Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10


When I woke up on Thursday morning to go to work, I wasn't sure about what happened the night before.

I started out at the frat house before I ended up in town. The I remembered Tooty-Anne.

The image of a boy with seriously blue eyes sitting across from me in a hamburger joint came to mind. I smiled when I remembered what a character was attached to those eyes.

"Cody," I said.

As for the impact being in the forbidden zone had on me, my frequent thoughts of Teddy were replaced by thoughts of Cody. I wasn't sure what it was about him that had him on my mind. He made me laugh and he wasn't the least bit bashful. Cody told you what he thought unfiltered by mock manners. It was refreshing, even if his story was depressing.

I'd inadvertently knocked him down. That was how we met. Then I took him for a burger to shut him up. I found his story captivating without learning anything about him beyond his name, and it took some time to get that out of him.

That was it but my memory of him stuck with me. Cody was one of the most unusual boys I'd met. He wasn't a guy I'd ordinarily want to spend time with, but after spending time with him, I hoped to see him again.

I wasn't sure why. He spent most of the time insulting me.

Loving Grange, making love to him, before I knew him seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I walked away from the frat house that Wednesday evening, I had no intention of going back, and I hadn't been back. I didn't think about Grange either. This told me that it wasn't a match made in heaven. Once I was faced with Cathy's claim on Grange, she could have him. It was fun while it lasted.

It was the thing to do at the time, but his time ran out.

That didn't mean I wouldn't see Grange again. He knew I played rugby around town on Saturday mornings. As good a time as he seemed to have, using my joystick, I pictured seeing him again.

Once I failed to return to the frat house, Grange would come looking for me at local rugby matches. I wasn't sure of how I should react. I didn't want to be cruel, but I didn't want him to believe there might be a chance I'd make a return appearance at the frat house.

If I wasn't having any luck in town, now that I knew where to go, my need to play second fiddle to Grange's delusions wasn't in the game plan. I might even be doing Grange a favor.

Grange must have thought I'd be back sooner or later. How could I resist his warmth and charm?

When I didn't return to the frat house, Grange came looking for me as I expected he would. Two Saturdays after the Wednesday night Tooty-Anne affair. I remembered what Teddy said about being considerate of the feelings of other people. Grange was OK for as long as it lasted, but I wouldn't go back to the frat house.

I went into the game to replace one of the first team players. While I was getting the maximum pleasure out of crashing my body against the opposition, something unforeseen took place.

For the first time in my rugby career, after bouncing off a couple two hundred pounders, I found myself on the outside of the scrum. When the ball squirted out, it landed in my hands and there was nothing between me and the goal line but open field.

So shocked was I to have possession of the ball, it took a second to remember what to do with it. Galloping down the field, I zigzagged to outmaneuver a couple of opposition defense men, dashing across the goal line. I placed the ball on the ground.

I had scored.

It was my first score for a rugby team. I thought I looked pretty good doing it. As my team caught up with me, I got the usual back slaps and appreciation for giving us the lead in what had been a bruising scoreless match.

Because I was smaller and not as bulky as the regular Saturday morning rugby players, my speed was an asset that had gone unnoticed before. I was no longer an irregular player, spelling the first team, once they were winded. No one told me that but after my first score, I was on the field until I decided I needed a break.

I was sent to the sidelines to catch my breath.

"Great job, Thomas," the coach said, placing his arm across my shoulders. "Why didn't you tell me you were a speedster?"

The assistant coach came over when the coach ran down the sidelines to yell at the ref. He patted my back and smiled big.

"Nice job, Thomas," he said.

And that's when Grange reappeared in my life.

"You're fast. I never saw you run before," Grange said as I knelt beside the Panther's bench.

"When I'm on my back, I'm not as fast," I said.

Grange smiled uncomfortably.

"You didn't come back," he said, sounding sure.

"You've got Tooty-Anne. I didn't want to get in the way," I said.

"I told you not to worry about Cathy. I can take care of her."

"I noticed," I said. "I don't do threesome's, Grange. My life is uncomplicated. I want to keep it that way. You were fun but you need to figure out which team you play for."

"Clete, back on the field. You catch your breath?" The coach said.

"Yeah, coach. I'm fine. Goodbye Grange," I said, running back onto the pitch and leaving Grange behind.

I found it surprisingly easy to leave him behind. I hadn't been back to town, but I would return to town and I'd find a nice boy and I wouldn't share him with anyone.

Grange would do fine without me.

I didn't come out for the rest of the game. I didn't score again but I'd been playing for months and I'd only scored one time. It might be a game or two before I scored again, but my guys knew that I could outrun most of the competition now and that meant they'd pass me the ball if they saw me in the open. They hadn't done that before.

When the game ended and we began to break up to get on with our day, I saw Grange standing on the far side of our bench. I walked through some of the fans to avoid him and went directly to my truck.

As I started the engine and shifted it into gear, Grange came toward the passenger door. As he got ten feet away, I pulled away.

When I looked in the mirror, he was standing with his hands on his hips watching me and my Silverado make a getaway. Luckily I'd never given Grange my phone number and he didn't know where I lived, so there wasn't any chance of him showing up at my door.

I didn't think he was the stalker type but he didn't seem to be accustomed to being rejected. It might have been the best thing for him. Grange now knew that some boys didn't play the game his way.

I didn't play at all. Once again I was without an outlet for being horny, save my own five finger love affair late at night. After Grange, masturbation wasn't as satisfying as it once was.

I hadn't been back to town, since the Wednesday night affair. I was working extra for Mr. Hitchcock, because the other stock clerk was sick. He wasn't coming in. I liked the work and didn't mind helping out, but when I worked extra, it cut down on my free time.

Mr. Hitchcock was the father of one of the better soccer players at school. When I went around to see Jacob one day, he was stocking shelves. And while we talked, I helped him put up canned goods. When his father saw me putting the cans on the shelves beside his son, he asked me if I wanted a job and I'd been working for Mr. Hitchcock ever since. That was a half a lifetime ago or thereabouts.

I liked being free to move around and hauling boxes of canned goods is surprisingly good exercise. I liked doing what I liked doing, and I saw no future in doing something I didn't like. Life was too short to spend time doing something I didn't like doing.

It felt good giving Grange a dose of his own medicine but it wasn't the kind of thing I liked doing. I'd rather be friendly to everyone. I was more likely to attract people that way.

It was three weeks between trips to town. One morning I got up knowing that I'd be heading for town by day's end. I had chores to do around the house. I'd do some before the 10a.m. Rugby match and I'd come home and finish them.

I played the entire match with only a couple of breaks to catch my second wind. The week before I scored for the first time and now I stayed on the field with the first team. The ball didn't come my way and I didn't score. I understood I wouldn't score every game but the more playing time I got, the better chance I had to score.

I'd already had a good day Saturday. No one said that I was now on the first team, but I knew I was. No one had to tell me that the other Panthers were treating me like I was one of them. I had felt as though I was on the outs before and I didn't feel that way now.

Granger did not come to the match, or if he did, I didn't see him and I no longer looked for him. The break had been clean and he was playing with another boy by now.

I showered, shaved, and I put on my tight jeans and a tee-shirt that showed off my upper body. I knew what I was doing and I was actually conscious of the image I wanted to project. As an athlete, I was careful to keep my sexuality to myself. As an out and proud gay man, I used my assets to my best advantage. When I did buy shorts, I made sure they hugged my body in a flattering way.

Teddy's words often came to me at times when I wanted to be more aware of myself. I made a plan before I left the house. I reminded myself of what I wanted to achieve. While getting what I wanted wasn't easy, I knew I wouldn't find it by getting into cars.

I took seriously my desire to meet that special boy. I would make an effort to get to know him and learn things that would help me to establish a lasting relationship.

My time with Grange had demonstrated to me the incredible feeling of well-being I got from being with one boy. The relationship, albeit a short one, taught me what it was like to be involved.

I liked it. I needed to be more careful with the next boy I took up with. I wanted to be sure he was the boy for me. I would listen to him, learn about him, and devote myself to him.

"You new?" the older man asked.

I was in the midst of playing a new machine. Being distracted wasn't my favorite thing and the man wasn't my type, so I kept playing until the distraction caused me to miss a transition.

"Not that new," I said, letting my hands move away from the game as I looked the man over.

"I'm Sal. I know most of the young guys who come in here."

"Really," I said. "Why is that, Sal?"

"I'm just a friendly guy," he said. "You a friendly guy?"

"Depends on who with. I'm friendly enough to have friends but not so friendly that it gets me into trouble."

"You're a smart guy," Sal said.

"As smart as I need to be. This conversation going somewhere? I'd like to give this machine another try."

"No, I just wanted to say hello," he said. "Bye."

Sal walked over to a couple of boys huddled around a game a few feet away. Sal said something. The boys said something and they looked in my direction. I dropped in my tokens and began to play.

When I went into Gene's, there was an entirely different crew working. It was earlier and there were other customers this time. I ordered what I'd ordered the last time. It had been good.

Two guys got up from the table in front of the window and I sat down while a different skinny kid wiped down the table with a damp rag. He smiled when he finished before moving to the next table where the remnants of a meal had been left.

Looking out the window, I could see the Terry's sign in the dwindling light. The days were growing longer as the temperatures were on the rise. I'd be cool in my shirtsleeves by the time I left for home, but it was still comfortable for just a tee-shirt.

I did think of Cody. The last time I'd seen him he was near Terry's. It was cooler that night. We were wearing jackets.

I smiled.

Cody had been right. We'd never seen each other before and we weren't likely to see each other again, but the memory of him was amusing. I didn't realize I felt something for Cody at the time. I realized it now. As strange as that meeting was, I didn't forget it and I hoped that I'd see the boy with the vivid blue eyes again, but it was a big world and he had plenty of places to go.

Twice in the subsequent weeks I made a trip to town, always ending up in the arcade across from the gay section. I saw a lot of guys Cody's age and some younger. They came in and out of the arcade, which would have qualified as a headquarters for the young businessmen who sold their wares on the meat rack.

I did not see Cody. Remembering our conversation, after work on Wednesday, I went home from work, showered and dressed suitably for a trip to the arcade. After dinner, I got up from the table to head for town.

"I won't be late," I said.

"Remember you work tomorrow," my father said.

"I know, Dad. I won't be late," I said.

I'd been dependable all through school and I never went out on a school night. My grades were good and it was rare that I wasn't in training for one high school sport or another, and I worked. That left little time for me to get into trouble.

I was growing up and neither of my parents thought it necessary to tell me what to do or when to do it. My father never missed a day of work. My mother had a meal ready every night when her men came in from work and sat down at the dinner table.

Mr. Hitchcock depended on me and I wouldn't let him down.

I stopped at a row of ancient pinball machines on the very back wall of the arcade. For one token you could twist, turn, dodge, and angle little silver balls into slots, alcoves, and through high point scoring maneuvers.

I'd played pinball machines at game conventions at the civic center. I was surprised to see three of the old time games in the arcade. I didn't remember seeing them before but I'd been trying to master one of the new games and that kept me in one spot for most of the time I spent in the arcade.

On Wednesday night there I was, going through my paces while trying to get that damn ball to cooperate. I knew what I wanted to do but there were forces within the machine that could steer you into trouble before you knew it. That made pinball machines challenging.

There wasn't the glitz and glitter that came with the new electronic machines but there was something about the bells, buzzers, and sneaky influences you couldn't see but that were there, and if you failed to keep your focus, it was quickly game over.

While I was in the middle of one of my masterful maneuvers, a kid slid up beside the machine and leaned on the glass.

The ball went straight down the middle, hit the right hand flipper, dropping out of sight and out of play.

"Hi," I said. "You hungry?"

"What? You aren't planning to knock me down again, are you?" Cody asked.

"No, I'm hungry. I was just going to get a burger. I'll buy you one," I said.

"You've got two balls left," Cody said.

"Someone else can have them," I said.

"Is this the same guy who knocked me down for upsetting his play? Clete, isn't it?"

"That's me. Come on," I said.

Cody followed me to Gene's but he insisted on buying his own meal. I decided I wouldn't argue with him this time.

We sat at the table in the window and waited for our orders.

"I been here every Wednesday," he said. "Thought I might see you, but you haven't been around."

"I didn't think you noticed I was alive," I said.

"You're hard to miss. I don't do young guys. I mean that isn't where the money is. Young guys are too... too... young," he said.

"You're younger than I am," I said. "Where you been. I've been down here a couple of times but I didn't see you," I said.

"I went away. One of my regulars went on a business trip out of town. He took me with him. It was cool. I saw Seattle. That Space Needle thingy. I liked it, Seattle."

"What did you do about, Jack on Wednesdays?" I asked.

"I went to Seattle with Jack. He's an older guy. He's sweet," Cody said. "He treats me like I'm his son."

"I see. Why didn't you let me buy you a burger? I don't mind," I said.

"I mind. I can take care of myself. I don't want guys like you to think I can't. I'm here on business and the men I go out with buy me dinner. It goes with the service I provide. You... You aren't... a guy I want to do business with. That's all? I don't mix business with... anything.""

"If you are a businessman, why can't we do business?"

"I told you, you're too young. I don't go out with guys my age."

"I'm nineteen," I said. "We're practically the same age."

"How could I forget," he said.

"But you won't go to dinner with me and let me buy?" I asked.

"Sure. You're cute in a cuddly sort of way. I didn't say I don't like cute guys. I said I don't do business with guys our age," Cody said. "I work. I can pay my own way."

"Uh huh," I said. "What else can you do with me?" I asked.

"I'd go to one of those rugby things if you asked me," he said.

"You want to see me play?" I asked.

"Rugby," he said. "Play rugby. Yes, I think I'd like that. You've gone through a lot of trouble to get your body like that. Seeing how you do it would be interesting."

"I see," I said. "You've got Jack tonight."

"Yes, but they don't play rugby Wednesday night, do they?" he asked.

"No, I was getting a sense of your schedule. We play matches most Saturdays at ten. We get done about noon. It might be early if you go out Friday night before a match."

"You only live once, Clete. I could meet you at nine on Saturday morning if you need to be there by ten. Would that be OK?"

"Yeah, sure. That would be fine," I said. "This Saturday morning?"

"Yeah, I'll be in front of Gene's at nine this Saturday. You don't want me to pick you up where you live. You could show me," I said.

"No, I don't know where I might be living Friday night. I can be here at nine on Saturday," Cody said.

"I'll be here. We can go to breakfast," I said.

"You've got to play at ten," he said.

"I do," I said. "I still have to eat."

"Mommy will let you go out without breakfast?" Cody asked. "I find that hard to believe."

"No, she won't, but I can have breakfast at eight and eat again when I pick you up," I said. "If that's what you would like."

"You can eat twice in two hours and you still stay that thin?" he asked.

"I can eat constantly and I haven't gained a pound in two years. I've been around 168 pounds since my junior year of high school."

"Impressive. I am lucky to eat two times a day," Cody said.

"You should eat three times a day," I said.

"I should do a lot of things, but I do what I can."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm sure you do."

I was careful not to sound like I wanted to argue. We managed to avoid that so far this time and I had a date to meet him Saturday. It was progress. I knew Cody was too young for me and he knew it too, but there was the twinkle in his eyes when he looked at me. He came over to me as soon as he arrived at the arcade.

Our food was ready at the same time on separate trays. I really wanted to buy him dinner but I wouldn't push my luck. We weren't going to argue this time. I let Cody call the shots. He would tell me what he wanted and that was fine with me.

I didn't know anything about Cody's world. Something about him drew me to him. He was forthright in a way I wasn't. He let me know, he might hustle but that was his business. It wasn't who he was and who he was interested me.

I'd buy him a burger just to look into those blue eyes of his. I'd never seen eyes as beautiful as his. Maybe it was the dark brows and long eyelashes that set them off. Maybe I was a little attracted to him, but I didn't think so.

I wanted to know about Cody in a way I never wanted to know about Grange, but I was in Grange's room shortly after I arrived at the frat house and I knew what I wanted to know about Grange.

"How are you doing?" I asked, halfway through my burger.

Cody looked up in mid bite. He chewed carefully without looking away from my face.

"I'm fine. How are you?" he asked.

"I'm happy. I've been thinking about seeing you again," I said.

He frowned.

"Now you have and I told you, Clete. I don't do business with young guys. Nothing personal. I don't do business with friends. I do business with clients. That is my job."

"I didn't mean like that. I meant I'm fascinated by someone who can make it without having a home, a family, without going to school, have friends that you do nothing but what you decide to do," I said.

Cody chewed. He listened. He watched my face as I spoke.

"That's OK. You write your book. I'll help if I can. I don't do anything hundreds, probably thousands of guys like me don't do to stay alive. Growing up isn't an easy deal. Growing up on your own makes it a bigger deal than you can imagine, but it isn't impossible if you don't forget who you are, and I know who I am. I know why I'm here. I know why I do the things I do. I'm OK with myself," he said. "While I'm called nasty names and treated like dirt by some people, I also know that some of them come down here to pick up a boy like me. It reminds me that the people who claim to be pure, ain't all that pure."

"You see, that's why you fascinate me. I've never known anyone our age who could survive on the street. No matter where the street is. You've got to be tough. Tougher than me. I couldn't do it."

I detected a slight smile as Cody put French fries into his mouth.

"You look tough to me," he said.

"I'm physically strong, because I'm an athlete. It's the best thing I do. I got good grades in high school so I could stay eligible to play lacrosse and soccer. If school didn't have sports, I don't know if I would have stayed. If I hadn't stayed, I don't know what I would have done," I said, as Cody watched me talk.

"You'd figure it out. I did," he said, using a napkin to blot his mouth.

It was my turn to watch him while he talked. I saw no way that I could make it on the street at his age and he'd been on the street for years. How did a kid survive such a thing? Why did he need to? What was wrong with his parents?

"You did it again," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"It's like your brain drops throw a trap door. You spaced out."

"Oh," I said. "I was thinking."

"It does take a lot of work, huh?" Cody asked.

I smiled. I wouldn't tell him I was thinking about him. I found him even more amazing this time around. He seemed so natural.

He'd been dealt a rotten hand. I wondered how many people could survive what Cody had gone through.

He seemed to take everything in stride.

He wasn't only tougher than I was, he was smarter too. How did he survive? I knew I couldn't have done it.

I was nineteen and just coming downtown was a challenge.

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