Authors: James Klise
Tags: #young adult, #teen fiction, #fiction, #teen, #teen fiction, #teenager, #angst, #drama, #romance, #relationships, #glbt, #gay, #homosexuality, #self-discovery
“Wow,” I said.
“Yes, well, you cannot imagine the
of such a secret.”
Doctor, you have no idea.
I asked, “What are the RIDs used for?”
“To treat people who suffer from unwanted physical responses. Prototypes of such drugs already exist. For example, to treat people with panic attacks. Or with destructive, violent tendencies. Each RID suppresses a different response. Ours will be one of the most advanced, and initially, I suspect, the most controversial.”
“Controversial in what way?”
Dr. Gamez surveyed the room again before reaching into his bag. He pulled out a plastic pill bottle with a white cap, similar to the ones above my grandparents’ bathroom sink. Locking eyes with me once more, he kept his voice low. “This is one of the new drugs. We call it Rehomoline.” He removed the cap and poured the pills onto a paper napkin on the table.
The pills were light blue, small, pretty. There were maybe twenty on the napkin, like a pile of semi-precious stones. Something a girl would make a necklace with.
“Your artistic eye no doubt appreciates the color. The color of the morning sky. A new day for these patients.”
“What do they do?”
He hesitated. “Put simply, Jamie, Rehomoline suppresses the homosexual response in the male brain.”
A tide of warmth rushed to my face. I had misheard him. “Excuse me?”
He repeated the words, quiet and slow. “The drug suppresses the male homosexual response.”
He’s talking about me. He’s figured me out.
In a kind of shock, I sputtered, “The drug changes …
sexual orientation? That seems impossible.”
Celia and he probably discussed it during dinner. She’s not fooled either.
“Lower your voice,
please. In fact, it’s no different from an allergy medication. Think of homosexuality as an allergy. During an allergic episode, the body responds to an external factor. Allergy medicines
that negative response—for example, so that you can play with your kitty-cat without sneezing. The RIDs operate on the same principle. Rehomoline, used over time to treat homosexuality like a chronic condition, will inhibit the homosexual response. And at the same time, the drug will increase masculine characteristics by adding other agents as needed.”
I’d need twice the recommended dosage.
I sat back in my chair, feeling weirdly embarrassed, overwhelmed. I was too dazed by the concept to listen to his details. All I knew was that I was finally hearing what I’d always wanted to hear—that there might be a solution after all. A way out.
“Wow,” I finally said. “So gay men won’t be attracted to other men? That’s incredible.”
A miracle, in my case.
“Yes, exactly that simple. We’re also developing a lesbian counterpart. These products are going to change our society. Our world.”
“I see what you mean about controversy.”
“Well, there has been such debate about homosexuality. So much sadness. Families broken apart, communities divided, terrible hate crimes we read about in the newspapers. Our drugs will help to alleviate this. In the future, thanks to a simple pill, homosexuality will be a thing of the past. Something we read about only in books. Like leprosy.”
“Huh,” I said neutrally. “That does sound interesting.”
I’ll be changed. Me and all the other island boys like me.
I reached for my drink and took a sip. It was still three-quarters full. I drank it to avoid having to say something.
“In fact,” he added, “our biggest challenge has been to find a proper test market. We’ve had to go overseas to find subjects willing to participate in the preliminary drug trials.”
Why am I so interested in this? Am I trying to broadcast?
“Many homosexuals in this country do not see their condition as a problem. They wave their flags, march in parades, fight for the right to marry. Many homosexuals treat their sexuality like it is the thing they are most proud of. I do not understand this pride over something they have nothing to do with—no more than we can take credit for the color of our eyes.”
“Do you think homosexuality is wrong, then?”
Careful, my mask is slipping.
“Jamie, please, do not put words into my mouth. I feel the
is wrong. The hate and violence are very wrong, very bad for families and for our society. And all so unnecessary. Anyway, my role is not to judge. I’m a doctor, a scientist. My job is to provide medical solutions for people who want them.”
He checked his wristwatch, then used the paper napkin to begin guiding the pills back into the vial. “I have a meeting in the far northern suburbs. I should be wise and use the men’s room first. Please excuse me.” He stood, pushed his chair in, and went through one of the doors at the back of the café.
I felt lightheaded, but I couldn’t blame the caffeine this time. I couldn’t move any part of my body except my eyes. My gaze darted around the café like a fly, touching on all the familiar things—granite countertops, customers reading, overfilled garbage bins.
Am I dreaming?
I glanced back at the table. Dr. Gamez had left his papers and file folders scattered. And the plastic pill bottle. The pills were as real as everything else.
Take some, dipshit.
I stared at the bottle. It appeared to be full. Would he miss some pills if I took them? He’d only been gone a minute. I had time.
He won’t miss a few. He’s probably got thousands back at the lab.
My hands lay on my lap, heavy as anchors. How did I know the pills were safe? Would taking them change my whole personality? Were they lethal?
Like a neon sign, my grandfather’s advice flashed across in my mind:
Jamie, you take what’s given to you, and you use it. Got it?
Nobody was watching.
With my head turned toward the bathroom door, I lifted my right hand to the table. I moved my fingers, sweeping frantically across until I touched the bottle. I closed my hand around it and brought it into my lap.
Again, I looked around. Nobody had seen me. It was like I was invisible.
Glancing back at the bathroom door, I removed the cap and poured some pills into my left hand. I replaced the cap and returned the bottle to the table in a fluid movement. My right hand came back to my lap just as Dr. Gamez emerged from the bathroom. Now he was talking on his cell phone.
Fool, quit breathing like a lunatic.
Approaching the table, Dr. Gamez ended his call. He slipped the phone into the pocket of his suit jacket. Then he stared at the table. “I might have known,” he said sternly. “Something has happened in my absence.”
I nearly fainted before realizing he meant at his laboratory.
“My assistants are some of the most talented researchers in the field,” he continued, gathering his papers. “But ask them to conduct a simple inventory of the supplies cabinet, and you would think I asked them to walk on the moon.” He stowed the pills and the paperwork in his briefcase. He extended his hand. “A pleasure to see you again, Jamie.”
“Absolutely,” I said, glad the pills were in my left hand.
“Come by the house again, and let us see how you are.”
When he was gone, I opened my hand and looked at my palm.
Eleven little pills, that was all I’d gotten. Not enough to do me any harm, probably. But were they enough to do me any good? I couldn’t believe my luck. Against my pink skin, the pills looked darker. Now they were the blue of Lake Michigan in the summer when swimming is good, the blue of my mother’s best blouse. They were the blue of the three plastic bins that had housed all my childhood treasures. They were the blue of Ivan’s eyes.
I closed my bedroom door and stood in darkness, listening to myself breathe. My clothes were wet from the rain. I switched on the creaky metal reading lamp on my desk, then pushed aside the random magazines, school papers, and old CD cases. Now I faced a clean, flat surface. The pills rolled from my trembling hand onto this hard surface, spilling like tiny dice. A tiny roll of my future.
I corralled them into a cluster, observing them under the glare of the bulb. They looked damp. They would dry under the lamp, but I worried that I’d spoiled them with my sweating hand or in the rain-soaked pocket of my jeans. For the first time, I noticed a clear, elegant
stamped on the side of each pill.
To me, that R meant Redo me. Renew me. Realign me.
The eleven little pills sitting in front of me were the simple solution to everything I’d worried about for as long as I could remember. They meant the end to all my secrets. The end of dealing with people like Crazy Paul. And a grand
to the faraway island! If Dr. Gamez was correct, and the pills actually worked, I would be a grateful, loyal Rehomoline user for the rest of my life.
“Jamie, come and eat!” my grandmother called from down the hallway.
“One minute!” I said.
What I didn’t have were basic instructions. To begin with, would I take one pill or two? When I had a headache, I always took two of whatever we had in the kitchen cupboard. But with my grandparents’ prescriptions, I noticed that they took one of each pill. In this case, one made more sense; if I didn’t feel a difference with one, I could always try two. With eleven pills, that would guarantee at least five good doses.
Second question: When to take a dose? Wesley, I knew, took his Ritalin with breakfast, but my grandparents took most of their pills after dinner. If Rehomoline was truly like an allergy medicine, the way Dr. Gamez had said, maybe I only needed to take it as needed.
—as in, whenever I found myself among other people?
Third question: What about side effects? This was the scariest part. I knew from TV ads that many prescriptions could cause a range of side effects in patients. Headaches, drowsiness, rashes, insomnia, nausea (
), oily diarrhea (
rectal bleeding (
) … Not very appealing, but if the pills worked, any side effect would be worth it. Moreover, would taking the pills change my personality? This part freaked me out the most. Was it a risk I was willing to take?
“Supper’s getting cold!” my grandmother called.
I jumped out of my chair, leaving the pills under the desk lamp to dry. One of the advantages of living with my grandparents was the guaranteed privacy. Nobody would come poking around my bedroom. I could have left the drugs on my desktop for weeks with a large handwritten sign that said “Stolen Pills RIGHT HERE!” without anybody ever noticing.
My grandparents had begun to eat without me, cutting into their food with the grim faces of surgeons at work.
I slipped into my usual seat. “Mom and Dad coming down?”
“No, sir,” my grandfather said.
“Cool beans, Jellybeans,” I said. “I’ll go up later and say hello.”
The table offered familiar choices. Chicken baked in rice, peas, Jell-O. I filled my plate.
“Somebody’s hungry for once,” my grandmother said.
“Everything looks terrific.” I leaned forward in my chair, taking quick bites. “Some rain we had today, right? Lucky it wasn’t snow.”
“Pretty gloomy all afternoon,” she said.
“Water in the basement again,” my grandfather reported.
We ate in silence for a minute, rain beating against the kitchen window.
“Dentist said no cavities,” I said.
“At your age,” my grandfather said, chewing, “I had so many silver fillings, the other kids called me Tinfoil Tony.”
“Ouch,” I said.
“I didn’t mind. Hell, it was a point of pride. Every time I opened my mouth, it showed I wasn’t afraid of pain.”
“It wasn’t attractive, I’ll tell you that,” my grandmother said. “I had to learn to look elsewhere.”
“Over time,” he said, “they got replaced, one by one, with fancy white porcelain ones. I have the mouth of a movie star now, but I miss looking tough.”
“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I’m taking care of mine. I guess I can celebrate.”
My grandmother pointed at me with her fork. “You start to celebrate, that’s when the cavities get a lucky break.”
At the end of the meal, out came their pills, the nightly ritual. I watched with a renewed interest as they poured from the shiny plastic bottles. My grandparents’ eyes never met as they swallowed.
I felt giddy and bold. “What are those pills for, anyway?”
“Heart and bones,” she said.
“Blood and brain,” he said.
“Sounds like you got your bases covered.” Sports metaphor—already I was getting into the spirit of my new straight life. I jumped up and took a plastic sandwich bag from the cupboard and put it in my pocket. I wanted to keep my pills nice and fresh. There had to be a reason pharmacies distributed drugs in airtight plastic containers.
My grandmother remained at the table, but her eyes never left me. “What’s the bag for?”
I hesitated. “School project. Do you want me to help with dishes?”
“No, but thank you for asking,” she said, nodding. “You’ve got your homework.”
I paused at the door. “Thank you for the very nice dinner.”
“Pleasure doing business with you,” my grandfather said.
In my bedroom, I discovered that the pills were dry. I slipped them into the plastic bag, then held the bag closer to the desk lamp to study the pills better. They fell into order along the bottom, lined up in a neat row. I wanted to kiss them through the plastic. I opened a desk drawer and stowed the stash there, among never-sharpened souvenir pencils and rusty batteries.
I went upstairs to check on my parents. They were taking turns organizing the UPS shipments and running individual packages down to customers. The apartment smelled like popcorn. I liked to help out with gift-wrapping during evenings, working alongside my parents even when we weren’t talking. A combined effort for the family good, something farm families did in black-and-white movies. I stood at the buffet table in the dining room, where the to-be-wrapped orders waited. The first one in line was a medium-size package that needed to be gift-wrapped for a newborn girl.
I selected the pink wrapping with the yellow and red stars. For me, wrapping packages offered a reliable rush of pleasure—cutting the paper to the precise length, folding and taping it neatly at the sides. I chose a thick gold-threaded satin for the ribbon and tied it with a generous bow; as an extra I tucked a white plastic giraffe through the knot.
When my mother passed by, she said, “Excellent. The master is at work.”
“My son,” Dad said, “future manager of Bloomingdale’s gift-wrap counter.” He didn’t mean it as an insult. He’d said it before, and we all laughed about it.
“They didn’t pay for the giraffe,” I said. “Is it okay anyway?”
“Fine,” he said. “Little extras like that keep them coming back for more.”
“Don’t go overboard,” my mother called from the living room.
I wrapped a wedding present, using the thickest gloss-white paper and the same gold-threaded ribbon, and then a retirement gift: golf-course paper with the green ribbon with little white balls on it. Standard.
Next was a large package to wrap, a birthday present for a high school boy. I searched through the paper, looking for something we’d used before. It should have been easy to choose—
I was a teenage boy myself
—but I always got stuck on these orders. My instincts were wrong. The papers I liked were, according to my parents, either too childish or too pretty for an older boy. In the past they had forced me to re-wrap some of the gifts for boys, and I got lectured about wasting paper.
Tonight nothing could spoil my mood. I wanted to sing.
Got me a smile on my face
A desk drawer full of pills …
I happily set the package aside and moved on to the next order, something easy—a house-warming gift: pale green paper with green ferns, navy blue silk ribbon. Classic and homey.
Romance, I knew, unlike friendship, required some money. I didn’t have any. I’d never held a job besides household chores, which, in my parents’ view, didn’t merit anything more than the food and shelter they provided. In the past, whenever I wanted to buy something—games, books, or music—my parents simply considered the request and either paid for it or didn’t. But in their view, I was too young to date.
He was too young to date
Too poor to care …
I finished with the house-warming gift and stepped away from the table. I glanced over my shoulder at the cash box. My parents were in and out of the door, attending to customers.
It was wrong to steal. I knew that. At the same time, I’d done so much work for my parents lately. Plus, the gift-wrapping angle was
to begin with. Didn’t I deserve some compensation? Was I expected to go through life asking for payment? Weren’t child labor laws designed to help hardworking kids like me?
Humming with nonchalance, I took three steps to the sideboard and lifted the metal lid of the cash box. I barely glanced at what was in there—just pulled out two ten-dollar bills, closed the lid without making a sound, and went back to the wrapping table. I folded the bills and slipped them into my pocket. Fifteen seconds total, from initial impulse to completion.
I was already acting like Wes, and I hadn’t even taken a pill yet.
It would have been crazy to beat myself up about it. It was only twenty bucks. Still, my heart drummed under my T-shirt and I had to steady myself on the back of a chair.
Two petty thefts in one day. I was becoming a pro.
In my bedroom, the red light of my cell phone was flashing. Celia had left a message, asking me to call her right away. Her tone was cautious, all business. I wondered if Dr. Gamez had mentioned something to her about the stolen pills. What were the chances?
A little nervously, I dialed her number.
She answered in a fake voice: “
Ann Accordion speaking.”
“Excuse me, Ann, I’m looking for Amanda Lynn.”
“So,” she said gamely. “You’re having coffee with my dad now?”
“Don’t be jealous. We talked about
the whole time. About Perfect Miss You.”
She laughed. “What a delicious pleasure for you both.”
“It was a pleasure.”
“My dad likes you a lot. Funny, I don’t see it.”
“Yeah, weird. We spent half our dinner tonight talking about you.”
Not about missing pills, I hope.
I remained calm. “I … I like your dad. He’s smart. Refined. I don’t know any other men like him.”
“Congratulations, he’s your number one fan. Don’t let it go to your head.”
“Is this why you called? To let me know I have Dr. Dad’s seal of approval?”
“Not really,” she said, her voice almost shy. “I missed you, nerd. Do I need an excuse to call?”
“Nope. Call anytime.”
“Great. And my dad said you can come hang out at the house anytime.”
“Cool. He must trust you. And trust me.”
And he hasn’t missed the pills.
“I assured him that you and I are just friends.”
Pause. Long pause.
“Right, just friends,” I repeated, grateful for the clarification. “Okay …”
“What, are you saying you’re not my friend?”
“Celia, I’m totally your friend! Even though you seem to have a very limited taste in movies.”
“Yeah, well—when it comes to movies, there may be room for growth for both of us.” She laughed, sounding like herself again. Not cautious, not shy.
I lay back on the bed and told her about my trip to the dentist. I exaggerated all the gory elements, the scraping and bloody gums, but left out the part about Dr. Connor’s son, the football star. Charmingly, Celia expressed zero sympathy for my pain.
She likes me.
And I liked her. There is no one more attractive than a person who likes you. Mr. Covici should write that on the wall of the library.
Talking to Celia made me feel happy, relaxed. Maybe I didn’t even need Dr. Gamez’s magic pills to make me straight. Maybe being with Celia would be all it took.
Just in case, only five feet away, my desk drawer contained any backup I would ever need.
Twenty minutes later, I hung up and turned out the light. For the first time since I hit puberty, I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.