That Damned Yearbook
Trouble was awaiting Jake when he arrived home that evening. His mother had called and said she needed to speak to Jake immediately. Worried, he phoned her back.
“Hi, honey,” Carolyn greeted him after the second ring. “I heard you were gone for the weekend.”
Jake told her a little about his Big Bear trip, leaving out the parts about being alone with Dylan which he wasn’t sure she’d be receptive to. “So, Mom, what’s wrong?”
Apparently, a lot. His father, George, had gotten it into his head that the reason his mom wanted a divorce was because of Jake, and the last time she had been at the house retrieving her stuff, he was spouting all sorts of nonsense about how his lifestyle was infecting the family.
“I’m really worried, Jake. He was calming down for awhile, but now he’ gone off on another one of his tangents. He says that you only have a month until you go back to college in Long Beach, and he’ll be able to track you down there. Maybe you should protect yourself and file a restraining order.”
“I can’t,” he retorted, frustrated by this new information. “If I do, Dad has to be notified, and then he’ll know where I am. I’d rather wait to go back to school when my location isn’t a secret.”
“Then promise me you’ll be extra careful. Have you been in contact with anyone from around here?”
He told her no, that he wasn’t friends with anyone from West Madera High, and nobody knew his whereabouts. Still, even though she was reassured, he sensed something else was wrong.
“I hate to say this,” Carolyn finally relented, “because I don’t know what you can do about it. Dad says he will not store any of the stuff you left in your bedroom. I don’t have room in my apartment for it, and he’s threatening to throw it away.”
This was bad. Going to college and leaving his bedroom ‘as is’, Jake thought it would be waiting for him when he went home for the summer. He had memorabilia he treasured- baseball and wrestling trophies, photo albums, a baseball signed by Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, his baseball trading card collection, and his high school yearbooks from all four years. He didn’t want to lose any of it, and his father was just mean enough to carry through on his threats.
Even though he was upset over losing his possessions, Jake thanked his mother for the information she’d given him and trying to help him out. Like her, he wasn’t sure what to do, but he told her he would let her know.
Jake had been home for an hour when Marcus showed up after spending the evening with Noah. “Did you have a good time,” he smirked, wiggling his eyebrows. “Or didn’t you get some this weekend?”
Jake, already in a bad mood from his conversation with his mom, had a sudden urge to knock him upside the head. “Shut up, Marcus,” he snapped. “At least I’m dating someone who isn’t underage, so if I can ‘get some’, it will be without going to jail or pissing off my best friend because he’s her brother.”
“Whoa, dude.” Marcus took two steps forward and grabbed Jake’s arm to spin him around. “That was totally uncalled for.”
“Well, so is your attitude, Marc,” Jake spat. “You are the one who told me it was okay with you if I dated Dylan, but since then you have done everything you can to make it hard on me. Pouting like a child, spying on us, punishing me because I don’t hang out enough with you. So I finally get to spend some time with him, and all you can do is make rude jokes.”
Marcus looked at Jake and saw the hurt in his face. This was his cousin, his favorite cousin who was like the best of brothers to him. He was a levelheaded guy who seldom spouted off in anger unless pushed to the wall. What Jake had said about him was completely true. He’d been behaving like an ass.
“Jesus, I’m sorry, Jake. I guess I have been a little insensitive.”
Jake allowed himself a small smile. “Only a little, huh?”
Marcus punched him in the arm. “I don’t want you to get a swollen head.”
At that moment, Pat came out of the kitchen and asked Jake what his telephone call from his mother was about. In short order he told her about his father’s new threats, both in seeking him out and in disposing of his belongings.
“I have no idea what to do. Mom says she doesn’t have enough room for more than a small box or two. That would cover my baseball cards and no more.”
Marcus gave him a thoughtful look but said nothing, and soon the family went to bed.
The next day Jake began his last two-week stint as a day camp assistant. Even though he’d socked away most of his paychecks, and it was good pay at that, he couldn’t wait to be done. He had to report to college the fourth week of August, so he’d have less than a month to find a place to live, hopefully with Dylan, near school. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he was a little frightened by his father’s intimidation.
On Tuesday afternoon he returned from camp to find Marcus just getting out of the shower. Looking around as if expecting someone to be listening, he beckoned to Jake. “I need to talk to you after dinner. It’s important.”
Avery walked out on the patio later that evening to find Jake and Marcus huddled around the table whispering. They were so engrossed in their conversation they didn’t even realize he was there.
“No,” Jake said quietly. “We have to leave no later than 3:30 a.m. Traffic through Los Angeles will be bad even at that hour, and it’s going to take us at least five and a half hours to drive to Madera. I’d like to arrive right after Dad leaves for work to give us the most time to pack.”
”But Jake,” Marcus protested. “If we’re going to drive up and back on the same day, plus load up your bedroom, that will be grueling. Twelve hours up and back in driving time alone, it’s going to kill us.”
“Not if we switch off driving. We can take turns, and while one of us is at the wheel, the other can be sleeping.”
At that point, Avery cleared his throat, and the boys looked up in alarm. “Neither of you is going to Madera,” he announced, and Jake’s face took on a defiant cast while Marcus turned red at being caught in what felt a whole lot like misbehavior. “At least, not without me.”
Marcus looked at his father, shocked. “You’ll go up with us?”
”No, I’m driving you two up,” the man corrected. “We can take my pick-up which has more room for Jake’s stuff. That man has stolen enough of his life without Jake giving up his belongings too, but I don’t want him stepping foot in Madera without me there. If Uncle George somehow finds out he’s come home and tries to stop him from leaving, Jake will need more than you to defend him, Marcus. This is the safest way, and three sets of hands can make faster work than two.”
Jake gazed at his uncle in awe. Every time he thought Avery and Pat had done enough for him they found a new way to show their support. “Thanks, Uncle Avery,” he said, humbled. “So what time do you think we should leave?”
Bright and early on Friday morning, Jake, his cousin and uncle pulled out way before dawn for the long trip north. Jake had gotten out of the Friday day camp meeting and persuaded Dylan that he didn’t want to drag him to Madera too, if for no other reason than they didn’t have adequate room in Avery’s vehicle. He had already telephoned his mother who cried and told him he was being foolhardy but agreed to meet them at the house and unlock it. To any questions that might come up, Carolyn said she had never told George she didn’t have room for Jake’s stuff, so he would probably assume she took it.
Jake hoped that everything he owned would fit in the bed of the truck, but he shouldn’t have been concerned because there was ample room. The three men made quick work of it and Jake told them not to concern themselves with sorting. Just box it up and he’d sift through and repack it later. The task went without a hitch, and George did not cause trouble. By 12:30 they were back on the highway. By 7:30 they were home, worn out but safe.
Saturday morning. Jake was worn out from the frenetic, emotional day before, compounded by worries that his father would find out he’d gone to Madera and punish his mother for it. He was up early, having not slept well, and he felt bleary and unfocused. What made it worse was that, for most of the prior week, he hadn’t seen Dylan much outside of day camp either. Weekends together had become the norm, but Jake felt strongly about leaving his stuff scattered all over Pat and Avery’s patio. They had given him so much and he didn’t want to be rude.
Dylan had texted him at 8:30 wanting to make plans, and Jake explained that he was occupied and why. Dylan put himself at his disposal and said he’d get there as soon as possible. Jake was both grateful and eager to see him. Marcus sauntered out of his room at nine, volunteering to help too, but then Noah called. When told of the Madera trip and how Dylan would be hanging at the Walkers’, he quickly threw in with them and announced he and Sage would assist. It almost turned into a party when Erin decided she wanted to go see her boyfriend while her brother was visiting his.
It was nearly twelve, and everyone showed up at once, chattering happily. Jake had been working for more than five hours straight, and while he was making some headway with the mess, he had a long way to go. He was happy for the temporary distraction the company provided. It was boring work, his fingers were covered with paper cuts and he deserved a break.
Dylan found Jake on the shaded back patio totally hemmed in by semi-organized chaos. His possessions from Madera made up piles of cardboard containers and there was a large garbage bin from the side yard. The items originally brought from the Nielsen home had been so hastily crated, they were a misarranged jumble without any semblance of order. Box by box, Jake had studiously sorted and refilled to make a stack by the fence as he tossed things with no value into the trash.
“Hey, baby,” he said, leaning in for a kiss. “You look tired.”
“I am,” Jake agreed, taking time to cuddle into his boyfriend’s body and finding strength there. “I could use several large double espressos, and I still don’t think it would keep me awake.”
Dylan indicated the packing. “Why don’t you take half an hour and let me take you out to lunch?”
“I wish I could, I can’t leave Noah, Sage and Marcus to do this alone.” Sighing, Jake closed his eyes as he clung to him and inhaled his woodsy scent. “Besides, Aunt Pat is bringing home pizza for us.”
“Okay, put me to work then.”
Jake pointed a box which Dylan picked up and set on the picnic table. The label on it was an unintelligible scrawl, but when he opened the box he found books. A few paperbacks, a mechanical repair manual for his Ford Ranger, two textbooks for a history course he’d taken his first semester of college and a set of four yearbooks.
One annual he recognized; it was from Jake’s freshman year, Dylan’s sophomore one at APHS, his alma mater. The other three were foreign, all labeled West Madera High, where Jake had attended tenth through twelfth grade. Curious, he thought it would be interesting to see what Jake looked like at different stages of his youth. Yearbook photos, except for maybe the senior pictures, always made one look so dorky. He knew he was supposed to be working, but it would only take a few minutes. Chuckling, he grabbed the sophomore album first.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Jake protested with a laugh, trying to take the book back. He had seen Dylan curiously perusing his memory books and, like any self-respecting teen, didn’t want his boyfriend seeing any cringe-worthy images of him. If Jake recalled high school correctly, he was featured fairly prominently in them, especially the senior yearbook.
Dylan patiently held the book over head, inches above where Jake could reach, teasing him unmercifully. “Oh come on, baby,” he cooed. “I just want to look and see how cute you used to be.”
Exasperated, Jake blew out a noisy puff of air. “Fine, but do not say anything to me about my old pictures, good or bad.”
Dylan found a lounge chair and opened the book. He was glad to see that there was an index in the back, and he quickly located Jacob Nielsen under the ‘N’s’, listing every page his photo was featured. Nothing distinguishing in either that book or the junior annual except for recognizing the good-looking guy he was proud to call his boyfriend above each named caption. Hair length and clothing styles changed, but he still had that same warm smile and twinkling green eyes.
On to the senior album where, on page eight, he was one of seven students reclining on the senior lawn eating and listening to a band playing during the lunch hour. Page 54, there he was, sprawled in class looking bored while listening to a lecture. On page 85 in the activities section, he was dressed up in 60’s garb for Homecoming Week, sporting a loopy grin and a peace sign. Twelve pages later he was standing in another candid pose with a group of girls. Even in the quarter-page picture, he could see two of them gazing at him lasciviously, and he hid a wicked leer of possession. If Jake weren’t gay, he’d be such a chick magnet. On second thought, he was a chick magnet even if he was gay.
Page 165 was Jake’s senior picture, and Dylan had to admit he looked really cute in his informal pose with his elbows resting on what was supposed to be a tree branch. He was wearing a black button-down shirt, and his smile was dazzling. Very nice. On pages 222-224, back in the sports section, was Jake with his baseball team. There was an image of him playing shortstop, one of him sliding into third and the team photo. All pretty routine.
Dylan was just about to close the yearbook when a face caught his eye. It was another kid in the team photo, and Dylan thought he looked familiar. Very familiar, although at first he didn’t know where he knew him from. He followed the caption under the image that listed the names. Tony Holcomb. But that wasn’t how Dylan knew him. There was something different…
Twisting in his seat, he sprang up. “Jake,” he called. “Who is this?”
Jake peered over his shoulder and frowned. “That’s Tony Holcomb. You remember, I told you about him.”
Tony? Dylan thought. That’s Tony? But no, no… He has another name. And then it just clicked and he was staring at the picture in horror. Oh my god! It was Clarence, that kid who… Dylan looked up at Jake in wild panic, all sorts of doubt swirling through his mind. How could there be a connection where Jake knew him, unless? He felt fear grip his heart and with it, sudden mistrust of the boy behind him.
“He’s at Long Beach,” Dylan muttered speculatively, his gaze piercing.
That couldn’t be right, Jake thought. Tony had once inquired where he was going to college, and Jake had mentioned the state university, but that had been the end of it.
“No, he isn’t. I mean, I don’t think he is. I haven’t spoken to him in over a year so I guess it could be possible, but…”
Dylan gaped at Jake in bewilderment. How could he deny knowing that Tony went to Long Beach? They came from the same small town, the same school. And what was this name subterfuge? The boy he knew in that photo was named Clarence, and he was a sneak, a menace and a trouble-maker. And now he was Jake’s former friend?
“His name isn’t Tony, it’s Clarence.”
Jake threw him a confused glance, exhaustion and anxiety crawling up his gut. “Huh? You must have the wrong guy. Who is Clarence?”
“The kid in your yearbook, he’s Clarence,” Dylan repeated stubbornly. He could feel the reservations about Jake growing inside, and even as part of him knew they were probably unreasonable, he let them take over.
“No, he isn’t. That’s Tony Holcomb, the guy I tried to kiss. It’s right there in the yearbook, Dylan.” He pointed to the caption. “See? ‘Tony Holcomb’.”
“I thought he hates you.”
“Tony does hate me.” Jake stared at Dylan, wondering at the importance. “So what does it have to do with anything.”
“If this Tony or whoever hates you so much, why did he go to the university with you?”
"He didn’t go with me,” Jake asserted. “I told you, I haven’t talked to him once since the fight. I lost track of him after graduation. I don’t know where Tony went to college… if he even did.”
With a grimace, Dylan speculated that Jake might be playing loose with the truth. The past spring semester came to mind with a slew of ugly memories and all its associated turmoil. The details of several incidents involving a student named Clarence creeping around school who harassed a lot of innocent kids. Dylan was never able to establish what kind of fulfillment he got out of it or how he had the means to seize such an opportunity all by himself, but the aftermath had been vicious.
Jake was still talking. “I didn’t see Tony at Long Beach once last year. He wasn’t in any of my classes or in the dorms so it probably isn’t him.”
“But every freshman has to live in the dorm unless they have family off-campus,” Dylan argued in what he felt was a logical fashion. “It’s mandatory, and you said he’s from Madera.”
“Tony is from Madera.” Why the cross-examination and mind games?
Dylan's picture-perfect memory of the offensive teenager was of partial images and snatches of phrases, resulting in figurative backstabbing among friends and destroyed relationships. He had to wonder if Clarence was the only one in on the joke. Dylan and his friends had several unpleasant run-ins with the kid, and it just seemed suspicious that he turned out to be a guy Jake knew under a completely different name, and Jake was now his boyfriend.
Coincidence? Or a set-up?
“Why do you doubt me?” Jake was getting frustrated.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Dylan scoffed. “I’m in love with this guy I just met for the first time this summer. He comes from some town up north, and when he arrives he’s full of stories about an abusive father and getting beaten up by some guy. He says he doesn’t hang with him anymore, but guess what! They go to the same damn school. And they have different names.”
“What the hell!” Jake’s temper flared, and he fixed on Dylan defiantly. “I don’t know what’s going on with the name thingy and I definitely do not hang with him. But, full of stories? What is that supposed to mean? Why is it such a big deal?”
“It’s a big fucking deal if you’re hiding things from me or lying.”
From around the patio Jake could hear gasps from their friends, but he was too incensed to care if they were slinging mud in front of them. Lying? His eyes flashed angrily, and he felt as if he was looking at a stranger. Who was this person challenging his honesty? It would take an outsider, not someone who loved him, to stand there with no proof and accuse him of some inexplicable, as yet unnamed, wrong and totally disregard his efforts to fix it.
“Lying about what? Did you ever think that maybe you’re wrong, and they aren’t the same goddamned person?”
“Oh no, they're one and the same,” Dylan said in a low voice, “and all you’re doing is making excuses.”
Dylan quiet was almost more frightening to Jake than him yelling. Who cared if Tony was Clarence? It was so foolish. What had started as a simple misunderstanding in names was spiraling out of control into a battle in front of everyone. He valiantly tried to hold on to his temper.
“Excuses? What excuses? So what, you have it all figured out in your head, no matter what I say? I don’t know what the hell you’re even talking about.”
“I am not the one trying to shift the focus off myself,” Dylan said with gritted teeth.
Okay, could we just end this, Jake wondered desperately? He had been under a ton of stress and didn’t need this today, and he felt as if his attention span was shrinking to the size of a pea with all the accusations. Something had to be really freaking Dylan out to make him act like this, but damn it, he wasn’t making any sense. Jake would give anything to put the hostilities on hold so he could get a few hours of shut-eye before coming back to unfreeze it and resume, hopefully in a calmer manner. Maybe then they could sort it out.
Sage apparently had the same idea. “What do you say you two go to your separate corners?”
Jake sighed, obliged to her timing and hoping Dylan would give in temporarily. “You have completely lost me.”
“Me too,” Erin piped up. “Dylan, what’s wrong with you?”
Dylan wasn’t listening. He stared morosely at Jake, feeling the pain of confusion lodge in his heart. He didn’t like what he was thinking about him and wondering what Jake's words really meant. It was entirely possible that everything he had ever said about himself was deceitful which meant that Jake’s vows of love were also untrue. After their past four weeks together, getting to know each other, it was all now suspect. Was Jake really what he claimed? Or was it a put-on to drag him into a relationship that Clarence /Tony would exploit when they got back to school?
“This is the way I see it,” Dylan said slowly. “I love you, Jake. You said you love me, and maybe you do. But just as easily, you could be part of some scam that this Clarence kid likes to create…”
Jake was so overwhelmed he almost reeled. He went white, unable to swallow past the lump in his throat. What was Dylan saying? That he didn’t trust him anymore? Almost as if from a distance he heard Erin and Sage gasp again. Noah took two steps forward and his mouth dropped open as he quickly grasped the situation flying out of control.
“…and I can’t let you do that to me. I came out for you to all my friends, and fuck you, if this is a lie…”
“Are you threatening my cousin?” Marcus asked menacingly, his anger floating just barely under the surface as he rose up on the other side of the patio.
“Whoa, guys, all of you just stop,” Noah urged. He tried to calm both boys and get them to take a step back. “This is stupid. Why are you two fighting?”
“Back off, Noah,” Dylan warned. “This is between me and Jake.”
“What is between you and me?” Jake begged wearily. “I don’t know why you’re angry at me, but I’m trying to understand.”
“Haven’t you been listening?” Dylan huffed. “Stop acting all innocent like you don’t know what’s going on.”
“I don’t. I seriously don’t see where it makes a difference if Tony Holcomb is Clarence Whoever and at the university if I haven’t run into him.”
“Says you,” Dylan alleged. “You’re both freshman. You should know each other. From my side, it looks like I’ve been played.”
“Played?” Jake asked, incredulous. “You think I’m playing you? Hell, I’m just trying to figure out your fucked up sense of logic when you won’t even tell me why you’re mad. Remember when I told you there are 32,000 students at that damned college? I have never seen anyone who looks like Tony on campus, but I’ll agree they’re the same person if it makes you happy. I never met you either until this summer, so explain that if I’m supposed to know Clarence. I definitely don’t appreciate being called a player or a liar.”
Hearing it explained like that made Dylan feel stupid. Somewhere deep inside, he knew he was being unfair. He could see in Jake's face that he was breaking his heart. His own was falling apart in the same way, but that was partly his own damn fault for falling in love with the kid without knowing anything about him. He was suddenly aware that Jake had not uttered one awkward denial in his own defense and looked baffled more than anything. But Dylan was too angry and inflexible at the moment to let it matter, and he was sick of the whole mess.
“I’m done here,” he abruptly said in a clipped tone. His face was leaden and eyes cold. “For all I know you are just as guilty as he is.”
Jake opened his mouth to say something and closed it again. Done here? What did that mean? Guilty of what? He was only aware of Dylan striding through the door into the house, Erin in tow, as the others stared at them in alarm.
Dylan was walking out on him.
“Dylan,” he shouted, dropping the box of rapidly scattering loose coins he still held in his hand and chasing after his boyfriend. “Where are you going?”
“Home. Nowhere. Anywhere. It doesn’t matter. Just leave me alone.”
Jake gasped. “Are you breaking up with me?”
A look of sorrow passed through Dylan’s eyes. “What does it look like? Don’t follow me. Come on, Erin.”
The girl threw Jake a confused but apologetic glance and followed her almost-running brother out the front door. Jake could not move. He was numb and frozen to the floor.
“Noah was fishing his keys out his pocket with Sage right behind him. “Don’t worry, Jake. I’ll talk to him. I have no idea what’s going on either, but I’ll get back to you.”
Marcus came up beside Jake and stared after them. “Goddamn, what is the matter with him?”
“Please, Marcus,” Jake pleaded, stricken with shock and hurt that was like a vise to his heart. “Just don’t, okay?”
Marcus turned to look at Jake as he burst into tears. Marcus had rarely seen Jake cry, but he did what came naturally. He pulled him into a big hug.
I just watched the love of my life walk out the door, Jake thought, tears running down his face. And I don’t even know why.
(To be continued...)