The Recent Changes Confuse Jake
“Wakie, wakie, Jake.” The teen stretched stiffly and opened his eyes to find Marcus grinning at him from above. “Dad’s home, dinner is ready and Mom sent me.”
“Okay, I’ll be down in a minute.” He waited until Marcus had left the room before suffering through the ordeal of trying to rise from the bed without irritating his injuries. He changed his shirt, rinsed his face and went down to greet his uncle.
Avery Walker was in the kitchen drinking a beer when Jake strolled in. He was all long limbs and muscles like Marcus and about the same height with his son’s thick, dark hair. He owned an auto repair shop specializing in European cars and made a good living at it.
“Hey, kid,” Avery greeted him. “How’s lfe?”
Jake gave his favorite uncle a quick hug. “I’m surviving.”
Giving him the same kind of inspection Pat had leveled at him earlier, Avery grunted. “Uh-huh, well we’ll talk about that after dinner. I want to know what happened yesterday. Your mom was kind of sketchy, but I know her well enough that it must have been pretty bad.”
It was Jake’s turn to quietly grouse. His aunt and uncle deserved an honest explanation, and better for it to come from him than an outside source. His father’s cross-examination tactics embarrassed him but they had never liked the way George treated his wife and sons. The Walkers were kind people and would probably handle the fact that he was gay in a much more reasonable manner than he parents had, but that didn’t make telling them any easier.
Aunt Pat had prepared lemon-baked chicken, scalloped potatoes, peas and homemade biscuits for dinner, and the family tucked in hungrily. Jake appreciated the animated chatter around the table, so different from his own family’s sullen meals where he’d finish as quickly as possible before his father had a chance to lay into him. Jake relaxed and listened to them talk about their day and smiled happily. This could actually turn into a great summer.
Marcus and Jake bantered back and forth as they cleaned up dinner and loaded the dishwasher. Pat walked into the kitchen just as they finished up and gave Jake half a smile. He nodded at her decisively. It was time to get the unpleasant business taken care of.
“Marcus, would you excuse us for a minute?”
“Ah, damn!” He threw a dishtowel over the top edge of a cabinet door. “I’ll be in my bedroom while my cousin shares his big secret and you’re ready to tell me why he’s hiding out at our house.”
Jake stopped him with a hand on his bicep. “No, it’s fine, Aunt Pat. What I have to say concerns him too.”
The Walker family followed Jake out on the patio overlooking the terraced back yard. He felt anxious bringing everything out in the open, but more than that, he was afraid. He knew Pat and Avery would never judge him like his parents had done, but the thought that his cousin, his best friend in the world, might hate him for being gay almost made his dinner come back up.
Everyone grabbed a seat on the webbed patio furniture and settled with drinks. Looking across into their expectant faces, Jake took a big breath and wondered briefly if he could still hold it so long that he passed out like he’d done when he was a little kid and wanted an adult’s attention. But there was no help but to tell the truth and get it over with.
For a count of two seconds there was dead silence. Marcus also had been holding his breath and released it in a whoosh. “Is that all?” he asked, screwing up his face in consternation. “I’ve known that for… well… forever.”
“Forever?” Jake’s strained voice held a light teasing note. “I’ve only known for four years.” He laughed, seeing the smiles all around and feeling the dark tension inside him dissipate. How silly that he’d ever doubted these people.
Avery nodded firmly to verify his trust. “You know we would never judge you, Jake. We love you.”
Jake felt his eyes welling up and looked down at his fingers twisting nervously in his lap. “Thanks, Uncle Avery.”
His sadness wasn’t lost on Pat. “Judging from your skittishness and also by your mom’s call this morning,” she offered, “it sounds as if you came out to them last night. Whatever possessed you to do that?”
“No, that’s just it,” Jake exclaimed. “I didn’t. I know my dad well enough that it would be suicide to tell him. He already found out. Someone sent him pictures of me with another student. A male student. We were… kissing.”
All three Walkers gasped, and Marcus looked furious.
“Who would do something like that?” he growled. He had a typical brotherly relationship when it came to his cousin. They could squabble and bicker at each other all they wanted but if an outsider messed with Jake he better be prepared to take on Marcus too.
“I don’t know.” Jake scrubbed his face with a hand. "I don’t have any enemies that I’m aware of. The big question is how some stranger would know where to send them.”
“And why,” Pat added. “They would have to be aware that you weren’t out at home. It couldn’t have been a stranger.”
“Someone’s idea of a sick joke, maybe,” he guessed uneasily. “Jealousy? Without knowing who, I can’t say why.”
“So this whole thing is about your father’s over-reaction last night?” Avery asked, taking Pat’s hand in his. “What did he do?”
Quickly, Jake ran through the story. By the time he finished, Pat was pale and Avery’s face was tight with rage. Marcus had crossed the patio and was sitting behind Jake on the lounger, leaning his head on his shoulder in sympathy.
“Let me see,” Avery said in an agitated voice. “I know he must have left bruises, so I want to see them.”
Jake gingerly lifted his t-shirt, showing off the bluish-purple marks the size of a grapefruit on his chest and stomach. He turned around to display the contusions on his lower back.
Pat gasped. “You should’ve filed assault charges,” she said sternly.
Jake considered the advice. “No, I just wanted out of there, and I didn’t want to get Mom in trouble.”
“Why are you sticking up for your mom, dude?” Marcus asked. “She sounds like she’s just as bad as him.”
“No.” Jake shook his head. “She helped me get away.”
Jake eyes had fluttered open at the sound of the second knock on his door. Sleep-muddled, his mind barely registered that even though it felt like minutes since the wee hours of his father’s inquisition, hours must have passed because it was daylight outside. Before he had a chance to consider the risk, he called out a tired, “It’s unlocked.”
Carolyn Nielsen popped her head in. “Good, you’re awake,” she said softly, an unhappy frown on her face. “Get dressed and come downstairs.” She shut the door quietly behind her.
Jake checked the time on his bedside clock- seven o’clock- and groaned. He groaned again when he went to stand up, his body protesting the sudden movement and flexion of injured muscle. As quickly as possible he followed his mother’s instructions, and when he presented himself to her in the kitchen she was just hanging up the telephone. His clothing from the night before was folded on the counter, and he flushed with shame remembering how he’d wet all over himself like an infant.
“Did you unpack yesterday?” His mom pushed a stray strand of graying hair behind her ear, looking very nervous.
Jake shook his head. “I didn’t exactly have time last night,” he returned with a scowl. Of course, she must already know that. Wasn’t she going to apologize for leaving him at George’s mercy? “Dad wouldn’t let me go to bed until after twelve, and I was too tired.”
She nodded distractedly.”Good. Your dad just left for work, and I made you a big breakfast. Sit and I’ll serve you.”
The reminder of food made his stomach grumble painfully. He hadn’t bothered with a snack on his way to bed, so fearful his father would make some excuse to drag him back into the living room for Round 2 of his torture. That meant no food since a quick airport lunch the day before in San Francisco. His mom set down a plate of eggs, bacon and toast before him.
“After you’re finished, I want you to put all the gear you brought up from school in your truck.” To his baffled look, she added, “I just got off the phone talking to your Aunt Pat. She and Uncle Avery are expecting you this afternoon. You will be spending the summer with them in Aleppo Park. You need to hurry and get on the road as soon as possible.”
Jake stared at his mother and forced a bite of eggs down past the lump in his throat. What, was she dumping him now?
“Don’t look at me like that,” Carolyn begged, tears filling her eyes. “I’m sorry about last night- sorry that I didn’t come to your defense. But you know what your father is like. When he’s in a rage, he’s unpredictable. This is the only way I know of to get you out of the line of fire. Otherwise, he’s going to make your life hell. For certain you will get more hurt than a few bruises.”
She stepped up to him and hugged him gently. “Jake, honey, please. Just do this for me so I don’t have to worry about your safety. I don’t agree with how you… think, or who you’re with… but I still love you. Nothing will change that.”
Jake sighed. “Mom, I know, and I’m sorry too. I never meant for you to find out like this, but this is what I am. You need to get educated. It isn’t something I can change or dreamed up to piss off Dad or…”
She put up her hand to stop him. “Please, let it go for now. Give me a chance. I know I’m asking a lot and it will take time but I’ll try.”
Reaching into the pocket of her gray knit pants, she drew out a wad of money and set down beside his plate. “This is for you. There’s five hundred dollars here. Use it for gas or whatever you need until you find work in Orange County.”
A worried frown settled between Jake’s eyes. “What are you going to do? He’ll know you set this up.”
“Maybe not,” Carolyn tried to flash a bright smile. “I told your father I had appointments all day. He was going to put a lock on your bedroom door, but he was late for work and didn’t have time. He didn’t give me any instructions about keeping you here either. As far as he’s concerned, you ran off while no one was home.”
Jake got up from his chair and wrapped his arms around his mother. “Thanks, Mom. I love you. It’ll be alright, just watch.”
She cupped his cheek and a tear slipped down hers. “I hope so, honey. Now finish your breakfast. Get loaded and don’t waste any time. The sooner you’re on the road and out of the area, the better.”
“So I walked out,” Jake finished. “I left a goodbye note on the kitchen counter addressed to both my parents sarcastically thanking them for all their love and support and telling them I can’t live in a home where they don’t accept me for who I am. If I’m lucky, by including Mom in it, Dad won’t discover that she helped me.” He looked at the Walkers. “At some point, I’ll go back to get the rest of my gear, but I have no intention of living there ever again. As long as I can play, my baseball scholarship will get me through college. I hope I can find a job to help pay for the expenses the financial aid doesn’t cover, and I’ll move back into the dorm in August. I should be fine.”
Pat had already pulled Jake into an ample hug by the time he finished speaking, his chin quivering bravely as he fought tears. Her concern was just too much to bear, and he broke down in sobs.
It’s all right, Jacobaby,” she crooned, soothing her hand over his curls. “You have a home here as long as you need one. I can’t believe my sister would…”
“Don’t blame her, Aunt Pat,” Jake insisted in a cotton-muffled voice. “She’s as afraid of him as I am. I know she doesn’t like me being gay, but she’ll come around. It was just a shock, and she did her best.”
Pat harrumphed, not believing a word of his rationalization. She couldn’t fathom a sister so spineless to allow George to mistreat his own son like this. “If you say so.”
The next morning Jake listened soberly as his aunt explained the flurry of telephone activity since he had retired the night before. First of all, Avery had already received a heated call from George to report Jake missing. He played his role as concerned uncle and expressed anxiety about the disappearance but didn’t know if he was believed. Carolyn then phoned Pat as soon as George departed for work. He was, as predicted, furious that Jake had slipped through his grasp, but the boy’s quick thinking with the note had done the trick. George was none the wiser about Carolyn’s assistance in helping him leave. However, when he set his mind to something, he wasn’t easily put off, and he didn’t care how long it took, he was going to locate Jake and get this settled his way. After all, his son couldn’t stay in hiding forever. College would begin again in August, and maybe three months would teach the boy some humility and deference as long as he wasn’t carrying on in an ungodly way. George’s words, not hers.
Marcus and Jake spent several hours unpacking and getting him moved into his new bedroom. Next up was setting him up on the Walker’s cell phone plan because, as Avery explained it, if George knew who to wheedle, locating his son through the technology wouldn’t be difficult at all. Jake’s data and contacts were all uploaded into a new sim chip, and his uncle warned him about calling friends in Madera if he wasn’t sure he could trust them. Not that he was a minor who could be legally returned home, but why take unnecessary chances?
“Ready to hit the breaks?” Marcus raised his eyebrows at Jake. It was mid-afternoon, but Pat said they were going to have pizza ordered in and could postpone dinner if they wanted to surf awhile. “I thought we’d go down to Onofre for a couple hours. The conditions aren’t ideal. It’s only two footers and probably lots of soup, but you’ll appreciate safe and sane until you get used to it again.”
Jake shrugged, his face falling. “No board.” Surfing with Marcus when they were young teens had been the only way to spend the summer, and he missed the ocean dreadfully when he moved to Madera.
Marcus smirked and led Jake to the garage. Unfolding a ladder, he climbed into the rafters and began rooting around and creating space. The long silver-clothed nose of a board bag began to dip down from above. “Grab it, Jake.”
Jake’s eyes widened in joyful surprise. “Is that… is that my…? Omigod, Marc! You were supposed to sell it on Craig's List.”
After making sure that Jake had the surfboard completely in hand Marcus descended and skipped the last two rungs in a quick hop. “Uh… did I ever send you the money for it, doofus?”
Jake was too excited to answer. Softly he set the bag down on the cement and unzipped it eagerly. His four-fin custom Kies Noserider, all eight feet of her in swirls of lemon, deep navy and ocean blue, lay before him. He reverently touched the glossy finish. “I can’t believe she’s still here,” he breathed.
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t sell her,” Marcus explained in embarrassment, running his fingers through his dark, floppy hair. “It would’ve been too much like a death in the family, ya know? Maybe part of me always thought you’d move back and you would need your stick. I still have your shortie wetsuit too.”
Jake jumped up and threw his arms around his cousin. “Thanks.” He pumped his fist and yelled, “So stoked! Let’s go.”
An hour later they were slowly making their way down the cliffs to the shore, boards, wetsuits and towels in hand. It was only 3:45 but the haze was beginning to filter in, and a chilly breeze kicked up sand. Once on the flat, Marcus guided Jake to group of five young people strewn about on blankets in various positions of relaxation. “Hiya, Marc,” someone in the crowd called out.
There was a loud gasp. “Hey, it’s the curly twin,” a familiar voice echoed. Jake focused on the speaker and broke into a wide grin at the familiar reference.
“I’ll be damned,” Jake hooted. “Noah O’Brien!”
The lanky strawberry blonde bounced to his feet and lunged at Jake with enthusiasm. They had been friends back in the day when Jake was a freshman at Aleppo Park High School and Marcus and Noah were sophomores. Noah had typical Irish coloring with pale blue eyes and creamy skin that would burn, not tan, under the daily worship of the hot rays of the sun, even with copious amounts of sunscreen. But with the advent of summer still a month away, he hadn’t a chance to pink up yet.
“Fuck, Jake, it’s been far too long. I can’t believe you’re back. And you still have your old board too.”
Jake’s smile made his dimple deepen. “Marcus was supposed to sell it for me but refused on sentimental grounds. So here I am, armed and ready to hit the hollows and prove I haven’t lost my style.”
Marcus and Noah made introductions to the other four young people watching them with curiosity.
Luis Gonzalez, like Marcus and Noah, was twenty with thick hair in a braid down his back, black with blood-red streaks. Quiet, the kind of guy who didn’t speak out of turn. Spencer Caldwell and his sister, Sage, were nineteen-year-old twins, tall, slender and blonde with energy to spare and always finishing each other’s sentences. The youngest person present was Sage’s tiny best friend, Kelsey Burns, a recently graduated high school senior with light brown hair that was long enough to sit on. She reminded Jake of every cheerleader cliché possible and was the only one who didn’t return his smile when he was introduced to everyone.
Marcus stripped down to soft shorts so he could prepare his body for his wetsuit. Jake saw his aunt had been right. His cousin did have a nicely inked tribal tat on his back, a sepia and black image of a stretching bobcat male with lots of detail about the face. “That’s awesome,” Jake declared and gave him a thumb’s up.
“Thanks.” He looked out into the gray-green waves as he unrolled his wetsuit over his lubed torso. “How is it out there?”
“There’s an onshore flow, so it’s pretty messy,” Luis offered, disparaging the weak surf conditions.
“Inconsistent and soft,” Noah added, snuggling into Sage who was his girlfriend.
Marcus looked at Jake for direction, and he lifted his shoulders in a shrug, his round eyes sparkling. “I don’t care. It’s been so long, even if we can’t do more than paddle out to the line and sit, I’ll be happy. We have all summer for better conditions.”
Noah agreed to join them, and the three young men drifted side by side on their longboards, rising with the swells but not catching much of anything except up with each others’ lives. When Noah asked Jake about his plans, Marcus shot Jake a searching look, prompting a deep sigh from the younger man and a shake of his head.
“I’m just visiting for the summer.” Jake had kept an A-shirt on under his wetsuit to hide the bruises and avoid questions. “Being an adult has some privileges, including not having to go home if I don’t want to.”
Noah, who, like the rest of the neighborhood children, remembered being afraid of Jake’s father when the Nielsens lived nearby, tried to hide his realization that Jake wasn’t telling the whole truth about his sudden appearance in Aleppo Park. He had always felt sorry for Jake and his brothers over having George for a father because he seemed to go out of his way to demean them in public.
“If Marc gets tired of you, you can crash at my house,” he smiled. “Deal?”
“Deal!” They slapped fingers in a low-five pledge.
“You need to face facts, Jake,” Marcus stated, flicking a strand of seaweed off his board. “Madera has nothing on southern Cal. It’s the beaches...”
“…Bitches,” Noah and Jake joined in together, and they all laughed. That had been their tagline for as long as they could remember when they ran into people who hadn’t grown up in Orange County and wanted to know why they put up with the traffic, bad air quality and everyone living on top of each other.
The look between the cousins hadn’t been lost on Noah. “Why are you really here?”
“Let’s save it for another time.” Jake cast his sights behind him at a forming wave that looked as if it was going to develop a clean barrel, the first decent one all afternoon. “Mine,” he sang out as he began to paddle.
“Tell me again why I should go to a pool party,” Jake implored Marcus sitting side by side on the floral couch in the family room. It was 4:15 pm on Friday and they were discussing what to do with their evening.
“Because you’ll have fun. Because even though you met some of the gang yesterday you didn’t meet all my friends. Because it’s better than sitting around watching a DVD or playing video games on a weekend.”
Jake pulled a face, unwilling to admit that Marcus was right on all counts.
“Besides, it’s at Dylan’s house, and his parties are always beast.” Marcus had mentioned Dylan Moore, his best friend from high school, and how much Jake would like him. “He’s great, dude, really. You two go to the same university.”
A cloud of doubt flitted across Jake’s face. “You’re not setting me up with this guy, are you? Like on a date? I’m perfectly capable of finding someone on my own. If I even wanted to. Which I don’t. Not right now, not after…”
Marcus leaned over and clapped a hand over Jake’s mouth, laughing. “Goddamn, Jake, would you listen to yourself? You whine like a little girl. I’m not setting you up. For one thing, Dylan is straight; for another I wouldn’t know the first thing about fixing you up with someone on a gay date.”
“It’s the same thing as a regular date except between two guys.” He cleared his throat. “So this is exactly what it looks like?
“It’s a party,” Marcus repeated. “Beer, burgers and swimming. If we get wasted, no problem, we can crash there.”
“If you get wasted,” Jake corrected him, “I’ll drive you home.”
The older boy gave Jake an odd glance. “Oh yeah, I forgot that you don’t drink.”
“Correction.” Jake had a faraway look in his eyes. “I drink. I just don’t get drunk, not anymore. There’s a big difference.”
“Yeah, well,” Marcus said quietly, shifting in the cushion to get more comfortable. “I know there’s a story there, and you don’t have to tell me right now, but some day I want to hear it.”
Jake shrugged. “It isn’t a secret, Marc. I learned the hard way that too much beer can lead to traveling down some roads that were better off avoided.”
“Oh no, you aren’t getting off that easy. I want deets, Jake.” Marcus smirked. “The deep pervy secrets that lurk beneath your newfound sobriety.”
“So you’ll go with me to Dylan’s?”
“I don’t have a choice do I?”
“No, you truly don’t because I will torture you until you say ‘yes’.”
“Like you don’t already.”
The sun was still well above the horizon two hours later when Marcus and Jake stepped out of the truck in front of a long ranch-style bungalow of stucco and brick. Skirting a low post and rail fence, they padded across the green front lawn to a side-yard gate. “Hello…” Marcus called out to what sounded like silence from the other side.
“Come through,” a woman’s voice answered. “It’s unlocked.”
Stepping stones led the way to a big split level back yard with a wide patio, including a complete outdoor kitchen in navy blue tile, encircling a rectangular pool. Traversing a short flight of steps took you down to the lower section consisting of a basketball half-court, lawn and flower beds edged by fruit trees and another, smaller patio surrounding a firepit. Several young men, including Noah, were idly passing a basketball back and forth and greeted the newcomers. Others stood chatting and sunbathing at the far end of the span of shimmering blue water.
Marcus guided Jake over to a trim woman in a loud floral sundress pulling plastic cups and paper plates from one of a cabinet next to the sink. Her pale blond hair was cut very short around her youthful tanned face, and her blue eyes twinkled. He leaned over and gave her a tight hug. “Hi, Mrs. Moore.”
“Marcus,” she squeaked. “It’s been too long.” She peered around him at Jake. “And who is this dashing young man?”
Jake blushed at the compliment as his cousin introduced them. She grasped his hand in both of hers with a strength that belied her size. “It’s good to meet you, Jake. I’ve heard a lot about you over the years.”
“Good stuff, I hope,” he murmured, looking sideways at Marcus.
“The best.” Her laugh was musical.
Marcus glanced casually around the back yard. “Where’s Dylan?”
“He went to a training meeting at the rec center and should be back in about fifteen minutes.” To the boys she explained how her only son had a summer job at the city pool teaching swimming in the mornings and filling in as a lifeguard as needed.
More teenagers were arriving, and Marcus took Jake around to make acquaintances. He watched Spencer, Sage and Kelsey tumble through the gate in one unit. They bounded up to them in excitement, and Sage squealed greetings all around and passed out hugs. She found Noah on the basketball court, and Jake, Spencer and Marcus offered their services to Mrs. Moore. She quickly had them separating and rinsing lettuce leaves and up cutting tomatoes and onion for the hamburgers.
A few minutes later they were joined by a very tall, slim man with the papery dark skin and sandy hair that had obviously seen a lot of sun and wind. He gave Mrs. Moore a kiss on the cheek and in a quiet, apologetic voice announced that he’d forgotten to stop for ice on the way home. “No problem, Mr. M.,” Spencer offered. “We can get it for you.”
Marcus asked Jake if he wanted to go, but he thought it would be rude if all three of them bailed on helping and declined. Spencer grabbed up his keys and they disappeared around the side of the house. A few minutes later the vegetables were arranged neatly on a platter and Mrs. Moore thanked Jake for his assistance. He gave her a fleeting smile and, feeling a little lost, gazed around him at a yard full of kids he barely knew. It was a position he didn’t find himself in a lot. He was bashful enough that walking up and talking to near-strangers made him very uncomfortable.
He moved over to the edge of the pool where the cool blue waters beckoned him. He would have loved to jump in except for two small problems. Nobody else was swimming, and it was so close to dinner, he wasn’t sure if he should even ask. This was a new social situation where he didn’t know the rules. He fell into daydreaming and wishing he’d told Marcus to go to the party on his own. Jake could have happily hung with his aunt and uncle for a couple of hours.
He vaguely felt a presence approach him from behind and to the left, but he was too lost in his thoughts to let it register.
“Hi, you’re Jake, right?” a languid, well-modulated voice greeted him. He nodded, knowing he should pull his head out of his thoughts and at least appear to be interested in the male who was speaking to him.
“I heard Marcus’s cousin was spending the summer, but even not knowing that, you’d be easy to recognize. You look so much like him, it’s uncanny.”
Still staring into the shimmery depths of the pool, Jake laughed. “Yes, well I get that a lot. Thanks.”
The person moved directly in front of him and a hand shot out to bump his fist. “Dylan Moore.”
He completed the tactile greeting and lifted his gaze from long bare feet up a set of tanned, well-formed calves topped by turquoise board shorts and framed by the sleek abs and hairless chest of a swimmer. Above a chiseled jaw and dazzling white teeth, past the perfectly sloped nose he saw a head topped with very pale blonde hair in a retro cut. Then adjusting his angle down a few inches Jake stared into the prettiest set of deep blue eyes he’d ever seen.
Jake gasped for breath as his world spun in crazy circles, and he felt lightheaded. One beat, two beats, his heart contracted painfully and he fought the blush staining his cheeks.
There was only explanation for the way he felt.
I’m in love.
(To be continued...)