I didn't see a lot of Bill for the next several days. I did find out what had started the much- discussed brawl at the main doors, though. I found out that the blue notebook I had noticed Bill writing in a lot was his journal, and he'd written some things about me in there that made it clear how he felt about me. One of Patterson's boys had stolen it from him that afternoon and read parts of it, given it to Patterson, who then ordered the attack on Bill. His friends had objected, and that was how that the scene that we had found got started.
But even while I was figuring out how to fix the problem with Bill, the second thing happened: A new girl came to school.
I first saw her in the hall, coming out of the principal's office with the school counselor. I was walking to my locker between classes, and Mr. Gerowski called me over.
"Martin, this is Priscilla Belsar. This is her first day. Would you be kind enough to show her to her next class? She's got geometry with Mr. Vikon. Miss Belsar, this is John Martin."
"Yes sir, I'd be happy to. Hi, welcome to Ballard High." It was all I could think of to say. She was tall for a girl, about 5'10" or so, with long brown hair that looked kind of red in the light - I think they call it chestnut. Her face and arms were a light golden tan, as though shed' been out in the sun a lot. She was wearing a long, full skirt with the dog on the front that all the girls wear; only her's had some kind of design stitched around the bottom in bright colors. She had on a short-sleeved, kind of fuzzy sweater. Black and white saddle shoes peeked out below her skirt. She was dressed like all the other girls, but somehow it looked better on her.
She smiled at me shyly and then her eyes went to the floor, her hair falling around her face. You know all that talk about acting fearless? It was all gone. I couldn't think of a thing to say to her as I led her down the hall toward the math room where her class was. I was still trying to think of something to say when we arrived at the classroom.
"So, um...welcome to the school..."
"Yeah, you said that." I got a fleeting smile from her, which seemed to make my throat lock up even tighter.
"Ok...well, I'll see ya later.... maybe at lunch?"
"I have no idea where the lunchroom is..." she murmured.
"Maybe I could meet you after this class and show you how to get there..."
"Thank you.... I'd appreciate that." She was still talking to the floor.
"Ok then...see you in a little while, right?"
"All right.... after class then." She blushed a little and walked into the class without another word.
I don't think I heard a single word the English teacher had to say that period. She was just talking about the parts of speech anyway - boring stuff. I had no idea why this stuff was important so I tuned it out and thought about Priscilla the whole class. When the bell rang, I leapt out of my chair and hustled off to the math room to meet her again. I'd thought a lot about what to say when I got there, rehearsing in my mind how to act normal, but when she walked out the door, it all went away. I was reduced to an idiot again.
"Uh...hi...did you still want me to show you where the lunchroom is?"
"Yes, would you? Maybe I could drop off these books on the way?" She looked up at me, and smiled, and I felt my IQ drop from idiot to moron.
"Ok, what's your locker number?" She fished out a slip of paper and looked closely at it.
"Um...412, I guess."
"Oh...that's right over this way...it's next to my friend Georgie's. If we see her, I'll introduce you."
We walked in silence to where her locker was, her staring at the floor and me wracking my brains for something to say.
"So... um, where are you from?"
"We just moved here from San Diego. My dad got a job with Boeing."
"Hey, my dad works for them too...he helps design their airplanes."
She opened her locker, put her books on the upper shelf, and turned to me.
"So where's this lunchroom you promised to show me?" She was looking at me now, seeming a little less shy.
"Um... right this way. Just follow me."
As I held the door open on the lunchroom for Priscilla, I saw Bill over near the wall helping his friend Anthony up off the floor. The kid's lunch bag was lying on the floor, his food scattered around it, and a couple of Patterson's friends were standing there laughing at him. I noticed they hadn't touched Bill though, and I smirked a little to myself. Bill's eyes caught mine and he smiled a little sadly, then he turned away and he and Anthony walked to a table near the back of the room. I was going to have to do something to make it up to Bill, I thought. I still wasn't sure why he was so mad at me. I frowned.
Georgie and Stein were sitting at our usual table, with Zach Laine, Georgie's steady of the month. He was the captain of the swim team - a good guy. As the two of us walked up to the table, I saw Stein's eyes open a little wider when he saw Priscilla. He scrambled up and pulled a chair out for her, ignoring the look I gave him.
"About time you showed up, John. Who's your friend?" Georgie smiled at Priscilla. She was my next-door neighbor, and we'd been friends since fourth grade. Though she was really pretty, we'd never dated - I thought of Georgie as my sister.
"Guys, this is Priscilla, she's new here. Priscilla, this is Georgina, and that's her friend Zach, and this is my friend Jacob."
"Hi, it's nice to meet all of you."
God Bless Georgie I thought, watching her chatting easily with Priscilla, smiling and laughing and drawing out details of where she was from, what kinds of things she liked to do and giving her the rundown on the school. I saw Priscilla's appreciative gaze for a moment when she found out I was on the football team. How the hell does she do that? I thought, watching her sit and chat with Priscilla like longtime friends.
Georgie and Priscilla had the next class after lunch together, so she agreed to show Priscilla where it was. After saying good-bye to them, I looked around to see if Bill was still there. He was just getting up from his table with his friend.
"Stein, have you talked to Bill since the fight?"
"Naw, he's been avoiding me like the plague. What's going on with him anyway?"
"I don't know buddy, but I'm gonna try to find out."
"Want me to go with you?"
"Mm...no, let me try talking to him alone first."
"All right...see you in practice?"
"Yeah, I'll be there."
With that, I headed across the lunchroom to intercept Bill and his friend, who were just leaving together.
"Hey John, how you doing? When's your next game?" Anthony didn't seem too bothered to see me, but Bill didn't say anything.
"Next week, pal. You gonna come watch?" I smiled at Anthony, and he just beamed. It was probably the first time a football player had talked to him in school in his entire life.
"Yeah, I am. My dad's coming too..."
"Listen Anthony, would it be ok if I talked to Bill alone?"
"Um... yeah, sure..." He looked at Bill and got a little nod from him. "Ok then...see ya later..."
So then it was just me and Bill, walking down the hall.
"So... how come you don't talk to me or Stein anymore, Bill?"
He wouldn't look at me, just stared at the floor, like he was fascinated by the pattern in the tiles underfoot.
"All right, c'mon. We need to talk." I started down the hall toward one of the exit doors, expecting him to follow me. When I didn't hear his footsteps behind me, I turned and he was still standing there, looking after me.
"Well? C'mon...we're going to go talk somewhere a little more private."
"I can't, John. I have to go to class."
"Nope... I'm giving you a free pass for the next period."
"You can't do that..."
"I just did. Now c'mon. Forget class... it'll still happen even if you aren't there."
"I am going to be in sooo much trouble..." he muttered, but he joined me and we walked out of the building.
Just off school grounds, there was a little woodsy area...a lot of kids used to go there and smoke during lunch break, and that's where we headed. I knew everyone would be inside right now, so it was quiet and private. I boosted Bill over the fence, then followed him over and led him into the trees.
"So what's going on with you? I thought we were friends? You plan on talking to me and Stein ever again?"
"We are friends, John...we are. But I've been really busy lately and..."
"That's bullshit, Bill. I still remember what you said just before you left when the fight happened, and you haven't said a word to me since."
"I was scared, John... you really scared me. I thought you were gonna kill that guy, Patterson." He was red-faced, staring at the ground. I could see him trembling a little bit.
"Naw, Bill...I wasn't gonna kill him. I just wanted to rough him up a little bit, let him know it wasn't ok to pick on you. Has he or his goons picked on you since?"
"See? A guy has to look out for his buddies, Bill. I didn't save you in that alley just to let some asshole give you trouble at school."
"Am I your buddy, John? You don't just like me 'cause I help you with your homework?" He raised his face to look at me now, and I saw tears rolling down his face, and that was when I realized how scared and hurt he'd been over the whole thing. I'm not very smart, but I finally got it. There was something about the way he looked at me just then that hit me hard, like a sucker punch in my stomach.
"Naw, you're my buddy...I really like you." Like most things I do, I didn't really think much about it, I just reached out and grabbed him and hauled him up to me, intending to just give him a football hug - you know, arm around the shoulder, slap on the back kind of thing. But that wasn't how it turned out.
Instead, he gave a little cry and leaped against me, wrapping both arms around me and laying his head against my chest, sobbing his heart out. Almost against my will, one of my arms went around his shoulders, cradling him close against me and my other hand came up and stroked his blond hair. We stood like that for a while, and then he raised his head to look at me and say something, but he never got it out. I'd been standing there holding this beautiful boy in my arms, and I don't know what happened to me, but it felt like I was holding a girl...that's how I was feeling. So when he raised his head, I leaned down and kissed him, right on the mouth. I felt him stiffen up for a moment, and then he just seemed to melt into my arms, and his mouth opened and he kissed me back, and I kissed him for what seemed like a long time, just savoring his mouth and feeling the heat of his body against mine....and it was good. Better than any girl I'd ever kissed. He was whimpering into my mouth when I finally came up for air.
He looked at me, his hair all tousled, his face flushed and red and his eyes all soft and dreamy. He looked like a boy in love, and he confirmed it.
"I love you John...I really do."
"I know, Bill. I've known for a while now." I half carried, half dragged him over to a nearby log and sat down, hauling him up on my lap. "C'mere." Then I kissed him again, and our tongues wrestled in his mouth, mine eager and strong and his equally eager but soft and receiving. I was hard as a rock in my pants, and he was sitting right on it, but I doubt he knew what he was sitting on at the time. I ran my hands over his chest and kissed him deep and hard until he was gasping for breath, then he pulled away and laid his head on my shoulder.
"I'm sorry John, I shouldn't kiss you. I know you're just looking out for me, trying to make me feel better. I just can't help it, you know?"
I chuckled a little, grinning into his hair. "No Bill, this has gone a little beyond the point of just trying to make you feel better. I really like you. And you're a hot kisser, you know? I could get used to that."
"Maybe you will," he murmured against my neck.
Some time later, we were walking back to the school and Bill was absolutely glowing, holding my hand as we came up to the fence again. We'd said a lot of things to each other there in the woods behind the school, and we knew where we stood. I looked at him and stopped for a moment.
"You know that we can't let this get out at school, right?"
He looked at me and smiled. "I like other guys, John. That doesn't mean I'm an idiot."
"I know. I think you're about the smartest guy I know. But it wouldn't go over so well, you know?"
"Don't worry John, I'm not going to embarrass you. I love you, and that's nobody's business but ours."
"All right. You coming to football practice to wait for me and Stein?"
"Yeah. And I'll bring a book."
"'At's my boy." I grinned and ruffled his hair, then boosted him over the fence and climbed back over myself. We got back just in time for last class of the day.
So that's how it was. I was back to spending a lot of time with Bill and Stein, who was pretty happy to have the help with his schoolwork again. A lot of times after helping us with our homework, Bill would stay after Stein left, and we'd spend time together, talking about a lot of things, listening to music, and kissing: lots of kissing. I'd discovered that his nipples were as sensitive as a girl's, and when I played with 'em a lot, there were times he had to go to the bathroom afterwards and clean up. In fairness, he'd opened my pants a few times and I'd showed him how I liked to be touched; he learned fast and I'd made a few clean up trips to the bathroom myself. So you'd think it would have all been happy days on the ranch, right? But it wasn't, because something else was happening too.
Georgie and Priscilla had really hit it off. And since Georgie was one of my best friends, I was spending some time with her and Priscilla too. And I seemed to be liking Priscilla and she certainly seemed to be liking me some too. So it only made sense when Georgie asked if we wanted to double date with her and Zach, me taking Priscilla. So it was decided that we would go to the Majestic here in Ballard to see a new movie that had just come out called "Magnificent Obsession" starring Rock Hudson. I think the girls just wanted to see it so they could oooh and aaah over the star. I had a feeling I was going to be bored.
It was set up for the next Saturday night. I told Bill about it on Thursday. He wasn't all that pleased that I was going out with some girl, but I promised him the whole day Sunday, and that seemed to content him. I thought it might be a nice evening to go to the beach at Golden Gardens, not far from both of our houses, build a fire and have a beer or two. I smiled and told him to get his homework done early (like he wouldn't do it Friday night). He laughed and punched me in the shoulder. And then kissed me.
Zach borrowed his father's brand new Ford for the evening on Saturday, and we drove to each of the girls' homes. I met Priscilla's parents for the first time. Her father was a big, solidly built guy, a veteran of the war in Europe a few years back. He'd met Priscilla's mother as a student in Rome before the fighting in Italy, though she wasn't Italian but rather Romanian. He'd married her over there, much to his family's dismay, and brought her back Stateside before being drafted into the war. Priscilla had already been almost 2 when he left for Europe again. Her father was a nice guy, talking football a few minutes while we waited for Priscilla to come downstairs. Then she came walking down the stairs, and I was breathless.
She was wearing a calf length full skirt like most of the girls did, but that was where it ended. Her blouse was short-sleeved and completely covered in bright stitching, made of a soft cloth that glistened under the lights. Her hair was drawn back and up around the back of her head and then somehow rolled under...later she said it was a French twist. A few wisps framed her delicate face, still lightly tanned though the color was fading now. There was just a little color to her lips, and a hint of rouge on her cheeks. She carried a tiny, beaded purse in one hand.
After I recovered and heard the obligatory lecture from her father about having her back home by ten pm, I walked her out to the car and held the door as she climbed in.
"Wow, you look great Priscilla! Doesn't she look beautiful, John?" Georgie was all admiration and wide eyes, looking at her friend. "Who did your hair like that?"
"My mama," she said, giving it the French pronunciation. "She says its how they wore their hair in Europe when they went out on a date; how she was wearing her hair when she met my father." She blushed and glanced at me before looking at the floor. It was then that I noticed a sweet aroma scenting the air in the back seat of the car...a hint of carnations or something...light and flowery. Later I found out it was a perfume called Bellodgia.
The movie was a boring as I thought it would be...a young Rock Hudson romancing an older and somewhat reluctant Jane Wyman. The best part of the film was when Priscilla slipped her warm hand into mine without ever even turning her head to look at me. She held it all through the movie and only let go when the lights came up at the end. The girls chatted on and on about the movie while Zach and I rolled our eyes and snickered. It was a successful date, Georgie declared after we'd dropped off Priscilla at ten minutes before ten. I walked Priscilla to her door and she gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek, said a breathless goodbye and went inside.
"So, what do you think of her John?" Georgie questioned me.
"Um, I thought she was nice," I said noncommittally. "She certainly looked nice."
"Didn't she? I have got to have her mother do my hair like that sometime...it looked so sophisticated."
"I like your hair the way you wear it, honey." Zach was nothing if not a well-trained boyfriend. I wouldn't have expected any less from Georgie's chosen man.
"Why thank you darling...I think that merits a kiss," she giggled and proceeded to smack him on the lips.
I watched in admiration at the interplay...they were so comfortable with each other. I hoped I'd have that with someone someday. 'Maybe a couple of someones,' some devious part of my mind added. I looked forward to going to bed. Tomorrow was my day with Bill, and my crotch tightened just thinking about it.
5.) Holding Pattern
So that's the way it was for a while. Now I was spending my spare time just about evenly between Bill and Priscilla, and squeezing Stein in whenever I could. It was a hard schedule, but next week was our last game of the season and then football would be finished and I'd have more free time, so I was hanging tough. Thanks to Bill, my grades were the best they'd ever been and that made my parents happy, and kept them from questioning why I was spending so much time with Bill. Stein was starting to date some girl named Carol something-or-other, so he wasn't hanging out with us after school quite as much as he used to either, which was fine with Bill and me. By now Bill had moved from using his hand on me to using his mouth, which was the most amazing and wonderful thing I'd ever felt, and I'd used my hand on him some. It was kind of weird, but not all that different from touching myself, and I liked watching him as I gave him pleasure. I didn't know if what I felt about him was love or not, but it was a really big feeling and I wanted to know that he was feeling good too.
Priscilla and I were going out most weekends, and seeing each other a lot during school. Most everybody there assumed we were steadies, and I don't think Georgie did anything to discourage the rumors about us.
One Saturday, Bill and I were in the kitchen, cleaning up our dishes from the breakfast I'd served both us. I know everyone says that cooking is only for girls, but my mom always said a man should be able to fend for himself, so she'd taught me the basics of cooking, and I'd gotten to be a pretty good breakfast cook. So we were cleaning up the dishes and kind of giving each other a hard time, laughing and bumping into each other, like that, you know? And he was standing beside me at the sink and I was looking at him and it suddenly seemed like kissing him would be a really good idea. So I grabbed him and laid one on him, and he was giving back as good as he was getting, when I thought I saw some movement outside one of the kitchen windows. I knew all of my family was out, and would be for the next several hours, so dismissed it and went back to seeing if I could reduce Bill to a helpless, wanting wreck just by kissing him. With one hand on the back of his neck, and the other on his ass pulling him against me, it seemed to be working just fine. We had a very nice morning together.
A few hours later, after Bill had gone and my mom had come home, I got a call from Stein.
"Hey Martin, could you meet me down at the park in a little while? I need to talk to you."
"Yeah sure. What's going on? Want me to bring a football?"
"Naw, just need to talk. Meet you in fifteen minutes?"
"Yeah, sure. No problem." I was a little surprised, 'cause we hadn't met just to talk in a while, since we'd both gotten so busy. But I was kind of pleased for the same reason. So I grabbed a light jacket and walked down the street a couple blocks to the park where we always meet, and sat on one of the picnic benches, waiting for him.
Stein arrived a few minutes later, looking a little out of breath, and apologizing 'cause his dad had wanted to talk to him for a few minutes after he'd hung up from talking to me. It's a couple more blocks for him to get there than it was for me.
He came walking over and sat on the picnic table next to me for a few minutes, seeming kind of out of it, like he was uncomfortable or something. I wondered what was going on, but I knew the best way with Stein was to let him start. Otherwise, he'd get all pressured and start blushing and shit. So I waited him out.
"How long have we been best buddies, John?" he asked. He was looking at the tabletop like it was the most interesting thing he'd ever seen.
"Since second grade when that kid tried to push your face in the mud and we pushed his in the mud. Why?"
He looked up me then, and his face was red and he looked about as angry as I'd ever seen him.
"Then why THE HELL didn't you tell me you've been doing Bill!?" he bellowed. "What, you didn't think you could trust me, you schmuck face?"
"Jesus Stein, keep your voice down! Who the fuck told you I was doing Bill?" I glanced around, but no one seemed to be around to overhear us.
"They didn't have to tell me John! I saw you with your hand on his ass and your tongue down his throat just this morning in your kitchen."
"Aw fuck..." I muttered. I looked at him and didn't know what to say. He was glaring at me, so angry I could see him shaking a little. "Listen, Stein, I know what you think..."
"No, you listen Martin. I'm your best-goddamned friend. I've stood up with you against anybody that tried anything with you, and you've done the same for me. How many goddamned times has someone called me a kike, and you've stood up for me? How many times have you been called a Jew-lover 'cause you're my friend? Huh?"
"Well fuck, Stein! It's not exactly the kind of thing you tell anyone, y'know?"
"Except your best friend, you fuckin' moron. What, you thought I'd tell everyone that you've been making out with a sissy boy? I can't believe you thought I'd do that, to you or to Bill. You're like a brother to me, and I like Bill better than anyone except you. And anyway, what the hell? I thought you were going steady with Priscilla?"
"Stein, I'm sorry. You're right, I probably should have told you. But you can't tell anyone, ok...it wouldn't be pretty if you did."
Stein sat there for minute and didn't say anything. I was getting a little nervous (ok, a lot nervous) when he finally spoke.
"Martin, I never told you why I live with my grandparents, did I?"
I shook my head.
"Well, let me tell you about something. When I was about three, I lived with my big brother and my mom and dad in Poland. They had a clock shop. Then the fucking Germans came over the border and invaded. They had just enough warning to send my brother and me out of the country to my aunt in England, and they stayed to take care of the shop. It was everything they had, y'see...they wanted to make sure it would be ok."
"So the Germans came in, and they started rounding up the Jews. Taking them away, sending them to these camps, where they said they were making us work for them. But my parents never worked for them, John. When they got to this camp, they separated out my mom from my dad, and they sent them to the showers to get clean. Only you know what John? Water didn't come out of the showerheads...poison gas did. They killed them, and then they burned their bodies and spread the ashes on the fields for fertilizer. And you know why?"
I was so shocked by what he was telling me, I couldn't say a thing, just shook my head.
"Because we were different from them. That's the only reason. 'Cause we didn't talk or act or think like they did. So if you think I don't know how to keep my mouth shut about people who are a little different, think about that. Y'know when Officer Larkinson talked to us about people who are different? I was ashamed that he had to say that to me, because I already knew what he was talking about."
I couldn't look at him. I was so ashamed, and my chest hurt and I was so damn sad that this had happened to him, I couldn't talk to him. I reached over and laid my arm across his shoulders, and we sat like that for a while, just two best friends, sitting together in the park.
We never said another word about it, but sometimes when we were in the showers after football practice, he'd give me shit about it. He'd look at some guy in the shower, then look at me and wiggle his eyebrows like Groucho Marx. I'd grin and rake a look up and down his body and raise one eyebrow, and he'd laugh his ass off and nobody ever knew what the hell he was laughing about.
Things were starting to get a little more serious with Priscilla. We'd gone parking with Georgie and Zach a few times, and I'd kissed her pretty hard, and put my hand on her breast a couple times, and sometimes at school she'd wear my letterman's sweater, which was a pretty clear statement to everybody that we were steadies. Bill was not too happy about all this, and I could tell that something was going to have to happen pretty soon, 'cause they were both pressuring me more and more for more of my time. Stein was just shaking his head about the whole thing, and telling me it wasn't going to work very much longer, and I knew he was right.
The hard thing about it all was that I really loved Bill. And because they both liked me, Bill and Priscilla had become good friends too, sometimes even going out to the malt shop together, or going shopping and things. Everything seemed to be going just fine, but I guess I should have known better.
I was home studying alone on a Sunday afternoon, getting ready for a geography test. Mom and Dad were out, and my brothers and sister were out playing at their friends' houses, and I had the house to myself. I was just finishing up the last of my test review, when the doorbell rang. I wandered down the hall, still thinking about the last question on the review sheet, and opened the door, expecting to see Stein or somebody.
I was totally surprised when I opened the door and found Priscilla's mom, Lilliana, standing on the porch. She was just raising her knuckles to rap on the door again when I opened it. She was dressed impeccably as always, her straight black hair cut just above her shoulders and her skin was a little dark, what I'd heard called an olive complexion.
"Hello John, may I come in?" Her voice was rich and pitched kind of low for a woman's voice, I thought.
"Uh... I'm sorry ma'am, my mom isn't home right now..."
"Oh, that's all right, you see it is you that I wanted to talk to."
Completely confused, I stepped back and let her in. Her eyes flicked about the room and I led her into the kitchen and pulled out a chair at the table for her.
"Umm...would you like ah...something to drink?"
"No thank you John, I am fine. Perhaps you could sit and we could talk a little, you and I?"
"Um, yes, I guess.... what would you like to talk about?"
"Well John, since I moved here, my daughter has been very happy. She went to school, and she came home talking about this very nice boy she had met. I was happy for her, and then I met you when you came to take her out, and I was happier because I could see that you were a good boy and that you cared about her. After that, all she could talk about was you. And that is how it should be."
I blushed and nodded.
"Then last week she came home and she was very quiet. I noticed but I said nothing because I knew that it would go away...perhaps she had a little problem with a friend, or something at school that would take care of itself. But three days later she was still quiet, not talking, and I began to worry, because it is not like her. She tells me everything, John - but never a word about this that was bothering her. So, finally I asked her. And do you know what she told me, John?"
I shook my head, bewildered.
Lilliana smiled at me, a tiny and mysterious smile. Instead of telling me what the problem was though, she began to talk about something else.
"My husband, he is a good man," she began. "He treats me very well, and I love him. He tells everyone here that I am from Romania, that I am Romanian, no? But this is not so. I am not Romanian, I am Rom."
I just stared at her blankly, not understanding.
"What your people call gypsy, you see? He fears there will be trouble for us if people know I am a gypsy."
"Well, that is a very long story and not what we need to talk about. Let us say that gypsies have different views of...property, yes property, than most people do. By the way, where is your wallet?" she smiled at me when she asked that.
I reached back to pull it out, puzzled by this question, and then realized it wasn't there.
"But, it's always in my pocket..."
Now she smiled broadly and took her hand off of her lap and offered me my wallet. "Unless you walk down the hall in front of a gypsy."
I grinned at her. "Wow, that's cool. I didn't even feel you take it."
"It's nothing. I learned it as a child, and you weren't expecting it." She waved dismissively. "But you see, this is why we Rom are viewed as a problem in Europe. People hate us because we usually don't give back the things we take."
"Oh. I can see that being a problem."
"Yes. But let us return to why I am here. You see John, I have a problem. My daughter is not happy. She tells me that you are the reason she is not happy. So I come to you to see what can be done. I know this is not the way of Americans, but I am not American, you see? This is how the Rom solve such problems. Let me tell you what my Priscilla told me, and see if you agree. Please do not lie to me, John. I will know if you do, and it will only make this harder, all right?"
I couldn't believe she was being so matter of fact about all of this. But her way of solving problems set well with me. I'd always thought it was better to just be upfront about everything, as much as possible. I nodded that I understood.
She reached across the table and patted my hand. "You are a good boy John. I have a feeling that this problem is not something you did on purpose. But let us talk, yes?
I nodded again.
"All right. My daughter tells me that she loves you. And this used to make her very happy, because she believed that you loved her back. And then last week she was unhappy, and I asked her why, and she told me it is because she believes you love another, that you are making light of her feelings for you. Is this true?"
I couldn't answer. I blushed and stammered for a while.
"It is a simple question, I think." She looked me in the eye. "Why is it so hard to answer?"
"Well," I finally managed to croak out, "it's not that simple."
"Love is seldom simple for those who are involved, is it? Why don't you tell me what has happened. Perhaps we can reach an understanding."
So, God help me, I did. I told her the whole story about Bill and all the things that had happened. She raised one eyebrow when I told her that it was Bill that Priscilla was referring to.
"Ah. Now I see. And this boy--Bill? Yes Bill--you love him? And he loves you?"
I looked at her, expecting to see disgust and shame, maybe even hatred, but there was none of that: Only curiosity and watchfulness. I nodded.
"And what of my daughter?" she asked gently. "Do you love her?"
I closed my eyes and tried to speak around the huge lump in my throat. "Yes, God help me I do." I couldn't open my eyes; I was so ashamed of what I'd just said. I knew that it was impossible, that I was a fool and worse to have admitted it.
"Well then." She sat and thought for a moment, then seemed to make up her mind. "Yes, I will tell you, but you must not tell others, for they would not understand, do you see?"
"Very well. When I met my husband in Italy, he was a student at university in Rome. This I think you know, yes?"
I nodded again.
"What you perhaps do not know is that I was working the street taking men's wallets that day...yes, just like I did yours today. And I saw Stanley, and I saw a rich American, and I knew that his wallet would be a good one, so I took it. Only he felt me take it and he caught my arm, and he very gently asked me for it back. Stanley is a gentleman, always. So I gave it back, though I could have gotten away. But he was very beautiful, and I did not want to hurt him. Then he asked me why I took his wallet, as though he really wanted to know. I looked at him, and I knew that he did not see me as a bad person, just someone who had done a bad thing.
"So I told him a very sad story about being alone in the world, no way to take care of myself and no-one to turn to, and he nodded and took me to a café and he bought me a meal and was very kind to me. Then he bid me goodbye and good luck and left. I believe that was the last he expected to see of me. But that was not the last he saw of me. I knew that I must know this boy more, so I followed him to his home and marked where he lived.
"The next day I followed him into a crowd and picked out his wallet so lightly he felt nothing. Then I took a shorter way, and when he came to the next street, I was there, leaning against a light post. As he went by, I called out his name, and when he turned, I tossed his wallet against his chest. He did not even check to see if the money was still in it. He simply came over and asked me if I wanted to dine with him again. And I did.
"Then I saw him every day, and he began to watch for me, and it became a game. Could I take his wallet without him noticing, or would he catch me at it? And, over time, as young men and women do, we fell in love. And that was not easy because my family hated it, and so did his. But this would not have mattered, because when a woman of the Rom falls in love with a man, he is hers. There is no question of that.
"But, like with you, it was not that simple. You see, there was a boy that Stanley lived with, another student at the university. His name Giovanni Corvetti, an Italian. Stanley and this boy were lovers, John. They were in love, just like your Bill and you. And so it comes around again, no? How God laughs at us..."
She just sat and watched me for a moment, and I looked at her awestruck. This woman knew what I was going through, had already experienced it. What would she do?
"And so," she continued after a moment, "We went to his home and we explained ourselves to Giovanni, and he was surprised but not angry, and so I moved in with them and we all three lived in their little flat for two years. And it worked very well. But then Stanley was ready to graduate from his university, and Gianni, as we called him, already had. We could all three of us see that war was coming to our home, with the German pigs already in Poland, and Stanley wanted to take us all to America to be safe. And so we tried to do that, but at the last minute, Gianni was called up to go into the Italian army, so it was just Stanley and I who came to America. We later heard that Gianni died while fighting in North Africa.
"But what you must see is that both Stanley and I loved Gianni, and that he loved both of us the same. I think this is not usual, but it is not impossible. We do not choose who we will love, John. God chooses that for us, and who are we to question? In the end, it is not who we love that matters, but that we love, do you see? There is very little love in the world John, and what there is must live and grow, for it keeps the world alive.
"Now," she said, suddenly brisk. "This has been a very good talk, yes? I think we understand each other a little better. I will speak to my daughter, and make her understand what is at hand. She will know the truth and will speak it to no one, for that is the Romani
way. As for you...well, now we know things about each other, no? You know things about me that could destroy my life, and I know things that could make yours very difficult. If what you feel for my daughter is less than love, if you only want her for sex, then I ask that you not see her again, because I will tell what I know if you hurt her, and then many lives would be ruined, am I right? But this need not happen. Only be truthful to her, and do what is right and all will be well. I think you will do this, because I can see that you are a good boy."
I sat in my chair and stared at her. I was stunned by what she had just told me, and I couldn't make myself move. She looked at me for a moment, then slid her chair out from under the table and stepped up to me.
"Good-by John, handsome John. I will see myself out." And then she kissed me on the cheek and was striding down the hall toward the door. A moment later I heard the door open and close.
The next day at school, Priscilla wore my letterman's sweater as usual, and nothing was said about Bill and I, but I could see her watching him in the lunchroom. After school, Bill waited in the stands for me and Stein to get done with practice as usual, and then we all three went to my house to do our homework. Stein didn't say anything either, just watched the two of us.
After Stein left, I knew I needed to talk to Bill. So, after Stein left, I fixed Bill a sandwich, gave him a soda (he liked grape Neehigh the best), and sat down to tell what had happened.
"I had kind of an interesting talk with Priscilla's mom yesterday," I said. "She told me some pretty interesting stuff."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
So I told him the whole story, and he was as amazed as I was. He got a little upset when I told him about telling her about he and I, but had calmed down by the time I'd finished telling the whole story.
"So now what are we going to do?" he asked. "Everyone seems to know about us."
"Naw, not everyone. Priscilla knows, but she's not going to say anything. I trust her mother not to let her say anything about it to anyone."
"Well, that's a relief. So are you going to keep on seeing Priscilla?"
"I want to...I guess I will. I love her, Bill."
Bill looked at me, and I could just about see his heart breaking. His face got red and I saw tears start to flow down his cheeks.
"But, but I love you John. I thought you loved me too...all the things we've done together. Don't you love me?"
"I do Bill. I didn't even know I could love another boy, but I love you. And I love Priscilla too...I know it's fucked up, but that's how I feel."
"Well, who are you going to choose? You have to choose one of us."
"Maybe not. Maybe there's another way. Maybe it could be you and me and Priscilla..."
"No. I'm not going to do that. It would never work. People would laugh at us."
"Fuck what people think, Bill. Who cares? We'll do what we want."
"But isn't it wrong?"
"We'll decide what's right or wrong for us, Bill. Why should anyone else tell us what's gonna work for us?"
He looked at me for long moment, then got up and came around and sat on my lap.
"I love you John. I guess if this is how it's going to be, I'll try to live with it. I like Priscilla, so I'll try. Just don't lie to me, ok? If you stop loving me, just say so, you promise?"
"It's not going to happen Bill, but yeah. If I stop loving you, I'll tell you."
And so that was how it ended up. Bill started hanging out with Priscilla and I, and sometimes just the two of them. I think they talked it over and decided what the rules were going to be and worked out their own schedule for time with me, and things started to settle down.
"Wow, Grampa.... It's hard to imagine all that happening in the '50's. I always thought they were so...straight-laced and repressed back then."
"No, the fifties were like any era, kiddo. People did what they had to do. They just didn't put it on the front of newspapers and magazines."
"So what did they do next?"
"Well, they graduated from high school, and Bill and Priscilla went to college at U of W, there in Seattle. John got a job and worked construction, and the three of them lived in a little cottage they rented in Wallingford, near the university. They got into a few scrapes over the years, but nothing to serious, and Bill ended up with an MBA and a degree in accounting, and Priscilla got a degree in English and her teaching credentials, and taught junior high school for a while.
"Did Bill ever come out?"
"Well...one didn't really 'come out' in those days, Amos. It was more like an open secret sort of thing: everyone knew but no one acknowledged it. And by the time it would have been ok for him to come out, he didn't want to. He told me once "I know who I am. As long as I know, what difference does it make if the world knows?"
"Hmm.... yeah, that makes sense, huh?"
"Huh. Getting dark out boy... when did you tell your mother you'd be home?"
"Oh, no particular time... I kinda told her I might sleep over on your couch."
"Oh did you? Have you called Dan yet and told him you'd be over?"
"Mmm... no. I don't want to look too eager."
"I don't think he'll think that. Here's the cordless: call him."
As I watched my boy chatting away to his boyfriend, my thoughts were on all the long years that have passed, and how down through all the years, a chain of relationships had brought this boy and I to this place. And despite the aches and pains of both my body and my heart over my lifetime, I was content to be this boy's mentor and friend. Life is good, if you let it be.
I wiped my eyes and wheeled into the kitchen for a beer.
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