Luke rarely went to Ryan's place on a Sunday. Partly, it was because his friend’s parents were home most of the day and he never felt welcome, but also because the Alexis family went to church. Sunday mornings, rain or shine, they would be at Mass. It seemed totally bizarre to him—as far as he could see, they didn’t seem the slightest bit religious!
It was a Sunday that day, and later that afternoon along with the rest of the family, he’d be going over to the Kears for meal. However, that left a gaping hole in his social calendar for the first part of the day. Over breakfast, while he was trying to convince Simon to come down to the driving range at the golf club with him, his brother had got a call from Toby, asking if Simon wanted to come round.
That blew that option, so rather than stay at home, alone and bored, he’d made a call himself and was able to secure Ryan’s release for after church. The service was always done on the dot by 10:45 anyway, so he’d invited Ryan to come over afterwards, and stay for lunch too.
It was far too nice a day to stay indoors—there would be enough of that in the summer when the uncomfortable humidity forced everyone to head for air conditioning. A little reluctantly, Ryan had agreed to a proposed outing to the golf club when church was done.
So, later that morning, Luke got on his bike, and with a handful of irons precariously balanced across his handlebars, he headed to Ryan's place.
Resting his bike as neatly as he could against the side of the house, he walked around the front and up to the ornate, columned façade and knocked politely on the imposing front door. Even after more than four years of friendship, he would never, ever consider going around the back uninvited if he knew Ryan’s parents were home.
Holding a bottle of Budweiser and dressed in sweat pants and a tee, Ryan's father, Captain Ethan Alexis, opened the door. Frowning as he glared across the doorstep, Alexis looked intimidating. He always looked intimidating! It wasn't because he carried an unmissable tattoo etched into his forearm. It wasn't even the smattering of healed scars that reflected of a life of violent action. In Luke’s opinion, it was because the guy was just plain nasty.
"Good morning, sir," Luke kept it as polite as he could. “Ryan was expecting me.”
Captain Alexis glowered and stared at him as though he were an inconvenience rather than his son's best friend. Without breaking the grilling gaze, he bellowed back into the house. "Ryan! It's for you."
"Is it Luke?" A familiar voice filtered down the wide stairs. "Tell him to go around the back."
Alexis took a swig of his bottle and looked more likely to say, 'get the fuck off my property', before giving Luke a perfunctory flick of his head as he nudged the door close with his foot. Glad to escape, Luke hurried around the side of the house, passing through the unlocked tall wooden gate and into the grounds.
If Luke had thought their house was big, it was dwarfed by most on that exclusive, gated estate where Ryan lived. Even then, the Alexis residence—the word 'home' didn't quite fit—wasn't by any means the largest in the area. The buildings extended on three sides; the two arms embracing the large, heated, outdoor pool. The fourth side of the pool opened up to the considerably-sized gardens.
The main section of the house would have been more than enough room for a dozen occupants, let alone just the three of them in Ryan’s family, and it was a double-story. The two arms reached out as single-story, open-jaw, extensions. Along one side, the extensions housed a well-equipped gym, as well as a function room with a bar, and a separate home cinema space. Across the other side of the pool was an additional apartment, though who’d really want to live there was beyond Luke. A year or so ago there’d been a live-in maid, but she hadn’t lasted long.
Attached to the main building there was also a massive, three-car garage. Within a few moments, the side door of that garage opened, and Ryan came out, wheeling his bike.
“And why am I doing this?” Ryan complained.
“Because you love the game?” Luke hazarded, unable to stifle a grin. Ryan pulled a face as he left his bike on the side and went back in, to return momentarily with a couple of his own, top brand clubs. Soon they were heading across to the golf course—or more specifically, the driving range.
The pair had only started playing the game recently. Even then, Luke found he really only enjoyed whacking balls up the range, bored by the drudgery of walking around from hole to hole in the time-honoured way. The driving range was more than satisfying, and it wasn’t like he was even any good at the rest of the game.
However, the great thing was—at least when it came to sports—it was almost the only thing he knew of at which Ryan was TOTALLY CRAP…even if he did have swanky clubs! Luke still couldn’t quite believe his friend had agreed to come with him again! Maybe it was because Ryan wasn’t the type of person to let anything beat him, let alone a stupid 1.68 inch golf ball!
So it was around thirty minutes later that Luke watched in bemusement as his friend took another swing, looking determined that this one was going to go fast, high, and right to the flag. Ryan swiped at it with conviction, but—as had happened so many times in the past—the club head clipped the top of the ball.
"Oh, for Christ sake!" Ryan kicked at the rubber peg in frustration.
"Ryan Alexis, mind your language—you've just been to church! What would the vicar say?” Luke grinned in amusement as they watched the ball bounce about a dozen meters before dribbling to a resounding stop.
Ryan grunted as he placed another ball on the tee. "He's probably taking communion down at the Irish bar—you wanna go ask him?" Eyeing the fresh ball, he limbered up again.
Luke watched and tried not to grin too widely. It was a glorious Sunday morning that found them on the driving range—just not for Ry! With the new ball, Ryan took his best shot and...
“Oh, bad luck!” said Luke, trying to sound positive. He counted up the number of balls that hadn’t made it more than ten meters. “Try another one maybe, or I could give you some help, if you want?" Maybe it was a bit mean, but he knew the offer of it would really rub Ryan up the wrong way.
"Nope." The replies were getting as short as Ry's patience, and Luke smirked as the next one headed over someplace to the right. He teed his own, eyed it up, and took a controlled swipe, watching with satisfaction as it lofted high and straight down the range.
Ryan stared at it stonily. "How the hell is it that you're so good at this, and I totally suck?" He glanced around and looked relieved to see nobody else he recognised close by. Thankfully, there weren’t many people out on the range that morning.
"I'm English—it's probably in the genes,” said Luke. He shrugged, smug with the taste of victory. “The next generation of Summers kids are bound to be world-class golf pros!"
“Yeah…right…” Ryan shook his head morosely and reached for another ball with some increasingly forlorn hope that this one might leave the tee with some modicum of grace.
Luke studied him with amusement. With smart shorts and an expensive -looking polo shirt, Ryan looked the part—that was until he actually swung at the ball! Bottom line...Ry was absolutely useless at golf, and if it came to any genes he had to offer, then God help the next generation!
Other than that, Luke reckoned that his friend was one of those guys that could probably have any girl he fancied. Even the Staceys of this world! Then again, Ryan had never dated anyone that Luke knew of.
"What?" Despite the interruption, Ryan kept his attention on the ball and tried to stay relaxed. He went back to taking small practice swings, hoping to gauge its position again.
"Have you ever had a girlfriend?"
The back and to movement of the club head halted momentarily, then resumed for a few swings, before stopping altogether. Ryan lifted his head, a quizzical expression on his face. "Nope—you know I haven’t. You?"
"So, why d'ya ask?"
"Dunno...I just wondered..."
"Wondered what?" Ryan continued to watch him. Luke suspected that his friend knew him well enough to guess there was more.
"Well, it's just that there's this girl that works at Longhorn,” Luke confessed at last, prodding at a couple of loose balls with his toe. “We were there yesterday."
Ryan grinned and gave up on the golf in exchange for a full interrogation. "Good God! You fancy some waitress?"
"Nah...not really." Luke shrugged—even to him, it sounded lame. “It’s not like that.”
"So what's her name?"
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you!”
“NAME! NOW!” With a glint in his eye, Ryan bore down on him.
"I don't know,” Luke replied, feeling awkward now. “I only know she's called Stacey."
"So, let me get this straight…” Ryan cackled, quite gleeful now, “…there's this girl you know nothing about, other than she's called Stacey and is good with iced tea.” He counted off her qualities on his fingers. “Oh…and you have the serious hots for her?"
"Give over…it's not like that!" Luke rolled his eyes, wishing now he’d never mentioned it. He ignored Ryan and went back to his own tee to take a swing at the ball he had set up: a shot which went skidding to the right, almost to where Ryan’s had ended up.
His friend snickered, milking the moment. "Hell, pal—it looks like this girl could really mess up your golf game. I would stay well away from her! So, when are we next going to Longhorn?" He leaned expectantly on his club.
Luke shook his head and ignored him. Sure—as if he would really subject himself to that! Not a chance!
Finally, much to Ryan's relief, they ran out of balls and decided to head back home for lunch. It was still early and they were in no rush, and as they passed along the crisscrossing golf-cart paths balancing clubs on their bikes, Ryan was contemplative.
“Joking apart,” he said as they peddled slowly, side-by-side. “Does she like you? This Stacey, I mean.”
Cautiously, Luke glanced across at him, but didn’t see any teasing. “Maybe—I’m not really sure.”
“She’s alright, I guess.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
Luke scrunched up his face. “I dunno—I’m just not sure I want a girlfriend right now, that’s all. What about you?”
“Does she have a sister?”
Luke could hear the return of the goading undertone, and he shook his head, grinning this time. “Actually, I think she does. I heard she’s a bit chubby and has buck teeth—should be about right for you!”
Lucy had prepared sandwiches for lunch, and soon after Luke and Ryan arrived back, Simon and Toby turned up in time to tuck in, too. She shooed the four of them onto the back deck with their food, and they sat around a table laden with sandwiches, chips and cold drinks. Simon and Toby both seemed bright and cheerful that day, and, as he had numerous times in the last couple of months, Luke observed Toby with curious interest.
Since that time just before Christmas when his brother had come out to him, Simon had begged Luke not to tease, and definitely NOT say anything weird when he was around Toby Skerrit! Luke had promised, and kept his word. At the same time, he couldn't help wondering what Toby was really like behind those enigmatic eyes.
Over lunch, Simon was in a good mood and in full flood as he tried to explain the techniques of small boat racing to Ryan, who in turn seemed quite interested. The hot sun moved around as they ate and talked, and Luke spotted Toby, who didn’t look like he saw the sun too much, drag his chair nearer to Simon, getting back under the shade of the wide umbrella.
They were a curious pair: Simon, on his favorite subject, and Toby watching him with a cryptic smile. To the casual observer, pulling a chair closer meant nothing—and it probably was nothing, though Luke couldn’t help himself; his imagination went into overdrive.
Si had said that he didn't think Toby was gay, but what if he was wrong? Luke studied Simon’s friend out of the corner his eye. Could you tell if someone was gay? Maybe by how they spoke, or acted? He gave up on that train of thought fairly rapidly. Of course you couldn't.
Still…what if? Would Si have told him if there was something going on between the two of them? Maybe…maybe not. He let his mind drift. So what if they were already together—as in a couple? Would they have done much kissing yet? What had that been like? Nice?
“Luke likes it a lot, too…”
Luke stirred uncomfortably, not knowing how anyone—even Simon—could have any idea if this were true or not. He didn't even know himself yet! Somehow, it didn't compute, yet he could see Simon was speaking to him—and expected an answer.
“Don’t you?” Simon added, waiting expectantly.
“Sorry...what…?” Luke tried to pick apart the bits of conversation he’d heard, hoping to get some clue as to what he was missing.
“Leaning out the side, to keep the balance in a strong breeze!”
“Oh..that. Errr...sure...” Distracted by a daydream that had been consumed by smooching, Luke’s reply was half-heartedly pathetic. He tried to think of something more definite, but Simon had moved on, explaining to Ry how easy it was to flip the boat.
Si was right of course. In strong winds, it was extremely tricky to balance the forces when the light craft began to lift out of the water, and Luke knew he didn't have the same feel for it that his brother did. More than once Luke had dumped both of them in the drink!
As Simon pressed on, Luke went back to studying Toby, fascinated by the unknowns—that was, until Toby glanced his direction and those dark, brooding eyes quickly forced Luke to look away. He tried to wipe the unhelpful thoughts from his mind, feeling guilty he’d drifted to dwell, yet again, on things to do with other guys.
After lunch, Toby and Ryan took off on their bikes, and Luke, Simon, and their parents packed themselves a few bits and pieces into their minivan, ready to drive over to the Kear’s. Later in the afternoon, they would be lighting the charcoal for a BBQ meal, though Luke presumed that it would be one of them who would actually cook the meat again. Steven Kear was a bit hopeless in that area.
* * *
Extract from Luke’s notes:
I should probably tell you a bit more about the Kears.
First off, they were Brits—the Welsh type. A family of four who'd only been living in the US for nine months.
Steven Kear was, as far as I could work out, some kind of Data Analyst who’d taken a computer job working for some minor world-health agency, which had offices nearby. If the Kear’s house was anything to go by, it didn't look like he got paid much! They had a son, Owen, who was my age, and a precocious twelve-year-old girl, Becky. Becky really had a thing for Simon, which made visiting with them a whole lot of fun!
Purely by chance, mum had first met Anne Kear in a checkout line at Wal-Mart. Mum said she’d picked up on the musical Welsh accent of the lady fumbling with cash in front of her, and they'd got talking. Well, you know what my mum’s like! Discovering that Anne and her family were newly arrived in the area, mum decided to take her under her wing, advising her on the mysteries of cross-cultural survival.
That had been not long into the autumn semester, about five months previously. Like us, the Kears had come over to the USA during the summer holidays.
The truth was, things were not going well for the Kear family now. The first two or three months after they’d arrived had been fine, and I even got the idea that Owen and Becky had actually been more than happy to exit South Wales and take a flight bound for the promised land of life in America.
But it hadn’t lasted, and now they were in trouble. And it centered around Owen.
* * *
That afternoon at the Kear’s house, as the two older boys masterminded the grill, the fathers talked about savings and investments, and Simon hid from Becky, the two mothers caught up with mum stuff.
"It's warm today!" Sipping a cup of hot tea, Anne Kear fanned herself as they sat around the scruffy kitchen table.
Lucy felt for her. ‘World Health’ didn’t seem to pay well, and the type of place the family had been able to afford to rent came with AC units that appeared to be out of the ark! The fan did its best to stir the air.
"Goodness, Anne, this is nothing," she laughed, trying to make light of it. "You wait ’til the summer comes. Then it really heats up!"
"If we're still here." Anne sighed, reminding them both of the problems that had enveloped her little family.
"Oh..." Lucy understood what they were facing. Seeing Owen mooching around, she already suspected the on-going cause. "The kids are still unhappy, then?"
"Well, Becky's fine now—she’s made some good friends at last. But Owen's just become so negative.” Anne shook her head in frustration at her son's moody outbursts. “He's making it completely miserable for everyone."
"Our two were exactly the same. It just takes time."
"Yes, I know. You said that before. But he says he doesn't belong here, and doesn't want to even try to fit in.”
Anne hung her head. As the tears gathered, she shook her head in frustration as the sense of failure boiled up in her. "I mean, what's the point?" She paused, and the fleeting anger slipped away. “I can't seem to do anything right! He can't, or won't, make an effort, so what kind of future is he going to have, if we stay?"
Lucy was at a loss for what to say and reached out to hold her friend’s hands supportively.
* * *
At that very same moment, Luke was out on the back deck with Owen as they tended the smoking grill. His eyes flicked around him. The deck needed work, the garden was untidy; the home was missing something vital. It all reflected a family in crisis.
As far as he knew, the Kear’s place was rented—and it was a crummy place at that. Flaking paint, sad carpets, signs of rotting wood... Maybe that was part of Owen’s problem, he wondered? They hadn't bought their own place here in the States. Bridges hadn’t been burned and, unlike for him and Simon, the Kears still had a home back in Swansea. It was being rented out, and the option to crash out of life in the States still remained. Luke watched the burly Welsh teen push burgers around a rack that was far too small, with little enthusiasm for the task.
"I can't help it!" sighed Owen. His welsh lilt was strong. "I just want to go home, but they won't listen!" He didn't try to hide that he was fed up with America and pissed off with the totally crap existence that he felt was his life.
"What's the school like?" Luke hoped there might be something positive he could draw out of the guy. Owen went to Creek High and Becky was in the middle school. As far as local schools went, he'd heard good things. “Made many friends?”
"Oh...it's okay, I guess." Owen shrugged and kicked a loose stone off the deck. "But I hardly know anyone. They all have their mates, but I never seem to bloody well fit in." He shoved at a sausage ineffectually and it fell through the mesh of the cheap grill onto smoking coals.
"Do you wanna do it?" Owen gave up the tongs to him, before slumping down on a chair.
Taking over turning the meat, Luke felt for him. He'd been there—for a short time anyway—but at least he'd made friends. If you didn't have anything worth looking forward to every day, it could get really bad. And Owen looked pretty low. Luke tried to sound optimistic. "It took me a year before I really began to feel settled, you know."
"A year?" Owen shook his head, took off his glasses and wiped sweat from his unfortunately spotty face. The zit god had not been kind to him that day—he needed fresh air and sunshine, rather than mooching around inside the house, day after day.
"But that’s it. I don't want to feel settled,” he murmured, mostly to himself. “I just want to go home."
Luke had no answers. There was no quick fix. In fact, for some problems in life, there was no fix at all!
Fortunately for Luke, occasionally, life could give you a few breaks. On a completely different topic, he had little idea of what passed between his parents as, in the seclusion of their bedroom later that night, they talked about him.
* * *
“What you said yesterday,” Lucy began. She put down her book as Geoff crawled into bed alongside her. “About this whole circumcision issue, with Luke.”
“I’ve been thinking about it.”
Geoff knew she felt torn. As they'd talked about it by the lake, that had been obvious. On the one hand, she was dead against surgery and thought the practice of circumcision on boys or men quite barbaric. On the other hand she agreed with him that they couldn’t just keep ignoring their son, his feelings, and the need for him to make his own choices in life.
“I was talking to Anne this afternoon.” She seemed to change the subject, though perhaps it was all part of the same thing for her.
Geoff frowned. "About Luke?"
"Oh...him..." Geoff knew now what she was referring to. “We’ve been lucky, you know.”
“With our two?” Lucy nodded, knowing he was right. She settled under the sheets and added, “Did Luke really talk about living over here permanently?”
Geoff nodded—the idea still took some getting used to. He'd told her about the conversation that he'd had with their eldest the previous day and, like him, she’d recognized the truth in it.
“They’re growing up fast, aren’t they?” she said.
Luke had his own future to make. They'd both agreed on that. 'Family' could be a complicated thing, and he knew how lucky they were that neither of their boys was in the kind of hole that Owen Kear had fallen into.
They switched off the bedside lights and settled into the darkness. “So, what do you suggest?” he asked, pushing her forward a little in the right direction.
He smiled in the darkness. He’d no qualms that, in the end, it would be her decision that counted. It wasn't as if she wore the trousers in their home—far from it—but she had opinions and could be as stubborn as hell if she wanted to be. And when it came to the boys, she wouldn’t be swayed! Even when they’d first left the UK, despite his lucrative job offer and the opportunity to take great leaps up the corporate ladder, they’d only made the transition because she’d given her blessing.
Maybe that's how all mothers were?
He’d learned over the years how to both direct her and at the same time give her the control she needed, so he waited. She needed time to work it through, that was all.
“What if we make an appointment for him?” she said finally, acknowledging that it was time for her to make room for a small step—for herself and for her son. She twisted around to face him, frowning inquisitively. “Just to get some advice?”
"A professional medical opinion, you mean?"
“Maybe we should,” she sighed. He could tell that the turn of phrase helped her, and Geoff smiled to himself. Whatever that opinion turned out to be, he knew she would be guided by it, as he hoped Luke would be, too.
* * *
Two days later, after being dropped off after school by Toby’s mum, Grace Skerrit, who’d done the school run that day, Luke strode into their kitchen and slung his jacket over the back of a chair. His mum was just hanging up the phone. He spotted her write the word ‘consultation’ on the calendar that hung off the fridge.
“Two weeks on Friday,” she informed him as he passed her on his way to go open the fridge door to find a drink.
“For what?” He retrieved the milk and, as an afterthought, found a glass and began pouring. They'd better not have changed the date of his driving test!
“To see a consultant.”
“Is something wrong?” He paused and looked up sharply. Was someone sick! Her? Dad?
“For you. To see a urologist.”
His mouth dropped open—it wasn’t hard to equate ‘urologist’ with ‘circumcision’. Was this a wind up? His excitement brimmed as much as the milk, which spilled onto the floor as he said, “You’re kidding! You’re getting me an appointment to get done?”
“Yes and no,” she clarified, smiling at his enthusiasm and passing him a cloth to clean up the mess. “It’s a consultation with somebody who knows what they’re talking about. Only to get some advice, mind, that’s all.”
He hardly listened. It was a start—that's all he cared about! Suddenly he was unable to contain himself. “When did you say it was?” In his excitement, he started gabbling!
"Two weeks on Friday. It was the first available appointment they had."
* * *
Extract from Luke’s notes:
Dad made me laugh when I told him about it later that same evening. I asked him ‘why now’? He’d smirked and said, ‘“To be honest, son, we keep running out of paper for the printer!”
At the time, two weeks on Friday sounded like an age, yet it was fast becoming a bumper birthday. My sixteenth was literally just around the corner, and a week after that—being the required year and a day since first I got my instructional permit—I was heading down to get my provisional!
My God, did the days go slowly! Those two weeks were worse than waiting for Christmas Day back when we were kids! I know it sounds stupid but, as the time got closer, I became really nervous, even though I knew full well it was just a consultation. There was a lot riding on it, and I didn't want to mess it up! In fact, I think I was more nervous about that than the driving test—I mean you can always take that thing again, if you had to!
By the way—for the record—I passed first time! It was a milestone and I could now go out in the van by myself if needed. Then, three days after taking my driving test, I got really uptight; more nervous than the morning of some PSAT exam! The day of my consultation finally arrived.
Mind you, like any well prepared student, I’d worked hard to arm myself with a wide array of good-sounding arguments, ready to convince the doctor that what I wanted was both reasonable, and do-able.
I just hoped to God he'd listen!
I remember sleeping REALLY badly the night before. I had a dream in which some weasely looking surgeon had taken one look at me and then put me on a plane straight back to England. It was one of those weird unending dream loops. In it, I’d been sitting, stark naked, in an aisle seat, unable to move. Some little girls, carrying refills of iced tea, kept walking by. They would take one look at my excessively long, ugly dick and giggle hysterically! Over and over again…laughing at my strange willy!
Freud would have had a field day!
* * *
The day of the appointment finally came, and Luke got up early, feeling as nervous as hell! It was more that an hour earlier than normal for him, and he took a long shower. Uptight though he was, he didn't dare jerk off to relieve some tension with the fear that the urologist would look into his face and somehow know!
The plan was that, at the end of the school day, his mum would be picking him up from the parking lot straight after the bell, to take him to the circumcision specialist. He was under strict orders not to dally.
Yeah…right! Like that was going to happen!
Time dragged through the day as, every few minutes, he rechecked his watch, thinking about what he was going to say to the doctor and how he was going to explain why it was important to him. Frankly, in his head, most of the day he was somewhere else!
In the middle of his closeted little world, he began to sense a voice. Finally, he realized that something—or someone—was speaking to him.
"Hello...earth to Luke!” Todd Quince was right in his face. “Anyone in there, dude?"
"What? I mean...yes?”
“WHAT?" He mentally shook away the disjointedness and let his irritation show. "Okay! For God's sake…you don't need to shout! Jeez!"
"Dude...where are you?" complained Todd. "You keep drifting off someplace!"
As they stood together on the open grass, Luke felt sheepish, but he blustered his way through it. "So? Just got something on my mind, that's all. Anyway...what were you saying?"
"You are such an asshole!" Todd rolled his eyes in understandable annoyance. "Sorry, dude, I'm not going to go through all that again! If you weren't listening, ask Ry!" Exasperated, he left the two of them, and went pacing off in a huff.
"Was he still talking about Fion?" That had been the last thing Luke had any memory of. Fion was Todd's ex.
"You really were somewhere else, weren't you? What's up with you these days?” Ryan studied him in bemusement. “And yes, he was talking about Fion. You obviously somehow managed to miss most of it."
“So?" Luke shrugged. Todd was still carrying a flame for Fion, and that made him the asshole for dumping her in the first place! Who cared anyway? He sure as hell wasn't going to become some kind of agony aunt for Todd Quince!
"Do you want to come round this afternoon…after school?" Ryan changed the subject and raised his eyebrows hopefully.
Luke kept his thoughts hidden. At any other time…absolutely. He loved going round and hanging out with Ryan. Just not today.
"Sorry Ry, can’t today....Mum wants me for something." It was a bit shallow, but would have to do. "What about tomorrow?"
Ryan’s face fell. "No go—Army cookout."
"Oh…right." Luke grimaced—he knew how much Ryan hated that particular monthly gathering. "Sorry."
Ryan didn’t press and they moved on to something else. Well, Ryan moved on—Luke just went back to what was consuming him!
The minutes passed excruciatingly until, finally, the end of day bell sounded. Now, after all that hanging around, the clock was ticking. He kept his head down, avoided any conversations, and hurried out, relived to find his mum already waiting in the parking lot. Simon would be getting a lift with Toby, so it was just him and her in the van as they pulled away from the school. He was so on edge about someone spotting him making a hasty exit minus brother that he didn't even waste time trying to get behind the wheel, even though a freshly-printed licence was burning a hole in his wallet!
Thankfully, the traffic was still light and the two of them made equally light conversation on the journey. He flicked on the radio, tuning to a station that he quite liked and his mother just about tolerated and listened to that as she drove. Even though they were taking the highway towards the city, he realized he’d no idea where they were going.
"Is it far?" They pulled down the ramp, off the 400 and onto the 285.
"No, not too far." His mum negotiated their minivan into a middle lane, and matched speed with the traffic. "About forty minutes. There's a letter with some directions in my purse. Can you get it out?"
He pulled out the letter which contained the confirmation of his appointment with a Dr. Tiberius. There was also a map and driving instructions. It all looked fairly straightforward. Forty minutes? Just round the corner really.
When they came to live in the States, time and distance was another of the many transitions they'd quickly made. Back in England, if they were forced to go more than a few miles in the car, he and Simon had been naggy travellers. Here, people took distances in a completely different way. Even driving an hour to go to the shops was no biggy. It’d taken them eight hours in the nice minivan in which he was now sitting to get down to Florida on vacation. The journey down became part of the holiday. They'd talked a lot, he and Simon had listened to music and watched a few movies on the fold down screen, and there were always plenty of cup holders for the drive-through meals!
When people asked him about the differences between their two countries, his dad had a saying. It was this: for a Brit, a hundred miles is a long way, for an American, a hundred years is a long time! Actually, it was pretty true, though the rest of them got fed up hearing him quote it.
As they made their way around the 285 perimeter that encircled Atlanta, Luke took on the task of navigating for his mum. Only half-listening to the silly banter coming out of the radio station, he exited them off the 285 onto a highway that headed into the city. They travelled through an area of expensive looking office complexes without a strip-mall in sight—and you can imagine how much he and Simon had giggled when they first heard THAT term!
The map was good to its word and, ten minutes later, they arrived at their destination. Luke pointed to the building on the far side of the road. Crossing through a break in the traffic, his mum pulled into the medium-sized parking lot that served what looked liked a sizable medical center, and parked up.
As she turned off the engine, he checked his watch. Perfect timing as always! How the hell did she do that?
"Sweetheart, remember what we said? This is just a consultation.”
He nodded. They’d covered this ground several times already.
“We're seeing a urologist,” she continued. “A Dr. Tiberius. Our own Dr. Marsh recommended him."
Duh...did she think he was dumb? Impatient to get in, he kept his peace—at least they were here.
"I know you feel strongly about the whole matter, but don’t forget our agreement—to listen to, and abide by, his recommendation.” The way she saw it, Luke guessed that she believed he just needed someone other than her and his dad to tell him that it really was best to leave things as they were.
“If the specialist advises that the procedure is unnecessary,” she pressed, “then let that be it."
Bingo! Again, he nodded, but only on the outside. They got out of the van and he took a deep breath as he followed her into the building.
Welcomed by pleasant air-conditioning, they approached the expansive reception desk where a receptionist greeted them politely. She was both attentive and courteous, as well being young and quite pretty—and she clearly knew her job. She glanced at Luke, dressed in his school uniform as he waited next to his Mum, and smiled.
Politely too, Luke returned the smile, asking himself if she could be the kind of receptionist that would read a patient's notes. He shifted uncomfortably, wondering whether she was thinking something like 'he-he, here comes another school-kid penis patient!' The thought was off-putting, and while his mum completed the preliminaries, he studied the floor carefully.
"If you just want to take a seat," the receptionist said once the paperwork was in order. She gestured to a bank of plush seating, and then picked up the phone. "Doctor Tiberius will see you shortly."
Leaving her, they took their seats to wait.
Luke took a moment to study the surroundings, and his immediate impression (similar to most times he went to Dr. Marsh, their family Doctor's office in Roswell) was that this was nothing at all like going to the doctors in the UK. At least to no doctor’s surgery he'd ever attended!
It was a nice building with a cool, comfortable and rather plush reception area, and they were greeted by a polite, welcoming receptionist with not a single copy of Good Housekeeping Magazine anywhere!
What also seemed missing, he noticed, were sick people. Rather than being surrounded by dozens of old people, coughing and shuffling, or screaming young kids being held down by desperate mothers, the small number waiting with them that day all looked remarkably well.
It felt more like a health spa, than a sanatorium!
He picked up the appointment confirmation letter that his mum had left on top of her purse, and studied the name.
Even that sounded like some ancient Roman baths! The only Tiberius Luke had ever known was Star Trek's James Tiberius Kirk, and he smirked to himself as he tried to imagine Dr McCoy as some secret Federation circumcision expert!
What would Tiberius be like? Shit, it might even be a she, though he then remembered that his mum had always referred to Tiberius as a 'him'.
Mind you, she could be wrong, too!
They only had to wait a couple of minutes before he found out, as someone came out into the reception area and he spotted that middle-aged, bow tie sporting, professional, speak quietly to the receptionist. Luke reckoned it had to be Tiberius. He was right as the man took a folder from the receptionist before turning in Luke’s direction, to stride purposefully towards him and his mum.
“Mrs. Summers?" The smile was genuine and Tiberius held out an outstretched hand. His mum popped out of her seat rapidly and took the proffered handshake. Politely, Luke stood and the man turned to him and held out his hand again. "And you must be Luke. I'm Jonathan Tiberius."
For the briefest of moments, Luke had a panicky feeling that the doctor was bent on having the consultation right there in the waiting area, so it was a relief when Tiberius invited them to follow him. He guided them through the building, making several turns to finally reach a door bearing a golden plaque. The plaque read, 'A. Jonathan Tiberius', followed by a long bunch of letters. Briefly, Luke wondered what the 'A' was for but, as A. Jonathan ushered them into his office, he decided it didn't matter.
If he was meant to be impressed, it was working. As Doctor’s offices go, the one belonging to A. Jonathan Tiberius wasn’t small!
For a start, the desk was definitively not the type you could pick up at a yard sale! Behind it, a padded and expensive-looking, leather executive swivel chair waited. Partly obscured by a curtain, Luke spotted a standard doctor’s couch at the end of the room. By the look of the place, he would definitely say there was money in penises!
The physician ignored the desk and couch and instead guided Luke and his mum to a couple of informal, overstuffed, sofas, set around a knee-high coffee table. A bowl of various fruits added to the decoration on the table, and Luke stared at the banana in amusement.
"Mrs. Summers. Luke," Tiberius opened, smiling genially as they all took their seats. His eyes strayed between them and then fixed on Luke’s mum. "How can I be of service today?"
Luke frowned. He was sure that the man had to realize that the ONLY reason Luke was there, was because he was the patient? Why else—his mum didn’t have a wanger, that was for sure! Unfairly, it felt like the question had been posed to the wrong person.
Luke had come too far to fall at this point, and there was no way he was letting his mum decide the flow and tone of the conversation. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her leaning forward to speak, so he got in there first. "I want to be circumcised!" he blurted.
There was a slight pause, and he cringed, feeling two sets of eyes drilling into him, so he pressed on—just as awkwardly—with, "What I mean is, if you can do the surgery for me, I'd like it…please…"