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Wearing the Inside Out

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 6 - Dramatic Systems

So, showered, dressed in loose clothing, carrying the new skateboard, and with a bonus $50 from the Aunt Sarah pocket change fund riding over my hip, I set out for the Y. It wasn't that hard to track down, what with the sign out front and all.

I have to say, just like everything else he does in his life, Jack built a killer board. It was slick, had just enough play in the trucks and felt solid under me. The wheels were a little squeaky when I tried sideways moves, but they were brand new. It was as close to liquid perfection over the street and sidewalks as you can get. And in a town with as many hills, broken sidewalks, granite curbs as Canterbury, there were a lot of things I had a chance to pull rail slides and grinds on. I think I actually saw sparks on that first granite casement.

And with the wind in my hair and so much off my mind, life felt really good for a change. The tension had shifted from Mom being denied me and Jack my sole support to Mom and Aunty swooping in like heroes and Jack being on my off limits list. But there was hope. All this breezed into my skin and brain as I tricked and skated along Franklin Street towards Winter Street and the Y.

Long story short, I filled out the form they handed me, paid the daily fee from my own money, and got my day-pass lanyard and name tag. Walking in, there was a game room in the front with like board games, two pool tables, three foosball tables and a ping pong table. There were a bunch of grade-schoolers in that room. Apparently they were waiting for a bus to the day-camp. There was also a room with the Red Cross on the frosted glass door, obviously the nurse's office, just past the check in.

One of the counselors walked up and asked me if I needed something. I asked where the fencing class met. She had to think for a moment and then said, "Oh, the nerd lightsaber club. Yeah, downstairs. And no skating in the gym, got me?"

I held my tongue from saying anything, just nodded and headed for the downstairs gym. It was like a lot of base gyms I'd been to during Pop's career. There was the smell of cleaning chemicals which took the stink of sweat out of the air when you pass the weight room. Couple of burly customers in there gave me the briefest glance and then went back to moving metal. I took that as a good sign, and walked on, still toting my new skateboard under my arm.

I got to the lower gym, obviously a place that would be set up for hockey in colder months. There was a rock climbing wall set up at the further end of the open floor. The walls that would be used to ring in the hockey area were all pulled back to the right side, stacked up against a section of bleachers that had been retracted to the wall. There were those horrible gym mats laid out a couple of layers deep around the nearer section, with the thicker cushions and a whole pit full of chunky foam triangles. I guess there was some kind of gymnastics class or something.

On the side closer to the boys changing room, I saw one of those folding tables set up with a blanket covering several long shapes. Must be the lightsaber things. I chose to sit and wait. Guess I was early. There were some of the mats in that area with sections taped off, like a big rectangular area with spacing lines or whatever. It all looked kinda technical.

I was just about to take a seat when, something inside me twitched. It wasn't like a physical muscle that moved or a blood vessel tickling inside for some reason. It was more of an instinct, I guess. A reflex that just happened and I acted on it.

Now to hear how Robby said it, he was just going to tap me on the shoulder with the end of his lightsaber. Just a tap to get me to turn one way looking for who tapped while he took a quick step to the other side to surprise me. A friendly prank.

My response, however spooked him and Kenny immensely. I had my skateboard in my left hand, held by the wheel trucks, so the deck part was facing my leg. Before that tap even touched my shoulder, I'd reacted, bringing the board up with a sharp snap of the forearm, tucked my head to my chest, turned about a quarter to the left. I'd brought the deck of the board up so fast that I'd essentially blocked the tap, completed the turn and came around, according to Kenny, "standing like a superhero."

At which point I had to think to myself, "dur..what just happened?"

"Dude! That was awesome!" Kenny said, grinning with his own silvery lightsaber resting on his shoulder.

"Wow," Robby agreed, in a subdued tone. "That was like, almost Spartan."

"Is that good?" I asked, still with the skateboard lodged on my forearm, my elbow inside the one set of trucks and my hand still holding the other in a split fingered grip.

"Good?" Kenny said, coming forward to slap me on the shoulder. "That was frickin' phenomenal!"

"Natural talent," Robby agreed, checking the end of his stick, seeing if the paint was scuffed.

"What did I do?"

"You blind parried," Robby said, tapping his blade against my skateboard. "Thought I was perfectly quiet. How did you know I was there?"

"Uh, idunno. I didn't really. I just felt like I needed to do… well whatever I did. I just went with it. Like when I'm skating sometime, I just go with the moment. You feel it and then…" I just shrugged my shoulders.

"Good to see you again, Paul," Kenny's mammoth tall dad said, walking up. "You here to watch our class?"

"Yeah. Aunty and Mom said I'm stinking up the place and I need to get out some," I joked.

"Poppa, he just blind parried Robby."

"Really?" Mr. Tannagord said, his eyebrow shooting up. "Robert, you're slipping."

"Yeah, that'll happen," Robby returned with enough sarcasm to cover a stack of pancakes.

"We'll be starting the class in a little bit, Paul. You can sit in the stands and watch. Robby and Kenny need to go gear up before we start. The others should be trickling in soon."

"Okay, cool. I kinda need to use the bathroom anyways."

"Right this way, milord," Kenny said, gesturing wildly and using a nasty fake accent of some kind. I grinned and followed.

While they got on their protective gear, I stepped up to the urinal and took care of business. The whole time though, the other two are talking to each other and me about that blind parry move.

"So you've never done anything like that before?" Robby asked as I heard a locker swing open.


"Give him a break. You saw how that move happened. That wasn't something you can train." There came a noise of Velcro being ripped open before Kenny spoke again. "Although with how athletic he is, it's not entirely surprising that he's got reflexes like that."

"Well, yeah, but like, I was all stealth master," Robby said.

"Don't over think it. It's Jedi class, not Ninja School," Kenny joked. "Still, that's a good sign if you decided to take the class, Carver. Means you wont be completely turned into a pin cushion. Some of the guys in our group are good."

"How good?" I asked, tapping the last drops off.

"Well, uh, Robby and I are trying to qualify for the Olympics."

"No way!"

"Yup!" Robby replied, smugly.

"And Poppa teaches both here and at the college."

I put matters back in place, noting with a slight bit of worry that Paul Junior had chubbed up a bit while I had been talking and peeing. I turned and zipped and headed into the locker area in time to see Robby with his shirt off, back to me, adjusting some kind of chest pad thing, like tying the waist belts behind his back and all.

That's when I saw it. This long, gross looking burn scar on his left shoulder. It had to have been at least as long as my hand and wrist combined. His muscles moved fluidly under his skin but that scar bunched things up, un-naturally. He finished the bow knot and slid his scrawny but trim body back into his YMCA tee shirt.

Kenny stood up from the bench on the other side of Robby, his equipment apparently all in place. They both had some heavy looking gloves that they carried in the empty part of these helmets that looked like a cross between a baseball cap and a hockey mask. Their legs seemed dwarfed by the large plastic shin guards with the rounded knee protectors on them. I could also see, since they were openly adjusting through their baggy shorts, that they were wearing cups. I guess if someone's swinging poles around with the intent of tagging you, protecting the baby makers would be a good idea.

"Holaley," a voice from behind me said. Three other boys walked in. They were about my age, the bigger one looking maybe a little older. They all had gym bags under their arms and YMCA lanyards hanging from their necks.

"Dudes. Right on time," Robby said, giving bro hugs to the other three as they came in. I stood back and watched.

"Hey, guys. Like you to meet someone," Kenny started as he got through his round of bro hugs as well. "This is Paul, although most call him Carver. He's just moved to town and is checking out classes to see if he wants to join."

A round of hiya's and sup's came my way as I was introduced to Juan Castillo, Jessy Franklin, and Bart Berube. They were the other guy members of the class. Bart's twin sister, Becca, rounded out the group, but she used the girl's changing room, for obvious reasons.

The lesson started with some stretching and then they paired off and started fencing each other. I don't know exactly what they were doing, from the technical point of view, but I could sort of slow it down in my mind and see what was actually happening. In a way, it was a lot like how my dad described flying and dog-fighting. There was a natural symmetry to it. A flow and response, almost like musicians trading licks.

Lame as it sounds, by the time that the lunch break rolled around, I was itching to try it. I waited at the entrance, having to show my pass to the old lady who marks the comings and goings. The Robby, Kenny and Juan came out, dressed in different t-shirts than their Y approved stuff. They'd worked up quite a sweat with all that fencing and footwork drills and such.

We went to the pizza joint next door, had two slices and some bottled water. They joked a lot about moves they'd made. The guys were cool and made every effort to include me in the jokes and stuff. Bad accents and movie lines sailed back and forth. There was some kinda numbered terminology they used and I was beginning to catch on when we had to go back for their second session.

That's when Kenny's dad put one of those things in my hand. It was like crack for nerds. And it instantly hooked me. Kenny and Robby showed me some basic positions and movements. I didn't get it at first, but in no time, I was at least able to defend myself at what they called ½ speed.

It was fun. I decided that if I could get Jack into this, it would be the perfect way to still see each other, at least a bit, and have some kind of social interactions with other kids our age. Okay, so Kenny and Robby were almost 2 years younger than us. It was still cool hanging with people. Dad would have said that no matter how much of an ace you think you are, you still need wing mates.

When the class ended, Robby and Kenny went into some kind of impromptu saber battle, just the two of them, at like action movie speed. And it was awesome. I asked if they were practicing for like a web vid or something and Bart said, emphatically, "Naw, they do something like this about three times a week. Pint sized show offs!"

So I was on a tremendous physical and emotional high when I rolled back home. I had pretty much made up my mind to join the class one way or another. Kenny wrote down a list of stuff I might need, even said that if I needed he'd help me shop. Weird, one of my first gay friends wants to make a shopping date.

Aunty's house came into view and I stepped off my new board, kicking the back end so that it bounced up to my hand. It felt so natural. Seems like all kind of physical stuff was appealing to me now. Almost felt like second nature. Got to admit, the cool kids at the Jedi class kinda had me feeling good about the future. And the possibility of getting Jack involved in it as well.

I was about to bounce up the front steps, through the porch area on my way towards looting the fridge for something wet and cold, when I heard their voices. Aunty and Mom. They were talking on the porch, about ten feet over my head, but the tone and tension I heard in their voices made me slow down.

I know that eavesdropping isn't proper, but if anything lately has sunk in, it's that sometimes you have to do some rotten things as a matter of survival. And lately I've been playing catch up in the survival skills game. So it was with a not inconsiderable amount of guilt that I slowly prowled up the steps on all fours. I tried not to make noise, even going so far as to test each step before putting weight on it. I even counted the steps so I could skip the creaking board at the seventh step.

"That was a long time ago. They never found his body. Look, Sarah, I understand what you're saying but I just don't see how …"

"How it's important? Carol, things were done to you. You and Ryan, and Mitch and all those other kids. How long did it take before you even could get pregnant? And then the doctors still told you it would be ridiculously risky."

"Leave Paul out of this," Mom said, sternly.

"You have to consider that what was done to you affected him as well. He deserves to know. If that procedure affected all of you…"

"Mitch and Rita had a son. A perfectly normal boy. You said you saw him just the other day."

"Yes, and Rita died having Kenny! And she was strong as an ox!" Aunty nearly shouted. That stopped me cold. I wasn't sure what the implications meant but someone had done something to Kenny's mom, something that made it really risky for her to have kids. And from the sound of it, not only was it something that Kenny's mom and my Mom shared in common, but they knew about it, and choose to have kids anyways.

I suddenly had a lot more respect for my Mom. I loved her already, but now there was some other feeling attached as well. Something I didn't understand yet. But it was something shiny, heavy and pure. I don't really have words to describe the feeling that came over me thinking about it. Pride, honor, love, they don't really completely fill that space that opened inside me.

"You're right," my mom said, something less than resignation and more than resolve coming into her voice. "We can't take any chances. None of us. If it is him, then Paul is in danger. Jack likely is too. All of the kids are."

"Now you have to be dead on balls sure," Aunty said again, apparently having scored a point with Mom. "If Jack's father really is Dr. Stamos and not Dr. Thomas, it's going to affect Jack's life and Paul's life dramatically when we call the police."

"We don't have to call the police if we just kill the sonovabitch like we thought we'd done years ago!" Again I was shocked. I'd never heard Mom talk like that. And like, talking about killing someone? My Mom? For reals? I should listen at the door more often!

"Let's be real. Killing him isn't an option. We aren't murderers."

"I'll bet Mitch would do it in a heartbeat. Or Jean and Dex Perault. Or old lady Frost who's raising her grandson alone. Or any of the other two dozen people that this bastard…" Mom couldn't finish. Whatever she was about to say was really, really painful.

"Calm down!" Aunty hissed. "We have to think of the boys. If this is Stamos, then he's far too old to be Jack's real father. That means he might still be experimenting. We have no idea what… what things he's done to that poor boy."

"Or what he might do to Paul if he finds out who his father is. When I think about what that fiend did to Ryan... how we almost lost him. How he nearly…" Again, that awkward pause, full of emotions. I suddenly wanted to just run up the stairs and hug Mom like how Jack hugged me.

Clearly, there were things I didn't know about. Big secrets about the big people in my life. And it appears that these secrets crossed and re-crossed each other like weaves of a basket. Or a web.

Then it occurred to me. I dunno why it took so long to filter through. They thought Jack's dad had been around when my parents were kids, had a different name and had done something horrible, and now… they thought that Jack might be in danger.

Now, what I wanted to do was pound up the steps and practically rip the porch screen door open. Mom and Aunty would look at me, surprised, trade a look and then both try to speak at once. I would be livid and just hold up a palm, which for some reason stops them both cold.

"What is this guy doing to Jack?" I'd ask, like a pissed off TV detective.

"We don't know," Aunty might say after a long pause.

"So… what did he do to you?" I'd ask, looking Mom in the eye. She would stare back, unflinchingly. Several heartbeats go by.

"He deserves to know, Carol," Aunty would say, softening her expression. The tension level would drop a bit as everyone realizes that explanations were in order, especially to the kid.

"Then we better have a seat. This is gonna take a while," Mom would say, and we'd go inside, sit around the table and have some of Aunt Sarah's famous oatmeal scotchies cookies and milk while the hard to face truths tumbled out.

Yeah, that's what should have happened. Instead, I get lifted off the stairs by the back of my shirt and the seat of my pants, spun around like a discus, and tossed into the back yard like a sack of something horses eat. Only the hand that flings me is a heck of a lot stronger than such a sack might need for such a toss.

I hit sideways, roll a couple of times and look up to see who's attacking me. When I manage to focus again, I realize that my head came up against the side of a metal wheelbarrow with several garden tools, long wooden stakes, chicken wire and a few potted vegetables stacked in it. Aunt Sarah's gardening kit. Which means I got tossed more than halfway across the back yard, slightly uphill.

I shake my head and look up just in time to see Jack's elderly father leaning over me, grabbing a fist full of my shirt in a twist and dragging me to my feet.

"You and I need to have a chat, young man," he rasps out. About then, the blow to my head kinda makes conversation and memory impossible.

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