What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Sunday, March 24, 2019; Evening
After eating Kevin was able to draft his World History report and do one editing pass on it before the alarm he’d set to call Don at eight PM started playing Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself. He went to the kitchen and got a glass of ice water then returned to his bedroom and placed the call to Vancouver.
Don must have been sitting with his phone in his hand because he answered the call in less than a second.
“Hi, Kevin. Thanks for being so prompt.”
“Hi, Don. My promptness was because I set a reminder on my phone. How are you?”
“Good. Actually, great. What have you been doing today?”
“I went to Laura’s house — she’s one of my best friends — and we reviewed the material on the first two Algebra 2/Pre-Calc exams I missed. I solved all those problems, so I came away feeling good. But, I still have to take the real makeup exams, and both Laura and I are certain our teacher will give me different problem sets for each of the makeup exams instead of the problem sets she used for the class.”
“Yeah, that’s what they do here, too. Teachers everywhere are the same. Sneaky. What about you? Are you starting to feel better?”
“Yes, I am.” Kevin told him a little about Dr. Ranse, and how much she was helping him. “How are you doing? I was a little surprised that you wanted to talk when your folks weren’t going to be home. So, what’s going on?”
“Right on point, aren’t you? Well, let me be right on point, too. I’m gay. I’m freaked about telling my folks I’m gay. And that I have a boyfriend. I need someone other than Bryan to talk to about it. Bryan’s my boyfriend.”
“It’s cool that you’re gay and have a boyfriend. Has Bryan told his folks?”
That was followed by silence, so Kevin asked, “How did that go?”
“Couldn’t have been better. But that’s part of the problem. Now Bryan’s pushing me to tell my folks. I don’t know what their reaction will be.”
“That’s always the biggie for gay kids, isn’t it? I can’t give you any advice based on personal experience. That’s because I never came out to my folks or anyone in my family — nor to anyone else at all — until yesterday.”
Now there was more silence.
“Hello?” Kevin said. “Don? You still there?”
“Do you mean…?” There was more silence.
Kevin laughed. “Yes. I’m gay, too. And I have a boyfriend. Well, we met on Friday, so I’m not sure whether we should be called boyfriends yet. But he spent last night here, and we slept together, and we weren’t celibate. It was just kissing and fondling.” Kevin laughed. “A lot of kissing and fondling. But I think I’m ready for the next step.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! So, what’s the next step?”
“Oral. Both of us are sure we don’t want to do things that are a lot more… intimate… and internal.”
“Have you told anyone, like some of your friends, that you’re gay?”
“Yes, Laura. Well, it wasn’t so much that I told her; she guessed. You know, a guy who is mega hot — comme moi — and hasn’t gone out with any girls, ever. One plus one equals gay, right?”
Don started laughing; Kevin assumed it was because of his use of French for ‘like me.’ Maybe he’d messed it up.
“You’re fucking not going to believe it, but that’s exactly what Bryan says — the one plus one thing. And he pushes me with the ‘never gone out with girls’ thing, too. He’s using both those arguments to pressure me. But I have a possible objection. I’m scared out of my mind it won’t go well. Anyway, what’s this mega-hot bullshit?” Don laughed.
“I’m just quoting Laura, and she’s never lied to me. And you know Eve Young, right?”
“You mean ‘I never met a swearword I wouldn’t use multiple times’ Eve Young?”
Kevin laughed. “Yes, that’s her. I came out to her on the phone this afternoon. She wants the three of us to get on a WhatsApp chat. Or a Skype video call. Do you have Skype or WhatsApp?”
“Both. But for some reason Skype doesn’t work very well on our internet connection. Is it okay if we do a WhatsApp chat instead?”
“Sure. That way you won’t have to pay for an international Skype call, either. Eve suggested we do it tomorrow evening, at four o’clock our time. She’s in Boston, so that’s seven her time. Will that work for you?”
“Yeah, it will. We’ll have about an hour, hour and a half if we start at four, before my mom gets home.”
“Great. So tell me about Bryan.”
Kevin listened to Don describe how he and Bryan met, and how they figured out they were both gay.
“We came out to each other riding the old wooden roller coaster at Playland here in Vancouver. We were holding hands and grabbing on as tight as we could. That’s one freakin’ scary roller coaster! Talk about shaking, rattling, and rolling! When it was over, and we got off, we kept holding hands. It was sort of like, but different than, the scene at the end of the movie ‘Love, Simon.’”
When he finished talking about Bryan, Don asked Kevin, “Tell me about your boyfriend. What’s his name? What’s he look like?”
“I’ll send you a selfie we took on WhatsApp.”
Kevin sent the same selfie that he’d sent to Eve.
“I just sent you a pic of Alex and me. That’s his name. He’s the one with blond hair. I’m the other one.”
“Damn, you’ve got a total winner, Kevin. And he’s got a total winner, too, and that’s you. Both of you guys are, in fact, mega-hot. I apologize for saying the mega-hot thing was bullshit. So it was only two days ago that you met him?”
Kevin explained that Alex had been assigned as his chemistry tutor, that they met Friday morning, that they got together on Saturday to study, and Eve’s reaction when she saw the same selfie he’d just sent Don. “She came up with a great line: ‘Together you two could start a fire without any matches.’”
They both laughed about that. “Damn, I’ll have to remember that line, for sure!” Don said.
Kevin also told Don how Laura had hit on Alex one summer when they were in middle school, and he had admitted to her that he was gay. Then he asked, “I sent you our pic, so how about sending me a pic of you and Bryan?
“Sorry, I don’t have a selfie — or even a picture — of Bryan and me. As soon as I do, I’ll send it to you.”
They continued to chat until Kevin’s phone beeped and showed an incoming call from Boston. “I better go. I have a call coming in from Uncle Hal and Aunt Allison. I can tell they’re eager to talk because it’s almost eleven-thirty their time.” He clicked the ‘Be Right With You," button which spoke that message to the person on the other line and put the call on hold. Kevin continued his call with Don. “I keep missing the calls with them because of the difference in time zones. When I’m finished talking to them, I’ll call you back. I want to hear why you think things will go bad if you tell your folks that you’re gay. So, I’ll say goodbye for right now.”
“Okay, talk to you in a little while, Kevin.”
Kevin switched to the call from Boston.
“Hi! Kevin here!”
“Hi, Kevin. It’s Hal and Allison calling from Boston,” his Uncle said.
“Sorry I couldn’t pick up your call right away. I was talking to my cousin Don in Vancouver. He’s Graham and Beth’s son. Thanks for returning my call. It’s late there. I’m surprised you’re calling now.”
“That’s because we’re leaving in the morning and driving to New Hampshire for Allison’s great aunt’s funeral and wake,” Kevin’s Uncle Hal said, “we wanted to return your call since we won’t be back until four days from now.”
Aunt Allison was also on the line. “How are you, Kevin?” she asked.
“I’m getting better.” Kevin spent about twenty minutes talking to them. They were pleased that he had returned to school and was catching up with his classes. He told them about his therapist, how she was very professional and helpful; about his friends who were giving him a lot of support; about his chemistry tutor Alex who lived on the next street over and they were now friends.
They talked for a while more, and Eve joined the call for a few minutes. He asked if she was going to the funeral.
“No. I have a test and lab experiment in biology. Can’t get out of it. So I’ll be home alone and our call tomorrow night is still on.”
Kevin said he had a homework project for World History to finish and it was due on Tuesday, so they all said goodbye and Kevin ended the call.
He checked the time and dialed Don’s cell number, and he again answered immediately.
“Hi, Don. I thought we could talk about you coming out to your folks.”
“Good. So, how should I do it?”
Kevin laughed. “You are asking the wrong person,” he said. “As I told you, I never came out to anyone until this weekend. Now I’ve come out to four people. Alex, Laura, Eve, and you.”
“How’d it go with Eve?”
“Good. Her best guy friend is gay. His name is…” Kevin tried to remember his name, then recalled it “…it’s Larry. So she’s very gay-friendly. Very, very, very, gay-friendly.”
“Kevin, I think you’re trying to tell me something here. Am I right?”
“I’d never divulge something personal about someone else!”
“So she’s a lesbian?”
“No!” Kevin said.
“Oh. Sorry. Now I really don’t know what you were trying to say.”
“You were close, but no cigar. There’s another more generic term that she prefers.”
“You guessed it. She hates being called a lesbian. Now, I’m telling you this because I don’t think she’ll mind. She has a girlfriend, and her name is Flo. Her folks know, and they’re okay with it. In fact, her mom, Aunt Allison, is delighted because she knows Eve won’t be getting accidentally pregnant.
“I’m telling you this because I don’t have a clue about how to give you advice about how to tell your folks that you’re gay. Eve has done it, and so has her girlfriend, and I thought Eve might be able to give you some tips about how to approach your folks with your announcement.”
“Okay. So, we’ll do that on our WhatsApp chat on Monday?”
“Yes. I’ll send an encrypted invite to both of you by WhatsApp. I’ll also include what it’s for, and it will be set as private. That way she can be prepared with some good ideas for you, I hope.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Okay, just to make sure we’re on the same page, I’ll start the chat and the start time will be four o’clock Pacific time tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a plan!” Don repeated, then he laughed.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that one before!” Kevin responded, then they both laughed.
“What else is going on in beautiful British Columbia?”
“Not a heck of a lot right now. Oh, someone stole my bike at school. It’s a good thing it was insured, so I was able to get a replacement.”
“You have replacement insurance for your bike?”
“Yeah. It was an inexpensive add-on for my folk’s car insurance policy, so they decided it would be worth the cost.”
“Did you have a lock on your bike?”
“Yes, one of those bike locks with a supposedly super-strength shackle that can’t be cut off with a bolt cutter. It was on the ground in three pieces. I asked for my money back.”
“Did you get it?”
“Yes, but I had to threaten the company with a negative post on Yelp complete with a picture of the three pieces where I found them. They wanted to give me a replacement. I wanted my money back.”
“$59 plus tax.”
“Whoa! That’s one expensive not very secure bike lock.”
“Yeah. Tell me about it!”
“Did they refund what you’d paid for it?”
“Yes, after what seemed a long delay. Then I bought a new lock from the bike store that’s also supposed to be unbreakable. They put one of those GPS trackers into the frame of the bike so the police can find it supposedly no matter where the thieves take it. Unless they know where to look for a tracker and remove it or block it somehow.”
“That’s cool. How much did the new bike lock cost you?”
“$65 plus tax. That’s Canadian dollars. And that includes the GPS tracker, so I figured it was worth it.”
“Whoa! But if it’s secure, and you can find your bike if it’s been stolen because of the tracker, that’s probably a reasonable price.”
“Yeah. I hope I never have to find out if the new lock is really better!”
“I agree. Did you get your replacement bike?”
“Yeah. No problem with the insurance. What’s cool is it’s brand new and shiny.” Don laughed at his own description.
“That’s good unless it makes it more enticing for thieves. Well, on that not-so-happy note I have more homework to attack, so I’ll set up our call. If you need to make a change let us both know, and I’ll do the same.”
“Okay. Thanks for doing this, Kevin. And congrats on meeting someone who looks like he could be your boyfriend.”
“Thanks, Don. Bye ‘til Monday.”
Kevin shook his head and grinned. ‘So now there are three of us who are cousins and who are gay,’ he thought. ‘I wonder if that’s unusual. Seems to me it would be,’ he thought. ‘Unusual and kind of bizarre since we’re all in one family.’
He sent a WhatsApp message to Don and Eve with the date and time of their call on Monday. Then he entered a reminder on his phone.
He reviewed the list of homework he’d been assigned and got started.
He wrote his story for Spanish 3 even though it wasn’t due until Friday. He edited and reviewed what he’d written, then described how he’d integrated the paragraph he’d been given in class.
Next, he finished his World History report that was due on Tuesday, and posted it to School Loop.
He’d already written and turned in his response to Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily for English 2. All he had left for that assignment was to read his response out loud in class.
All of Kevin’s assigned homework was finished. He checked School Loop for one last time and didn’t find anything new.
He took a deep breath. He’d only been back in school for two days, but it seemed like it was much longer than that. He realized that he got together with Alex on Saturday and with Laura on Sunday. So counting the weekend days, it was more like four days of school. And that didn’t count the two sessions he had with Dr. Ranse. The intensity of those sessions was like two more days of school.
He remembered that he was also scheduled to get together right after school with Laura on Tuesdays and with Jeff on Thursdays. That would help him get over the problem of arriving home to an empty house.
Kevin yawned and stretched. Then he was startled when his phone started playing his ringtone. The phone number showed that it was from ‘Alex, home phone’ and that made him grin.
“Hi, Kevin. How you doing?”
“Great. I just finished the rest of my homework. So… how come you aren’t calling from your cellphone?”
“I’m calling from our house phone because my phone is in my bedroom and I’m in the kitchen with my mom. She wants to invite you to come to our house for dinner tomorrow night. Are you available?”
“Monday night? Sure.”
“Here, she wants to talk to you.”
Mrs. Burney got on the call. “Hello, Kevin. I’m glad you’ll be able to join us for dinner tomorrow. You’re not allergic to any foods, like nuts, are you?”
“I don’t have any food allergies. And in case you’re going to ask, the only things I don’t like are liver and other innards. Anything else is fine. Including broccoli and Brussels sprouts.”
“Good, and I will assure you that none of those innards foods will be on the menu. Dinner will be at seven so you can be here at… say, six-thirty?”
“Sure. Six-thirty’s good.”
“I’ll turn the call back to Alex, now. We’re looking forward to meeting you.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting you and your family, too.”
“We’ll see you tomorrow night,” Alex said.
“Uh, Alex, can you talk now? If not, can you call me back?”
“I’ll call you back.”
“Okay. Talk to you in a few. Bye.”
Kevin sat waiting for Alex’s call. He hated to just sit doing nothing, so he grabbed his tablet and opened the story he’d been reading.
About ten minutes later, Alex called.
“Hi, Kevin. Sorry, it took a while. My mom wanted me to help her pick what to cook for dinner. How’s salmon?”
“Wow! That’s great. I don’t have salmon very often, and I love it.”
“To go with the salmon, we’ll have rice, green beans and baby multicolored carrots, and a salad.”
“Besides regular orange carrots, there are white, yellow, purple, dark red, and light red colored carrots, and maybe some other colors, too. They are skinnier but as long as a regular carrot. They taste a little different, too. It’s a good different; they’re a little sweeter.”
“Sounds great. Are khaki’s and a long-sleeve shirt okay?”
“Yes. You don’t have to get all dressed up. School clothes are fine. That’s what I’ll be wearing.”
“Who’ll be there beside you and your folks?”
“My brother Rick and my sister Ruth. To remind you, Rick’s fourteen and a freshman at Edison; Ruth is twenty and a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley. She’s a media studies major. She’s on spring break or something, so she’s here instead of at her dorm. She actually had to move out of the dorm! I still don’t understand why they did that and how it works. I’ll have to ask her, if I can remember to do that.”
“Speaking of meals,” Kevin said, “how about you sit at our table in the cafeteria tomorrow? I’ll introduce you to everyone. It’s a group that got started last year.”
“Who’ll be there? Are they your friends?”
“Yup. We’re mostly sophomores and a couple freshmen, too. I think you’ll be surprised when you meet them.”
“So, what’s the surprise?”
“If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it. You’ll find out at lunch tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll pretend to be surprised even if I’m not.” Alex laughed.
“I have a serious question for you,” Kevin said. “Do your folks and your brother and sister know you’re gay?”
“Yes. But it shouldn’t come up at dinner unless you or I bring it up. My family won’t ask you if you’re gay or if we’re boyfriends or anything like that.”
“That’s fine with me, but I don’t have a problem if someone brings up the gay topic. But I won’t bring it up. However, if I’m asked I’ll tell the truth, that I’m gay. Is that okay?”
“Sure, why not?”
“What about the boyfriend part?”
“I’m not sure about that yet. Are you?”
“Like you, not yet. We need to do things like go out to eat and see a movie and go hiking and go to an art show or a performance at Lesher Center, and so on. Dating things.”
“Sounds like a plan. Or even if it’s something unplanned. Both.”
“Speaking of unplanned, today I came out to some of my cousins and friends. It was mostly when I was talking to them on the phone.”
“Yes, really. And I brought it up. Well, a better way to describe it might be that I hinted about in a way it was reasonable that the person I was talking to figured out that I’m gay.”
“What were their reactions?”
“It varied from surprised to not surprised. I sent my cousin Eve — she lives in Boston — one of the selfies I took of you and me. You know what she said when she got it?”
“She said you and I are so hot we could start a fire without matches.”
Kevin heard Alex laugh. “That is hilarious! I’ll remember that line and tell Rick. He’ll also think it’s hilarious. Uh… is that okay? Because if I tell him, then he’ll know that you’re gay.”
“It’s okay with me. I decided I don’t want to be in the closet anymore. But it’s not gonna be like I’ll wear a T-shirt with a rainbow flag and a sign around my neck that says ‘Hey, I’m gay!’”
“Okay. I’ll show Rick the selfie and tell him that line about us starting a fire. You said you told someone and they were surprised?”
“Yeah, my cousin Don. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. He said he thinks it’s wonderful.”
“Wow, great response!”
“Now, about dinner tomorrow. Is there something I can bring? I don’t drink, and there are a lot of bottles of wine here that I have no interest in opening for myself. So, I could bring a bottle for your folks to drink or use in cooking or whatever.”
“My folks drink wine occasionally, especially if we have guests. Maybe you could bring a bottle of white wine? That would be nice, it’ll go with fish, and I think my folks would appreciate it. They don’t drink anything expensive, so pick something that would have a reasonable price.”
“Thing is, I have no idea what the prices of wines are like. And I don’t want to take a lot of time trying to look it up. I’ll pick something from California, like Napa or Mendocino. I’ve seen those counties mentioned in wine ads. How’s that?”
“That should be fine. One other thing. My folks and my brother and sister won’t ask you about what happened to your family. I told them it’s personal and still too difficult a topic for you to discuss.”
“Thank you for that.”
“Now I have to get back to my homework. There’s a calculus exam tomorrow, plus homework for English 3 and APUSH — that’s AP U.S. History — that are due tomorrow as well.”
“Oh. That reminds me. Did you take English 2 with Mr. Sommers?”
“No. I had Mr. Markham. Why?”
“Mr. Sommers gave us an unusual assignment. It’s to read a couple chapters in a book that’s an introduction to philosophy then we’ll have a class discussion about it.”
“We didn’t have anything like that in English 2.”
“Okay, I’ll let you go. Please tell your mom I said thanks for the invitation to dinner tomorrow night. I really appreciate it.”
“I will. I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch. Bye for now, Kevin.”
Kevin went downstairs and picked a bottle of Husch Chardonnay. The label said it was from Mendocino and was dated 2016. It appeared to have a cork instead of a screw-top, so it didn’t look like some kind of cheap wine. He put it in the refrigerator to chill. He also found some paper bags that had handles to use when bringing someone a bottle of wine.
He returned to his bedroom and read until it was time to go to bed. He had a mystery novel on his Kindle app, an exciting ‘you can’t put it down’ story. When he felt like he was about to fall asleep, he decided it was time to finish the current chapter and put the story aside.
After he brushed his teeth, he turned on his electric blanket and got into bed. Then he fell asleep right away.
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