Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 38

My father leaned forward on his elbows, as if to compose his thoughts. When he finally looked up at me, his face was inscrutable.

"It seems that Neal got into trouble with one of the teachers," Dad paused while he cracked his knuckles and flexed his hands, "From what I was told by his father, Neal was brought into the headmaster's office where he was told that one of his teachers had made a statement that Neal had been acting very inappropriately in his class. Neal was asked to explain himself, and that is apparently when he attacked the teacher." I let that sink in for a few moments, but it didn't make sense to me, I worried that my medication was muddling my understanding.

"Dad," I said, finally, "that makes no sense whatsoever."

"I know Oliver, none of this does," Dad agreed.

"And that stuff with his father... I just, I don't know," I shook my head.

"Yeah, well," Dad continued, "I sort of knew Ned and his wife were on the skids, but Neal's timing couldn't have been worse." Puzzled, I just sort of cocked my head at him with raised eyebrows. "You see, Oliver," Dad said, folding his hands before him, "The teacher's accusations against Neal were sexual in nature." Garrett, sitting between us, looked surprised, but remained silent. I felt kind of tremulous and a little sick. "The teacher said that Neal was making advances toward him, trying to touch his genitals and being generally very suggestive." I lowered my head to the table and laid it on my arms; I felt more than a little overwhelmed.

"Dad, seriously?" I whined, "Neal did that?"

"The teacher claimed that Neal threatened to make it known that the teacher molested him if he didn't get a good grade."

"Neal would never do that!" I shouted. Blood rushed to my head and pounded at my temples; I felt a coppery taste in my mouth. Both my father and Garrett looked at me with alarm, I suddenly felt very queasy.

"Oliver," Dad said loudly, "I need you to calm down." Garrett came over to me and started to rub my back as I lay my head back down on my arms, my head felt all swimmy. "Deep breaths, Oliver," Dad commanded. I did as he said, taking some deep, sighing breaths, which did make me feel better.

"Good work, Oliver," Garrett soothed, running his fingernails through my hair and neck, making me tingle all over.

"I'm sorry son," Dad said softly, "I know this is upsetting for you."

"Just can't believe Neal would do that, Dad," I moaned into my arms, "He just wouldn't."

Faggot Son. Ned's words rang in my ears and suddenly I understood. My belly felt leaden and I moaned, starting to sniffle and cry.

"What is it Oliver?" Dad asked, concern in his voice.

"Neal's father," I keened, "He believes the teacher, he thinks Neal WOULD do that! He called him a faggot last night!" I heard my father sigh.

"Oliver, listen to me," Dad spoke softly, "I need you to pay attention for a minute, okay?" I nodded, but didn't lift my head from the table. "Neal needs you to be brave right now," he said, "he's going through some stuff now, and he doesn't have his father to lean on."

"His parents are splitting up, right?" I asked.

"Well, yes," Dad explained, "There is more to it though. Apparently Ned is not only being charged with hitting Terry, he's also being charged with beating up on Neal too."

"WHAT?" I sat bolt upright, my queasiness evaporating.

"Yes Oliver," my dad nodded, "Apparently Ned has developed a habit of drinking lately, and every time he has done that, he's smacked his wife around, blaming her for making Neal into a homosexual."

Homosexual.

The word stopped me cold. It made me angry. I could hear Peter Gilbert whispering his terrible poison into my ear, his goons punching their hands and grinning, waiting to set upon me; the hair on my arms and neck stood up. I suppressed an urge to flee the room and run screaming down the road.

"But, but...," I stammered, "Neal likes girls too!" Both Garrett and Dad grinned stupidly at me, I clapped my hands over my mouth.

"Birds of a feather, eh Garrett?" my father quipped, cryptically. Garrett nodded with a wry smile. "Listen, son," dad said, "None of this squares with the young man I know Neal to be, so we all suspect there is more to be revealed. The trick is to be careful and let Neal and his Mom tell their stories in their own time. Inasmuch as we are having trouble wrapping our brains around this nonsense, they must be having a difficult time sorting it all out for themselves. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"I guess so," I nodded, "have to give them some space."

"Exactly," Dad beamed and gripped the back of my neck warmly, "how did I manage to end up with such a bright kid?"

"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Garrett said, quietly; I could hear the admiration in his voice. Dad smiled back at him and winked.

We cleared the table. Dad shrugged the straps of his overalls from his shoulders, grabbed the daily newspaper and disappeared into the bathroom. As I washed off our plates, cups and silverware, Garrett dried them and put them away.

"Hey Gare?" I asked, nonchalantly, "Did uhm... you and my dad... ever...?" Garrett snorted, gave a small laugh and then a sigh.

"No Oliver," he said with a sly grin, "but it sure wasn't for lack of me trying."

"Really?" I asked, turning to look at him.

"Yeah," he nodded, "He's given me some great advice, but he never would do anything with me. Said it wouldn't be right."

"Why, because you're younger than him?"

"Nope," Garrett said, wistfully, "he made a commitment to your mom when he married her, and he would never violate that trust."

"Yep," I agreed, "that sounds like Dad."

"So," Garrett smiled, changing the subject, "what are your plans for the rest of the day?"

"I dunno," I shrugged, "I think I'm gonna go down to the lake and maybe give my hunter's cabin one last going over before the snow flies."

"Air was kinda snappy today," Garrett said, "I get the feeling we're in for a year like last year, snow-wise." He was right about that, I thought. When it is getting ready to snow in upstate New York, the air takes on a crispness and there is a definite smell that foretells its arrival. People that don't live there are frequently confused when they hear a resident say that it smells like it is going to snow, but you definitely can tell.

I emerged from my little hunter's cabin around three o'clock, having spent a few hours sweeping up, and reglazing a cracked window pane. After putting the putty and putty-knife away in the tool shed, I walked back down to the cabin to secure the padlock. I wondered why Neal and our mom's hadn't returned yet, but figured they'd probably stopped by the grocery store to do some shopping. Trudging up the beachfront and along the path from the beach to the parking area in front of the Lodge, I heard Lizzie calling my name from the driveway entrance.

"Oliver! Wait up!", she called. I turned and stuck my hands in my pockets, waiting for her as she jogged up the drive.

"Hey Liz," I said as she came to a stop in front of me, her breath making little clouds in the air.

"So..." she said, catching her breath, "Uhm... this is weird, but totally thought I saw Neal in school today with his mom and yours."

"Oh really?" I said, feigning ignorance. That earned me a sock in the arm.

"Don't be a dick, Oliver," she scowled at me, "Neal looked fucking terrible, what the hell is he doing at our school?"

We moved to a pair of rockers on the porch of the Lodge, and I recounted the whole story to her. Liz gasped in all the right places and looked righteously indignant when I told her about Neal's father.

"Holy shit," she said, getting up and pacing along the railing of the porch like a caged lioness. "I can't believe it! What a tool!" I did not say much more, she appeared to have enough trouble processing it all; I felt her frustration there. "Do you really think Neal would DO something like that?"

"I don't know what to think," I shrugged, "it sure doesn't seem like something he would do."

"Shit," she breathed, "If I were you, I'd be pissed if he did that."

"Huh?" I perked up, "Why?"

"Well, I mean," she said, quietly, "if I found out my boyfriend was messing around with someone else..." I felt my face flush hotly, too shocked to say anything. I never even considered that a possibility, and I had no idea why the very thought made me feel so angry. "... especially if it was like, an older person...", Lizzie continued.

"Stop Lizzie!" I shouted, "That's not what happened!"

"Okay!" she put up her hands defensively, "I'm just saying, you're taking this better than I would have, is all."

Was I fuming? I wasn't sure. The noisy thoughts in my head, along with my churning stomach and clenching fists, sure felt like I was angry, but there was something else too.

"My dad thinks there's more to the story," I said, my jaw tight, "and so do I, I think there is stuff we don't know about yet."

"That's probably right," Lizzie said, softly. "Hey, Oliver?" she turned to me and put a gentling hand on my knee, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get you upset, that was pretty stupid of me to say."

"S'okay Liz," I muttered, "I'm just so... I dunno... mixed up about all this."

"Well hey," she said, "whatever is going on, you know that I got you guys' back, right?" I nodded silently, as she ran her fingers through my hair and tugged on my ear. "I love you two goofballs," she chuckled, "we make quite the triangle, don't we?"

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