Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 19

That Boogie-Woogie Beat

For the time being I found it difficult to leave Cody at his room, after going out with him. Mr. Hitchcock wondered if I was OK. His son, Jacob, back from college in Laramie, said, 'You look like you could use a few days off.' I almost took a couple of days off after he said it, but Mr. Hitchcock depended on me to be there on the biggest incoming stock days and I wouldn't let him down.

Andy, my assistant, was either late or he didn't show up on the busiest incoming stock days. He was part time and we knew he couldn't be depended on to be there when he was needed most. Jacob now manned the front counter and he handled checkouts, while his father looked for a new cashier.

The once thriving local market had fallen on hard times as most people stopped by Wal-mart for groceries on the way home. If they needed that little something to finish fixing a recipe, they sent to Hitchcock's for it. If they ran out of milk or bread, running over to Hitchcock's for it was how most people reacted to a sudden shortage.

The days when most shoppers came to the checkout lines with a full cart were over and a man who had served his community for thirty years was in danger of closing his doors.

Cody changed gears somewhere between Jerome Bing's, Floyd's, and Vanilla's. He'd become progressively more affectionate and it became increasingly more difficult for him to leave me. It wasn't easy for me to leave him. The longer I went out with Cody, the more I worried about him. It was a departure from having no one to worry about but myself.

While we were together, I was more calm and content than I'd ever been. The Panthers dissolved in May. I didn't drive around looking for a pickup match. For the first time since junior high, I didn't count the days until I was playing one sport or another.

Having rugby fade into the background left me with half a day on Saturday that I needed to fill. Because there were no deliveries on Saturday, Mr. Hitchcock cut me back to five days a week. I was working ten to twelve hours a day and he decided he and his son could hold down the fort on Saturday.

Even with more hours during the week, after Andy was let go, I had more free time than ever. Actually it wasn't free. I spent it with Cody. Some days we rode around in the Silverado. A couple of days we went to walk in the nature preserve.

We spent our time watching birds, looking for any four footed friends we might spot, and holding hands. We stopped every few minutes to look into each other's eyes. We were surprisingly devoid of words. Being together was how we liked to be. Being together meant not wanting to be anywhere else. Being together meant I didn't worry as much, but being together meant we'd need to part.

"I want you to meet my parents," I said.

We got into my truck after our walk and I was hungry and Cody agreed to come along to watch me eat. Cody thought about it before he said anything.

"I'm not big on being around someone's parents, Clete."

"You'll like my parents. If you're uncomfortable, we'll set up a sign you can give me and we can leave, but I'm spending more nights out than I ever had and they're asking me questions. If they meet you, they'll understand," I said.

"I know you think that's how it will go, but they're your parents, and they seem like fine folks to you. I'm sure they are, but once I show up, they might not feel the way you expect them to feel about me. You don't think they're going to miss the way we look at each other, do you?"

"How do we look at each other?" I asked.

"Like two lovesick puppies who can't wait to get their paws on each other," Cody said. "You haven't told them you are gay."

"No, I don't plan to tell them we're in love," I said. "We're friends. That's all they need to know."

"I'm going to be in the middle of their minds' working overtime on what I'm doing with their son. We won't fool them. I'll be waiting for them to corner me to ask, 'What do you think you're doing with our son?" Cody said.

"They wouldn't do that," I said.

"And they haven't seen whatever they see when they look at you in your future. Believe me when I say, I'm not what they see in your future, Clete," Cody said.

"My parents aren't like that, Cody. You'll see," I said.

"Right," Cody said. "Don't put me in a bad position. It's not fair to me. You want me with you but you don't want to tell your parents that you're gay."

"Why do I need to tell them I'm gay?" I asked. "I don't ask them what flips their trigger."

"When I show up, and how many young men do you bring home these days? They're going to have thoughts about who I am whether or not you tell them how we feel about each other."

"Let's get something to eat and I'll think it over."

"I'll watch. You eat. I'll take a Coke," Cody said.

We stopped at MacDonald's. It was the first place we passed on our way back to town. I began to worry about my weight now that I wasn't involved in sports. I thought I might be able to cut down on the amount I ate but I was still hungry all the time.

"I hope you know what we're doing. I have a bad feeling about this," Cody said.

"They're my parents. They'll love you because I love you," I said.

"Is that how it works?" Cody asked.

"Relax and just be yourself. You'll see," I said.

"Yeah, I will, won't I?" Cody said as I parked in our driveway.

"See, you can see the mountains from my driveway. I think about driving toward them and I'd keep on driving. Those mountains inspire me," I said.

"It is a nice view," Cody said. "Can you see them from your room?"

"No, right here is the only place where there's an open view," I said.

I opened the door and held it for Cody to go in first. My mother was scurrying toward us, wiping her hands on her apron as she came from the kitchen when she heard us.

"Oh, this must be Cody. I'm Clete's mom. He's told us all about you," mom said.

Cody looked at me suspiciously.

"He doesn't know everything about me," Cody said.

"I mean he's told us what he knows," mom said.

"I'm Clete's father. I'm another Clete. I guess we should let you come in and relax. It's nice to meet you, Cody," dad said.

"I hope you like fried chicken. I'm fixing okra, green beans, and creamed corn," mom said, leading the way and turning into the kitchen."

"Vanilla makes wonderful fried chicken and her fried okra is nice," Cody said.

My mother looked at Cody from the kitchen door and it wasn't her happy look.

My father led the way into the den and there was a baseball game on television. He turned it off and Cody looked at me when he did. I sat in mom's chair and that left the couch for Cody. I wasn't sure he wouldn't want to hold my hand if we sat together. We held hands all the time now and that might not be a good idea in front of my parents. It was the kind of thing I didn't think through until it happened.

Luckily dinner was ready before we got into any complicated conversations about the new arrival.

For a few minutes we attended to the meal and there wasn't much conversation. Cody seemed to enjoy the meal. For me it was food and food was enjoyable. I got in trouble when there was no food.

"How old did you say you were?" mom asked, dishing up some mashed potatoes.

"I didn't say, but I'm sixteen."

"Oh, he's younger than the friends you went to school with," mom said.

"They were my age because we went to school together, mom," I said. "Cody is smarter and more mature than any of them."

"Oh, where did you say you were from?" Dad asked.

Cody looked at me in a way that told me what needed to be done.

"Cody was worried that this would become a question and answer session, and he'd tell me if he was uncomfortable and we'd leave. He's uncomfortable. I know you mean well but Cody has had some ugly experiences concerning adults. Being given the third degree isn't his idea of a good time. Can we call off the twenty questions so we don't have to leave," I said.

"Leave!" Mom said. "I fixed all this food for him."

"Regina!" Dad said. "The chicken is nice. Let's enjoy it."

Well, I had everyone mad at me now. Can't do any better than that. I bit into my chicken thigh and I smiled. Cody studied his plate as he pushed the food around. My stomach was upset. I figured food couldn't hurt, so I ate.

My mother made chocolate chip cookies and she served them to Cody and me with milk. That was the biggest hit of the meal. Cody ate three, dunking the first one in the full glass of milk. Mom watched this careful operation. Cody didn't spill a drop of milk or lose any of the cookie. Seeing the concern on my mother's face, he didn't do any more dunking.

"I love chocolate chip cookies," Cody said, managing one of his nicest smiles.

We retired to my father's music room. I carried a Frosty root beer and Cody carried a Coke. Mom and dad stuck to iced tea.

"Your banjo," Cody said, walking to where I mounted it on the wall under a half dozen album covers.

"Vanilla loves jazz," Cody said.

"Her friend Suesu played jazz on her record player all the time."

"Suesu?" Mom asked. "That's an unusual name."

"She dressed up," Cody said. "Vanilla dresses up. She sings Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday songs at the Review downtown."

"Dresses up?" Mom asked.

"I think I've got a Billie Holiday record out," dad said, to interrupt my mom.

It took a minute for Billie Holiday's voice to fill the room.

We settled in and listened to several Billie Holiday songs.

"Your banjo," Cody said, going over to where I mounted it.

"He gave it to me after Mr. Bing played it and signed it," did said.

"What a nice thing to do. Your a fan of Mr. Bing," Cody said.

"I am. He's quite a well known session man. He's on a lot of my jazz albums," dad said. "I understand he's teaching you."

"He is. I work for him and he lets me play his piano at Topsy's," Cody said.

"Sounds like a bar," my mother said.

"It is," Cody said.

"Your parents approve of you working in a bar?" Mom asked.

"No. My parents don't have anything to do with it," Cody said.

"Is that legal. Cletus? I thought there were laws," mom said.

"There probably are, Regina, but Cody works for Mr. Bing. Don't you find that exciting?" Dad asked.

"I find it disconcerting that a child is working in a bar," mom said.

"That's where people often get confused," Cody said. "I'm not a child."

"You aren't?" Mom asked.

"Regina!" Dad said.

"He can play the piano by watching someone play a song and then he can duplicate what he saw them do," I said.

"Where do you play the piano?" Mom asked.

"In the bar that Mr. Bing owns. It's called Topsy's," Cody reminded everyone. "Mr. Bing owns Topsy's. When he saw I needed a job, he hired me to sweep up and polish the brass twice a week. When he found out I played the piano, he started showing me songs and once I picked it up, he'd play the trumpet and I played piano. He taught me the theme from Casablanca. It's one of my favorites," Cody said.

"Mine too," mom said. "Would you play for us."

The upright piano was in the corner and mom immediately went over to it and she took the dust cover off of it.

"I'm not very good," Cody said, he stood as soon as he saw the piano.

"He is too," I said. "He is great."

"Don't be modest," mom said. "We want to hear you play."

Mom wanted to hear him play so she could say, 'Now that we've debunked that cock and bull story You gave us, how about the truth?'

Cody went over to sit on the bench in front of the piano. He tested keys by fiddling with a few.

My mother kept an eye on him and she looked like she was already disappointed.

Then Cody began to play, As Time Goes By. After playing the first verse with a flourish, he began to sing the words. My mother's mouth dropped open. The kid could play the piano and sing. Who knew? Why hadn't someone told her?

Cody played and sang as casually as if he was at Topsy's. My parents being there didn't bother him. I wanted to bother him, but not in front of my parents.

As if it was part of Cody's plan, he went from the Casablanca theme to Boogie-Woogie. He rocked on the bench and his fingers came alive. My father grabbed my mother to dance the jitterbug, a dance they'd learned from their parents.

They wiggled until they worked their way around dad's music room and mom kept up. Anyone who could make music was fine with dad, and Cody would have his vote. Mom wasn't as easy and I knew I still had some selling to do, but after they kept on dancing, Cody's introduction entered a new phase. Cody's stock was on the rise.

As Cody banged out the cords, I was almost sure we were in.

After an hour of singing, dancing, and piano playing, we sang She's Coming Around the Mountain. Cody picked the tune right up when mom sat beside him to show him the melody.

In a minute Cody picked it up and he was playing an upbeat Boogey Woogey version of She's Coming Around the Mountain. We sang and laughed and dad and mom danced some more.

Cody was in the zone and he carried my parents with him.

We all laughed when he finally took a break.

"I haven't danced like that since I was a girl," mom said.

"You do have that Boogey Woogey beat, Cody," dad said.

"It took a while to catch everything Mr. Bing showed me, but I've got it now. It's like he says, 'You got to feel the music. You need to let it flow through your fingers and into the keys.' I watched what he did with his fingers and I picked it up."

"You watch his fingers?" Mom asked.

"Yeah, I memorize what he plays. He plays so fast on some tunes, it takes me a while. I only needed to watch him once to pick up As Time Goes By," Cody said.

"You watched him play it and then you played it?" Mom asked.

"Something like that. Some music takes two or three times for me to catch all the moves."

"If I played... say, The Way We Were, you could play it?" Mom asked.

"If it's slow enough I can do it the first time I see it played."

"I've got to see this," dad said, pulling a chair up to the piano as mom sat beside Cody.

She played and sang the theme from the Redford and Streisand movie. Cody watched her hands. Then Cody played and sang the theme from The Way We Were.

"That's amazing. You have a better voice than I do but you never played that before. Tell me the truth," mom ordered.

"I always tell the truth. No, I've never heard the song before," Cody said. "I should say that I don't remember ever hearing it."

"Cletus?" Mom asked my father. "Is that possible."

"I've heard of it. I never saw anyone who could do it," dad said.

"He does it all the time with Mr. Bing. He shows Cody and Cody can play what he shows him. I think Mr. Bing is amazed by it too," I said. "I watched him after he played Boogie for a few minutes. Cody played what he'd played, but Cody was able to add to it as he played. Like he was doing with Coming Around the Mountain."

"Some mathematicians see complicated math problems as a natural progression with one answer. They see the answer as easily as they see the problem. Music has a mathematical precision to it. I believe Cody sees, understands, it in a way we don't."

"The child is gifted," mom said.

"I'm not a child," Cody said. "I support myself. I have a job."

I cringed and dad rolled to the rescue.

"If he had never heard The Way We Were and he could play it and remember the lyrics after seeing you play it once, I'd say he has a gift of some kind. Few people could do that," dad said.

My mother's hand was over her mouth as she studied Cody.

The meeting with my parents had become far more complicated than I thought it would. Who could have guessed they'd be so curious about Cody and where he came from? By the time we retired from dad's music room, I was speechless, fearing I'd misspeak.

Cody didn't seem to be flustered by the revelations about him, but we hadn't gotten to Vanilla yet.

"Vanilla is your friend?" Mom asked. "She sings for a living?"

"No, she makes dresses for a living. She sings because she's an entertainer. She doesn't make a lot of money singing."

"Oh, she's a dress maker. Could I get her to make a dress for me?" Mom asked.

I began to wonder who was in my mother's body.

"She mainly makes dresses for the girls who dress up. I'm not saying she wouldn't. I think her dresses are beautiful," Cody said.

"You met her because she entertains?" Mom asked.

"No, I met her because she drops stuff," Cody said.

"Drops stuff?" Mom asked.

"I was innocently walking down the street. I can't say where I was heading, but I fell in behind Vanilla as I walked and she kept dropping stuff. She had her arms full. I finally just took half the stuff she was carrying and I walked her to her apartment. She asked me to stay for dinner. I was hungry so I stayed. We've been friends since then."

"What a charming story. I don't get how they dress up," mom said.

"They're trans. They dress up to be the way they feel," Cody said.

"Transgendered, dear," dad said.

"You know others like Vanilla?" Mom asked.

"Most of her friends are trans. They let her make their dresses because she's wonderful at it," Cody said. "Those are the only ones I come in contact with, when they come to Vanilla's apartment."

"She sings Billie Holiday's songs. How does she sound?" dad asked.

"Like Billie Holiday," I said. "She is a beautiful lady with a wonderful voice."

"You know Vanilla?" Mom asked.

"I do," I said. "I know a lot of Cody's friends. They are a fascinating group of people. They're way more interesting and colorful than anyone I know. They've had such interesting lives."

"How long have you known Vanilla?" Mom asked.

"Close to three years now," Cody said. "She's my best friend. I might not be here if it wasn't for Vanilla," Cody said. "I met her before I found a job and got my own place. She made sure I ate, even when she didn't have much to eat herself."

"You were thirteen? Do your parents approve?" Mom asked, unable to help herself.

Cody looked at me.

"Cody wasn't living at home," I said.

"At thirteen?" Mom said. "Who do we know that has a child that wasn't at home when they were thirteen."

"No one, because children should be at home, but as you well know, not all children are at home and some children have such horrid homes they leave them," Dad said.

Good ole' dad. Maybe he'd take her dancing.

"Or are thrown out by a drunk father and told not to come back," I said.

"Cody?" Mom asked.

"Cody," I said. "His father was a drunk and he nearly beat him to death. He threw him out and said he would beat him to death if he ever came back. He was thirteen."

"There have to be laws against that," mom said.

"I'm sure there are but would you rather the boy live with a man who might kill him? I think not. So you've made it on your own since you were thirteen?" Dad asked.

"No, I had Vanilla, Mr. Bing, and Floyd. Some other men who help me. Mr. Bing owns a motel and I sleep in one of the rooms. He lets the bands stay at his motel when they come to town to play at Topsy's. I do OK," Cody said.

"I can't believe this child has been on the street for so long," mom said.

"No, mom, he hasn't been on the street. He met people who helped him. He's smart and he's tough," I bragged.

"School?" Mom asked.

"No. I can't get into school without turning myself in to CPS. I wouldn't do that on a bet," Cody said.

"Why not?" Mom asked. "They're there to help children like you."

"They may be there to help us, but they are under staffed and underfunded. You ever tried to raise kids on a shoestring budget? You ever tried to raise 100 kids with budget cuts the word of the day? I'm much better able to get what I need by finding it myself. Those folks don't do much more than lock us up to keep us off the street."

"You don't know that. You're just saying that," mom said.

"Yes, I am just saying it, because it's true. There is no funding for governments to raise kids. Kids don't vote. Once we disappear into the CPS maze, we're at the mercy of the under staffing difficulties," Cody said. "I have managed. It hasn't been easy but it's better than being locked up with boys who take what they want off you."

My mother looked perplexed. My father would have jumped in front of her to slow her down, but he couldn't think of what to say.

"Let's get back to school. What will you do about school? You've got to go to school to get any kind of a job," mom said.

"If I dare try to go to school, I'd be locked up for being a delinquent child, because I don't live at home. I have no options if I don't want to be bullied by truly bad boys at juvie," Cody said.

"It isn't like that," mom said.

"When's the last time you were at juvie, Regina?" Dad asked.

"I haven't been but decent people wouldn't allow it," she said.

"Which brings us to your government. A delinquent child is a criminal. By not living at home and going to school, Cody is delinquent. That's not me speaking, it's the law. He is right, if he tried to get help, he'd be turned over to CPS," dad said.

"You can get your GED," mom said.

"Once I'm eighteen, I plan to get my GED. I can't apply for it until I'm eighteen or I'll end up in trouble with the authorities. I can't do anything for myself without running into the law. As many homeless kids as there are, none of them want to go to juvie. None I've known. The ones who have been there would die rather than go back. No child should ever be held like a dog in a cage," Cody said.

"No," mom said. "No one should. I will help you get your GED. I can get everything you need. We don't need to put your name on it to get the tools for you to get your GED."

"That would be great. I'd do that in a New York minute," Cody said.

"Mom was a teacher. She's very keen on education," I said.

"Speaking of which, when are you going back to school?" Mom asked me.

"Key word being back, mom. I'm not going back. When I figure out what I want to do with my life, I'll go to college if its necessary," I said.

"Everyone needs to," mom said.

"Regina!" dad said. "He's an adult. He needs to decide what he wants to do. We'll help him, no matter what that is," dad said. "As we've agreed, Regina. Clete has never disappointed us. He'll find what he's looking for."

"We will," mom said.

"And if I decide I want to be a pimp?" I asked.

Cody and my father laughed. Mom wasn't amused. She took education seriously and she wanted her son in school.

They knew exactly where I stood on higher education.

"These people who help you, technically they could be in trouble?" Mom asked.

"Yes, ma'am, and I worry about my friends getting in trouble because of me, but we're all from the same kind of lives and we understand there are risks if you want to be a decent person. Some laws simply make things harder than they need to be. The fact they'd lock me up for being thrown out of my house tells you what you need to know about the government. It tells you what they knows about kids," Cody said.

"If you explained that you were thrown out by your father, they'd make allowances for that," mom said.

"Yes, and I'd be at their mercy. They'd do what they decide needs to be done. I'm a person and there are things I'm not going to do because the government says I will. The government is wrong."

"You make it sound pretty cold and unfeeling," mom said.

"There's a good reason it sounds that way. I've managed without the government. No, I can't go to school. Yes, I do need to work. Is it ideal? No. Is it better than being locked up with really bad kids? Yes."

"I'm going to get the tools for you to take the GED," mom said. "If you're going to hang around Clete and come to my house, I'm going to help you study for the GED."

"OK. I need to do it sooner or later," Cody said.

"That's settled then. Give me a week and we'll be able to start."

"Yes, ma'am."

"What else can we do for this child?" Mom asked my father.

"Dear, your mind works so much faster than mine. I'm still working on hello, Cody. Did you know he can watch someone play a tune on the piano and he can play the tune back for you?"

"Cletus, sometimes you are so annoying. I'm being serious," mom said.

"Don't I know it, Regina. I know it. Let me catch up, why don't you? Maybe I'll think of something more appropriate," dad said.

"I came because Clete said you were good folks. I appreciate the meal. As for what you can do, you don't need to do anything. I'll be OK. I want to work on getting my GED and that's enough. We've all got lives and there is no point in worrying about me," Cody said.

"I'll tell Clete when we have what we need for the GED," mom said.

"Hey, Mr. Hitchcock. Where's Jacob?" I asked.

"He's picking something up for me and I'm handling the register. As you can see, I'm not over worked," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"Cody, this is my boss, Mr. Hitchcock. This is my friend Cody," I said. "I'm here to put the organic food up and then I'm taking Cody home if you don't need me."

"Hello, Mr. Cody. You aren't looking for a job, are you? I know where there is a part time stocking job that you look like you could do with your eyes closed," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"Don't pay any attention to him, he asks everyone who comes in if they want that job," I said.

"Yeah, but I live in town. I'd have trouble getting out here," Cody said.

"No, you wouldn't. I'd be your boss," I said. "You'd work when the stock comes in. You'd help me start unloading a truck and then you'll start putting stock on the shelve, while I finish unloading."

"I could do that," Cody said.

"I'll pick you up on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Fridays," I said.

"Done," Mr. Hitchcock said. "You planned this, didn't you, Thomas? I know you. This was no accident."

"I guess not. I never thought of Cody working with me but we get along well and I don't mind picking him up, and he's dependable."

"I'm sold. I'm sold. I'll make up a time card right away," Mr. Hitchcock said. "You show him what you do. He'll work for you, Clete."

"Come on back. The organic food is easy. Most of it goes into the big refrigerated box in the back," I said.

"Tuesday I have Mr. Bing," Cody said.

"Last truck unloads at three. We'll be in town eating burgers at Gene's by five to five thirty most Tuesdays," I said.

"Cool," Cody said. "That gives you a lot more running around to do on my account. I should pay you for gas."

"No, you shouldn't. I'm doing it for you, Cody. I don't want to be paid to do the things for you. It's a labor of love," I said.

"I can go along with that," Cody said. "Our lives have been getting tangled up together."

"They have, haven't they. Isn't it nice. When you are with me, I never worry about you," I said.

"I see," he said. "Wouldn't want to worry you."

No, we wouldn't want that," I said.

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