Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Inside Out

Floyd didn't move from his chair. His burgundy robe had felt burgundy buttons. He sat partially reclined in his overstuffed royal blue chair. There was a cane leaning against the mahogany table where Cody set his food. I didn't know if Floyd could walk but there was no other sign he needed assistance.

After taking away our pudding bowls, Cody came back into the living room. He once more sat close and he leaned against me. My statement that showed poor taste seemed to be beyond us now.

I never had anyone want to be that close to me and I enjoyed it.

"We don't exactly live in an enlightened world," Cody said.

"What makes people so hateful?" I asked.

"Because these are folks who are afraid someone might get something they don't get. Have you told him about your father?" Floyd asked. "Speaking of enlightened. He would take the cake."

"No," Cody said. "He knows I had one."

"Such a lovely man too. His old man spent a lot of time calling Cody a faggot. He shamed him mercilessly. When he was twelve or was it thirteen, Cody?"


"When he was thirteen, his father caught him with the boy next door. Were you in the swimming pool?"

"On the trampoline. Jorge was a gymnast. Sweet, Jorge. The trampoline was between our houses. Jorge carefully placed it out of view of curious eyes. About the time he was eleven or twelve, he practiced every day that summer on the trampoline. He'd bounce and bounce and bounce, and then he'd do these outrageous gymnastic moves, landing on his back and he'd lie there for a few minutes before getting up and doing it all over again," Cody said.

"I was seven or eight when I first noticed him. In Jorge's desire to secure the most private spot he could find for the trampoline, he'd overlooked one vantage point where someone could watch him. My bedroom window at the corner of my house allowed me to look right down on Jorge as he did his thing. I'd become infatuated with him by the time he was twelve or thirteen," Cody said. "I would sit at my window and watch him for as long as he was out there."

"At first he was just a kid who could twist and turn his body into knots and untie the knots in mid air before landing perfectly to relax until he was ready to go again. By the time I was ten, well, Jorge had taken on more than just another kid appeal. Besides being athletic, he was building a very solid body. He wasn't big but he was well defined in all the right places. Jorge was simply too gorgeous to keep my eyes off of," Cody said. "He gave my misunderstood sexuality a place to focus. My father calling me a faggot was just another insult. He was a crude man who hated everything and everyone. Until I took an interest in Jorge, I was ambiguous about my sexuality, but perhaps my father's own doubts about who he was accounted for how he treated me. It had to come from a place deep and dark inside him."

"The summer I turned eleven, Jorge would have been fourteen and ready to go to high school, Jorge began to work out in a pair of red Speedos. He'd do his stretching exercises and then climb onto the trampoline, stay on his back for a few minutes, and then he'd begin to bounce. Needless to say the Speedos were a vast improvement over a pair of gym shorts," Cody said.

"I noticed along with Jorge's tight slim body, there was a big impression made on the front of his shorts. Once he went to Speedos, I couldn't miss what was there.. Had I not been gay, had Jorge not been a sexy tease, I might not be here today. But he was, and I was, and I am. By the time he was fifteen Jorge added a new exercise to his program, and standing in my window, looking down on the trampoline, I didn't miss anything," Cody said.

"From time to time Jorge would push his Speedos down to his knees and he worked on another exercise that gave him a lot of please, me too. The first time he jerked-off, I was flabbergasted. I'd never had an experience like it before. I thought he'd kick my ass if he knew I watched him from my bedroom window. All he had to do was look up and he'd see me watching him."

"I watched my buddies jack-off when I was about that age," I said.

"Boys will be boys," Floyd said.

We laughed.

"I tried to stand so he couldn't see me while he was doing that one erotic exercise, but by the time I turned thirteen I had become too infatuated with him to hide it. I was sure he'd seen me watching him long ago. From time to time I saw his eyes change from a focused stare on the object of his affection to wander away from his handy work, until I was sure he was looking directly at my window."

"At thirteen I was a skinny runt. At sixteen Jorge was a young man with the attributes of an athlete who spent a great deal of time working out. He'd grown taller and better defined."

"He'd also grown more tempting and whatever he felt, one day as he pleasured himself, his eyes went directly to where I was standing in the window. He did not take them away until he finished. It was impossible not to realize the message in his stare."

"It wasn't long before I went down one afternoon as he went through his routine. He kept bouncing, but he smiled at me. I smiled back. I knew Jorge to nod at in passing. If we came close enough we said hello, but he was a high school kid. I was a lowly junior high kid. We lived in different worlds, but our worlds merged for a while that summer on his trampoline," Cody said.

"Jorge showed me moves I hadn't imagined existed. Where he took me, I was happy to follow. I suppose it was the first time I felt something beyond being tolerated. An attractive boy from next door liked me. At least he pretended to for as long as we stayed on the trampoline together. Jorge lit my fire in a big way," Cody said, his words tailed off as if he might be seeing Jorge in his mind.

"With no one home at either of our houses in the middle of the day, we figured we were safe getting together for a few minutes. I'd go down to stand beside the trampoline, until he reached his hand down to pull me up. It was exciting and a great adventure for me. Jorge was nice, but we never met anywhere but at the trampoline between our houses," Cody said. "I could hear my backdoor if it opened and I'd never seen anyone but Jorge near the trampoline," Cody said, his words growing softer as the story unfolded.

"I remember that last day. I felt the trampoline vibrating when I rolled onto it. Jorge had already shed his Speedos and my shorts were on the ground where I stood watching him bounce until he was done."

"You've got to remember that my room was my safe haven. I was always in my room once my father was home. It was my window and I was the only one who could see Jorge, until that day anyway. My father came home early for whatever reason and he apparently called for me to come downstairs to be chastised for something I'd done or failed to do. My father was a violent man. I'd learned to steer clear of him when I could, but, until that last day, I didn't think he was mean enough to kill me, but he'd corrected that misconception fairly fast," Cody said.

"For some unknown reason my father went to my room looking for me. He walked over to my window and he looked down at two naked boys and he erupted," Cody said.

I put my arm around his shoulders. I didn't want to hear what came next, but there was no way to avoid it at this late date. I steered clear of violence. I avoided boys I knew to be violent. I may have been a weenie, but to duke it out with someone over some perceived slight or lack of respect was stupid. What did it get anyone? I wouldn't go there if I wasn't forced into it. I also wouldn't willingly let someone kick my teeth out either. Self defense would be a logical response to someone acting violently toward me. That I could accept.

"What followed is X-rated. The next thing I knew I was leaving the trampoline and my father kept putting his fist in my face. I never saw Jorge again. I am sure he cringed in his house for days, waiting for my father to come to tell his parents what he was doing with me. My father didn't care about Jorge," Cody said. "He was focused on me. He slapped, kicked, and punched me. He screaming, 'You little faggot. I should have killed you a long time ago.' I believed him."

Cody was shaking. I was shaking. Floyd looked placid. He'd obviously heard it before and it no longer was able to startle him.

"He beat the hell out of me. He grabbed a pair of jeans and one of my shirts as he half carried me and half dragged me to the front of the house where he threw me onto the ground. 'Don't ever let me see your queer ass again. It'll be the end of you if I do,'" Cody said.

The silence was almost as violent as Cody's story. My mind could not grasp a father treating his son that way no matter what. My father took time to compose himself if he merely raised his voice at me in anger. My father had never lifted his hand intending to strike me. What is it that would make a father do such a thing to his son? He fathered Cody. He was responsible for taking care of him until Cody was grown and capable of taking care of himself. No father could simply throw away his kid. It couldn't possibly be legal.

"He went back in the house and I put on my clothes. I had no shoes or socks and nowhere to go. I wasn't going back into his house to get a pair either, and that's the day I grew up," Cody said.

"That's terrible," I said. "Are you sure he was your father?"

"Well, I wasn't there at the time but he's the man in the house where I was raised. I guess anything is possible. I didn't question it at the time. I knew him well enough that I didn't test him to see if he would kill me," Cody said. "I wasn't stupid."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I slept on a lot of couches and in a lot of basements that summer. I was never tempted to slip back into my father's house for a few of my things, pictures of my mother, or anything else. Once I slept as close to my house as a block away, but I got up in the middle of the night and left. I was scared to death my father would come," Cody said.

"Some of my friends' parents let me stay and eat with them. Others never knew I came and went from their house. It was summer and people are too busy enjoying it to keep a close count on who comes and goes," he said.

"It was fine for a while. I even had fun being my own man. My friends envied my ability to do anything I wanted, but there was always the fear. My father lived too close. Then the first rumors began to circulate. 'My father said your father is looking for you and it's best you don't come back to our house.' If he was looking for me, he was drunk, and when my father was drunk, he could scare another kid's father without making much of an effort."

"It had become too dangerous to stay in the same town with my father. I thought being in the same state was too dangerous for me, and I stuck out my thumb and I kept moving until I got here. I was tired, hungry, and this looked safe. It was way far from my father," Cody said.

"How long before you met Vanilla?" I asked.

"It took a while. I was eating out of dumpsters and some of the older kids were educating me on how to make money. One guy, Joe was his name, liked me. He was seventeen. Joe would go out on a date and he'd come back with money. He'd take me to eat and play arcade games. We slept in an empty warehouse near the rail yards. The cops came one night and ran us off. I don't know what happened to Joe. He was there one day and I never saw him again. It was like that with a lot of guys I hung with that first year. One day they were there, doing the things we all did. Then, one day, I'd never see one of them again. It bothered me at first but it was the street. None of us had smart phones, or stupid ones, we had no address where we could stay in touch," Cody said, letting his words tail off.

"Vanilla?" I asked.

"Someone would be there one minute and he'd be gone the next. They'd leave to do something they'd left to do a hundred times before, but this time the guy never came back.

Everyone noticed that kind of thing but no one talked about it. Once you got past the possibilities, you didn't want to know. Something happened but no one came to tell us what," Cody said.

"I was a bit put off by adults. Your father nearly beats you to death one time and you suddenly trust no one over eighteen," he said. "Vanilla was carrying way too much stuff for one person to carry, and she kept dropping things. I was walking behind her at the time. I picked up whatever it was and I'd go up to her and say, 'Excuse me. You dropped this,' and she'd look for a spot to put it. The third time I walked up to her and took half the stuff she had. I could see she was about to fuss, but she didn't. I followed her home and I set the things down on a chair just inside her apartment. I turn to leave. 'Wait,' she said. 'You absolutely saved this girl's life.'"

"That's Vanilla all right," Floyd said. "To a T."

"'I don't have any money,' she said. I said, 'Don't worry about it. I didn't help you for money. I helped you because you needed help.'" "She looked at me and she said, 'Ain't that the truth. I'm about to fix dinner. You hungry? What do I call you?' she asked."

"I told her and I knew we would be friends. Her voice was friendly once she knew I didn't want money. Just that quick we connected, and here we are a hundred years later. I feel like I've known Vanilla forever. That first night she showed me her gowns and she sang like Billie Holiday. I was in love. What a lovely lady, and that's no easy trick for a dude," Cody said. "I didn't care if she was a spotted owl. I liked her."

"Here I am and I have some great friends. Who thought I'd live this long. I got into more than one car I didn't think I'd get out of, but I always did. There are some strange folks in the world. Some are dangerous. In my line of work you meet all kinds."

"If he'd stayed in that house with his father, he'd be a mess or worse. For a kid who has been on the street for as long as he has, he's done a remarkable job of not turning mean or turning to drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. He might be small but he's tough, Clete. He's a remarkable young man," Floyd said.

"He showed me his hat pin," I said.

Floyd began to laugh.

"You still carry that?" Floyd asked.

"It's always in my waistband," Cody said. "I've never used it on anyone, but you know, just having it makes me feel safer. If I ever get into a bad situation, that hat pin might save my life. One jab and whatever is going on will stop long enough for me to get gone."

"When Vanilla trains you, you stay trained," Floyd sang. "I'm surprised she hasn't had you in a dress by now."

"I told her that wasn't my style," Cody said. "Do you want me to stay tonight, Floyd? Clete has work in the morning and he needs to be getting home and I can stay if you like."

"No, baby, I'm feeling better than I have in a week. Having company... and that soup hit the spot. You kids run along. I'll be fine."

Cody left my side and he stood up and stretched. I got up and walked to Floyd's chair. I put my hand out and he took it in his.

"Thank you, Floyd. I got an education from you tonight. I haven't stood still for long enough to learn about people like me," I said.

"Our people. Your people, Clete," Floyd said

"It's a difficult concept to know I have people, because I've always felt like I was on my own. You are a wonderful storyteller and you should write that book," I said.

"I might do that, Clete. You're welcome in my home any time," Floyd said. "Since you're so receptive to hearing about the experiences I've had, I'll add a closing thought. We, as a people, are viewed in a harsher light, as black people are judged more harshly. You'll need to fight harder to get benefits due you, and you'll be punished more often and with greater force than your straight counterparts," Floyd said. "We may have won the right to marry but the government institutions are conservative and homophobic."

"Never deal with the government, or any institution, before consulting people who know these systems and they know how gay people need to respond to the homophobia," Floyd said. "We are as good as anyone, but we deal with not only a racist, but a homophobic bureaucracy. The sooner you realize that, the better off you kids will be. Expect the best, but be prepared to get a lot less."

"I never gave that a thought. This is so new to me, but I'll keep that tucked away for a time when I need it. Thanks again, Floyd."

"You kids have your rose colored glasses on and life is a bed of roses when you're falling in love. Once the luster comes off the rose, you need to deal with the real world. While some of the people have come to accept us unconditionally, most of the system remains homophobic."

"Don't I know it," Cody said. "I may bend but I'll never break."

"Cody, he most definitely gets my approval. You've found yourself a nice boy. Remember love only stays special when you work at it."

We got into the Silverado, after coming down out of the clouds. We left Floyd in his chair with a book he was reading.

"Where to?" I asked.

"You need to get home. Drop me at the motel. I'm tired," Cody said.

"You don't want a soda or anything?"

He was ready to get out when I stopped in front of his motel room. I got out and I walked him to his door.

"When do I see you again?" I asked.

"Tomorrow is Wednesday. In front of Gene's at seven," he said. "No, make it six. The days are so nice. I want to be outside for a while," Cody said, opening the door.

"You have Jack tomorrow," I said.

"We'll see," Cody said, stepping into the room.

I took one step inside and he turned on the light.

I looked around. It was neat and fairly clean. It was basic and old.

When he turned around, I put my arms around him. He shut the door. He put his head against my chest. My heart was beating as fast as when I ran the pitch. The moment of truth had arrived.

"I'm afraid, Clete," Cody said, and a million things went through my mind.

"I'll protect you," I said.

Cody let go and took a step back to look at me.

"I'm afraid of you, Clete," he said. "I've never felt like this before. I don't know what's happening to me. I think about you all the time and it scares me."

"It'll be OK. I'm safe. I won't hurt you. I'll protect you," I said.

"I know you believe that. It's the first time anyone has said that to me. It took me a long time to get here. I don't know if I'm ready for you. And you need to think about what Floyd said. You can't protect me from a life I have no control over, but I know you want to."

"Tomorrow at six in front of Gene's," I said, and I opened the door and left the room.

I didn't give him a chance to say no and I knew he'd meet me. We went from me thinking love had arrived in my life to Cody being afraid to feel our love.

I didn't know what to do now. I would protect him but I didn't want to crowd him. I understood he was apprehensive about letting his feelings run away with him. I was apprehensive too.

It was nearly eleven when I went into the house. My father was still up and working in his study. He came out to talk.

He immediately looked at the banjo case in my hand.

"You played your banjo tonight," he said. "How'd it go."

"Mr. Bing is an amazing man. He has a way of explaining music that really makes sense to me," I said.

I knelled on the floor to open the banjo case. I removed the banjo and I handed it to my father.

"What's this?" he asked.

"I want you to have it, dad. Turn it over."

My father turned it over and his mouth dropped open.

"Jerome Bing. What? Why?"

"It's a collector's item now. I don't want to play it again. Jerome Bing played it and he signed it and you can add it to your albums, records, and CD collection. It'll look good under those vinyl album covers you have hung on the wall. I'll mount it with the back facing out," I said. "Jerome Bing will have a place on your wall of fame."

"That would look nice," dad said as he saw it there. "Thank you, Clete. I'll buy you another one."

"Dad, if I decide to play again, I'll buy a suitable banjo. You've bought for me all my life and now I'm able to buy for myself. Thanks for all those things you did for me."

My father leaned the banjo against the table and stepped forward to hug me. He didn't do that much any longer. As fathers go, I felt lucky to have the one I had.

I thought of Cody and the father he had. How had I been so lucky? How had Cody been so unlucky?

I was sure I'd done the nicest thing I'd ever done, once I went upstairs to go to bed.

I laid awake and I thought of Cody.

Time moved pretty swiftly, after I met Cody, except when I was away from him, and then time seemed to drag. I couldn't wait to see him again, after I let him off.

"No you're not. I'm buying you dinner and that's all there is to it," we argued in front of the cashier.

"OK. Let's eat outside though. I want to be outside in the fresh air," Cody said. "It's so nice out."

"I know just the place," I said, and we walked past the Broadway on the way to the Silverado.

I'd installed carpeting in the bottom of the bed and my workout mat was rolled up and tied to my storage box at the front of the bed.

"This is nice," Cody said, as he leaned his back against the soft mat and bit into his burger.

We ate under some magnificent oak trees. There were birds in the branches singing to us. The air was fresh and the temperature was perfect for shirt sleeves.

We didn't talk. Facing each other across a table at Gene's, you had to say something, but sitting side by side in the back of my truck, we enjoyed the flavor of our favorite food and we were happy being there.

Of all the things we'd done together, this was one of the best thing, just being together. Our arms touched and Cody looked at my face from time to time and he smiled. The fear from the night before had passed. Perhaps being in that room together, he expected something could happen between us and I don't think either of us was ready for that.

There had been Jeff, and Grange, and Teddy, and the sex served a purpose. It took care of a need. With Cody it was trickier than that. There was way more to it than getting my rocks off. Cody was special. Like Floyd told me, he was a tough kid, a street kid, but under it all, Cody was fragile. He'd never let himself be in love, as I hadn't, and love was way different from anything else.

As I thought about where I'd been and who we were, Cody finished his burger and he leaned his head against my arm. I put my arm over his shoulders and he leaned his head on my chest. He still said nothing. I finished eating and I moved the papers and such to one side.

"You look comfortable," I said.

Cody didn't reply.

His eyes were closed and I listened to him take long even breaths. I noticed Cody's smell for the second time in two days. He had an absolutely fresh smell with a hint of a sweet fragrance that made me dizzy with delight.

As we cuddled together in the back of my truck, I fell asleep too. I had been pushing myself in a way I hadn't done before. A lot of it had to do with making time for Cody. I did something besides go to work, play rugby, and work around the house doing the chores I'd been doing forever.

Everything I did, I enjoyed. I literally whistled while I worked. Nothing about my life was hard. Nothing about my life had ever been hard, and now I was in love. Sex had been a monumental discovery. It was hot and hard and it consumed me, while I did it. It served a purpose and it fulfilled a need.

I may have thought there was a small part of me that was nearly almost infatuated with Grange and the things he did to me, while not allowing me the time to do anything to him. He talked a good game, but when push came to shove, Grange was all action. It's why I felt sorry for Cathy, or anyone who might love Grange.

Now I knew what I felt had little to do with love and everything to do with being horny all the time. Grange served a purpose, as did Jeff, and Teddy left me with things to contemplate. For our few minutes together, he'd left a lasting impression upon me, as well as a direction to follow.

I suspect it wasn't something Theodore Newman did often.

Cody and I hadn't even kissed, but the love I felt for him was stronger than any feelings I'd had up until then. I knew who Cody was and I knew what he did, but I knew he was caught within a world that offered him no options. The options there were, each was worse than the last. He had to make it on his own without help and with a fear of the police and the system. He didn't trust either for good reason.

When I woke up, it was dark and after nine. I gave Cody a little shake.

"What? I'm sleeping," he mumbled, hugging himself closer to me.

I thought I should let him sleep and miss Jack and maybe I'd be able to end that Wednesday night date by being selfish. I long ago gave up thinking I could control Cody.

"You've got Jack in less than an hour. You want to look bright eyed and bushy tailed, don't you?" I said, snuggling against him.

It had become cooler in the time we'd been sleeping.

"No," Cody said.

"You don't want to miss Jack," I said.

As Cody turned his face toward mine, our lips got together. It was like getting a jab from his hat pin. I was electrified by his warm wonderful lips. As the kiss lingered, our arms and legs became tangled together. I held him and he held me.

One kiss led to another or maybe it was one long kiss. Cody lit a fire inside me that had been flickering since the day I knocked him down. I didn't want the kiss to end and we were in the back of the Silverado and anyone could walk up and look in on us. I didn't care.

"What are you going to do about Jack?" I asked, when I came up for air.

"I told Jack I wouldn't be seeing him anymore. I told Jack I met someone. I told Jack that I couldn't go out with him anymore."

Cody didn't give me anymore information than that, and for a second I wondered who he had met, but he was kissing me again and anything I could think got lost in bliss.

Cody told Jack that he'd met someone. Last night I felt like I was skating on thin ice when I left Cody's room.

Tonight I was sitting on top of the world.

I wondered if love could give you whiplash.

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