Authors: J. Roman
“This isn’t a fucking joke!” I snapped. “This isn’t a game or some screwed-up version of Life that you can buy or sell with rainbow-colored dollar bills. Dean’s life is about to get messed up again, and you don’t even
. You’re not the only one who’s had it rough, Jason. Grow the hell up!”
He looked like I’d slapped him. He took a stuttered breath and got that same bewildered look on his face that he did when I lost it. “I, I’m not.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should just leave. I could stay with Kevin or—”
I slammed my desk chair under my desk and wrenched my backpack up. “Oh that’s fantastic! Run away, Jason. That’s what you’re good at. Shit gets tough, and you run away. If you don’t want to make this work, then go!”
His eyes narrowed, and his nostrils flared. I braced myself for the venom that would come out of his mouth next. It was Jason’s defense when someone hurt him. “I run away when stuff gets tough? Well, hello, Pot, I’m Kettle. We’re both fucking black. You won’t even
at your mom’s stuff. Your room is stacked full of shit from your old life, and you won’t talk about your mommy or anything else that existed before you joined the gay version of
The Brady Bunch
. At least I acknowledge the fact that I am fucked up beyond fixing.”
“Everyone is savable! Everyone can be fixed! But you’ve got to at least try!” Tears welled in my eyes, and I wiped them away angrily. This wasn’t the time to break down crying like a sissy.
trying. God, can’t you see that? I’m trying so damn hard, Tommy. I don’t know how to do this.” His bottom lip started quivering. “I need you to help me. Please, help me, Tommy.”
Internally I trembled. More responsibility. I was going to buckle eventually. I knew it. But I wouldn’t right this second. “Okay, baby. We’ll get through this. We’ll say that you had a bad night at work and wanted to blow off some steam. We went out, got drunk. It was stupid and irresponsible, but we’re going to take our punishment. I know you’re not used to taking punishment, but you’re just going to have to deal with it. It’s part of being a part of this family.”
A knock on the door made us both jump.
“Come on, boys. We’re leaving,” Uncle Mark said through the door. Jason crossed the space between us and wrapped his arms around my neck, dragging my head down so that he could kiss me. Our lips met, and the desperate edge to Jason’s hunger made me ache despite the fact that my uncle was on the other side of the door. “Now, boys!”
I drew back reluctantly and rested my forehead against Jason’s. Jason’s green eyes took up my entire world. “I guess we’re not going to go away this weekend, huh?”
“Probably not,” I said a little breathlessly.
He sighed. “Yeah. Figures.”
The door swung open. “Move it, you two.”
We drew back from one another and turned in unison to my uncle. The hardened expression on his face clued me in to the fact that whatever my uncles had in store for us, we weren’t going to like it.
out in the white cinderblock hallway at the probationary office downtown, waiting on Dean’s probation officer, Brad, to finish with his phone call. He’d come to get us from the waiting room, leaving Uncle Mark, Uncle Charlie, and Christian behind. Dean sat on one side of me on the wooden bench, Jason on the other. My cousin looked pale and slightly nauseated. Whether the cause was the arrest or the hangover, I wasn’t sure. Either way, he looked sick. Jason didn’t look much better.
“Come on in, guys,” Brad said from the interior of the office. I swallowed hard and stood. I think I would’ve rather dealt with Mr. Bates’ inevitable lecture about my lack of homework than face the consequences of last night.
Brad was a massive guy with pretty chocolate skin and biceps that were bigger than Coach Caldwell’s, the wrestling/football coach at Erwin, and that was saying something. He wore a tight gray collared shirt with some kind of symbol over the breast pocket and a black pair of slacks.
Dean offered the guy a smile that was half sheepish apology and half fear. “Hey, Brad.”
“Hey, Dean my man. You got your butt in a crack last night, huh?” He leaned back in his office chair and looked at all of us.
Dean nodded, his smile falling away. “Yeah.”
“Well, what happened? I have the official version as well as the officer’s suggestions to tack onto your service. But I want to hear it from you.”
“We decided to go out last night because Jason had a rough night. We hit the bowling alley and scored some beer. We got a little shitfaced and were fixing to leave when the cops pulled up and asked how I was doin’,” Dean said. “They asked for my ID, and when I didn’t give it up, they got a little rough.”
“Where were your friends?” Brad asked. Talk about intimidating. It was like being interrogated or something.
“Um.” Dean turned to look at us. “I don’t know…. Where were you guys?”
I flushed and couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Jason spoke instead. “We stepped behind the bowling alley to make out.” I nearly choked on my own tongue. Couldn’t he say we were taking a piss or something? “We were only going to be a minute, but when we came back, Dean was already in cuffs.”
“You two were drunk as well?”
We all nodded.
Brad sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the light oak desk in front of him. “Dean, you ought to know better. You’ve been down this road before.”
“I didn’t steal anything!” Dean protested. “I just got a little tipsy with my boys.”
“Which is still an illegal activity.” He opened up a manila folder and flipped a couple of the pages. “Despite the fact that this isn’t your first offense, I put in a call into the DA who was handling your case. They’ve agreed to forgo jail time or a court appearance if you add to your community service and stay out of trouble for another two years.”
“Aw, damn…,” Dean whined.
“Hey, man, you could’ve finished up your community service in another two months and been good to go for the New Year. You’re the one who decided to screw up. There are consequences for your actions, Dean. I’ve been telling you that since you started your service in my department. Your dads have volunteered you company, though. You two.” I jumped as he addressed us. “You two will be joining him on his weekend community service. Saturday mornings and Sundays now belong to me. You guys will be helping out the youth soccer league down at the recreational center from eight until eleven. Sundays you’ll serve the soup kitchen from ten to noon.”
“How long will we be doing this?” Jason asked, obviously not happy with this new turn.
Brad made some kind of note in the folder. “Until Dean has finished up the additional fifty hours he’s earned. How is your new counselor doing, Dean?”
“Good. Dr. Vernon is pretty cool,” Dean said. “Danny seems to like him too.”
“That’s what I want to hear.” Brad’s brown eyes met mine, and I saw something in his expression that made me uneasy, like he knew more than what he was saying. “You two might do well to see Dr. Vernon as well.”
“We don’t need anything,” Jason said, glaring at the probation officer.
Brad crossed his massive arms over his chest. “If you needed to get wasted to fix a problem you have, you need to talk to someone. I don’t know you, Jason, but I know messed up and looking for something when I see it.” He pointed at me, and I tried very hard to sink into my seat. “You can’t keep losing yourself in whatever your drug of choice is. Be it booze or boyfriend, you need to learn more effective ways of dealing with your problems.”
I knew the expression on Jason’s face very well. He was about to get nasty. “I don’t need your advice. I’m here because Mark and Charlie asked me to be. I didn’t get in trouble, and I don’t need this crap. Leave me alone. Why don’t you lecture someone else?”
“I lecture who needs it,” Brad said, closing the folder. “Can you send your dads in here, boys?”
We stood, and Dean waved. “I’ll see you Saturday, Brad.” The guy nodded and then we walked back to the hall.
Dean sighed in apparent relief. “Thank God, guys. Seriously. I thought I was going to have to go in front of a judge again. I can’t handle that, man. They’ll lock my ass up next time.”
“I’m sorry about you getting into trouble, Dean,” I said, patting my cousin on the back. “At least we’ll all get to hang out during our community service.”
“Who does that bastard think he is?” Jason muttered, glaring at the linoleum floor. “He didn’t tell you guys to go to a therapist.”
“Uh, he kinda did. You guys should think about it. I mean, Dr. Vernon is a little weird, but he listens good, and he doesn’t tell anybody about what you talk about in session. It’s nice to vent to someone.” Dean seemed all keen on the idea. He laughed suddenly. “You think our dads are worried about all their kids but one being in therapy?”
“They’re not my dads!” Jason shouted. “And I’m not their kid! What the hell is wrong with you people?”
“Jason!” I said, grabbing his arm. “Chill out, baby. Take a deep breath. Why are you letting that get to you?”
Jason was shaking all over like he was cold. I stopped him walking and pushed him gently against the hall wall. “Go on, Dean. We’ll catch up in a second.” My cousin took off, and it was just Jason and me again. “Jason?”
“I don’t need any help, Tommy. I can do this on my own.” I’d heard that before. I heard it so often it was becoming a litany to me.
“If you could, you wouldn’t need me, baby.” I kissed his forehead. “Let’s go. Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie are waiting.”
grounded was probably the worst possible thing to be on the week of our one-month anniversary, but we were absolutely grounded. Jason took the bus to work after school. I waited after wrestling practice for Uncle Mark to pick me up from school. I was forbidden from being alone with Jason or going anywhere that wasn’t community service, wrestling practice (only because Uncle Mark had agreed with Jason that it looked good on college applications), or school, and my Uncle Charlie was still not talking to any of us.
“Thank God it’s Friday,” I muttered. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and took in the ambience of the weight room, which was a combination of leather mats, fifty different kinds of deodorant, and BO. I normally wasted no time in getting gone after practice. Unfortunately, since I had no car, if I went outside wet with sweat to wait for Uncle Mark, I was liable to catch pneumonia.
“Trouble in paradise?” Rick asked, sitting down next to me on the bench. I glared at him.
“I’m not in the mood, Castalla.” I was liable to deck him if he shot off his mouth at me. I glanced around for the Gibson boys and found the rest of the locker room empty.
Rick bumped his shoulder against mine. “So what is it? Did he cheat on you? Make fun of your dead mother? Piss in your cornflakes?”
“What about none of your business?”
Rick sighed. “I know that look, man. It’s the same look my brother got on his face when Hurricane Jason tore through his life.”
“Oh please. Jason is not that bad.”
At least not normally
Rick’s dark eyes lit on me and stuck. “You know my family is religious, right?” I nodded. It was one of the weird things about his family. His mom and dad weren’t bad or anything. They just kind of had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy when it came to queers. In comparison to some people, it was fairly tolerant. “Jason and my brother started hanging out, and something happened. It was nothing at first, but then they started getting smashed together on weekends, which turned into weekdays. They put vodka they lifted from my dad’s cabinet into Sprite bottles in the mornings and drank all day. I kept his secrets until the day Jason decided to come over and fuck my brother in my parents’ room. I made up my mind to tell my parents because Jason is just one of those people who drags everyone else along with him, and he was dragging my brother down every destructive path he could think of to get whatever sick high he gets from destroying everything in his way. But my brother came out to them before I had a chance.” He let a breath out between his teeth, as if he was right back in that place in his head. “They offered him an ultimatum. Either he went to live with my aunt and uncle in Florida and attend a reform school down there, or he could leave. He left.”
“How is that Jason’s fault?”
“Don’t you get it? I lost my brother because of him. By the time he told my parents what was going on with him, he was already lost. Jason’s infectious, like a freaking disease,” Rick said.
I frowned. “He may have shown your brother the door, but your brother was the one who walked through it.”
“Yeah? He doesn’t ruin lives?” he asked. “Then why do you look like the world as you know it is over?” I didn’t have a good answer for that one. I was really starting to get a headache.
“We don’t get to be buddy-buddy, Castalla. You’ve been a jerk for the past month.” Avoidance seemed like the best course of action in dealing with Rick’s sudden need to chitchat.
“We’re friends, Tommy. We’ve been friends a long time. I’m worried about you,” Rick said.
I jumped up off the bench and rounded on him. “Friends have each other’s back, Rick. Friends wouldn’t harass me and call my boyfriend a faggot every chance they got, and
wouldn’t get their two goons to give me a hard time whenever we have wrestling practice.”
“I made a mistake, Tommy. But I can’t sit back and watch you destroy yourself over him.”
“I’m grounded because I made a stupid decision,” I bit out between clenched teeth. I could handle Jason and all his self-destruction. I could handle this relationship I got myself into.
“A decision brought on by
“Tommy! Move your ass, son. We’re running late!” Uncle Mark’s voice called out from the doorway, making both of us jump. I turned around to see him and a very unhappy Christian, who was crying loudly in his little baby voice. He had a Band-Aid on his forehead.
“What happened?” I asked, forgetting about Rick Castalla entirely as I walked toward my uncle and baby cousin.