Caution: This story is about mature themes, including drug use and suicide among teens and pre-teens. It is however intended for young and older audiences alike. Young readers in particular are reminded that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problem. No matter how difficult things may seem, there are always alternatives. Gay youth are encouraged to take advantage of the Trevor Project LifeLine. The number in the U.S. is 1-866-488-7386.
“I can’t believe we’re having pie on top of all that food!” Jessie exclaimed as he helped himself to a second serving of Apple pie.” We were having Thanksgiving dinner together, me and my boyfriend Seth, as well as six friends from high school who also had no place else to go for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, only five of our friends were in high school with us at Stuyvesant, in lower Manhattan. Roger had brought his little brother Kyle with him. Kyle was a rather precocious nine-year-old who was already in the sixth grade and hoped to be a sophomore at MIT by the time he was fourteen. Ironically, Roger was the only one of us who wasn’t gay – it was young Kyle who’d lost the support of their father because he’d declared he was gay.
We were all crammed into the living room and dining room in my apartment on the Lower East Side. Joel and his boyfriend, Clark, as well as Roger and Kyle were in the living room watching football on our sixty-inch plasma TV. Jessie, René, Seth and I were all at my dining room table, as we had no interest at all in football. We were all enjoying the home-baked pumpkin and apple pies Roger had baked for the occasion, as well as coffee – even Kyle.
This wasn’t how Thanksgiving was supposed to go. We’d started out two hours ago over at my boyfriend’s place, in a top-floor apartment across Grand Street. His apartment was much nicer, with a lot more open space and a terrace with an unbelievable view of all of Manhattan. No sooner had we sat down to eat, however, than the lights went out. In retrospect it was probably stupid of me to plug in my Instant Pot and turn it on at the same time my boyfriend was grinding coffee beans, but they were plugged into different outlets and it never occurred to me that they could be on the same circuit.
However, once we managed to empty out half of the clothes from the closet that served as my boyfriend’s bedroom, so that we could get to the circuit breakers, we discovered that not one, but two breakers had been tripped. How strange. Even stranger was what happened when we tried to reset either one of them. We couldn’t. When we tried, sparks flew, and the breaker wouldn’t engage. It was young Kyle who correctly diagnosed the problem, but we didn’t know it at the time. We wouldn’t find out for sure until an electrician came out for an emergency call on Saturday.
When Seth’s apartment was gutted and remodeled, prior to them even owning it, a new circuit breaker panel was installed and the wiring replaced. However, the electrician who did the work failed to realize that the building didn’t have 220-volt service. In most newer buildings with 220-volt powerlines, it’s common practice to have two circuits share a common neutral wire, so long as they have opposite phases and, hence, the return currents will cancel each other out. But if a building only has 110-volt service, the phases in any two circuits will always be the same and the return currents in a shared neutral wire will be additive, possibly exceeding the capacity of the neutral wire. That is what had been happening in the wiring in Seth’s apartment since it was renovated more than two years ago.
Over time the neutral wire that was shared by the two circuits that served all of the outlets in the kitchen and most of the lighting in the kitchen, dining room and living room had been steadily overheating. As a result, the insulation that separated the neutral wire from the hot wires of both circuits had been melting. Plugging in the Instant Pot was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. What little insulation there was left melted, and all three wires shorted together, causing both circuit breakers to trip and rendering both circuits unusable.
Unfortunately, as Kyle pointed out, it was likely there were other improperly-wired circuits and the next overheated neutral wire could well cause a fire. Before going back to our Thanksgiving dinner, we had to turn off every light and unplug every electrical device and appliance throughout the apartment. Because the oven and stove were gas, we were still able to keep the food warm and I was even able to heat the pumpkin soup on the stovetop. We were able to eat by candle light, and in fact it seemed kinda romantic, and reminiscent of the original Thanksgiving feast.
It was fortunate that there was very little food in the fridge, as that was a complete loss. For the Thanksgiving leftovers, everything had to be carried back to my apartment and stored in my refrigerator. What actually prompted the move to my apartment for dessert and coffee, however, was football. Only half of us had even a passing interest in watching the bowl games on TV, but that was enough to force all of us to move.
The most poignant part of Thanksgiving, however, had nothing to do with eating by candlelight. Some of us had read that it was a Thanksgiving tradition in other families to go around the table and have everyone say what they were thankful for, and so we decided to do the same. Not that I had any experience with it, this being my first-ever thanksgiving dinner. I started it off by talking about how lucky I was to have such loving, accepting parents who had given everything up to save for my college education… an African American father and a Chinese American mother who balked at stereotypes and ran a successful Asian restaurant… parents who loved my boyfriend as if he were one of their own and who not only accepted, but encouraged our sleepovers. And of course, I was thankful for the miracle of finding my soul mate, the boy I hoped would one day be my husband. I still couldn’t believe it had only been a few weeks.
Seth went next and put up front the fact that he was equally grateful for finding me and for the miracle of my loving him back. He was thrilled at my being a fellow Star Trek fan and for sharing his passion for the Jazz classics and for music in general. He was grateful for parents who accepted his sexuality and who trusted him and gave him responsibility, but equally grateful that they took the time to home school him when he was younger, even though his father was exceptionally busy as one of the most powerful politicians in the state, and his mother as his assistant. He was grateful that his father set him up with investments and money that would allow him to go to college anywhere in the world. He was grateful he would have the resources to get started in life, yet he appreciated that his parents had instilled in him the values that kept him from spending even half of his allowance.
Not surprisingly, Joel spoke for both himself and his boyfriend, Clark. He said they were both thankful for their loving fathers who had sacrificed so much for them, working overtime for the MTA whenever possible including on Thanksgiving, every year. They were grateful to their fathers, who had taken on the role of raising sons as single parents, even though their Asian culture made that particularly difficult. In fact, it was because their fathers had come together when they had both lost their wives to cancer, that Joel and Clark had become friends in the first place. They were grateful for fathers who accepted their sons’ sexuality and they were grateful to have both gotten into Stuyvesant High School together, even though it meant schlepping their way from Flushing in Queens every day.
I’d known that Jessie was gay, but he was barely an acquaintance whom Seth and I had met from attending a GSA meeting. Therefore, it was a complete surprise when he’d asked if he could attend our little Thanksgiving dinner and offered to bring the candied yams. It turned out that his boyfriend, Tariq, whom we also knew, was spending the holiday with his parents and their family in Jersey City. Both boys were deeply in the closet, but the matter was critically important for Tariq, because his Palestinian American parents were vehemently and vocally homophobic. Jessie, on the other hand, was in foster care and was currently living with a family that did not see their responsibilities as including Thanksgiving dinner. Jessie didn’t fear what would happen if they knew he was gay, as in the worst case he’d just go to another foster family, which might even be an improvement. He just feared that rocking the boat might mean being sent Upstate, which would put an end to his dream of graduating from an elite city school. It didn’t sound like he had much to be thankful for, although he did say he was thankful for our friendship.
René spent her time railing against the idea of labels. She hated being called a lesbian because that was just a name, and most women who like girls were offended by the term anyway and saw it as gender-specific and prejudicial. She went on to tell us she was in fact trans – that she was a gay girl who’d been born in a straight boy’s body. She went on to say that she was grateful to live in a state and attend a school where she was allowed to live her life as a girl. She was saddened that she had parents who would not let her eat at the same table so long as she dressed as a girl, but thankful she still had friends who understood her and that she had a place to go on Thanksgiving. So she was trans. Who knew?
All of our thanks paled in comparison to what Kyle had to say when it was his turn. In fact, what he said was so compelling and so troubling that I couldn’t remember what his brother had to say after that. I could remember what Kyle said, virtually verbatim.
“What do I have to be thankful for?” he began. “Sometimes I wonder that myself. I know people think I’m a genius and it’s pretty hard to argue the point when I meet the technical definition. To me I’m just me, an ordinary kid with what I’d like to think is a better than average understanding of how the world works… a boy who’s smart enough to realize that he’s attracted to other boys and that it’s not something that will ever change. I’ve known that for a fact for the better part of a year now, but I suspected it for a lot longer than that.
“I’m a nine-year-old boy with the knowledge of an eighteen-year-old, in school with ten- and eleven-year-old boys and girls who are just beginning their lifelong obsession with sex. Yet even if I were able to find a boy in middle school who was willing to admit their same-sex attraction, who among them would be willing to overlook a two- or maybe three-year age difference and date a nine-year-old? I would like to think that things will get better when I reach sexual maturity and start to grow hair in all the right places, and when my voice gets deeper, but by then I’ll be a junior or senior in high school, or maybe even a sophomore in college. Not only won’t an eighteen-year-old boy be willing to date a fourteen-year-old boy, but in most places, they could go to prison for it.
“I’m reminded of the case of James Dallas Egbert the Third, a boy who was also gay and entered college at Michigan State at the age of sixteen. He captured media attention when he left a suicide note and then disappeared from his dormitory. He was eventually found, but he never adjusted to university life, became obsessed with the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, and ultimately shot himself in the head. A book was written about him, but that didn’t make him any less dead. I sometimes wonder if that’s the fate that awaits me.
“Well I’m not dead yet, and thanks to the love of a great brother who has the misfortune of liking girls, and from people like the ones I’ve met today, I think there is much to be thankful for and to live for. I’ve heard it said that so-called child prodigies can never integrate into normal society and so they shouldn’t even try, but that’s a rather lonely assessment. Even as misguided as they often are, my parents have been very strong advocates for social mainstreaming, even though it’s always been a bit of a lost cause. I try to talk like my peers in middle school, but in reality, I’m much more comfortable quoting Plato, Descartes and Locke. My saving grace is that I’m not so removed from the mainstream that I can’t develop friendship with those who share a common interest.
“I’m thankful for meeting two boys here today who, although quite a bit older than me, have both shown me something I don’t get a lot of… respect. They have allowed me to share my ideas on sci-fi and music with them and they have shared theirs with me as equals, and I treasure that.
“It saddens me that my desire for a boyfriend may never come to pass. It’s sad that finding a true soul mate is such a rarity. No one should have to live life alone, although quite a few do. The companionship of a dog or a cat just isn’t the same. Maybe things will be different at Bronx Science… if I can get in there… if I can get in next year… if I can hold out that long. There must be others like me at Bronx Science. There must be. If only my life at home were better… Fuck, my parents are liberal Jews. We live in Riverdale and I go to an elite private school. My parents have fought for me to have a normal life, even though I don’t think they’ve ever understood me. Clearly, they wanted a normal kid but instead they’re burdened with me. Actually, I think they could have handled having a gay kid if I’d come out at a more normal age… maybe sixteen, or even thirteen, or maybe twelve. No one seems to know how to react to an eight-year-old who says he’s gay.
“I’ll admit, there are times the train tracks look mighty inviting. I’m not close to feeling that low just yet, but there are days when I keep hearing Van Halen’s song in my head. Go ahead and jump! But then I think of how it’d mess up a lot of peoples’ commute,” he added with a laugh. “Anyway, I do have a lot to be thankful for, if I can just forget about the rest of my shitty life.”
Holy fuck! How do you react to something like that? I felt like I was in a daze after hearing Kyle’s speech, yet what could I do other than give him my total support? What could I do other than be his friend? At nine, he was much deeper than any fourteen-year-old I’d ever met, myself included. Kyle’s talk of suicide kept echoing in my head.
I tried to think about the freshmen at Stuyvesant. My own boyfriend was an example of a kid who was younger than his peers, but that was only by a year. Wracking my brain, I remembered that there was a kid I’d seen in the halls who looked way too young to be in high school, but he wasn’t in any of my classes. Perhaps he was a sophomore or even further along, but he couldn’t have been any older than eleven, if that. Not that I figured he was boyfriend material for Kyle, but perhaps if I got to know him, I could learn something that would help Kyle. At least then I’d be doing something. Even though I’d only known him for a few hours, a part of me would die if anything happened to him. Maybe Seth would have some ideas too.
“Isn’t that right, Ashe?” my boyfriend asked as if from a distance, through a thick fog. When I didn’t answer, he said, “Asher, are you in there?” as he waved his hand in front of my face? We were eating a wonderful Asian frittata for breakfast with my father, but my mind was far away. Seth had spent the night with me, and apparently was going to be rooming with me for a month or longer. His ‘bedroom’ was torn up as a team of electricians tried to figure out how to rewire his apartment without tearing into the walls. The wiring was a total mess and there would undoubtedly be a lawsuit against the electrical contractor who’d made it that way, but in the meantime, the whole apartment was without power.
Finally realizing that Seth had asked me a question, I asked, “What did you say?”
“It was about the bet I have with you and your father —”
“What bet?” I asked.
“Boy, you’re really out of it,” Seth replied. “You know, the bet about bein’ able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital music, or not?”
“Oh yeah,” I responded. “Did you realize you don’t have a chance and are you ready to concede defeat?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Seth countered. “I expect that you’ll win some of the trials, and so will I, and so will your father, but that a lot of them will probably end up being a draw. But we can’t exactly test the results with my stereo while the place is torn up and there’s no power. Your dad suggested that we at least proceed with the part of the bet involving your stereo, but I think we should wait until my system’s back and functional. If we do the two experiments separately with a lot of time in between, we may end up biasing the results on my system, based on the results on yours.”
“Yeah, OK,” I replied.
“Yeah, OK what?” Seth asked.
“That’s fine,” I reiterated.
“What… to go ahead or to wait?”
“I agree with you,” I responded.
“So you think we should wait?” Seth asked, seeking confirmation.
“Whatever you and Dad agree to is fine.” I replied.
“But that’s just it Ashe. We don’t agree. You’re the tie-breaker.”
“And I’m fine with that,” I agreed.
“With being the tie breaker, or with going with Gary’s idea or with mine?”
“I said OK!” I practically shouted.
After a lengthy pause, Seth asked, “You’re still thinking about Kyle, aren’t you?”
“Who’s Kyle?” Dad asked.
“Kyle is a kid. He was one of the guests we had for Thanksgiving dinner,” Seth answered.
“Actually, it was his brother, Roger, who’s a classmate of ours from school,” I chimed in. “Kyle is his nine-year-old brother.”
“He’s a genius,” Seth added. “He goes to a private middle school up in Riverdale, where he lives with his brother and his parents, but even though he’s a year ahead as it is, he’s already reading and writing at a twelfth-grade level.”
“He doesn’t have any friends,” I continued, “and he can’t really relate to anyone at his school… not even the eighth-graders. He’s stuck learning fractions in a sixth-grade classroom when he’s already capable of doing advanced calculus.”
“Sounds like his parents ought to try to get him into Columbia, or Cornell, or NYU, or Fordham, or the New School, or CUNY, or if he’s Jewish, Yeshiva University,” Dad responded.
“He is Jewish,” I replied, “but not very religious. His main interests are math and science and he hopes to go to Brooklyn Science next year, if he can get in.”
“Then Cornell would be a great choice,” Dad suggested. “They have an engineering and tech campus on Roosevelt Island, or there’s the Stevens Institute of Technology, across the river in Hoboken. With either of those, he could continue to live at home and he wouldn’t lose the support system of his parents.”
“But that’s just it, Dad,” I replied. “He doesn’t really have much of a support system from his parents, and if he has no friends in middle school, how is he gonna make friends with kids who are literally twice his age?”
“What do you mean he doesn’t have much support from his parents?” Dad asked.
“He says his parents have never understood him,” Seth chimed in. “They’ve been supportive of his schooling, only so long as it kept him in the mainstream. They want him to stay where he is, even though he’s more than mastered the curriculum. They’re actively resisting his efforts to go to high school next year, but they couldn’t stop him from taking the entrance exam.”
“The real problems began when he came out to them last year,” I added.
“Kyle is gay?” Dad asked in astonishment. “How can a nine-year-old know he’s gay?”
“He’s almost ten,” I noted, “which was about when I started to notice my attraction to boys. But he came out last year when he was only eight. Although I knew what gay was when I was eight, I never even considered that it could apply to me at that age.”
“Very few boys even notice girls at that age,” Dad countered. “They play with their friends, who are all boys, and they sometimes develop crushes on them and even experiment with them, but that doesn’t make them gay. I would hate to see Kyle label himself based on what’s normal and end up in a pigeonhole, just because of erroneous judgement at a young age.”
“You’ve said you knew I was gay when I was eleven,” I responded. “In retrospect, could you now tell when I was eight or nine?”
Getting a thoughtful look on his face, he replied, “Yes, I could. It’s not like you acted gay or anything and it’s not like you behaved differently from other boys your age. I’m not sure what it was, but I could recognize it now if I saw it.”
“If you met Kyle, you’d realize he’s smart, Dad,” I suggested. “Not just book smart, but people smart. That’s unusual for a prodigy, from what I’ve read. If you met him, you’d realize he’s smart enough to make an objective assessment and draw a conclusion about his sexuality. He said he thinks I’m hot and he’d like to get naked with me, and that Seth’s cute too, but he recognizes we’re soul mates and he wouldn’t stand a chance with either of us, nor would he try. When he says he’s gay, I have to believe him.”
“It sounds like he’s having a tough time,” Dad related. “A lot of kids like that never find their place in society, or they end up being manipulated into working for people who don’t have their interests at heart. Look at the case of Alan Turing.”
Everyone knows about Alan Turing. He was a brilliant mathematician and the father of modern computing, and he was gay. Put to work as a code cracker during World War II, he succeeded in cracking the infamous German Enigma code, changing the course of the war. But homosexuals were considered a security risk – weaklings who could be compromised by the enemy – and so he was imprisoned and ended up dying an untimely death under mysterious circumstances.
“At least the Queen finally apologized to the Turing family,” Seth added.
“Yes, but don’t think that sort of thing still doesn’t happen, boys,” Dad replied. “Someone like Kyle can be manipulated into a position from which there is no easy out. Even geniuses get lonely… especially geniuses… and if he’s gay, that just makes it all that much more difficult for him.”
“But it gets worse than that, Dad,” I added. “Scarcely a day goes by when he doesn’t contemplate suicide. He’s adamant that he’s not suicidal and that there is much he wants to live for, but the fact that the thoughts are there at all scares the fuck outta me.” Rather than say anything, Dad just stared at me until I responded with, “Sorry.”
“What scares me,” Seth chimed in, “is that although he has the intelligence of an adult, he still has the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old boy. He’s just beginning his pre-teen years and his emotions will go through more and more changes. One day a proverbial kick to the balls may leave him without the restraint that keeps him from ignoring the impulses that tell him to jump on the tracks.”
“He may already be closer to doing that than any of us realize,” I added. “Maybe even closer than he realizes, and that thought has me terrified.”
Sighing, Dad said, “Now you’ve done it. You’ve made me want to help the guy, and I don’t even know him. Have you thought about what you might do?”
“Well, there’s a guy at school I’ve never met before,” I began, “but I’ve seen him in the halls. He’s maybe eleven if that, and he’s definitely not a freshman, so it’s very likely he’s in a similar situation to Kyle’s. It might be worth my while getting to know him, so that I can gain some insights that might help Kyle.”
“Do you think he may be gay?” Seth asked. “I mean eleven isn’t too much older than almost ten.”
“Statistically it’s not likely,” I pointed out, “and I haven’t seen him at a GSA meeting —”
“We’ve only been to one,” Seth interrupted.
“But even if the boy’s gay,” I added, “it wouldn’t help Kyle much if they don’t live near each other. Unless Kyle decides to go to Stuyvesant, he’s not gonna be interested in a boy who goes to school all the way down here.”
“But for all we know, maybe he lives in the North Bronx, or in Yonkers —”
“He wouldn’t be going to Stuyvesant if he lived in Yonkers,” I pointed out, “and for all we know, he could live in the Far Rockaways.”
“Boys,” Dad interrupted, “I think maybe the first thing would be for me to talk to Kyle’s parents, or at least his father. Maybe then I can get some insight as to what the boy is dealing with at home. Then perhaps we could have dinner with the parents and with Kyle. But that all depends on the reaction from his father. If the parents are hostile, then we could probably arrange a meeting with Kyle and his brother instead. At least this is a lull time for the restaurant, just after Thanksgiving. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get away if I have to.”
Then taking out a twenty-dollar bill, he handed it to me and said, “In case you didn’t realize it, you missed your bus, and the next bus should be pulling away about now.”
“Fuck!” Seth exclaimed, earning a stare from my father.
“You’ll never get a taxi,” Dad added as he pulled out his phone. After a few taps, he reported, “Your car will be waiting by the time you get downstairs.”
Grabbing my book bag and jacket, Seth did the same and we rushed out the apartment door and hit the button for the elevator. On the way down, Seth asked, “Gary’s paying for us to take an Uber?”
Shaking my head, I replied, “For the few times he needs to hail a ride, he uses a local car service based over on Delancey. They have their own app and there’s no surge pricing. In fact, the prices are much more reasonable than Uber, especially if you pay them in cash,” I said as I held up the twenty.
Sure enough, there was a black Ford Escape waiting for us downstairs and we hopped in. The ride was much faster by car as we looped around and through the tunnel of the Battery Park Bypass, then drove up West Street and right up in front of our school. It only took ten minutes, and cost twelve dollars, including a 20% tip!
I kept my eyes open, but never saw the kid or anyone remotely that young in the halls. Of course, if he was a grade ahead of me, or more, we might not cross paths for days. I knew he probably didn’t have the same lunch as Seth and me, as I’d never seen him in the cafeteria during our lunch period. It was possible he went out for lunch – there were certainly enough restaurants in the area, and there was a food court at Brookfield Place nearby – but leaving the campus was discouraged, especially ever since a terrorist had mowed down a bunch of people on bicycles, right by our school.
However, at lunch Seth and I did have the chance to talk to Roger, who was very touched by our interest in his brother. Truthfully, he’d been worried about him for quite some time and was feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of watching out for him. He agreed with the idea of trying to talk to the kid we’d seen at school, and he practically was in tears when we told him my Dad wanted to get involved, but he cautioned about talking to their own father. He said that although it was probably necessary, it could well backfire, as their father was pretty firm in his belief that he was doing what was best for Kyle.
I still hadn’t seen the kid when I walked into gym class and headed for the locker room. Seth and I had moved our lockers so we could be next to each other, and so we immediately put our things away and started undressing. As the first gym class after a long holiday weekend, we’d both brought freshly-washed gym clothes from home and proceeded to lay them out on the bench in front of our lockers as we put our street clothes into the lockers. No sooner had I dropped my boxers and was standing in front of my locker, next to my boyfriend, naked as the day I was born, than the boy I’d been obsessing over walked into the locker room, looked around as if trying to find something, went down our aisle and stopped, right next to me. He opened the locker two down from mine and proceeded to undress. What the fuck was he doing here?
The boy was young but he was unusually cute, and with his shirt off, it was apparent that he was much more muscular than I would have expected. He wasn’t a body builder or anything, but he had a lot more meat on his bones than either Seth or I did, almost to the point of looking athletic. His hair was close-cropped but not unusually short, and a rust-colored red. He had freckles across the bridge of his nose and his shoulders. His eyes were coppery-brown and intense. He wore largish glasses with copper-colored designer frames. Evidently his vision was good enough that he didn’t need them for gym, as he removed them and left them in his locker.
As he continued to undress and not wanting to squander my chance, I spoke up. “My name’s Asher, and this dufus next to me is my boyfriend, Seth,” I began.
“I know who you are,” he replied as he continued to strip. “I’ve seen you holding hands in the halls. I got curious and looked up your names.” Well that was interesting!
“Then you have an advantage over us,” I replied. “I’ve seen you around too, usually by yourself, but I don’t have any idea who you are.”
“I’m in the school directory,” he replied. Why hadn’t I thought to look him up in the directory? He certainly wasn’t being forthcoming.
“I’m curious,” I continued. “Why haven’t I seen you in gym before?”
Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “Probably because this is my first day in gym. I thought I could get away with graduating without taking more than a year of it, but my counselor decided otherwise.”
“You a sophomore?” I asked.
“Technically yes, but I’ll have enough credits to graduate next year. And do you always talk to strangers while in the nude?” he asked with a smirk, for the first time showing anything remotely like a smile.
Realizing that he was just about finished dressing in his gym outfit, and I hadn’t even started, I quickly pulled on my jock, followed by a T-shirt and gym shorts.
“See ya,” the boy said as he headed toward the gym.
Seth laughed at me as he stood there, completely dressed. “Hurry, you’re gonna be late.”
I quickly pulled on my socks and sneakers, which thankfully I hadn’t bothered to untie, and we headed out to the gym.
This being the first day back after a holiday, the gym teacher was anxious to get us back in shape after four days of pigging out, and so he immediately had us do stretching exercises, followed by running laps in the gym. That was definitely not my favorite activity.
After that, the teacher divided us into teams and we played dodgeball. He divided us evenly based on our names. With the name of ‘White’ I was decidedly in the latter half of the alphabet, but Seth, being a ‘Moore’, was right in the middle and it could have gone either way. This time he ended up on the opposite side as me. The kid, whose name I still didn’t know, was on the same side as me.
I’m not very athletic and hate sports, so gym class is my least favorite time of the day. The irony was that dodgeball was one of the few things I was actually good at, but I hated it. I was adept at avoiding being hit and actually did a fair job of throwing the ball, but I tended to stay in the background and avoided participating any more than I had to. That usually meant that I was always among the last players left on my team and ended up having to take on the best players on the other side. It was a mixed blessing as the end, when it came, was never pretty and multiple balls came my way.
As always, it was shirts versus skins and, as luck would have it, today I was a skin. Great! One less layer of clothing to protect me from the ball.
The teacher threw out the usual pair of balls to each side, and then blew the whistle. Immediately the gym sprang to life as boys rushed each other and almost immediately, the distinct sound of rubber balls hitting skin began. As usual, I stayed in back, where I was protected from the worst of the onslaught for the time being. Seth, on the other hand, was a much more aggressive player, actively grabbing and throwing the ball every chance he got, but yet managing to avoid being hit himself.
What surprised me was that the little kid, who’s name I still didn’t know, was also an adept player, throwing more than his share of balls and scoring a hit, nearly every time, yet avoiding being hit, even when targeted by as many as three simultaneous balls. The boy was really good.
It didn’t take long before the number of boys had been whittled down by about two-thirds and yet all three of us were still in the game. The little kid happened to catch two balls at the same time and, seeing me, actually smiled at me and passed one of them my way. We both scored hits and managed to avoid being hit ourselves, in my case very narrowly. As the number of participants continued to dwindle, it soon came to the point where the boy and I were the only kids left on our team. Seth was still in the game, as were four other kids on his side. That meant it probably wouldn’t be long before our team lost, yet the boy and I managed to take out three of the five in quick succession without being hit. Now it was even.
With a devious smile, Seth looked right at me with the obvious intent to take me on. This was war! Seth threw a hard ball right at me at close range before I could throw mine, but I actually used the ball I had to deflect the hit. The other kid on Seth’s side threw a ball right at the young boy on my team, who caught it in mid-air, ending the thrower’s time in the game. That left just the three of us, and my boyfriend was without any balls and the young boy and I had four balls between us. Poor Seth didn’t stand a chance. He managed to evade a throw from me, but another ball was already headed his way at the same time and there was no time to dodge it, or to turn and catch it, and so my team actually won, and for once in my life, I was one of the guys left standing at the end.
The little kid actually came up to me and high-fived me, and then offered me his hand as he said, “Great game, Ashe. My name’s Francis, but most kids just call me Fucker.”
“I can’t call you that!” I exclaimed.
“But I kinda like bein’ called that,” he replied. “At camp, kids call me Freckles for obvious reasons, but if you want, you can call me ‘Freck’. Just don’t call me ‘Freak’.”
“You realize that telling a kid not to call you something is a surefire way to be called that. How did you know that I wouldn’t?” I asked.
“Because you’re not the kind of kid that tries to fit in by picking on other kids,” Freck replied. “I’ve noticed you. Before you hooked up with Seth, you were pretty much a loner. It showed me that you’re not a kid who plays the game.”
“Plays the game?” I asked.
“You know, role playing?” he explained. “You don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You’d rather be picked on that pick on someone else.”
I thought about it, and I realized he was right. I’d just never thought of it in those terms before.
“How about you?” I asked.
“I’ve never been a kid, so I wouldn’t even know how to play,” he answered.
By then the teacher was getting us ready to play another game, so further talking would have to wait. This time Seth made it a personal challenge to get me out, and so I didn’t last more than half-way through the game. The only consolation was that Freck got him out shortly after that. I played one more game in which Freck and I were the only boys left standing at the end, but it was getting late in the period and the teacher had us run laps until it was time to hit the showers.
One thing about dodgeball is that it really makes you work up a sweat, and so we were all anxious to take our showers by the time the teacher blew the whistle. We all headed to our lockers and stripped out of our gym clothes, but this time Freck stayed with Seth and me as we headed to the showers.
As we all lathered up under the shower heads, I couldn’t help but take a look at Freck, out of shear curiosity, and I noticed that he had a sparse patch of pubes above his dick. Hell, it was more than Seth had, but Freck looked so Goddamn young!
“Noticing that I was looking, Freck grinned and said, “Everyone wonders how old I am, ’cause I look like a ten-year-old. As you can see, I’m not as young as I look, but I’m still young for a high school sophomore.”
When he failed to elaborate, it dawned on me that he was teasing me, which maybe even was a sign of friendship. Well two could play at that game.
“Well since you didn’t deny it, I guess that means you really are ten years old,” I began. “Maybe you need a chaperone to take the bus.” He responded by giving me the finger.
“So really, how old are you,” Seth asked, taking the bull by the horns.
“I’m almost twelve,” he replied.
“So I was right,” I chimed in. “You really are eleven.”
“For another few weeks,” he replied.
“Must be tough getting only one present for both Christmas and your birthday,” I replied, drawing the obvious conclusion.
“Sometimes it really sucks,” he agreed, “and thanks for realizing it. All my life I’ve been told how lucky I am to get twice as expensive a present. Well, my sisters seem to get as much for their birthdays and they get a Christmas gift too, but I digress —” He shut off the water and Seth and I did too.
Grabbing towels from the towel boy, we headed back to our lockers as we dried ourselves off. Opening our lockers, I applied my deodorant and started to dress. As I put on my clothes and, recognizing that we’d soon go our separate ways and not wishing to wait until gym class tomorrow, I asked, “Freck, do you think we could get together after school? I have some things I wanted to ask you about.”
“Oh fuck,” he replied. “Here I thought that just maybe I’d met someone who wouldn’t give me a hard time, and it turns out you’re like everyone else and just want to make fun of me. Well fuck you!” he said as he slammed his locker shut. Turning angrily to go, I grabbed his arm and he spun around, a look of hatred on his face.
“It’s not like that at all,” I quickly interjected. “I have a friend who’s a lot like you. Actually he’s the brother of a friend of mine, but he’s only nine. Like you, he’s really smart, but perhaps a bit suicidal.”
“How the fuck did you know about that?” Freck asked.
“I didn’t,” I replied, “but I think I just opened a deep wound that hasn’t healed. Can we talk about it after school?”
Nodding his head, he said, “How about the food court at Brookfield Place?”
“Hudson Eats? OK,” I responded. “Meet in front of the school?” I suggested.
“I’ll see you guys there,” he replied.
We were seated together at a small table with a breathtaking view of the Hudson, and Jersey City across the way. Seth insisted on treating all of us, but Freck insisted he could afford to pay his own way. Seth argued that it was we that invited him, but Freck claimed he’d have probably been eating there regardless, and all alone. We didn’t argue, but I did let Seth pay for my meal. I was past arguing the point anymore – not after we’d been feeding him all the time at our place.
Seth was enjoying the sushi from Ribbon Sushi, while I enjoyed my first taste of Cambodian food from Num Pang. Freck chose a pizza and a salad from Skinny Pizza and I had to admit, the pizza looked better than any pizza I’d ever eaten. He also bought a selection of piadas for the table, and those were unbelievable. We all were sipping coffee from Black Seed, too.
“So what’s the deal, Freck,” I asked as we ate our food. “Could you tell us your story?”
“Not much to tell,” he replied. “I’m gay, but you probably already figured that. Why else would I have bothered to look you guys up when I realized you were boyfriends? And I tried to kill myself. Very nearly succeeded too. I’m a freak who’ll be starting college at the age of thirteen, and yet right now, college looks like the only escape I’ll find from my fucked-up life.”
“Where do you live?” I asked Freck.
Laughing, he said, “Right here in Battery Park. You see, I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d probably be eating here anyway. My parents, twin sisters and I share a penthouse condo in The Riverhouse, mere steps from here, across Vesey and North End Avenue. I say ‘share’ because we’re hardly ever together as a family. We have a nanny, but she pretty much spends all her time with my sisters, now that I’m in high school. Basically, I’m on my own.
“People look at all of this development as if it’s brand new, but this is the only place I’ve ever known. I’ve never known a world that didn’t have constant construction in it.”
“And we grew up in one of the oldest residential developments in Lower Manhattan,” Seth responded. “We’ve never known anything but stability.”
“If I could ask,” I began, starting to broach what I knew was a delicate subject – the proverbial elephant in the room, “how did you try to kill yourself, and why?”
“Not very subtle, are we?” Freck responded with a grin. “The short answer is that I tried to take a swan dive from the Battery Park Parking Garage. It’s just about the only place around here that has direct rooftop access and even though it’s not that high as things go around here, it’s high enough. And as to why, I never really figured that one out. My shrink had a field day with it, though. He’s convinced it’s because I feel alienated from everyone else. There may be some truth to that, but then he doesn’t even know I’m gay. No one does… or did until today. I never see my parents, nor have they ever made the effort even since I tried to off myself. My sisters are too young for me to even relate to, and like I said, our nanny spends all of her time with them. I don’t think my parents even like children. We’re trophy kids, as they say. It could have been any of these things, or all of them. I’ve no idea.”
“How long ago was it,” I asked.
“The Fourth of July,” he answered in an exaggerated fashion. “With so many people around, I figured I wouldn’t be noticed. And I knew there would be quite a few cars on the top level, which is usually empty. It’s funny, but the whole garage is enclosed except the top level. Because the garage is built right over the exit for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel… excuse me, it’s now the Hugh L. Carry Tunnel… I always thought it might be to prevent anyone from dropping rocks or bombs onto the vehicles below. There are a lot of trucks and buses full of tourists that come through the tunnel, after all. But then why leave the top open like that? There is a wall, but it’s not that hard to scale it, especially on a day like the Fourth when there are plenty of tall SUVs to climb up on.
“I guess I just got lucky. Someone was walking by just as I scaled the wall. He was fast and grabbed my leg just as I was about to climb on top. I was serious about it and didn’t intend to fail, so they got to me just in time.”
“Were you depressed?” I asked.
“My shrink thought so and put me on a bunch of meds, but they only made me feel worse. They really affected my mind in a way I’d never want to go through again. We’re doing it the old-fashioned way, with a lot of counseling.”
“Do you think you might try to kill yourself again?” I asked, but then added, “If you’re willing to answer that.”
“I don’t answer stuff I’m not willing to answer,” Freck responded. “Nothing in my life has really changed, and yet everything’s changed. There’s nothing like a near-death experience to alter your perspective. And I did quit smoking pot.”
“You smoked pot?” Seth asked in astonishment.
“My shrink thinks my heavy pot use was a factor in the suicide attempt,” he answered. “My parents keep a stash in the house, so I could sneak it out without them missing it. As my shrink says, I was self-medicating, but pot only made it worse. Since I stopped, I now have to face my shitty life head-on, but I don’t feel as bad about it.”
“Did you drink?” I asked. “Do you use drugs?”
“Still do sometimes,” he answered, “drink, that is, but not nearly so much. It’s a bit too easy when my parents keep an ample stash of the good stuff.”
I’d been thinking about introducing Freck and Kyle, but now I was beginning to wonder if that was such a good idea. They were both gay and both smart, and they shared a lot of spirit, but the last thing Kyle needed was to get involved with alcohol or drugs.
“My parents keep a lot of the good stuff in our home too,” Seth responded as he looked off into space. “They’re in politics so they have to be prepared to entertain at a moment’s notice, but that doesn’t happen very often. I could probably sneak a fair bit of alcohol for myself if I wanted to, and they wouldn’t realize I’d been doin’ it for a long time. I’ve just never had the desire to even try it…
“I was pretty depressed with my life before I met Ashe. It woulda been so easy to just jump right off my terrace, twenty-one floors up, but the thought never entered my mind. I didn’t have a lot of the pressures you face, and I do have two parents who love me and have been nothing but supportive since I came out, but they’re never around and before I met Ashe, like you, I was pretty much all alone and on my own. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters and I sure as fuck didn’t have a nanny to turn to.”
Then looking right into Freck’s eyes, he said, “I’d like to be your friend, Freck, but I’ve never never drunk alcohol our used drugs to get high. I want you to promise me that if you ever feel like you need a drink or to smoke pot or use any mind-altering substance, other than caffeine,” he added with a smile as he lifted his coffee cup, “or if you feel like you want to end it all, you’ll call me instead, day or night, no matter what. I’m sure Ashe would feel the same way,” he noted as I nodded my head. “Promise me you’ll call one of us, regardless of what other stuff is goin’ on.”
With tears running down his cheeks, Freck said, “No one has ever cared about me before the way the two of you do… not even the shrink who’s paid to care. That’s an easy one. Of course I’ll promise. I’ll even tell my nanny I’ve been sneaking booze from the liquor cabinet, and get her to install a decent lock and to put the key where I’ll never find it. Not that I don’t trust myself, but it would be better if it wasn’t even an option —”
“What about the pot?” I asked.
“After what happened and my testing positive at the time of my suicide attempt, it’s out of the apartment. I think that if nothing else, my parents learned a lesson about what pot can do to you, and what it can do to your kids if they get into it. But even if they do bring it back, I won’t touch it. I have no desire to use it any more —” and with a smile, he added, “and I have you guys now. That makes all the difference in the world.”
“Do your parents use anything else, like coke?” Seth asked.
“If they do,” Freck replied, “I don’t know about it, but I meant what I said. If I ever get the urge to do anything like that again, I’ll call you.”
Nodding his head, Seth began, “To change the subject I take it you took your SAT?”
“Last spring,” he answered. “Got a pretty close to perfect score. I was tempted to apply for college for this year, but decided a diploma from Stuyvesant is worth something, and with advanced placement, I wouldn’t lose any time by waiting until after I graduate, especially with early graduation.”
“And it’d be pretty hard to get a date in college when you’re only eleven,” I added.
Laughing, he responded, “Maybe with a pedo professor.”
“What do you do with yourself when you’re not in school?” Seth asked. “Do you have any hobbies or interests?”
“You mean other than wandering the streets of New York?” he replied. “Actually, although I’m not much interested in sports, I’ve found I’m a decent athlete and sports give me a chance to be an ordinary kid for a while. I play in a soccer league and some basketball too. On the flip side, I’m really interested in music and spend a lot of time at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. My parents have season tickets but almost never use them, so I do.”
“Alone?” I asked, and he nodded his head in the affirmative. “Seth and I are bigtime fans of Jazz, especially the classics, and we like classic rock. What types of music do you like?”
“I’m more into symphony and opera,” Freck answered, “but I like just about everything, even electronic and hip-hop.” Then he broke into song, “Wish we could go back in time… to the good old days… when the mamas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.”
Seth and I couldn’t help but look at each other and smile.
“What?” Freck asked.
“The boy I was tellin’ you about? He sang that exact same line when talkin’ about music he liked,” I answered.
“So tell me all about this friend of yours,” he asked.
“Well, he’s a lot like you,” I began. “He’s nine, about to turn ten, but he’s way too smart for his age. He’s in the sixth grade more because of his parents’ wish to keep him in the mainstream, but he took the specialty high school entrance exam and expects to get in next year. He wants to go to Bronx Science, and then maybe MIT.
“He’s outgoing, sassy and brash, and doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind, yet he feels lonely and worries he’ll never find a boyfriend for much the same reasons as you expressed.”
“He came out last year, but his parents and particularly his dad are having a hard time accepting that a kid could even know at that age.”
“And he likes music?” Freck asked.
“With a passion,” I replied. “And he’s equally passionate about sci-fi —”
“I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan,” Freck jumped in.
“Kyle HATES Star Wars,” I replied. “Like Seth and me, he likes all the tech and special effects, but doesn’t find the science very plausible. He even badmouthed Star Trek, which is Seth’s and my passion. He’s more into the classics, like 2001 and Ender’s Game.”
“I could live with that if he could live with a Star Wars fanatic,” Freck replied.
“It sounds like you’re interested in meeting him,” Seth asked.
“It sounds like there might be a lot we have in common,” Freck answered. “On the other hand, I don’t even know if he lives anywhere near here, but he doesn’t want to go to school here, and I’ll already be in college long before he graduates.”
“But all of that could change if the two of you hit it off,” I chimed in. “I’m not saying you two even should become boyfriends, but it would be good to have just a friend who’s a bit like you. The age difference is irrelevant. The two of you will find a way to get together if you want to.
“There’s just one thing I ask if you do decide to meet him. He’s a bit more innocent than you. He’s never used pot and the only alcohol he’s used is a little wine at Passover. He does think of suicide but has never acted on it. Please… just don’t hurt him, OK?”
“I do want to meet him,” Freck replied. “If he can’t come down here, I’ll go to wherever he lives, even if it’s in the worst part of the South Bronx.”
“Actually, it’s in the North Bronx,” Seth responded. “Riverdale.”
“Riverdale would be easy,” Freck replied. “A fairly straight shot up the Westside Highway.”
“It’s also a straight shot on a number one train, or Metro North,” I noted.
Laughing, Freck responded, “You know, I’ve lived here all my life, practically on top of the subway, yet I’ve never once been on the subway before, let alone Metro North. I wouldn’t even know how to use the subway.”
“You serious?” I asked in surprise. “It uses the same farecards you use on the bus. Your student bus pass will work.”
“Ah, I haven’t ever taken a bus either, and I don’t have a bus pass. I don’t need one, living within walking distance of the school as I do. Why would I ever need to take the subway? He asked. “I have everything I need right here in Battery Park and Tribeca, and if I need to go anywhere else, I have unlimited credits with Uber and Lyft.”
“Maybe that could be part of the experience,” Seth suggested. “Taking the subway to Riverdale.”
“For some strange reason, that actually sounds cool.”
“We’ll talk to Kyle’s brother, Roger, and get back with you tomorrow during gym or maybe after school again,” Seth suggested.
“This has been nice, guys,” Freck said as we disposed of our trash and recycling. “Perhaps we could do it again sometime. Perhaps we could make it a regular thing.”
“We enjoyed it too,” I responded, “and I think we’d like that.
“Was that a stop for the 22 I saw outside this building on Vesey?” I asked.
Laughing, Freck said, “I wouldn’t know. Maybe.”
“Let’s go check it out, babe,” Seth said as he took my hand and the three of us headed down the escalator and toward the exit.
“Come on, boys. We have to leave now if we’re gonna make it,” Dad shouted as we walked in the door. “I was beginning to think I might have to leave without you.”
“Dad! What are you doing home?” I practically squealed.
“Like I said, this is a lull time for the restaurant and it’s not too difficult to get away. I talked to Dr. Goldstein, Roger and Kyle’s dad. It was not a pleasant experience. I’ll tell you more about it, but we need to get going. We’ll talk on the way.”
Dad didn’t even let us change our clothes – not that there was anything wrong with our school clothes, but I felt a bit weird going out in public wearing clothes that met Stuyvesant’s dress code.
We just barely made the 22 bus, even with catching it around the corner on Jackson instead of Grand Street as we usually did. Dad sat down in front of us and then turned around and began to explain the situation as the bus lurched along.
“So, like I said, I looked up Kyle’s information on-line, and did a little searching to find out about his parents. It was pretty easy in his father’s case, since he’s a prominent ophthalmologist at New York Presbyterian, the primary teaching hospital of Columbia. Of course, leaving a message with the receptionist did little good. I would have waited all year if I waited for his return phone call, so I looked up the name of the administrative assistant to the department chair and called her direct line. If you didn’t know, the administrative assistant to the chair, or the CEO, or whoever the head honcho may be, is the one who actually runs things.
“Anyway, I explained to her that my son and Dr. Goldstein’s son are friends at Stuyvesant, and that the two of you were worried about his other son, Kyle, because he’d admitted to suicidal ideation. You came to me, and I agreed to speak to their dad. I told her that of course I had tried calling his receptionist and his secretary but couldn’t reach him, and that I’d appreciate her help.
“It wasn’t even five minutes before Dr. Goldstein was screaming at me on his phone, threatening what would happen to me if I ever meddled in his family affairs again. I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise, and then he hung up on me. So I called the department admin assistant back and told her to relay another message to Dr. Goldstein… that denial is not an excuse for negligence and that he either meet with me, or I would call Child Protective Services and tell them what I know.
“Anyway, I got a call back from Dr. Goldstein and he actually apologized, and said I couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to work from six in the morning to ten as night, every day. Of course I didn’t tell him that I pretty much do that, but I did say that I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to work those hours and to deal with life and death situations and to get called in the middle of the night to save people from going blind. And I said that I could personally relate to how hard it is to work eighty to a hundred hours a week and be responsible for raising two boys.”
Seth smiled at that, recognizing my dad was referring to him too. He really had become like a second son to my dad, and I could tell that the feeling was mutual.
“So, we ended up talking on the phone for quite a while,” Dad continued, “and he admitted that he was overwhelmed with what to do with his younger son, even to the point of wishing he’d not been born. He went on to say his wife was in even worse shape over it… that she’d taken to drinking and wasn’t capable of being a mother anymore.
“I asked him if he’d be willing to accept help. He replied that he feared he was losing both his sons and that if someone could take Kyle off his hands, maybe at least he could be a father to Roger. He agreed to let me meet with his sons and I told him I’d try to work something out, particularly if it could be an intervention in situ, meaning his sons would continue to live with him, but someone else would take responsibility for raising Kyle. He actually liked that idea a lot. He seemed relieved by it.”
“So you’re gonna take on, what, bein’ Kyle’s guardian,” I asked.
Laughing, Dad replied, “I didn’t say that. I’m already acting as a de facto guardian for Seth, even though I don’t have any legal standing to do so. Maybe I should look into that too. I need to meet Kyle in the first place, but I do intend to find someone if not myself to take responsibility for seeing that Kyle is well-cared for, mentally as well as physically.”
“So we’re gonna meet with Kyle and Roger tonight?” Seth asked.
“We’re having dinner with them at the Riverside Diner,” Dad answered.
I couldn’t help but snicker.
“What?” Dad asked.
“We went for a snack at Hudson Eats with a friend from school, and ended up having a full dinner,” Seth answered.
Laughing, Dad responded, “I’ve yet to meet a teenager who couldn’t handle two dinners in one evening.” We both laughed at that.
We took the bus almost all the way to Stuyvesant, getting off at West Broadway and taking a number one train, almost all the way to the end of the line. Since it’s a local train, it took almost an hour to get there. When we emerged from the subway, which was an elevated train in this part of the Bronx, we were right across from an authentic stainless steel diner that had obviously been added onto. When we walked in, the place was huge inside. We saw Roger and Kyle waiting for us in a large circular booth and joined them there.
As we approach, I made the introductions. “Roger, Kyle, this is my dad. Dad, this is Roger, and the little guy is Kyle,”
“Little my ass, you shithead,” came Kyle’s immediate response. I knew Dad wasn’t thrilled with Kyle’s language, but he smiled nevertheless.
“You really aren’t so little, Kyle,” Dad said as he sat down. “I understand you’re nine, but you look like you could be eleven at least.” That got quite a grin from Kyle. Dad had made a friend for life.
“Actually, I’ll be ten in a couple of weeks,” Kyle replied.
“And I understand you’re in middle school, but you hope to get into Bronx Science next year.”
“It’s my dream,” Kyle admitted. “My test scores say I’m reading at a twelfth-grade level. I’m already able to solve problems from the back of a second-year calculus textbook. At least Bronx Science has the courses to challenge me, and to get me advanced placement for when I go to college.”
“Why not go to college now?” Dad asked. “Clearly, you could handle the material. Have you considered taking the SAT? There is no minimum age limit.”
“I’m scheduled to take it in January,” Kyle answered. “It’s a bit more difficult to apply for it when you’re my age. You can’t sign up on-line, and you can’t send a picture for identification at the time of the exam, for legal reasons, I guess. The test scores will be purged at the end of the year if I don’t request otherwise. But, yeah, I’m gonna take it. I’ll probably do well on it.
“But as for going to college next year, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Mentally, sure, but emotionally is another thing. To be able to interact as a peer with kids who are twice my age? I’d be a freak! As it is, I’ll be three or four years younger than the other freshmen at Bronx Science, and that’s assuming they don’t put me in all advanced classes.”
“Have you considered the City College program,” Dad asked. “It’s a small program tailored to high school students with exceptional abilities and an aptitude for math and engineering.”
“Of course I considered it,” Kyle answered. “But I don’t want to limit myself to an engineering career. At heart I’m a scientist. I’m interested in fundamental theory… not applied math —”
“There are engineers that do that,” Dad pointed out.
“Yes, but they rarely are the ones that make the breakthroughs,” Kyle countered. “If there’s a way to reverse the effects of climate change, for example, it’ll be a team of engineers that implements it, but it’ll be a scientist that makes the discovery that makes it possible. Nine Nobel Laureates went to Brooklyn Science… more than any other secondary school in the world.”
“Stuyvesant has its share of Nobel Laureates,” Dad pointed out.
“Yes, and it’s an outstanding school,” Kyle agreed. “I was thrilled when Rog got in there. I’m sure I could be happy there too, and the admission criteria are even stricter than at Bronx Science. I just think that Bronx Science would be a better fit, and of course it’s much closer to home.
“And maybe some of the kids’ll understand me there. Maybe I’ll even find a boyfriend there.”
“The same could be true of Stuyvesant,” I suggested.
“Good luck with that,” Kyle replied.
“Don’t be so sure,” Seth chimed in, earning a raised eyebrow from Kyle.
A teenage boy came up to us and asked, “Are you gentlemen ready to order?”
We all looked at each other and our unopened menus on the table, and Dad answered, “I’m sorry, but could you please come back in five minutes?”
“Sure thing,” the kid answered.
We all got down to business, opening the thick, multipage book of a menu that reminded me of the one at the Good Stuff Diner, back on Fourteenth Street. With a full fold of Latin specialties, I decided that this was obviously the Riverdale’s specialty and I decided to order something from those two pages.
The server actually returned in five minutes, and Seth went first, ordering the bacalao guisado, or cod stew, with the New England clam chowder, which for $14.95, sounded like a steal. Dad ordered the arroz con camarones, or rice with shrimp, peppers, onions and tomatoes, along with black bean soup, and Roger went for the calamari con arroz, or calamari over rice, along with the clam chowder. I ordered the double combo fajitas with chicken and shrimp, and Kyle bucked the trend by ordering the broiled scallops, which came with a salad, asparagus and candied yams. Dad ordered mozzarella sticks and fried calamari as appetizers for the table.
After the server had left, Kyle asked Dad, “So, did Ashe tell you I’m gay?”
Nodding his head, Dad said, “I was a bit skeptical, but after meeting you, I have no reason to doubt you. Ashe came out just recently, but I realized he was gay when he was eleven, and in retrospect I probably saw signs of it when he was maybe eight or nine. I couldn’t place my finger on why… it’s not about mannerisms or ‘acting gay’, but tonight I think I actually figured out why. Everyone has a natural tendency for their eyes to linger on those they find attractive. In the time we’ve been here, four teenage boys and six girls have entered, as I could see in the mirror behind you. Your brother clearly noticed the girls, but you didn’t even give them a glance. You did, however, linger on the boys, and you’ve spent a fair bit of time glancing at my son, not to mention the cute waiter that took our order.”
“Wow, I’d no idea I was doing that,” said Kyle, “but the server was cute. If he were a little younger, I’d go out with him, but to him I’m just a little kid. It’s sooo unfair.”
The server brought the appetizers just then and, not missing a beat, Kyle asked, “Do I look like just a little kid to you? Could you ever imagine dating me?” What a loaded question!
“Well, I’m sixteen and you look to be about eleven,” he responded right away, “so you aren’t a little kid any more, but to a kid my age, I’m afraid you look more cute than sexy. The bigger. Issue is that I’m straight, so I’m not interested in boys. If I were gay and if you were a few years older, I’d probably think you’re a knock-out, so yeah, if things were a little different, then I probably would.” What a nice guy! I’d hafta make sure Dad left him an extra-large tip.
After the server left, we got into some pretty serious discussion about Kyle’s home life and, yes, both he and Roger were well aware that their mother was an alcoholic. Kyle was also certain that his father didn’t even like him, let alone love him, and that he saw raising his younger son as more of an obligation than a responsibility. For his part, Roger agreed with his little brother. Dad asked him a lot about his thoughts of suicide and Kyle made clear that as long as he had the support of his brother and maybe friends like us, he would never choose what he saw as the coward’s way out. He admitted that if things got bad enough, though, that he could see it happening some day on an impulse, and that even he was worried about the possibility.
Over the soups and salads, we talked about lighter things, talking about our hobbies and in particular about our shared interests in music and sci-fi. It was after the server brought our entrees that I brought up the issue of Freck.
“I don’t know how I’m gonna eat all this,” I said as the fajitas were placed in front of me.
“Same here,” Seth agreed. “Maybe if we hadn’t already eaten,” he added.
“At least it’s not turkey,” Dad pointed out, getting a laugh from both of us. We’d pretty much eaten nothing but left-over turkey all weekend.
“You guys already had dinner?” Roger asked.
Nodding my head, I began, “There’s a kid at school who reminds me a lot of you, Kyle. He’s gonna be twelve in a few weeks, so he’s almost exactly two years older than you. He’s a sophomore and hopes to graduate after next year, so intellectually, he’s probably very similar. Anyway, he was reassigned to our gym class today, ’cause he didn’t have enough credits in gym to graduate, and he and Seth and I kinda hit it off. We ended up goin’ out with him after school and ate at the food court at Brookfield Place. We didn’t know we’d be eating with you guys this evening too.
“So we got to talkin’ to him and learned that he’s passionate about music… more classical stuff, and opera, but he also likes the modern stuff. He even sang that same stupid song you sang on Thanksgiving.”
“The one by Twenty-One Pilots?” Kyle asked with peaked curiosity.
Laughing, I said, “I wouldn’t know, but it had something to do with singing momas and being stressed out.”
“That’s the one,” Kyle enthused.
“He’s also a sci-fi buff, but he’s a MAJOR Star Wars fan.”
“Oh barf,” Kyle responded, “but I guess I can live with that.” I couldn’t help but smile at that, ’cause that was exactly what Freck had said.
“His home life is way worse than yours, though,” I went on.
“How could it be any worse? He’s in Stuyvesant, for Christ sake.”
“He lives in Battery Park in one of those super-luxury high-rise condo buildings, in the penthouse. His parents are super rich, but they don’t even like kids and he never sees them. He has two sisters that are way younger, so he’s lonely and pretty much on his own.
“He got into smoking a lot of pot from his parents’ supply, and some drinking, and over the summer he tried to take a leap off the top of the Battery Park Parking Garage, but someone grabbed his leg before he could climb over the wall.”
‘Fuck!” Kyle exclaimed and my Dad registered his own look of shock, and not over Kyle’s use of profanity.
“In a way, I befriended him because I thought that maybe he could help us to help you, Kyle, but now I’m wondering if it might be the other way around. I think that maybe he could use you in his life as much as you could benefit from his friendship.”
“Is he still involved with drugs, Asher?” Dad asked.
“He’s been seeing a shrink ever since. He’s off the pot and the parents have stopped using it, or at least keeping it in the house. The liquor’s under lock and key, and he’s no longer looking to medicate himself as a way of dealing with his shitty home life.
“He doesn’t have a brother who loves him, and he doesn’t have a whole lotta friends at school. He does participate in soccer and basketball, and he goes to summer camp, and as he puts it, those are the only times he gets to feel like a regular kid. In fact, it’s from camp that he got his nickname.”
“What is his name,” Kyle asked.
“He has a lot of freckles, and he goes by ‘Freck’,” I answered. “His real name is Francis, or Frank.”
“I’m surprised the kids don’t call him ‘Freak’,” Kyle responded.
“Some do… the ones that pick on him.” I answered.
“I bet there are a lot of those,” Kyle surmised, and then he said under his breath, “If only he were gay.”
“He… is gay, Kyle,” I responded.
“Really?” Kyle said with enthusiasm, but then added “but he’d never be interested in a little kid like me.”
“But like my Dad said, Kyle, you’re not little and look more like eleven. I imagine you’ll start puberty before you’re twelve, just as he has, but if anything, he looks very young for his age… more like ten. He has freckles across the bridge of his nose and his shoulders, and straight red hair. He’s majorly adorable.”
“You say he likes Star Wars though,” Kyle responded with a look of amusement, “and opera? I dunno.”
“But he needs someone to… help him save his heavy dirty soul,” my boyfriend said, breaking into song and surprising me.
“So you do know Twenty-one Pilots,” Kyle exclaimed.
“Let me put it this way,” Seth replied. “No one will ever accuse them of making great music, but they are very entertaining.”
“Kyle, are you saying you’re interested in meeting this boy? Even with his… history?” Dad asked.
Nodding his head, Kyle answered, “We’ve both been to some pretty dark places, him even more so, but I think maybe we could help each other. We both come from a similar place. We both lack our parents’ love and have very little support and few friends. We’re both gay and unlikely to find a boyfriend until we’re much older, if at all. Don’t worry… I have absolutely no interest in getting into drugs or alcohol. They only make a bad situation worse… much worse. Maybe I can even help Freck avoid falling into that trap again. Maybe we can find synergy, where the two of us together are greater than the sum of our parts. And he sounds ‘majorly adorable’, as Ashe said.”
“As are you,” Dad added, causing Kyle to blush – majorly.
As we finished off our meals, Dad spent some time discussing options for Kyle, particularly the idea of an in situ guardianship. What Dad was willing to offer was incredible – 24-7 availability whenever Kyle needed it. All he would need to call and if it were urgent, Dad would drop everything and high-tail it to Riverdale. Then again, I realized that’s exactly the kind of support Dad had always given me since the day I was born. I really had a wonderful dad.
We left it that Dad would talk to his lawyer and have papers drawn up for Kyle’s parents to sign. While he was at it, he’d do the same for Seth, so long as he needed to basically live with us. In the meantime, Seth and I would talk with Freck when we saw him in gym class tomorrow. We’d plan to get them together in the very near future. Perhaps we could even all have dinner together tomorrow at the Riverdale Diner, and then we’d leave Freck and Kyle alone.
As we were getting ready to part, Kyle said, “You know, all my life I’ve always gotten a single present for Chanukah and for my birthday. Always only one. Well, everyone gets little presents for eight days, but there’s usually one big present at the end. But that present was always my birthday present too. My parents tried to tell me it was twice as good as the presents Roger got, but I always felt gypped.”
“Freck said the same thing about his birthday and Christmas,” I chimed in.
“But this year is different,” Kyle continued. “This year I’m getting presents that are worth so much more than the sum of two presents. More than I’ve ever gotten before. I’m getting a new Dad who actually loves me, and two incredible friends who not only care about me but have an amazing gift for seeing kids whose lives are broken and finding a way to fix them. And maybe now I’m about to meet a kindred soul… someone who shares my issues and my dreams… someone I hope will be a lifelong friend and, who knows, maybe even a boyfriend.
We could only hope, for that would be the greatest Chanukah gift of all…
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.