What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Friday, March 22, 2019; Early Evening
It was almost five-thirty when Kevin got home. He knew he should call his relatives in Massachusetts and Florida before doing anything else. That way they’d have finished dinner and would have time to talk before going to bed.
He started in the order he’d received the calls.
First Kevin called his Uncle Bill in Malden, Massachusetts and got voicemail right away. He left a brief message that he’d call back later.
He called his Uncle Hal in Boston and also got voicemail right away. He decided to leave a long voicemail message saying why he was calling and that he could take calls up to one a.m. Eastern time.
It was interesting that both sets of relatives in Massachusetts were on their phone because the calls had gone directly to voicemail. He wondered if they were talking to each other. That would be quite a coincidence.
Then he called his Aunt Marge in Gainesville, Florida. She was his dad’s sister. She was delighted that Kevin had returned her call and was eager to find out how he was doing. His Uncle Taylor and cousins Brad and Tim got on, so they had a five-way conversation that lasted about twenty minutes.
With that over Kevin checked his text messages and there was one from Alex confirming that he’d be at Kevin’s house at eleven o’clock Saturday morning.
He heated up one of Connie’s dinners, meatloaf with roasted potatoes, green beans, and beets. He ate while he read the section of the textbook for his World History class. He decided he’d get started on the report tonight. That took the rest of the evening; he was more tired than usual because of the intense session he’d had with Dr. Ranse.
The two calls to Massachusetts weren’t returned by the time he went to bed.
Saturday, March 23, 2019; Morning
Kevin sat down to eat breakfast. Connie was busy cooking something that smelled wonderful.
“Connie, whatever that is that you’re cooking, it smells so good!”
“It’s carnitas, a kind of roast pork. It cooks for a long time so it’ll be tender and easy to shred. That way I can use it in tacos or a Guisado which is a pork stew in a sauce with tomatillos, onions, cilantro, chilis, and squash. I’ll be making both, the filling for the tacos for your lunch with your friend and the stew for dinners. I’m not sure how much of the taco filling you’ll need, so I’ll freeze what’s left after you’ve finished lunch. I’ll freeze most of the stew but leave two servings in the refrigerator for your dinners in the next couple days.”
“You’re a great cook, Connie. Everything you fix for me is delicious. It’s way better than eating out would be, even in a fancy restaurant.”
Connie blushed. “Thank you, Kevin. I like cooking for you because you enjoy eating what I fix.”
“If it’s okay, I won’t go shopping with you this morning. Before Alex gets here at eleven I want to read up on the chemistry I missed. I should have done that last night, but I was tired so I put it off until this morning.”
“That’s alright,” she said. “We don’t need much other than fresh vegetables and fruit. I’ll get blueberries and bananas, and whatever else looks good. Is that okay?”
“Sure. You know how much I love blueberries, and bananas are good for me because they have a lot of potassium which I need to keep from getting cramps in my calves when I’m playing tennis. Please get a couple baking potatoes, too. I’ll bake them as I need them, and eat half of a baked potato with dinner. They have a lot of potassium and a lot less sugar than bananas.”
Connie finished writing her shopping list. “Alright. I’ll leave now and be back by ten o’clock.”
After breakfast, Kevin went to his room and read the chapters in the chemistry textbook that he’d missed before he got back to school.
Connie returned and came to his door to let him know she was back. Kevin got a glass of water and brought it to his room and continued going through the chapters.
He heard the doorbell and checked the clock on his desk. It was eleven, almost on the dot. He went to the door and opened it for Alex.
“Hi, Alex. Come on in.”
“Hi, Kevin. Ready for a grueling day of plowing through a couple dozen chapters in your chemistry textbook?”
Alex grinned. “No, it’ll just seem like that many.”
Kevin put his hands over his face. “Oh, my god, help me, help me!” But then he dropped his hands and laughed before leading the way to his bedroom.
“Nice room,” Alex said.
“Yeah, but my desk is too small for two people to use at the same time. Let’s set up in the dining room. There’s more room in there. What will I need besides my textbook?”
“The chem workbook and a spiral binder or something like that to take notes. If you have a laptop, it’s a good idea to bring it so you can go onto School Loop and see if there’s anything new from Mr. McBride. We can also use it so I can post your completed exams. And, if you’d prefer, you can take notes on your laptop instead of by hand.”
Kevin collected what they needed and led Alex to the dining room. He turned on his laptop and logged on. He opened his textbook to the chapter following the one he’d worked on with Alex on Friday, and put in a bookmark so he wouldn’t lose his place if the book closed. A book with almost 800 pages wouldn’t stay open by itself without forcing the binding, and maybe not even then. That gave him an idea.
“I have a bookstand that’ll hold the book open. Let me go get it.”
When he returned, Alex was missing. Kevin went to the kitchen and found Alex was drinking a glass of water and chatting with Connie.
Alex turned and saw Kevin. “Ready?” he asked.
“Yes. Do you want something else to drink? We have sodas and juice.”
“No, water is fine for now. Maybe a Coke when we have lunch.”
“Okay.” Kevin got a glass for himself and filled it with ice water from the dispenser on the refrigerator door.
“You want a refill?” he asked Alex.
“I’m good. This’ll be enough for now.”
They sat down next to each other at the dining room table and started reviewing what Kevin had missed.
At noon Connie asked when they’d like to have lunch.
“Twelve-thirty or one o’clock? What’s your preference?” Kevin asked Alex.
“Is one o’clock okay?”
Kevin nodded. “Sure.”
“Okay, I’ll call you when it’s ready,” Connie said. “I think you should eat at the kitchen table. That way you won’t have to move your books and papers.”
At one o’clock Connie let them know lunch was ready. They sat down to eat the tacos; the filling smelled wonderful. There was a plate of corn tortillas covered by a cloth to keep them warm and soft. There was a large bowl with the carnitas and smaller bowls with guacamole, salsa, chopped onion, cilantro, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, sliced black olives, and sour cream to add to the tacos.
They finished their first taco and were assembling their second when Alex looked at Connie who was fixing something on the stove.
“These are absolutely the best tacos I’ve ever had in my entire life, Connie,” he said.
As usual, she blushed at the compliment. “Thank you, Alex.”
“I agree with Alex,” Kevin said.
Each of the boys had four tacos and two cans of Coke.
When they finished, Alex leaned back and patted his stomach with both hands. “I am so satisfied and so full right now. That was the best lunch I’ve had in weeks. I’ll be raving about it at home.” He was smiling, and his eyes were closed. Then he opened them. “Kevin, let’s clean up what’s left on the table then we can get back to chemistry.”
Despite Connie’s protestations that she’d take care of the cleaning up, Kevin put plastic wrap on the containers of leftovers which he put in the refrigerator, and Alex took the dirty dishes, rinsed them briefly, and put them in the dishwasher. Then they returned to the dining room.
By the time Connie announced she was leaving it was three-thirty, and they had covered almost two-thirds of what Kevin had missed.
“You want to continue, or are you ready to call it a day?” Kevin asked.
“If you have the time today, I think we could finish up all the material from the textbook, and you’ll be caught up with that. All we’ll have left is to do a brief review before you take each test you missed, then we’ll get to the experiments you missed and you’ll do those. Those both are things we can do in the chem lab at school during collaboration period.”
“If you’re sure, that sounds great. But shouldn’t you be heading home?”
“My family went to Sacramento for the weekend. They’re visiting my grandparents. So, other than some homework and a few chores, I have nothing to do until they get home tomorrow evening.”
“Okay,” Kevin said. “How about we take a break before we continue? I’m getting stiff from all the sitting. How about we take a walk around the block?”
“That’s a good idea,” Alex replied.
Kevin enabled the house alarm, and when they walked out the front door, he locked both the deadbolt and the lock on the door handle.
“Do you care which way we go?” he asked.
“Let’s go left. That way we can walk around the block, and I can give you a quick tour of our house and my room as we walk by.”
They did, and when they got to Alex’s house, he stopped. “I saw yours, so let me show you mine.”
Kevin burst out laughing. After a couple seconds, he was joined by Alex who was blushing because when Kevin laughed, he realized the slightly off-color meaning of what he’d unintentionally said.
“I haven’t heard that line since I was in elementary school,” Kevin said with a wide grin. He realized that he liked Alex. A lot. He hoped they’d become friends despite that Alex was a junior, a year ahead of him in school.
They went into Alex’s house and walked through the living room to a hall. Alex’s bedroom was the first on the left.
“We have a jack-and-jack connecting bathroom.”
“So no Jill, ‘eh?” Kevin joked.
“Yes, there is, but it’s my brother and me who have to share this bathroom.”
“How old is your brother?” Kevin asked.
“Rick is fourteen. He’s a freshman at Edison. I have a sister, Ruth. She’s twenty and is a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley and lives in a dorm. She’s a Media Studies major.”
Kevin looked around Alex’s room. “Nice room.” He walked over to a large bookcase against one wall. “I see you’re a reader. Real books, too. Do you also read e-books?”
“Yes. I guess I’m what you’d call a voracious reader. Most of these paperback books are from when I was in elementary and middle school. The hardback books are mostly technical and reference. Then in the ninth grade I switched to the Kindle app. It’s weird, but technical books, math, chemistry, and physics, are cheaper as printed books, and there aren’t e-books for most textbooks. So they make up most of my printed book collection.”
“I can see that from the middle and upper shelves. You also have the entire Harry Potter series. But why are they wrapped in plastic… oh, my god! That’s because they are first editions, aren’t they?”
Alex was grinning. “Yup. And they’re signed, too. How’d you know?”
“There was a program on PBS about J. K. Rowling, and it talked about how few signed first edition copies there are. My god, each copy is worth tens of thousands of dollars. I’ve never seen them anywhere else, for sure.”
Alex reached toward the Potter books.
“Stop!” Kevin said. “Don’t take any of them out. Now that I know what you have, and I’ve seen the spine ends of each book, that’s enough. They are too valuable to handle. You are very lucky to have them.”
“Thanks. I am lucky. I have an uncle in the UK who’s in the rare book business. That’s how I got these books. Did you know the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is considered the only one that’s a true first edition? But the other books in the series are first printings, and all are signed by J. K. Rowling, so I guess they are rare, too.”
Kevin looked at Alex, then waved his hand at the bookcase. “Why are they here? Those books should be in a special fireproof safe. The whole set’s gotta be worth over a hundred thousand dollars. Maybe more, even.”
Alex looked incredulous. “No way. I don’t think they’re worth that much.”
“Well, that’s what they said on the TV program. Someday you should Google the value of each of these books and total them. There’s another thing. If I were you, I wouldn’t tell anyone that you have these editions.”
“Really. You should keep quiet about what you have. When your folks get back, do the calculation of how much they’re worth and talk about getting a top-quality fireproof and heatproof safe that’s designed for protecting high-value paper documents. Or, even better, move them to a special bank vault designed for high-value documents. You should get them appraised, too, and then insured.”
“Okay. Thanks for the suggestions. I guess I’ll talk to my dad about it. A hundred thousand dollars? You’re serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious, and probably over a hundred thousand, maybe way over depending on their condition.”
It was apparent that Alex found it hard to believe, but he stood there and stared at his Harry Potter collection. He seemed to be thinking about what he had.
“Okay,” he said, “let’s continue our walk then hit your chemistry book and get you caught up.”
As they walked, they chatted about many things starting with what it was like for Alex to play lacrosse versus what it was like for Kevin to play tennis; what sports they liked to watch on TV and their favorite teams; and their favorite kinds of music and books and movies. Alex talked about his plans to go to U.C. Berkeley to get his degrees in chemistry. Kevin asked how Alex was able to take AP Chemistry when he was a sophomore.
“I took Chemistry 108 — that’s college-level introductory chemistry — at Diablo Valley College during the summer between the ninth and tenth grades at Edison. I got an A in the course and decided I wanted to take AP Chemistry during my sophomore year and got approval.”
“I didn’t know you could take community college courses when you’re a freshman in high school and take AP classes when you’re a sophomore. When you were at DVC wasn’t it a little weird with everyone else in the class a lot older than you?”
Alex shook his head as a no, then grinned. “I’ll tell you what was different. Edison has what, 1,800 students? DVC has over 22,000 students and a campus that’s at least twenty times the size of Edison’s. I was scared shitless for the first two days, but then I got into the class, and some DVC students were helpful. Then some started to talk to me because I was picking up the chemistry class faster than the rest of the class, and I could explain things… well, I was doing okay.”
“DVC isn’t near here. How did you get there and back?”
“My sister, Ruth, was home for the summer and she decided to take a couple classes at DVC. That’s what gave me the idea to take the chemistry class, and it was on the same days, and at about the same times, as the classes she was taking. So she drove me there and back each day. It worked out great. We got to know each other a lot better, too. She’s four years older than me, so we’d never been real close before. She’s thinking about taking another class at DVC this summer.”
“Why doesn’t she just take the equivalent class at UC Berkeley?”
“Because at UC Berkeley a summer session class costs $750.00 and up depending on the class and the number of units. A class at DVC is a fraction of that. And my chemistry class will be accepted when I go to UC Berkeley.”
As they walked, Kevin became convinced that he wanted to know Alex better — a lot better. He was definitely the kind of guy he’d like to add to his list of best friends.
Then Alex asked what Kevin wanted to do after he had his computer science degrees.
“I like coding. I’m not sure what kind of coding I want to do. By then things will have changed a lot compared to what we have today. The computer field is always changing and improving. Though some people like Mr. Curtis, my AP Computer Science teacher at Edison, think it’s moving too fast. I disagree. New tools are being developed to make programing easier which makes software development faster, and tools for testing so errors can be found and it won’t take as much effort as it does today.”
“You’re a sophomore. How come you could get into an AP Computer Science class? Did you take a course at DVC like I did?”
“No. What I did was go online and learn to code on my own, starting when I was in the seventh grade. I also found there was a kid who wrote a study guide about how to pass the AP Computer Science exam. I bought it, using my dad’s credit card — with his approval — and I took the SAT AP CompSci subject exam and passed. That let me talk my way into Mr. Curtis’s class.”
“Why did you have to take the class at Edison since you did so well on the AP exam?”
“I didn’t do any of the homework assignments or take any of the tests. I was lucky to be able to take the class as a sophomore. My success on the AP exam is what did it for me.”
“Will you have to retake the AP exam at the end of the year?”
“No. Once you’ve taken an AP subject exam and passed, you don’t have to retake it. The only reason to retake one is to improve your score. I scored a five on the exam, so there’s no reason to take the exam again.”
“I’ll need to take several computer science courses to get my chemistry degrees,” Alex continued. “Do you think it’s worthwhile to take the AP class you’re in when I’m a senior?”
“You could. However, the AP Computer Science course is designed for people like me who will major in that field. It’s primarily a coding class. Since you’ve already taken a chemistry course at DVC, why don’t you check the computer science courses they’ll have during the summer? That way you can get college credit for it, then take some other class at Edison when you’re a senior. Maybe take the regular statistics class. It’s designed for students going into a science major in college. My counselor told me that’s better than AP Statistics which is designed for students going into a social science major in college so they might not need any additional statistics courses. I’ll take the regular statistics class next year along with AP Calculus AB, then AP Calculus BC when I’m a senior.”
“Sounds like I need to talk to my counselor about taking statistics,” Alex said. “I’ll need to take several statistics courses at Berkeley, so the regular statistics class at Edison sounds like it will help. Maybe I might be able to skip introductory statistics during my freshman year at Cal. Thanks for telling me about it.”
When they got back to Kevin’s house, they spent another two hours going through the remaining chapters. Then Alex opened the workbook that was a companion to their chemistry textbook and tested Kevin on the material they’d covered. That took about forty-five minutes.
Kevin closed his textbook. “Enough! Unless you want to get home, let’s watch something on TV. Something that doesn’t take a lot of mental energy.”
There was a marathon of the NCIS shows on cable, so that’s what they watched. After one episode Kevin stood up.
“Time for dinner. If you like shrimp, there are a couple shrimp dinners with fettuccini and veggies, sort of like a casserole, that Connie fixed for me. They are frozen, but they heat in just a few minutes. How’s that sound?”
“You don’t have to feed me,” Alex said.
“Yes, I do. You’ve spent almost a whole day working with me, and I can’t tell you how important and useful this has been for me. You are a great chemistry tutor, Alex.”
Alex grabbed the remote and stood up, turned off the TV, and then put the remote down. “You’re a nice guy, Kevin. I think — I hope — we’ve become friends. I hope we can be more than just friends as we get to know each other.”
Kevin started to tear up, so he grabbed Alex in a hug and hoped that he hadn’t noticed. But Alex had noticed. He rubbed Kevin’s back, and whispered, “You’ve been through a lot. Please know you have me to lean on whenever you need someone to be here for you.”
Kevin took a deep breath. “I want us to be friends, close friends. Is that okay?”
Alex grabbed Kevin’s shoulders and pushed him back just enough so they could look into each other’s eyes. “I’m about to do something that might ruin our relationship. But I want to do it, anyway. In fact, I need to do it.” He took a deep breath, then continued, “Kevin, I’m gay. Is that a problem for you?”
Kevin’s expression showed his surprise. That made Alex worry. He dropped his arms to his sides. “If you want me to leave…” he started, but he couldn’t continue because Kevin had grabbed him in a hug and kissed him on his lips. It’s impossible to talk when you’re being kissed. Alex kissed Kevin back, and he put one arm around Kevin’s shoulders and the other around his waist and pulled them together. Tight. Very tight. So tight that their crotches were mashed together.
Eventually, Kevin had to pull back so he could take a deep breath. Alex had to do the same. But the tight hug became, if possible, even tighter because Kevin had both his arms around Alex’s waist and he wasn’t letting go. They laughed.
Kevin stopped laughing and grinned. “I guess you figured out why your being gay isn’t a problem for me.”
That made Alex laugh even more, and it took a while for him to stop. “Whatever you do, do not pull away,” he said. “If you do, I’ll be very embarrassed.” Then he wiggled his eyebrows and grinned.
Kevin laughed. “Eventually, we’ll have to pull apart if you want to eat dinner,” Kevin said. “If you don’t care about dinner, then we’ll still have to pull apart to walk upstairs to my bedroom and get undressed and get into bed. Together.”
“Oh… kinky! I like that!” Alex responded.
“Are you hungry?” Kevin asked.
“Yes, I am. Can we do that getting in bed together thing after we eat?”
“Sounds like a plan. A most excellent plan.”
They pulled apart, and each adjusted themselves without hiding what they were doing. They both enjoyed the view, and that made them laugh again.
Kevin pulled two of the frozen shrimp, fettuccini, and veggies dinners from the freezer and put them in the microwave to heat. By the time he’d made a quick salad, set the table and gotten drinks, the casseroles were ready, and they sat down at the kitchen table and started eating.
“This is totally delicious,” Alex said. “You are so lucky. Connie is a fantastic cook.”
“This is one of my favorites; I love shrimp. She baked peanut butter cookies, too. We can have those with some vanilla ice cream for dessert.”
“That sounds good. I love peanut butter cookies, but I almost never get them.”
While they were eating Kevin described what he’d be doing on Sunday.
“I’m meeting a friend tomorrow. We’ll work together on our Algebra 2/Pre-Calc homework. I could cancel it, and we can spend the day together.”
“I think after we eat breakfast, I should go home. I still have my own homework to finish, and I have things to do to get ready for the return of my folks and brother and sister. Like empty the waste baskets and move the trash cans to the curb for the Monday pickup. I assume that you’ll have to do that, too, because we’re probably on the same pickup schedule. Anyway, you should get together with your friend and catch up on your Algebra 2/Pre-Calc homework and be ready for your next exam.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s best.”
They finished eating and cleaned up the kitchen.
“So, shall we go upstairs to my room now?” Kevin asked.
Alex nodded, then Kevin wiggled his eyebrows and smiled. Because neither of them needed another reminder, that’s what they did, straight away.
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