Out of the Frying Pan
Discovering that you're gay is hard enough, but when your parents discover that you are gay, it is something else all together. Some people are lucky and are accepted with loving support from their parents. Others aren't so lucky.
Go ahead and melt me, fucker! I look at the sun through my sunglasses. Like I'd care.
Wasn't that the truth. Just moved here last night, and it's everything I expected. Hot, hot, and more hot. Flat. Boring. Hell, I might even be able to deal with it all if I didn't have the 'family'. Some family - they hate each other almost as much as they hate me. Well, that’s not really true. They couldn’t even come close to hating each other as much as they hate me. I forced them to move here, but they hated me well before we moved, so it doesn't seem a whole lot different to me.
I look back to the house as I hear a huge crash from inside.
"What the fuck? Matt, what the fuck is wrong with you, God damn it!"
Great. I'm fifty yards from the house and still get blamed for everything. I could go inside and tell him I didn't do anything, but what's the point? If I'm inside, I'm automatically guilty. Not that being outside will keep me out of trouble. I'll be accused of being "lazy" and "unhelpful" and "worthless" and … well, whatever the hell pops into his mind – everything bad or wrong a son could be.
"Matt! Matt! Do you hear me? Where the hell are you, you little bastard!"
"I'm out here!" I yell towards the house. I'll be damned if I'm going in there and get blamed for something I didn't do.
I see him open the screen door and step out to the back yard. He stands 6'4" and is built like a linebacker for the NFL. Actually he would have been in the NFL if he hadn't thrown away all of his college scholarships to go into the Marines to prove to his dad that he was a man. He stomps towards me wearing that ugly scowl that means he wants a fight.
I get a bit light-headed as the blood drains from my head. I've always been afraid of him - for as long as I can remember. He never held back from hitting his kids, that's for sure. I may have deserved it a few times, but the man just seemed to get some sadistic pleasure from abusing me. Of course it got worse after … well after everything started going wrong back home … I mean back where I used to live.
Damn, he's mad.
I've never been able to deal with this. He just terrifies the shit out of me, and I have no idea what to do. I always try to stand still and take whatever he throws at me, hoping he'll get tired of me if I don't do anything to respond. I know from experience that talking back or making excuses or trying to defend myself verbally or physically will bring on more, cause him to go berserk. Same thing for crying. 'I'll give you something to cry about!' he'd yell as he beat me. Even in this God-awful heat a shiver runs down my spine as I think about that.
" Do you think you can hide from me out here?" He yanks me by the arm and pulls me into the air, my feet a foot off the ground before he lets go and I land, standing next to him. "Get inside and clean up what you broke, and it better just be something of yours! If you busted anything of your mother's or mine, you'll wish you were dead!"
I already wish I was dead.
I know it's the wrong thing to say, but I go ahead anyhow. "I didn't break anything. I've been out here."
He grabs my shirt just under my chin and lifts me off of the ground. "What! What the fuck did you say?" He slaps me hard across the face with his free hand. "Don't you dare talk back to me!" He throws me five feet from him, onto the grass. "Get the fuck inside!"
I get up and run inside. My right leg hurts to walk, but staying outside will just be worse. Passing through the back door into the kitchen, I see my little sister, Beth, leaning against the wall by the hallway, smiling. Her smile just keeps getting bigger as I cross the kitchen to walk down the hall to my room.
As I pass her, her smile falls off and she gets a pouty look on her face. "Daddy!" she wails, "Matt broke the lamp you and Mommy said came from Gramma's house!"
Thanks a lot sis, you little bitch. What the hell did I ever do to her anyhow? It's hard to believe she used to practically worship me before I … had all of those problems back home.
I dash down the hall. If he wants to beat me more, he'll follow, but if I stay there he'll do it regardless. At least this way I might delay the inevitable.
In a normal family, I could just tell him the truth – that I didn’t break anything. Well, the truth just doesn't really matter in his house. In fact, the truth has gotten me in far more trouble that it's ever saved me from. Actually, based on my experience, I should probably lie a whole lot more, but I've never been good at lying. I just feel wrong about it. Of course the truth leaves me sore and in pain.
I make it to my room alright and pass a few minutes without him storming in. Sometimes I think he does this on purpose, knowing that I'll spend every minute of the next hour or more full of complete fear about what he's going to do when he finally comes.
God, I hate him.
There are boxes everywhere in my room. I know I don't have this much stuff. Probably my room has become the dumping ground for stuff the rest of the family doesn't want to deal with yet. Figures.
I know I should probably unpack, but I'm still hot as hell. Worse, actually. It's even hotter inside than outside. Wouldn't want to waste money on air conditioning, now, would we? Of course he and Mom have a bedroom in the basement where it’s cooler.
I'll just lay down for a bit until I cool down. Maybe my leg will stop hurting as much. Maybe.
I wake up and it's dark out. I must have just zonked out from the heat, and now it's already dark. I look to the side of the bed, but my alarm clock is still in a box somewhere. Hmmm. Where the heck did I put my watch?
Once I stand up, I see it on my dresser. I walk across the room and check the watch. 9:30. Shit. They didn't even get me for dinner. Assholes. And now they'll be watching TV together. Well, at least he didn't come in here and beat the shit out of me. He starts work tomorrow, so I'll have a day away from him. I just need to lay low until he's gone.
I guess I'm still tired, so getting some more sleep is just as good as anything.
I wake up to hear him yelling at Mom as she fixes him breakfast. It must be about 5 AM if he's still here. Nice to know he can be as much of an asshole before dawn as at any other time of the day. Rolling over and trying to block my ears with my pillow doesn't help.
It seems like only a few minutes later that he's shaking me awake, yelling at me to get up.
"Wake up, you lazy piece of shit. I'm going to work. While I'm gone, I expect you to mow the lawn, weed the garden, and wash the car. And don't fuck things up like you always do! You break anything else and I’ll break your back.” He slaps me across the face. “You get this shit done wrong and you can find someplace else to live! I'm tired of you being in my sight anyhow, you fucking faggot!"
And there it is.
Even as he stomps out of the room and out of the house, he's still here. That hatred and disgust just hangs in the air, choking me.
'You fucking faggot!'
Well, I guess I've heard that enough by now that I should be used to it. It’s all that matters to him. That’s my horrible secret, my great sin.
Mom had caught me in bed with my best friend, Seth. That would have been bad enough, but she went nuts: yelling, cursing, throwing things at us. Seth got out, but where the hell could I go? It was worse, of course, when he got home a couple hours later. Mom told him everything. Yelled it to him actually. I’m sure the neighbors could hear her. She just kept going on and on and on.
He nearly killed me that night. A lot of times I wish he had. He just kept hitting and kicking me, throwing me into walls and stuff. I have no idea how I didn’t end up in the hospital. He’d given me beatings before, but nothing like that. And that was just the beginning.
During one of his regular nights at his favorite bar, he became as drunk as usual, but instead of bitching about his job and liberals and minorities like he usually would, he got to raging about “faggots” and “queers”. He just kept going at it, getting more enraged and getting more drunk until he finally just blurted everything out about me like he had been personally wronged somehow. It was strange, in a way, cause he and Mom have always had this sort of way of acting like perfect people when they talk to anybody outside of the family, trying to act like nothing was wrong or secret about any of us. It was like they knew they would be hated by the whole town if people realized how they really were.
News spread quickly. Their friends, then their friends’ kids, then the school, then pretty much everyone – everybody knew. And everybody wanted to be sure that I knew they hated me for what I was. I actually got hurt worse in school beatings than I ever had at home. I had to go to the hospital three different times, and I probably should have been there a few other times that Mom wouldn’t take me.
My parents would have never said anything about me, I’m sure, if not for being too drunk, but once the news was out they almost seemed to expect pity from everyone else for having ‘the deviant child’. I don’t really know why they thought the whole town would feel sympathy for them, but they ended up surprised when everybody turned against them; nobody wanted to be near the queer’s family. They lost their friends; Beth got picked on and beat up; Mom lost her job – and it was all my fault. They were always very clear on that – it was my fault. Well, maybe indirectly it was, but as far as I was concerned they got what they asked for.
Of course all of that is why we moved here. All fifteen years of my life in the same place, the same peaceful small town, and they decided to have a new start, but it wasn’t supposed to be a new start for me. I was still supposed to be hated and beaten for … well, for whatever they could figure to blame on me.
A quick run through the shower wakes me up a bit, and then I’m downstairs for some breakfast. Not having dinner last night’s got me starving.
Beth’s already at the table as I sit down. Mom’s making omelets; they’re Beth’s favorites. Mom puts an omelet on Beth’s plate with a smile and a “Here you go, honey” and then puts an omelet on my plate without a sound. Well, at least I get some food. Mom leaves the kitchen, probably to be away from me.
Beth’s wolfing down her omelet while I look for the salt. I take maybe two bites by the time Beth is finished, and she smiles over at me.
“MOM!” Beth's smile turns to a pout again. “Matt took my omelet!”
Mom is back in the kitchen before I can even think.
“God damn it, Matt! What the hell is wrong with you! Isn’t it bad enough what you’ve done already but you have to torture your sister, too!” She walks across the kitchen and opens the back door. “Get out!”
“Huh?” I respond.
“Get. Out. Your father told me you have yard work to do. Get to it. I don’t want to see your face.”
“Don’t you dare try to get out of this! Go!”
Beth has already grabbed my omelet and started eating it by the time I get up and walk out the back door. It slams hard behind me just as I clear it, bumping me in the ass like even the house hates me.
The lawns in this sub-development aren’t that big, fortunately, so I decide to mow the lawn first. The lawn mower is the standard push-it-along deal – no riding mowers for me. What should only take maybe twenty minutes or so ends up taking two hours because I have to mow the lawn his way with the expected alignments and procedures. Any other way and it’s wrong. As I see it, if all of the grass is the same height, your work is done, but he doesn’t see it that way. Everything has to be straight, in a certain pattern, trimmed a certain way, raked and mulched exactly so …
It’s damn hot again. Having had two bites of omelet in the last eighteen hours doesn’t help a whole lot either. I’m sweating and woozy as I turn off the mower and roll it over to the hose to wash it down.
With the mower off, my ears stop buzzing and I hear a kid playing next door beyond the privacy fence. He’s laughing and screaming for joy like he doesn’t have a care in the world. I have no idea how old he is, but he’s got to be just a kid from the sound of things. I finish up spraying off the mower with the hose and walk over to the fence, looking sideways through the slats to see if I can catch a glimpse of him.
I see him briefly as he runs around the yard, a plastic airplane in his hand that looks almost as big as he is. He’s making airplane sounds, moving the plane around like it’s flying.
He’s cute. Maybe six or seven, curly brown hair hanging into his eyes and on his shoulders, his t-shirt and shorts covered with spots of dirt and grass stains. This kid knows how to completely let go and play. I like him already.
But he’s in a different world than me. He’s still got that perfect little kid’s world where you can do anything, be anything, fear nothing, and see everything as sort of magical – even simple stuff like lightning bugs or rain. He’s about as far away from me as anything could be.
And as that happy thought crosses my mind, I realize I’d better get working in the garden while it’s still morning and a bit cooler.
The sun burns above. I’m sweating away an ocean again; I’m covered in grass clippings and dirt, itching like hell, and the insects in the garden are merciless. This garden hasn’t been touched in I-don’t-know-how-many years, and I’m pulling out weeds that could pass for small trees when a voice from behind me makes me jump with shock.
I turn around to see the little kid from next door. He must be tired of his plane because it’s nowhere in sight, and he’s staring at me like I’m somehow fascinating to him.
“Hey,” I smile. “I’m pulling some monster weeds. How’s it goin’, little man?”
He seems to like ‘little man’ and smiles at me. “I’m Josh,” he says as he walks over near me and starts pulling on a weed as tall as he is. “How do you know which ones are weeds?”
“Well, I’m guessing they’re all weeds, really. I just moved here, so I don’t think there are any good plants in here.” I wipe my hands on my shorts and stick out my right hand. “I’m Matt. Nice to meet you, Josh.”
He smiles really big and grabs my hand for a quick shake. Then he moves around to the pile of weeds I’ve been pulling and looks around.
“Whatcha gonna do with all the weeds?”
“I don’t know yet, Josh. Get rid of ‘em somehow, I guess.”
He nods solemnly, like he agrees. After a pause he runs over and grabs my hand, pulling at me as he walks back into the yard.
“You wanna see my Pokémon cards? I’ve got the best collection around. I’ve got …” He goes on and on as he drags me straight out of my yard and over to his house. I don’t have a chance to argue with him – he just never stops. In fact, I wonder how he manages to breathe while he keeps talking so much.
He shows me his Pokémon cards, his PlayStation, his stuffed animals, the LEGO castle he built, his action figures, and it seems like he wants to show me his whole universe. I don’t even really think about it while it’s all happening; it’s like he’s got some spell over me, and it just feels so good to see someone so carefree and happy.
I nod and smile and agree and really look at things, and it seems like he really appreciates me paying attention. He’s just full of boundless energy, and he keeps going without a break for I don’t know how long.
“Josh, who are you talking to … Hello. I’m Karen, Josh’s mom.”
I only then notice her come in; Josh has me so involved with everything that I didn’t hear her coming. I look straight into a beautiful face and the same carefree smile that Josh shares.
“Uh … I’m, um, Matt. I live next door. … I’m sorry if I shouldn’t be here. Josh just brought me over to see some of his things.” I try to smile, but I’m nervous. The past couple of years have made me expect that people would be mean to me, and I know that I’m going to get it for being here. Heck, I’ve even got grass and dirt all over me. What the hell must she think?
“Well, I’m glad he did.” Huh? “There aren’t any kids in the neighborhood, and Josh gets so lonely sometimes. I’m glad you were willing to humor him, but I know he can be quite a handful. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to; I can play with Josh now.”
I feel a little awkward. “No. Well, I mean, I’ve really had fun! Josh is a really cool kid. I wish I had a little brother like him.” The idea of Josh being in my family brings me down just a bit, and I realize I should get back to my chores.
“I guess I should go, though,” I add glumly. “I’ve got a bunch of work to do around the house.”
“Well, come back any time, Matt. I know Josh would be really happy to see you.”
Josh, who has been rooting around in his closet during all of this, comes out with a big plastic dinosaur. “Here he is!” He looks at me and then his Mom before he continues. “What’s up?”
“Joshy, honey, Matt needs to get back home and do some chores –“
“Nooo! Don’t leave yet!” He runs up to me where I sit on the floor and hugs me around the neck. “Can’t you stay some more? Please?”
It’s hard to say no to this sort of affection, but I know I’d better get back to work. “I’m sorry, little man. I have to get back to the garden and fight those killer weeds before they take over!” As I finish saying this I start tickling him at his sides. He squeals with glee and falls to the ground while I keep tickling him. After a minute, I stop and tousle his hair. “Sorry, Josh. Maybe we can hang out again soon."
I stand up and smile at Josh’s mom, then walk back through their house the way I came. Josh’s mom follows me.
“I hope we see you again soon, Matt.”
Me too. I smile back as I leave out the door.
I’m back in the garden, sweating and itching, when Mom comes out and glares at me.
Geez, what now?
“Matt!” she spits furiously, “who was that boy you were with earlier?”
“What?” I’m not sure where her anger is coming from.
“Don’t play dumb with me, you little shit! I saw you out here with a little boy and then you disappeared! What’s going on!”
“Oh! That was Josh. He lives next door.” I point to Josh’s yard beyond the privacy fence. “He took me to his house to show me some things.”
“WHAT?! What did you do to him? He was just a little boy!”
“Mom? What are you talking about? He showed me his stuff and we played a little bit, and then his mom came in and I decided I better get back to work here in the garden.”
She gasps. “So you admit it! How could you!”
What? “Mom, what are you talking about? You don’t think I did anything to him, do you?” I can tell she does. “He’s just a little boy! Do you think I’m some kind of a monster?”
“Yes! Of course that’s what I think! What else am I supposed to think? That’s all you do, you depraved people. Just feed on little boys and –“
“Stop!” I can’t take this any more. “Just stop it! I could never do anything like that. He’s just a lonely little boy that wanted to show somebody his toys! He’s a great little kid! Why would I do anything to hurt him?”
She says nothing and glares at me. She’s steaming. It’s almost as if she want’s to be right so that she can prove to the world how evil I am.
“I don’t want him over here any more,” she says in a low voice. “If he’s not here with you, he’s safe. Tell him to stay away.”
“But Mom -”
She smacks me hard across the jaw. I’m stunned. Sometimes she spanks me, but she almost never hits me, leaving it to him since he enjoys it so much. She gives me one more cold glare and heads back to the house.
About an hour later I decide that I have to eat, regardless of what may be waiting for me in the house. I head back from the garden, wash off with the hose, dry myself with some rags from the garage, and step into the kitchen. Nobody’s around, so I make a couple quick sandwiches and take them outside to eat. With those finished, I head back to the seemingly endless garden work.
Things are shaping up in the garden after another hour or two, and I decide I’m almost through with what I’m supposed to get done. Just as I’m about to hoe everything into rows, my Mom yells out from the house.
“Matt! Get in here right this instant!”
Ugh. What now? God, when does it end?
I head back in, washing up quickly again before going inside. My mom is there waiting, a frying pan in her hand, her body rigid and one foot tapping away some stress, and I can distinctly smell smoke.
“What’s going on?”
“Don’t give me that shit! You could have burned the house down! Look at this! You ruined my Teflon pan!” She sticks the frying pan in my face, and I can see that it’s charred black, even burned through at one point. I catch a glimpse of my sister peering around the corner from the hallway, a smile on her face, and I know exactly what happened.
“I didn’t do anything –“
She hits me again. Hard enough this time that it knocks me off balance.
“Don’t you dare lie to me! Just wait until your father gets home! I am sick of this! I am sick of you!” She throws the pan across the room and storms off through the front of the house.
I stand there for a moment to calm down, then I sit at the table for a minute.
“Beth? I know you’re still there.” The edge of her face peers around the corner. “I don’t know why you keep doing this stuff. I don’t know how you can make me take the blame for everything, but you’d better be careful. Mom was right about one thing – you could have set the house on fire. One of these times the 'rents are going to catch you and I won't be around to blame. Then they'll go back to beating on you, too.”
She disappears around the corner. I know saying anything else would be a waste of time. I sit for a moment more and then head back outside. As much as I’m sick of the garden, it’s better than being inside.
“Hiya, Matt!” the little voice calls out from behind me.
“Hiya yourself, Josh! How you doin’?”
“I’m bored. Can you play with me?”
It breaks my heart, but Mom has made things clear. “Look, Josh, I really think you’re awesome, but you can’t come over here any more. My Mom doesn’t want you here, and you can’t come over. I’m really sorry.”
I feel really bad, and I’m worried about Josh getting upset, but he doesn’t. He stands there for a few seconds like he’s thinking really hard and then he looks up at me and smiles.
“Okay, Matt! Seeya!”
He skips back to his house like nothing really happened. I’m just sort of shocked for a minute, and then I feel pretty sad.
I thought he really liked me.
Well, I guess it was just too good to be true.
The sun’s starting to go down, so I work hard at finishing up the garden. The soil hoes pretty well now that all of the weeds are gone, and I’m making quick work of things.
“Matt! Matt, honey! Come up to the house, will you dear?”
It’s my mom’s voice. Either she is on some major drugs or I have now entered the Twilight Zone.
I jog up to the house and wash up again really quick. When I get inside, Mom is sitting at the table with Beth, Josh, and Josh’s mom, all of them chatting away like good old friends. Yes, I have definitely entered the Twilight Zone.
“Uh … what’s going on?”
"Matt!" Josh smiles as he sees me. "Wanna have a sleepover? Please? Pretty please? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease!"
I can't help but chuckle. I walk over to the table and stand by Josh.
I glance at my mom. She has the perfect façade, but I can see that she's fuming beneath. In fact, from the way she's looking at me, I'm pretty sure she thinks I planned all of this. She scrunches her eyes at me quickly in a glare and then relaxes before the company notices.
The few seconds I spend staring at Mom obviously seem like an eternity to Josh. "I know you said your mom didn't want me over here, so I figured you could come over to my house and play. Please, Matt. Please!"
A quick look back at Mom tells me what I already know – I'm dead meat.
" Why Matt, dear, what ever would give you the idea that I didn't want this adorable child to come over and play?" I barely get my mouth open before she fixes a stare at me and says evenly, "It's up to you if you want to sleep over with Josh. You know I won't mind."
Right. Sure you don't mind. That's why you're boring holes through my skull with your eyes. I figure if I say no, like she wants and expects me to, I'll get the shit beat out of me for this whole little visit. Heck, I'm already due to get pasted for everything that's gone wrong today once he gets back; I don't really have anything to lose. Either way, I'll be dead sometime tomorrow.
"I think it would be great, Josh. Just us men." I pick Josh up from his chair and put him on my shoulders. "We can have all sorts of fun," I say as I buck around like a bronco. Josh grabs hold around my neck and laughs.
"Yahoo! Thanks, Matt!"
I settle down and look at Josh's mom. "That is, if it's okay with you. I don't want to be any trouble."
She smiles at me. "Oh, that's sweet of you, Matt, but you won't be any trouble at all. In fact, having somebody for Josh to play with would be a real treat. I just don't think he appreciates me when we play a Playstation game or Cowboys-and-Indians."
"I preciate you, Mom." Josh fidgets on my back. "You just always die on Playstation. And you just can't do Cowboys-and-Indians 'cause you're a girl."
"Oh no," I say as I pull Josh off my back and set him on the floor facing me. "If I'm gonna stay at your house, you have to stop thinking that way. Girls can do pretty much anything a guy can. In fact, I'll bet your mom's a great Cowgirl." I see her smile out of the corner of my eye. "I think you should apologize to your mom."
Josh looks confused and almost a little upset.
"I didn't mean anything bad, Mom." He almost looks like he might cry.
I kneel in front of him and rub his shoulders as I smile at him. "It's alright, Champ. You didn't know any better. You just need to appreciate how much your Mom loves you to make time to play with you." He smiles at me and then at his mom and runs to her for a hug.
My own mother has obviously not appreciated my comments, assuming they were meant as jabs at her. Well, if the shoe fits then wear it, bitch.
"Matt, would you like to come over right now? I have a casserole in the oven that should be just about ready. You can join us for dinner and then you and Josh would have the whole evening together."
I can see that Mom's baking in her own juices. A fast exit sounds good.
"Sure. Let me grab my toothbrush and some stuff. Wanna help me, Josh?"
"Yeah! I wanna see your room!"
I pick him up again and sit him on my shoulders, ducking under the archway to the hall as we gallop along to get stuff for overnight.
Dinner at Josh's gives me just the energy I need to play all of the games Josh can think of. We stay up pretty late, well past his normal bedtime, and I end up carrying him to bed and tucking him in.
Beth used to let me do stuff like that a long time ago. I really miss it.
I'm still pretty wired now that Josh is asleep. I've had food and fun and no worries about getting beaten to a pulp at any second. It's even nice and cool and comfortable here; Josh's house has central air. I settle into the big bed in the guestroom and think about the whole day.
Meeting Josh has been great. He makes me feel like I'm a good person. Nobody's treated me like that in a long time. Unfortunately, I know that after tomorrow I'll probably never see Josh again. Even if I don't get beaten to death when he gets home, I'll never be allowed to spend time with Josh.
Thinking about what's to come tomorrow makes me scared and sad, and I just can't hold it back. I cry like a little baby. I haven't done this in a long time because it would get me a beating at home, but here in Josh's house I feel safe enough to open up and let it out. It's pretty fucked up. Here I am in the one place I feel good about things and I go and cry.
I keep crying for a while until I feel a hand on my shoulder. I wipe away the tears with the back of my hand and look to see Josh standing by the side of the bed, a sad look on his face.
"Hey, Josh … I'm sorry; did I wake you up?"
He nods his head. He still looks pretty sad.
"Are you okay, Champ? You look upset?"
"Why are you crying, Matt? Are you afraid of the dark? I used to be, but Mom showed me it was alright. I can stay in here if you're afraid. I won't let anything get ya."
I reach out and tousle his hair. "I don't think I've ever felt safer, Josh. I wish I could stay here all the time …"
"Wouldn't ya miss your mom and dad?"
He just has no idea. "Well, Josh, my mom and dad aren't really very nice to me. They don't really like me, and they hurt me to try to punish me." I have no idea why I'm telling him this. Even if he could understand what it's like, it's a whole lot of shit to put on a little kid, but I’m so emotionally spent from crying that it just flows out of me.
"Is that why you're cryin'?"
"Yeah, Josh." I lift him up and put him in bed next to me, pulling the covers up so he won't get cold. "They're gonna be pretty upset tomorrow, and I'm gonna get a pretty bad beating."
"Daddy beat me once before he went to Heaven," Josh says softly. "He spanked my bottom and told me not to be bad again or he'd spank hard. I never wanted to get spanked hard, so I always did what he told me."
I start to cry a little again. He just can't understand this. I don't say anything.
"Matt? What did you do that they're gonna spank you?"
After a few seconds I stop crying and sniffle a bit. "Well, Josh, I'm different from a lot of boys, and they don't like that."
"How are you different, Matt?"
Oh boy. How do I explain this one. "Well, Josh … um … do you know how your mommy and daddy loved each other?" Josh nods. "And you know that lots of mommies and daddies love each other?" He nods again. "Well, most boys love girls, and when they get older they get married and they become mommies and daddies."
Josh looks at me with a frown. "I know all that, Matt. I'm not some little kid."
That makes me smile. "You're right, Josh. I'm sorry." He stares at me.
"Well, Josh, I'm not like other boys. I don't love girls; I love other boys."
He keeps staring at me. "So?"
"Well, some people think that's wrong."
"But what's wrong with that?"
Hmm. "Well, Josh, nothing I guess. But my folks don't see it that way. They hate me for being like this."
"They can't hate you, Matt. Moms and dads can't hate their kids."
He's so sweet. "I wish that were true, Josh, but my parents hate me. They beat me cause they hate me so much." A few more tears roll down my cheeks as I think about what will happen tomorrow.
"Don't cry, Matt." He scoots over and hugs me under the covers. "I won't let them beat you anymore. You're my best friend."
I give him a big hug and give him a little kiss on the forehead. "You're the best friend a guy could have, Josh. You'd better get some sleep now, though. It's pretty late."
He yawns and stretches a little and rolls over. "Okay," he says softly, and it seems like he falls instantly to sleep.
I hear the sound of a car pulling up outside and wake up alone in the guest bed with no Josh in sight. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I sit up and look through the window.
He's back. I see him get out of the car and look around the yard, waving his arms. I see him cursing even though I can't hear him through the window, and I know that whatever I did wrong with the yard will just add to the beating I'll be getting later. I shrink away from the window and pull the covers over my head as I grip my knees to my chest in a hug.
I don't want this day to happen.
"Matt?" There's a hand lightly shaking my shoulder. "Matt, honey?"
It's Josh's mom. I pull the covers down just past my head and look up at her face. She seems confused or concerned or something; I'm not sure.
"Matt, Josh came to me this morning and told me about the talk you had last night."
Oh, shit. Please don't let it have been that talk. I grip the edges of the covers tight and brace myself.
"Honey, … does you father beat you?"
She says it like she's concerned, but I'm scared. Now she'll hate me, too. I don't say anything. I can't. I just shake.
"Matt? Does your father beat you because you're gay?"
No, please no. Why'd Josh have to tell? I start to cry. I just can't take it. This was the first night I slept without waking up afraid he'd come into my room. It was all so perfect and now it's gone. I can't stop crying, and I feel like I'm trapped.
Josh's mom starts moving her hand toward me and I cringe and scoot back on the bed. I knew she'd hate me.
"It's alright, Matt," she says soothingly. "I won't hurt you."
I'm shaking, still afraid she hates me, when she puts her arm around my shoulder, sits on the bed, and pulls me into her chest in a tight hug.
"It's okay, Matt," she coos like she's calming a little baby. "It's okay. You're safe here; nobody's going to hurt you. It's not your fault."
That’s it. Every instinct in me has told me not to believe in this, and I’ve been tensing up in her arms. The warm hug and the comfort, though – things I never had at home but always wanted - they just send me over the edge and I cry like I'm shouting out all of my pain from the last two years. She rocks me slowly back and forth as she keeps repeating that I'm safe and it's not my fault. She strokes my hair with one hand and hugs me tight with the other. I feel another, smaller, hand rubbing my back and look through watery eyes to see Josh sitting on the bed by his mom.
"Don't cry, Matt. Mom will make everything alright."
I smile and laugh slightly. He seems so sure of it that I can almost believe him.
A rapid knocking at the front door breaks me from my moment of peace. The knocking quickly becomes a repeated pounding, echoing through the house with its insistence.
"Oh shit. That's him! I know it is. I can't … I can't …" I break into sobbing again. I'm so afraid.
Josh's mom hugs me tight and lays me on the bed, sitting back.
"It's okay, Matt. You're safe here. Stay in bed while I see who's at the door."
"No! Don't go!" I sit up quickly and grab her arm as she's standing up. "Please don't go," I whisper.
Josh hugs me from behind and his mom slides her arm away from me.
"You'll be okay, Matt. Just stay here." She heads for the door.
She leaves the room. "Just stay," she says as she walks down the hall.
Josh holds on tight and I strain to hear what's happening at the front door. Nothing happens for a minute; then I hear my name.
“Matt … I have to see Matt!"
I recognize it as my sister's voice just before she runs into the bedroom, her face red and covered in tears.
"Matt! Matt!" she cries and jumps on me in the bed, wrapping me in a tight hug.
"You have to help me, Matt! Please! I don't know what to do! He's gonna kill me!"
I should hate Beth for everything she's done to me, but I forget all of that and just worry about my little sister. I hug her tight and rub her back.
"He won't kill you, Beth. It's okay. Shhh … It's okay." She calms down after a few minutes. I push her up from me enough that I can look into her puffy eyes. "What happened, Beth?"
She looks like she's going to cry again, but she takes a deep breath and holds it back. "He's real mad, Matt. He's gonna kill me." I soothe her again and look at her expectantly.
"He came home a little while ago, screaming for you and yelling about the yard. When he didn't find you in your room he started throwing things around and yelling even more. I was tryin' to make an omelet in the kitchen … like I did yesterday …" She looks down, away from my eyes.
"That's how you burned up the frying pan yesterday, right?"
She nods. "I didn't mean to. I only left it for a minute." She looks back to me. "I was scared when Daddy was yelling this morning, and I ran and hid in the laundry room. But I forgot about the pan. I don't know what happened, but I heard Daddy yelling in the kitchen and screaming about a fire. I went back to look and the counter was on fire and he was throwing water on it from a pan in the sink, but it just made the fire worse. I knew it was all my fault, and I knew he'd know I did it since you weren't there. I was gonna leave, but he turned around and saw me. He must of seen me looking guilty or something cause he grabbed me and shook me and screamed at me. He let go of me and slapped me, and I ran away when he tried to get me again, and I ran over here, and … and I don't know what to do, Matt, he's gonna kill me! He's gonna kill me!"
I stroke her hair again.
" He's not going to hurt either of you," Josh's mom announces from the doorway.
We both turn our heads to look at her and see a very caring look on her face. A cordless phone rests in her hand as she comes to sit on the bed with us.
"I called the police, and they'll be here soon. You two just stay here with us, and we’ll work things out."
Josh leans over and hugs her. "Thanks, Mommy. I knew you'd make it better."
As much as I appreciate her kindness, I just don't believe it can be this simple.
"That's not gonna do anything! They'll just put on a big show and act like the best parents in the world, and then when the cops're gone they'll beat the hell out of us."
"I don't think so, Matt." She sounds certain. "I'm a nurse at the hospital in town, and I have very close contact with Social Services, and I'll make sure that they don't fool anybody. I've heard enough from you two just now and heard enough over the fence in the last two days to have a pretty good idea what's going on. I'll make sure that they can't ever hurt you again." She leans in and hugs us both together as Beth lays next to me.
She sits up after a moment and looks out the window as flashing red and blue lights play off the walls of the bedroom in the morning light. She stands up and holds out a hand to both Beth and me, and we slowly get up and follow her through the house and onto the front porch.
Over in our yard the police are wrestling him into a police car with my mom, three of them holding and pushing him as he squirms and bucks. Once inside the car, he looks over to Beth and me and screams unknown curses and threats as the car pulls away down the street. An officer pulls Josh's mom away for questions and Beth follows along with her, afraid to leave her comfort. I sit down on the steps for a minute to think.
The morning is not too cool, not too hot. A light breeze rolls over me, drying the fear sweat that has clung to me while I've stood watching the arrest. The sun sends rays out through the trees and a bird sings a welcome as the morning makes everything come alive. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but for the first time in two years I feel like there might be hope. The screen door opens behind me and I turn my head to the sound.
"Heya, Matt," Josh says as he tugs my hand and pulls me off the porch and around the house. "I haven't shown you my worm collection yet!"