tie and the thick dark wood pews that had the appearance of being freshly polished. Simon and I slid into one of the pews near the right corner of the dais where Brit told us to sit.
People were polite as the church filled with parishioners. The minister started things off with a short reading from the Bible. He then spoke to us in a pleasant speaking voice with none of the fire and brimstone the preacher in my father's church used on us. The message seemed simple and not beyond my vision of what the world was about. There were no supernatural invocations, or threats, or long winded dissertations. It was almost like sitting in class in school with a bit more formality.
As Simon suspected, the choir was introduced and on one end of the twenty men and women was Brit, looking quite dapper. His face was without expression or emotion. He sang when the men sang, was silent when the women sang, and joined in when they all sang together. We kept our eyes on him, because he was the only reason we were there. Simon giggled, which made me giggle, and the people around us looked at us to see if we'd lost our minds.
No, we hadn't then but we were about to. While we were distracted by this or that inside the church, Brit stepped from the corner of the choir to the edge of their domain. With one loud clear tenor note he surrounded us with his angelic voice. Simon and I looked at each other at the same instant, wondering how our friend could make such a sound come from a rather thin and unimpressive body.
His face filled with joy and devotion as his mouth formed perfect words that floated on a voice made for or by the gods. The blush that frequently filled his face after Simon scolded him now appeared in his cheeks as his perfect lips let loose of a perfect sound that without amplification managed to fill the church front to back and floor to ceiling. Every face was turned up toward him.
By the time he stepped back to the corner of the choir my breathe was gone. My heart beat frantically as I listened for his voice as the choir sang in unison with Brit's voice now apparent to me each time a sound escaped from him. The other voices were ordinary in comparison. There was more singing, we prayed, and the minister stood to finish the sermon he'd started before the music began. It was easy to see he was pleased as he thanked the choir, but there was no applause and that didn't seem right to me.
By the time Brit had jettisoned his robes and met us at the side of the church he was in a short sleeved white shirt, a blue tie, and black slacks. It was the same Brit we ate lunch with in spite of the fact we now knew he could sing; man could he sing. I felt strangely in awe without knowing what to say. Certainly he knew what a wonderful gift he had and my telling him wasn't going to mean a thing. Taking him come for dinner was the best I could do but he'd accepted the invitation without hesitating. It was the least I could be a part of to thank him for something it might have been better off for me not to know about him.
My mother was delighted to meet Brit and to have Simon over for dinner again. This was what my mother lived for and I was little help. I'd never have asked Simon over so often if he hadn't invited himself most of the time. It didn't matter. My mother always fixed major meals that we couldn't possibly eat. I figured she'd come from a large family that ate large, but I didn't know much about my mother's family. My grandparents had visited when I was young, but they lived in Atlanta and hardly ever came back north.
By the time we'd been served ice tea and cookies in the living room dinner was well on its way to completion. My mother had stayed to chat for only a minute after introductions were made. Dad hadn't made his appearance yet and was likely reading the newspaper on the back porch. He'd long ago lost any interest in knowing anything more about Simon and the idea of bringing home a boy from another church in town wasn't likely to get him overly excited. Arguing about it or denying me the right to have friends home would only get him hassled by his wife, and so he remained out of site until it was time to stuff his face.
Simon, Brit and I held a conversation without any of us bringing up Brit's performance. I still wouldn't know what to say without sounding like an idiot and Simon wasn't complimentary of boys in general. I was his friend and so I was the exception and got his most earnest endorsement, 'you aren't so bad.'
The biggest change in Brit was his voice. After being in church, his accent was pronounced. It was like it was natural and he'd forgotten to turn it off. It was only then I realized he worked to speak plain English, or American in our case. He seemed happier than usual. Maybe it was the invitation and maybe not. Maybe he was happy his singing gig was done. I was always happy after delivering up my final line during the senior play. All that was left to do after that was not fall asleep as the two stars badgered each other.
My mother introduced Brit to my father when he came to the table with part of the Sunday paper still under his arm. My mother reminded him that we didn't read at the table and he didn't think it funny. Once he sat down, Brit became of interest to him. Not of interest enough to talk to him but of interest enough for him to stare at him. Brit was handsome and way more polite than Simon or I. It was odd that my father kept looking up from his plate to stare into Brit's face as if he as trying to remember where he'd seen it before.
"Is that coriander in the casserole?" Brit asked my mother after sampling several spoonfuls of the dish."
"Yes, it is," my mother blushed.
I could see the curiosity in her face but she wouldn't ask and I wasn't going to. What the hell was coriander anyway?
"I'm particularly fond of that seasoning. My grandmother use to use it in her dishes at home. This reminds me of her," Brit explained.
"Oh," my mother said.
"Where's home?" my father interrupted.
"Liverpool," Brit answered, and immediately sensed that Simon and I were taken a back by this information.
"Your parents are English?" my father quizzed and I wasn't sure he didn't have some kind of disagreement with the English by the way he asked.
Brit entertained himself with the food, keeping his mouth full to prevent us from asking any questions. I could tell he sensed that we wanted to talk to him after dinner, and that's before we got the rest of the story.
"Brit. Brit," my father said twice. "Britain Tungstal? You won the county cross-country championships. You were captain of the cross-country team," my father advised him.
"Yes, sir," Brit said, and Simon and I looked at him closer.
"How's the team look for the spring?"
"Good. We're pretty solid in most of our events. There's always a couple weaker than others."
"How do you look in the state competition?"
"I've got the third fastest time in the half-mile and second in the mile."
"Whose the guy in the mile?" my father asked as if he knew what he was speaking about.
"Blanchard. He ran a 4:07 last week."
"What's your fastest time?"
"Pretty impressive. Why didn't you tell me you were friends with Britain Tungstal, Billie Joe?" my father now wanted to know.
"Slipped my mind, Dad. Didn't know you'd be interested," I said, looking at Brit as he occupied himself with more food.
"I ran some in high school. I was small potatoes compared to you."
Brit's face was now scarlet as he cut his roast beef and mixed it with the mashed potatoes and gravy. He drank tea as quick as he finished chewing and he smiled at my mother but never got around to looking my way. I didn't know what to think.
Why didn't I know who he was? I never asked. He was just a guy that said hello one day, and he sang, and he was captain of the track team, and, oh by the way, one of the best runners in the state, and he was from Liverpool and not the USA. My father knew more about Brit than I did and how weird was that?
After peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream, we excused ourselves and went up to my room. Brit and Simon sat on my bed as I closed the door and leaned my back against it, studying him.
"I don't even know you," I said, feeling like a dope and not liking it. "Why didn't I know about all that stuff my father knows about?"
Simon held Brit's hand and acted like he was going to protect him from me.
"Do you follow track?"
"What difference does it make than?" Brit defended. "I know that day I helped you up after fatso knocked you into your locker that we'd end up being friends. It was the middle of cross-country season and I didn't have time to spend making friends."
"What? You were the guy that helped me up?"
"You were wearing your letterman's jacket?"
"Yeah, I was."
"Why didn't you tell me it was you. I never knew who it was."
"I felt really bad, Billie Joe. I planned to make it up to you, but I couldn't leave you lying there without offering to help you. I did help you up," he explained.
"Six fucking months ago and now you tell me. Why didn't you tell me when you were ready to be friends?"
"I don't know. It didn't seem important. I didn't think about it. I knew you were someone I wanted to know, but not then. You're making a big deal out of a little deal, Billie Joe."
I knew that's what I was doing but I was still angry with Brit. Why his withholding of facts seemed important isn't clear. Simon and Brit lay on my bed making out. I may as well not have been there. I wasn't angry that they liked each other. I liked they liked each other. It gave me less of an opportunity to think about doing something stupid to further fuck up my life. No, I was happy that my friends were happy together, but I was mad that I thought I knew who Brit was when I didn't.
We'd already had dessert and my mother wouldn't come banging on my door for us to come eat dessert. I wasn't sure my father might not come up to chat some more with Brit. It was the first time my father had more in common with one of my friends than I did.
That might have been the problem and I knew it was my problem and not Brit's. There were scads of things I didn't tell anyone about. I knew better. Having my father inform me about my newest friend was less than cool. Of course my father didn't know what I didn't know. He thought I was holding out on him, which was the way it had been for years. I hadn't told my father anything about my life.
It was only last summer that I'd become a disappointment to my father, which is a major understatement. I'd gone so far from anything he knew or accepted as plausible that my being his son had become no more than a mere technicality. He made no effort to communicate with me these days. I had for a long time made no attempt to communicate with a man who I'd never known much about.
The introduction of Brit to our situation was going to blur the lines. If my father started to think my friendship with Brit had something to do with my appreciation for his athletic ability or an appreciation for conventional activities, nothing could be further from the truth, because I didn't know anything but Brit ran track and ate 'rabbit' food. I did not want my father to misunderstand. It was important for me to maintain some idea of independent thought.
No good could come from my father thinking we could achieve some meeting of the minds. In my entire life my father had never done anything to make me think he wished for us to agree on anything of importance and I accepted that and when I left home for the final time, I didn't want to go with any apprehension that at some later time my father and I might come to understand one another.
My mind often wandered when I had nothing to do and watching Simon and Brit making out was next to nothing to do. It did give me time to wonder about my feelings toward Brit. Once they broke their clinch, they lay on the bed staring at each other. Simon was pretty and Brit was handsome and I wondered if there would one day be a way to combine the genes of two gay men, or women for that matter. It would most likely be a sin if it could be done.
"You lips get sore?" I asked, once looking at them look at each other got to be too much for me.
"Oh, sorry," Brit said.
"He's sorry you're being such an asshole. What's your problem, Billie Joe?" Simon demanded to know.
"It's my father knowing we have a star sitting at the dinner table with us and I don't know," I unloaded.
"I'm not a star," Brit objected. "That's why I didn't talk about it. If you want to know what I do, come watch me. If you don't than that's fine. I don't do it because I expect people to think I'm something I'm not."
"What aren't you?" I asked, being an asshole.
"I aren't a star and if that's a problem for you, I can disappear. It's not like I don't have plenty to do. I admired you. I wanted to know you. Maybe I should have offered you my resume' before I talked to you, but I don't have one."
"Your from Liverpool?"
"Liverpool, Glascow, Belfast, Wilmington, and St. Cloud. My father isn't an educated man. Work runs out. We move to where there's a job. I'm a blue collar worker's son."
"Are you going to be a singer?" I asked.
"No. I only sing in church."
"You need to become a singer," Simon said.
"I'll give it some thought for you, dear," he said with a smile, kissing Simon's lips. "No. I sing in church," he said.
"Your voice is only for God?" I asked.
"Billie Joe, you're so strange. I have no interest in that kind of life. My voice is something that came with the body. I don't need to make my living using it. That kind of lifestyle is too much like how I've lived all my life. I make friends. I get adjusted to a place. Sorry, got to go. I want to stay in the same place for the rest of my life."
"St. Cloud?" Simon asked.
"No probably not. Where ever I end up after college, that's where I'll stay."
"Why do you run?" I asked.
"It's the most consistent thing in my life. I've always run. No matter where I went I ran. When I was really young no one noticed. Then, people started watching me run and I ran faster. More people watched. I joined a team and I ran faster. It's routine. I put one foot in front of the other and I do it over and over again. No matter where I end up I can run. Besides, I like running."
"You don't want to get anything out of it?"
"If you'd asked me that a few years ago I'd have said no. There are colleges making offers and by graduation I'll pick one and they'll pay for my college education and my father can stop working so hard to send me to college. He's getting old and it's a good thing I run."
"You're lucky," I said.
"How's that?" he asked.
"You have a father you care about."
"Your father's okay," Brit said.
"You're a track star. Of course he's okay, but if you were his son, it wouldn't be enough."
"I didn't want to be your friend because of your father. You've got the kind of courage I wish I had," he said.
"Yes," Simon said.
"I'm scared shitless," I admitted.
"I know that. We're all scared, Billie Joe. It's one hell of a world that's out there waiting to eat us alive. You stand up to it. You don't lie down for it. You refuse to give in to it. Whether it's George, or your father, or any of the obstacles we face, you spit in its eye and are more than willing to pay the consequences. That takes courage."
"I do what seems right. I don't want to get my ass kicked or getting in trouble at home or at school, but I can't let people force me to become something I'm not."
"Straight," Simon lamented.
"Exactly," Brit said.
"Why didn't you tell me all that stuff about you?"
"You never asked?" Brit said. "It's not a secret. I don't bring it up if other people don't. It's a tiny piece of who I am."
"Do you know how lucky you are?" I asked.
"When I hear you talking about your father, yes. I have good parents who have always encouraged me. I am really lucky but I know it."
"I don't know my father. My mother thinks I'm a girl," Simon said reflecting on his own circumstances.
Brit leaned over to kiss Simon.
"You're the only one here that's normal," I said to Brit.
"How normal is it to be gay? This is not a happy place when you're gay, but that only means we've got a lot of work to do," Brit said.
"How do we figure out what to do? There are always assholes," I said.
"Make sure everyone knows who the assholes are," Brit explained. "Then, make sure you don't become one."
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