Book 2: The Return Home
by Rick Beck
Simon and I went back to our routine lives once we'd gone to see Brit sing. I suppose that was his way of letting us know more about him. There was nothing wrong with Brit but there was something wrong that I still held it against him that I didn't know anything about him. My own life had been so completely crazy that someone as well adjusted as Brit seemed to make me feel poorly about myself and my prospects.
Simon, Brit, and I met at lunch each day and Brit seemed to be no less real to me. He was still captivated by Simon, but Simon had lightened up on Brit somewhat. It was easy to see the affection between them. This seemed to make Simon more confident about himself. While he'd always taken pride in attracting the attention of the girls, he had toned it down considerably without losing any of his female admirers. Anything Simon did was okay because he didn't treat them like meat or act like he wanted anything from them. Their attention was genuinely appreciated and it was most apparent to me in drama, where he continued to shine for the class.
I went with Simon to the next home track meet and Brit came and sat with us for a few minutes. In his half-mile race he beat five other runners and the closest to him finished five yards back. I had to pinch myself to keep myself awake or wait for Simon to do it for me, and we did stay for the mile-run, which was one of the final events. It was also the premiere distance event in schoolboy meets.
Brit stayed in second place behind one of our other runners as they ran together for the first lap. Then, Brit moved into the lead once they passed the start-finish line. By the first turn he led by ten yards. Our second man was in second place and the rest of the runners strung out behind him. Brit ran effortlessly and stretched his lead as he went down the backstretch.
By the end of the third lap Brit led by thirty yards and when he came off the last turn you could see him turning on the speed. He propelled himself across the finish line fifty yards ahead of our second runner in the race. Once he finished he walked over to where Coach Williams stood and they looked at his watch. They turned to look at the backstretch as other runners finished, and Brit pointed at something and Coach Williams pointed at something else. They looked at the watch again and Brit jogged off and back onto the track as the bleacher dwellers broke out in applause with people yelling, "Brit! Brit! Brit!"
Once Brit got halfway around the track he stopped and walked a few yards and stepped off the track just before the Mile-Relay began. He walked back toward the start/finish line and looked like he'd been out for a stroll as the gun fired and runners dashed off in the final relay race of the day.
It was interesting. Seeing Brit race gave me some understanding of what it was he did. He was all business. After winning the race, he didn't wait around to be extolled. He went over to the coach and they talked about his race. Like in all sports, this was working up to bigger track meets and he was working toward running faster, but you couldn't see that was what was going on. It was very ordinary in appearance, but I imagined how much focus and training it took to be able to do what he did.
At lunch the following day Simon wanted to know more about what Brit had done but getting him to talk track wasn't as easy as it sounded. We wouldn't have understood what it meant even if he had wanted to talk about it with us, which he didn't. During lunch Brit asked us to come to Sunday dinner at his house.
"Does that mean we need to go to Sunday church?" I asked.
"I'm singing. You invited me to your house for dinner the last time. My mother insists I invite you this time. She'd wonder if you didn't show up for church. I could always make up an excuse."
"Like I'm a heathen?"
"We'll be there," Simon said.
"You're not a heathen. You used to go to church."
"Don't tell me what I am," I said.
"Sorry," Brit apologized.
"I'd invite you guys over to my house for Sunday dinner but we're out of Pop Tarts and gourmet instant soup," Simon said.
I can't eat Pop Tarts," Brit explained.
"Of course you can't, because we don't have any. Why don't you listen?" Simon chided.
The week dragged by and the next thing I knew I was back in one of those big shinny pews listening to the sweet mellow tones that came out of Brit. It amazed me that anyone could make such sounds without a studio and a lot of electronics involved. I closed my eyes and my insides shivered with delight. Simon held my hand and squeezed at the most beautiful parts of the solo.
Singing in church eliminated applause and that was unfortunate. I'd rather have applauded his singing than his running but we weren't given an option. I thought Brit's desire to keep a low profile might explain why he only sang in church. He made it clear it had nothing to do with religion. Brit sang because he could sing and church was the easiest place to do it without receiving a lot of unwanted attention.
Brit's house was small and unpretentious. There were crochet doilies on the arms of the chair and the couch and on the backs. They were also generously spread on coffee tables and the buffet that had pictures of the family. There was a big mirror on one wall and more pictures of the family. I only noticed a couple of what might be called knickknacks.
My mother had what she called keepsakes all over the house to mark this trip or that event. The Tungstal house didn't have a lot of extras, except when it came to kids and there were three younger girls and two younger boys. I'm not including the two brothers who had already gone out to seek their fortune, leaving Brit to be the oldest at home.
The meal consisted of white potatoes, carrots, and brisket of corn beef, which had an odd taste. There was tea and cookies and lots of arms and hands and conversation, different conversations but all at the same time. It was particularly daunting when I found myself answering two different questions asked at the same time.
The children were uninhibited and unrestrained, although they did nothing objectionable and they seemed to have a complete grasp of what was within the bounds of acceptable behavior and what was not. I can honestly say that I'm not a great lover of kids but as kids go, these were fine and typical as far as I could tell.
Simon held audience with the three girls. I shook my head and failed to understand what Simon had that so attracted women to him. Simon and Brit sat together on the couch and I sat in the chair, which was in full view of the dinner table, where the family stayed even after we'd finished.
Brit's mom was round. She had a round face, a round nose, and pudgy round arms. His father was old. He seemed much older than the mother. His face had deep lines and his eyes made him look very tired. He was a small man and ate but a little food. I don't recall him saying anything at the table, except if someone directly addressed him.
I thought this odd. My father was in charge of every aspect of life in his house. His wishes were treated as orders. Brit's mom seemed to fill this role in his house but not in a direct order way. She'd merely make an observation or suggestion and it was obvious what she wanted. As if by magic it was done without discussion or examination for escape clauses or objection.
The three girls were all blonds. Brit explained that he'd started off that way, not as a girl as a blond. Where they all got their looks baffled me. Each girl was more beautiful than the last and the youngest was the prettiest of all. The same was true of Brit's brothers. His youngest brother was far too handsome for his age. The pictures of the brothers who had left home proved that beauty ran in the family, but from where did it come. Neither parent was the least bit attractive, as plain a couple as I'd ever seen. The world was a baffling place and the longer I lived the less I thought I knew.
Had I been Brit I'd have apologized for something, probably everything if that had been my house, but Brit wasn't phased. He had nothing to prove. These were his people and saying otherwise would have been like rejecting himself. As Simon and I adored him, so did his sisters and brothers. They each talked to him one on one and he did likewise in an interested and involved manner. His mother and father addressed him politely and that's exactly how he addressed them. I detected none of the friction or tension that existed in my own house.
It was his mother that guided us to the family room where the television could be found and where on one wall were trophies, ribbons, and one picture after another of their athlete son. With headlines like Tungstal Beaks Record and Tungstal Wins Again the newspaper pictures had been neatly framed.
"Mom," Brit said, returning from the bathroom and kissing her cheek. "They don't want to watch TV and they know me too well to think I'm a big deal."
Brit was a bigger deal after we'd had dinner at his modest house than before. I finally felt I knew Brit and he was the real deal and someone I knew it was okay to admire. There was nothing self-absorbed about him. I wish I could say that. Brit had it all and yet he didn't let it change him. He wasn't going to let it make him something he wasn't and didn't want to be. I finally understood and it made me like him that much more. Simon couldn't like him any more than he already did. It was plain to see he admired Brit in a way that suited both of them.
Now, when Simon reached for his usual celery stick fix off of Brit's 'rabbit' food plate, Brit smacked his hand before handing him whatever it was he was reaching for. I could no longer tempt Brit with hamburgers. His will was solid steel once the most important track meets were but a few weeks away. This was what Brit trained for all year and we saw less and less of him as his training intensified..
It was after he won the half-mile and the mile in the County Championships that we celebrated at lunch with all of us drinking extra milk. Brit wasn't relaxed, but it was plain to see he was more relaxed. It was then Simon put a fly in the ointment.
"Are you going to the memorial?" Simon asked.
"What memorial?" I played along.
"You know what memorial, Billie Joe. I'm not going alone and he was your best friend."
"I'm not speaking to him."
"I'll go with you," Brit said.
"You didn't even know him," I said.
"How do you think I knew about you, Billie Joe?"
"I thought from all the crap going on in school last fall," I said.
"Not even. Ralphie was in my freshman English class. He's the one that helped me learn American speak," Brit said.
"You knew him?"
"Yeah, not all that well. We had English together and the same study hall. It didn't take all that long, you know. I'm pretty smart."
"Amongst other things," I said.
"He is pretty and smart, Billie Joe," Simon said, blushing as he felt the back of Brit's hand.
"Well, Billie Joe, are you going with us or are you going to keep acting like a twit?" Simon asked.
"You're a twit. I hadn't thought about it until two minutes ago."
"Are you going, Billie Joe?"
"Yes, I'll go under protest. I hate what he did," I said.
"It's up to us to make sure kids don't think they have to do that any more. It's something to shoot for," Brit said. "We all think we're alone until we stumble on to someone else gay. We've got to find a way to find each other before we have time to think we're alone."
"You've never been alone," I complained. "You have a baseball team for a family. How could you be alone?"
"You can be alone standing out in front of a crowd as easy as you can be alone by yourself. I couldn't tell anyone. I was always afraid someone would figure it out. That's one reason why I worked so hard at running. I wanted to be better than anyone else."
"You are," Simon sighed.
"No, I'm not. I'm good but there are guys that are faster, but you know what, it doesn't make no never mind. I know I'm not alone and I don't have to run to prove my value. I'm lucky. Ralphie wasn't."
"I was his best friend and I never told him I was gay," I said.
"I never told him I was gay either," Brit said.
"I didn't have to. Everyone knew I was gay before I did," Simon said.
Brit and I cracked up.
I'd run away to avoid facing Ralphie's death. I never had faced it. Ralphie's house was as familiar to me as my own. I spent at least as much time there as I did at my own. Then, once Ralphie died, his house might as well have disappeared into the abyss. It was three blocks from my house, one street over, and in the year since Ralphie died, I'd never gone near it. There was some kind of barrier that kept me from purposely or accidently turning up his street that was one block off the main street I was on every day. I did not think about it and that was how I handled Ralphie's dying.
Ralphie's parents were nice. They didn't cater to Ralphie but they never hassled him, encouraging to like what he liked and not forcing him to do things he didn't care to do. I don't recall ever hearing his parents raise their voices if they weren't calling us a second or third time when we were preoccupied with some activity that had us shutting the rest of the world out of our world.
Hating Ralphie came from loving him. Losing him was like I imagined losing an arm or a leg might be. While the trauma of it might pass, each time you look, how can you not notice the missing part of you. I loved Ralphie as if he had been my brother. I'd had no particular sexual thoughts in those days beyond realizing I liked looking at the boys and couldn't be bothered with looking at the girls, even though I liked girls fine. They were much nicer than boys but I didn't need to look at them.
I'd never sensed Ralphie looked at boys, too. I suppose he did but I wasn't looking for that. When I was with Ralphie, we had our own world and plenty to do and I wasn't at all sexual. All that changed upon Ralphie's departure from my life. My thoughts became filled with a desire to be with a boy, any boy. I wanted to be held and I wanted someone to make love to me.
There was a short service. I didn't look at the picture of Ralphie that sat in between two lighted candles. There were all his relatives and there were kids from school and there was the three of us. One of us didn't want to be there. It was an exercise in pain. Why did anyone want to remember Ralphie was gone. I remembered it every day of my life. A ceremony wasn't necessary.
When Ralphie's parents saw me, after the short service, I knew they felt the way I felt.
"Hello, Billie Joe," his mother said.
"Oh, Billie Joe, it's nice to see you," Ralphie's father said.
"He's grown. You've grown," she said. "You look good Billie Joe. You should stop by sometime."
"Yes, I will," I lied, but she didn't mean it and we both knew it.
Ralphie was dead and it would only hurt for them to see me. It could only hurt me.
"Sorry," Simon said, as we walked away from the church. "I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"I wanted to remember him," Brit said. "I sometimes can't remember what he looked like. We sat together in study hall and he taught me how to speak American. I didn't have a clue he was gay. He didn't suspect me. There's something called gay radar or some thing that allows gay men to know each other."
"Don't be silly," Simon said. "That's stupid."
"No, it isn't. You pick up on the way people stand, where their eyes go, when they speak to you, the expression on their face."
"There is?" Simon asked. "How do you know?"
"I know. You and Brit know. You have a chemical reaction to each other. I saw it from the start."
"Saw what?" Brit asked.
"The look in your eye for one thing. Your posture whenever Simon's around. The way you respond to the things he does. You want to please him and you let him get away with murder."
"He does not," Simon objected.
"I do too," Brit said firmly.
"Well, maybe a little," Simon said.
"Maybe a lot," I said.
"Want to come up?" I asked, and then I did something I didn't usually do. "I don't want to be alone right now. Why don't you come up."
"Will your mother feed us?" Brit asked with a smile in his eyes.
"She'll insist on it," I answered.
"I'm sold," Brit said.
"I don't know," Simon said. "I'm not hungry."
"Suit yourself. I'm going with Billie Joe," Brit said.
"See, he doesn't baby me," Simon said proudly.
"I didn't say he babied you. I said he lets you get away with murder. Like right this minute. He should slap you for playing games with him. You know you were going to come up no matter what he said."
"Billie Joe, why are you telling all my secrets?"
"Get over yourself, Simon, and get your ass over here," Brit said.
Simon smiled and bumped Brit gently as he moved obediently to his side. I laughed and shook my head. Ah love!
Brit and Simon lay together on my bed making out. It didn't bother me and I didn't want to be alone. It was simply a way of keeping my mind from wandering onto a subject I had no interest in revisiting. I guess going to the memorial was good. No, it didn't make me feel a damn bit better but it was hard to do and I did it. I wouldn't have if Brit and Simon hadn't gone with me, or did I go with them?
I rummaged in my drawer and looked at Carl's picture.
"Won't be long now, baby."
I'd known Carl almost a year. We'd spent a little more than a week together but that was the best week of my life. I put the picture safely back in the drawer. It was a month until graduation and I'd already talked to my brother about staying with him until Carl flew back to the States. I'd asked him to check around the local fast food places to see which one looked like the best place to work. He said he'd keep his eyes open and I was ready to leave home again.
"You coming to our wedding," Simon asked, once they'd broken the clinch and lay side by side on my bed.
"That's not something that's going to happen in Minnesota," I reminded him.
"I told him that," Brit said. "I've got to finish college before I can do something like that, Simon."
"You don't love me," Simon said in a pout.
"It's not something I want to undertake until I've graduated. Then we can go to whatever state will allow us to get married."
"That's something you do in the church," I reminded them. "No matter how many states sanction gay marriage, most churches won't."
"We'll find one that will," Brit said.
"And then you can sing at your wedding," I said.
"Oh, would you, Britain?" Simon gushed.
"I could be convinced if you really want me to sing to you."
"I do. I do," Simon said, and he showered kisses on Brit's face.
"Oh, brother," I said.
"Aren't you going to marry Carl," Simon asked.
"I don't think Carl has given marriage a thought. You forget he was born and raised in Alabama," I said.
"Wow! That's a stretch," Brit said.
"I've never thought same-sex couples should marry," I confessed. "That's such a straight way to view things. I'd rather do something that's meant for a gay couple. Make it something that is special to us so we don't have to argue about if we have a right or not to do it. I don't think our love is any different or any less than how straights feel about each other, but I don't care about how they feel about each other. That's their business and I want my business to be my business and not their business."
"Good luck," Brit said.
"I know what you mean, Billie Joe. I've thought about that. Something special for us. I want a lot of flower maids," Simon said, sounding a little like Scarlett O'Hara.
Brit smacked the top of Simon's head lightly and they wrestled until they were kissing again. Then, they lay looking at each other fondly.
"Okay, boys, time for lunch," my mother said after tapping on the door.
Brit and Simon jumped a foot and then started laughing.
We had roast beef sandwiches, potato salad, and coleslaw, with a variety of cheese, onion, pickles, mustards and mayonnaise. We had several bags of chips to choose from. We sat at the table to eat our first sandwich, carrying a second up to my room along with a bag of Ruffles and a bottle of A&W Root Beer to pour over our classes filled with ice cubes.
"Your mother's an excellent cook," Brit complimented.
"It's a sandwich," I explained."
"At my house we never have roast beef long enough to get a sandwich out of it. Believe me, this is excellent." Brit made no mention of being in training or having the State Championships ahead of him next week. He didn't often stray with the food he ate, but like most teens, he couldn't resist items he ordinarily didn't get.
"What's this," Simon said, picking up the turquoise and black covered book.
"Love the color," Brit said.
"Antiques & Homicide/Homocide," Simon said, opening the book. "What's it about?"
"It's a detective story."
"I don't like violence," Simon said, sticking his nose in the air.
"It's not violent. It's about a rookie cop that's picked out of the police academy because he's handsome and can infiltrate the gay community to look for a killer."
"Sounds violent to me," Simon said.
"The rookie cop is a tad homophobic. Once he starts meeting and getting help from the gay men he needs so he can find the killer, he finds himself becoming friends with them. That's what the story is about. He wants to find the killer so that the gay men who have befriended him are safe, but he becomes a target of other cops and the killer."
"How'd Jack know you'd like it?" Simon asked.
"He read it and said it was right up my alley. It came from Amazon last week. I guess he got my address from the library. I read it already."
"Book by Beck. Who's Beck?"
"He's a writer, Simon. If someone ever wrote my story I'd want him to write it. I like his style. He takes the time to develop his characters in a way that makes you think you know them by the end of the story. You can read it if you want."
"Okay. If it isn't violent. I don't like violence."
"Really. I didn't know that," I said.
"I like violence," Brit said. "Within reason. I don't get into blood baths."
Simon left with the book in his hand and I took out the tablet where I began my latest letter to my far-away lover.
Dear, Dear, Dear, Carl….
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