We’re twenty minutes late to rehearsal. Mr. Clark is nervous as he knows Robby and I aren’t speaking, as well as Jack being somehow involved. He rushes Jack off to the dressing room, the girl’s bathroom, where the girls are doing hair and makeup. I trust them to protect Jack from Robby, telling the butchest girl to kick him out if he comes in.
“Mr. Clark, I wrote your Prologue for next week.”
“Who should do it? Robby will be on stage as Puck.”
“You have to do it. This is your play.” I bring out what I’ve written:
A Midsummer’s Night Dream Prologue
Good eve, gents and dames.
Welcome to medieval England
Where fairies and royalty cavort
And love is treated as sport
“Tis the summer solstice
And King Oberon wants justice
From his wanton Queen
Who’s not all she seems
A changeling has been found
An Indian lad for the crown
To be slave for love
Or King’s page or none.
We are in the bard Bill’s house
The speeches may sound rough
To modern ear to hear
Listen as gay youth appear.
Thank ye, one and all,
Enjoy our play ‘til curtain fall.
He reads it through, and looking at me, “I thought Robby did all the writing in your band?”
“He does all the talking. Do you like it?”
“It’s great. It hadn’t occurred to me we need to do this.”
“It’s your moment to shine. I hear Michael’s dad is going all out and has built a stage with traditional seating and a pit in their back yard. Do you have a knave’s costume to wear?”
“I’m surprised you don’t want me in a dress as well.”
“No, Mr. Clark, that’s not something I want to visualize. Traditional Elizabethan dress will look best.”
“So all the boys in dresses isn’t your idea.”
“I don’t want to talk about Robby right now.”
“You going to tell me what happened.”
”I grew a pair.”
“Well, you certainly have talent. Is everything okay with Jack. I feel he’s involved.”
“Okay, but please keep this to yourself. Jack and I are boyfriends. I had to stop Robby from crossing the line with him.”
“My goodness. This is not boyhood adventures.”
“Shakespeare’s not all fairies and changelings.”
“You’re right. I admire all you’ve done this year. That boy who died, was he your boyfriend, too?”
“Yes, but that’s too many questions. You’re my teacher.”
“Well, I need to get my serious boots on and get out there.”
You go, girl.
Rehearsal looks great. The boys are totally comfortable as Tinkerbells. The all-girl crew works like a sports team, right on cue, and sharp as tacks. When Mr. Clark reads the Prologue, everyone cheers him. I play the overture on a mandolin,. rented from Spec’s. Robby and a fairy are on stage after the Prologue. He knows his lines, but he stops and corrects little details as we proceed. I just turn up my amp and the music keeps everyone dancing like bees, butterflies and wooden soldiers. He finally gives up trying to direct as well as play Puck. He does a good job once he lets go of control. Being left out makes him want to exert his will, but the play has its own life. We end in thirty minutes, perfect for the party.
Grant comes over to me and complains, “I sure don’t like being referred to as a slave.”
“You’re a changeling, found unclaimed in the woods by the fairies. The Queen and King are fighting to claim you.”
“Yeah, to be their slave.”
He looks at me, “Well, that’s cool. But love slave for the King?”
“It’s called a page. No one wants you to think we cast you to be a slave.”
“I thought it was about the color of my skin.”
“That’s’why they say Indian. In the 1600s blacks were really slaves, but not in England. They were the first nation to outlaw slavery.”
“That’s cool. Just that all this role confusion. My parents aren’t going to be happy I play a love slave to a boy who’s a queen.”
We both laugh at his description.
“That’s why Shakespeare’s so great. He wrote this almost 400 years ago. All the role bending, fairies, queens, and boys as girls, is current to today. Notice how happy all the girls are doing the boys’ normal stage crew jobs. All these boys are comfortable being girls on stage. None of ’em is gay. They’re going to get kidded and jeered when we do this at school. In Shakespeare’s time, the audience stood in front and threw rotten vegetables at the actors. It was much more fun and it was all for laughs.”
“Well, all I know is my parents are over the moon about going to a party in the Gables and at Mr. Antonio’s house. He’s a huge hero in the Black community. You’re my hero for getting us to really be at this school.”
“That’s what it’s about, not being a hero but being friends. You get high?”
“Not in front of my folks.”
“Well, after we perform, stick with Jack and me as we get the kids’ band ready. You’ll see the whole affair through different eyes.”
Jack walks over, back in his regular jeans and shirt. I fuss over the mascara still on his eye lashes. He stops me, “Casper likes it.” I look over and sign that he is stealing my boyfriend.
“We know how to share,” he signs back. Jack does a half-decent job of signing ‘share.’
“What were you talking with Grant about?”
“He thinks his parents will be upset that he plays a black slave to a queen who’s a boy.”
“Ew, he’s right.”
“Well, I explained that he’s a love slave and that you’re my boyfriend, so he doesn’t need to make love to you.”
“Where’s Casper?” Jack looks around.
“We’re staying away from the bedroom. Time to make some money,”
“My butt’s too worn out for street hustling.”
“What happened to that innocent boy who just can’t help himself when he gets high?”
“He needs to get high right now.”
We ride to Michael’s where there’s all sorts of activity, mostly preparations for next week’s party. An authentic Elizabethan Globe Theatre stage with surrounding seats is going up. I ask Mike Sr. if there’s going to be a pit where the kids can stand in front while the adults are seated.
“You are nothing if not detailed oriented.”
“Thanks. It’s important that the actors get used to insults and jeers while performing. It’ll be ten times worse when we perform for the high school kids.”
“You want rotten fruits and vegetables provided?”
“No, I trust the contractor knows what he’s doing. Hey, the black kid, Grant, who we got into the play, says his parents are over the moon about coming here. You really are their hero.”
“I’ll make sure to meet them. It’s really all about their generation. You kids expect change to happen all the time. The parents grew up without that hope.”
“Why do you and my dad always harp on the same things?”
“You like having a real dad now?”
“Maybe somehow you made that happen, too.”
“I just can see in your heart what pure things you want for everyone.” Before I could tear up, “I hear you, as we say, grew some balls with Robby.”
“Well, maybe I went a little too far.”
“No, he deserved it. I’m lucky he didn’t end up hospitalized.”
“Jesus, and another call to my office?”
“No, we sent Casper’s dog, Max, to the rescue. It got him out of bed and going again.”
“Oh, that’s Jace’s new name.”
“The friendly ghost?”
“Yeah. It’s Jack idea.”
“So Jack doesn’t compete with a ghost?”
“Yeah, except now he’s learning to sign to Casper and doesn’t seem that interested in me.”
“It’s all for you, Tim. If you demand love, all you’ll get is resentment.”
“I still love him even with his new name.”
“He’s in your heart.”
“There and everywhere.”
I catch up with the Out-Crowd where Jack is already high and unconsciously hitting on Michael.
“Take him somewhere else,” he orders me.
I grab a joint that Iggy has put out and take both of them outside, light it up, and join the crowd.
“Stop hitting on Michael,” I tell him.
“I wasn’t. He’s just so nice.”
“Well, he won’t be if you keep rubbing him.”
Michael and I laugh, as Jack looks mortified.
“Come here. You totally ignored me today. First Casper, then Robby, and now Michael?”
He jumps into my arms. Jenna walks out looking for Michael.
“Come here, and join the love birds,” he orders her.
She looks as mortified as Jack, but runs into Michael’s arms.
“We’re getting Tim stoned because his boyfriend’s been hitting on everyone but him today.”
She is usually shy around me. When I kiss Jack, she stares, until Michael starts making out with her. Two couples are in their own worlds. Then we hear Dave shout, “Gelato alert.” Michael and Jenna sit up and try to look unturned on.
“Gelato alert?” I ask.
Jenna pipes up, “That means Guido is awake and on the prowl.”
Shortly the Italian hit man comes around the corner. We give him his hit and he is back to his post, asleep. Jenna abstains, but the rest of us continue to get high.
“You guys should come with us to Out & Proud. All our 10 to 12-year-old fans hang out hoping we’ll appear. We sell the girls our underwear which they make their 12-year-old boyfriends wear. We told them to come to Hippie’s church youth group last night. We were all rolling around on the ground and speaking in tongues.
“You guys were in church?”
“Yeah. Hippie alert: he’s taken the Pledge and is engaged to this church girl, Anna. We came to rescue him but ended up singing and playing Elvis gospel songs for them.”
“What happens at the store.”
“You met Felix. He pays us to model gay underwear. Then we autograph them as souvenirs. We’ve been making a hundred bucks a day. There’ll be fifty pre-teens there today. They’ll go crazy if you show up. You two are way more popular than we are after Viscaya – Romeo and Juliet of Miami.
“It sounds perverted.”
“They’re just little kids, with their parents’ credit cards. The boys are a trip. Their girlfriends make them act gay for their amusement. We sing “Amazing Grace” for them, changing it to ‘Amazing Jenna,” or whatever their names are.”
“You guys are crazy,” Jenna defers to Michael.
“Well, I bet you dragged me over to tell me what you did to Robby to make him so subdued,” Michael complains.
“It’s more what Robby did. I caught him and beat him down so bad he was in bed for a week.”
“We can assume you’re not going to tell us what he did. I’m glad you stick up for yourself with him. He’s my best friend but he does everything to the limit and beyond. He’ll really hurt someone or himself someday, if we don’t stop him from pushing others around. It wasn’t about Max, was it.”
“No, wonder dog morphed into a rescue dog. We let him into Robby’s yard and Robby’s mom lets him into his room. We watch through the window as Max makes him get up. They shared bong hits every day until he recovered.”
“Make sure Max comes to the party. He’s the heart and soul of our band.”
“Michael, my dad says I can take driver’s ed. this spring. Let’s go together,” I change the subject.
“Do we really want to be on the road when Hippie’s out there?”
“He’s a good driver except when Robby’s licking his ears.”
Properly baked, Jack and I ride our bikes to the Grove. The crowd outside Out & Proud has grown considerably. Felix runs up to us when we arrive. He has dollar signs in his eyes. He’s panicked that the police will shut him down.
“No modelling today,”
Jack looks disappointed.
“You have to play. Kids are saying a teen Jesus appeared at a church last night. Can you play some of those hymns?”
“You want Teen Jesus to appear here?”
“Jesus, no. He’ll kick any gay customer’s ass.”
“Suffer the little children.”
“Just get everyone focused on the store before all these kids cause a riot.”
“You’re really afraid of them?”
“You’ve never faced a 12-year-old girl banshee, have you.”
“Okay, we’ll do our best. What kind of underwear do you have the most?”
“Jesus, only alcoholic old men wear those. What do you have for gays?”
“I have an order that’s about to go out to the Gay Men’s Chorus.”
“Go get us a couple, size 26 and 28.”
We change into the day’s product, pulling them up so they show. I have the Fender Mustang and practice amp there. We drag them out to the curb and set up.
“Hey, y’all. We didn’t expect a crowd today. Have you all bought something?” No response. “Were any of you at the church last night?”
This draws a big cheer.
“Did you have fun?”
“Is church okay?”
“Who saw Jesus?”
A group of girls push forward a shy girl with glasses.
“What’s your name, honey?”
“Well, this song’s for you, Jane.
We sing our version of ‘Amazing Jane.” All her friends are holding her up as she cries while we sing softly.
“Now tell us what you saw,” as I point the mic to her.
“It was so nice when you sang the Elvis song “Mama,’ because my mama died when I was four (Sniffle).”
I hug her and ask if she knows what Elvis’s mama’s name is.”
“Not Presley, but it is Grace.”
We play the guitars this time and sing much louder to ‘Amazing Grace.’
Most of the kids are singing along. A lot of girls are crying. Then we do ‘Mama.’
I again ask Jane, “Tell us what you saw last night?”
“After you played these hymns, you two and the other band member Gregory came up for the benediction. Everyone was freaking out because someone told us you were devil worshipers. We had asked Gregory, but he’s very shy with girls. He took the Pledge with Anna. She assured us that he is a normal boy, just shy. So we trust him and then you two are so beautiful. Not that Gregory’s ugly, but you both had the glow, you know, like angels come down to be with us. So we start to shake like a seizure, the whole group at once. We’re waving our hands to God. Soon we start falling down and shaking on the ground. Then we see you guys rolling around with us, which freaks us out more. People are speaking in tongues. You got off the floor and were speaking with the youth leader. It was then I saw a shadow, sitting on the bookcase, watching you with the leader. When you started to play the gospel hymns, he jumped down and was standing right behind you and the new singer, Jack. He had his arms around both of you. We were transfixed by the hymns. I felt Him come into me. He isn’t like the Jesus in books. He’s our age, dressed like a teenager. Like in the bible, he doesn’t wear shoes. He looks so happy. I just thought he might be Jesus.”
A big ‘ah,’ goes out when she’s done.
“Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
“Yes, I was saved last year when I turned 13.
“Well, if Jesus is in your heart, where would an angel go when he entered you.”
“He’d be with Jesus, right in my heart.”
“Then you are doubly blessed.”
“Thank you, Jesus.”
“You know I have an angel in my heart?”
“Yes, your guitarist and best friend, Jace.”
“We just need to let them in. Can I put Jace into your heart?”
She is crying again, but nods that she is ready. Casper is going along with me reluctantly. I take his hand, and then take her’s.
She gasped. “That’s the angel from last night.”
“Well, he’s now in your heart with Jesus.” Casper makes a face but touches her.
She faints. Her friends lift her up. I tell them to take her someplace quiet, and that she’s fine, just overwhelmed.
The crowd goes hush, looking at Jack and me in wide-eyed belief. This is crazy magic.
“Hey, when you have someone in your heart, you need to share them with others, family, friends, schoolmates, strangers. Jace is always in my heart. Jane wants someone to share her heart with Jesus. I didn’t lose Jace. He’s just sharing right now. But, hey, it’s Saturday. Church is for tomorrow. Anyone want to hear more Elvis?”
We play ‘Teddy Bear,’
‘Blue Suade Shoes’
‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy,’
and ‘Love Me Tender.”
The mood lifts.
“Y’all a bit happier now? Well, we didn’t come down here to be sad. Sometimes Church seems like a sad place, because people take it so serious. If there is a Teen Jesus around here, I’ll bet he likes those Elvis songs as much as you do. Unhappy people just can’t help themselves from taking happiness away from others. It’s usually not their fault they are unhappy, but they shouldn’t spread unhappiness to others, especially kids. You know I was devastated when my boyfriend and band mate was killed. At first everyone tried to cheer me up. Eventually I was alone without him.” Turning to Jack, “Then this guy finds me. He just grabs me and won’t let go. We barely know each other from school. But he wants me in his heart. I find out how big his heart is once I’m in there. He even lets Jace in because he knows I’ll always love him, too. Just a big love fest.” I grab Jack. We kiss in front of a hundred screaming girls.
“I’m not supposed to say boyfriend because that’s illegal in Florida. Yeah, if you love your friend, they can separate you and even put you in jail. I don’t care right now. I love all of you. Jack won’t let you have me, but I do love you. I hope you’ll let me in your hearts.” More screaming. Several boys rush up and kiss me, but Jack chases them away.
“Love can be tricky, so this songs for you, Jack, and our dog Max,” and we sing ‘Hound Dog.”
People yell ‘Max’ and everyone laughs. Jack sulks that I was calling him a dog, but he really enjoys singing it with me, as we point at each other.
“Last night we had a message for all the kids at the church. If someone is bullying you in any way, tell a responsible adult until they make that person stop. There are haters in the world, plus there are those who don’t do what’s needed to stop the hate. Don’t let any hater or enabler near your heart.
Jack speaks up, “Now we didn’t just come here to entertain you and heal the world. Felix needs your business to keep this shop open. We’ll sign any clothing you buy to make it special if you like us and want to keep something we wear close to you or your boyfriend.” We both lift our tees so they all can see the underwear we’re wearing. The kids rush in. We put away the guitar and amp, set up a table and began signing the underwear. “Just hang in there’ seems like the right message to sign, plus a few ‘Praise the gays’ for obvious gay boys. Soon, Jane comes up with her friends.
“You feel better, honey.”
“You make me feel so happy, thank you.
One of her friends asks, “So do you think it was Teen Jesus she saw?”
I get them to come closer, “Sometimes I see Jace and what she says she saw is what I see, so he probably is with us. What’s important is to keep your heart open. It gives us hope and we’re better people.”
“Do you think I’ll ever see my mother?”
“Just keep loving her and keeping her close. For Jace, if someone wants him, he can touch them.”
“She could hold me?”
“That’s what he does best. You hold on to those you love and your heart is bound to grow. There’s always room for more love. Just think how many people I let into my heart today. I’m not fat yet.”
Felix closes the shop at 6pm. We’re exhausted. We each make over two hundred dollars that day.
“What will the Gay Men’s Chorus do without fresh underwear?” I ask.
“Those queens never keep their drawers on, anyway.”
Jack needs to peruse the remaining selection to satisfy his fetish. He comes up with a system where whatever color we wear says how horny we’ll be that day. Red ones mean I can tear his clothes off immediately. White means hands off. I praise his ingenuity but we know he’ll be running on red for quite a while. Hippie comes by and gives us a ride home. He had never met Felix before. Felix doesn’t make a great impression when he asks Hippie to show him his underwear. I explain how it is a way to make money and show him the two hundred bucks.
“I’d feel like a prostitute; anyway, mine all have holes in them.
“Too much information, Hippie,” we yell.
He tells Felix he’s the one who isn’t gay in the band.
“Doesn’t matter to these 12-year-olds. They just want to dress up their boyfriends like Ken Dolls.”
“Who’s Ken Dahl?” Hippie asks.
Ignorance is bliss.
He comes into the house with us. I ask Susan if all three of us can eat with them. She says to wait thirty minutes and come down. Hippie is shy, but I tell him we owe him for the meals his moms cooks for us.
“You can say grace, if you want,” knowing I’m overdoing the good boy role. Dad will see right through me anyway.
We sit talking about the bands. Hippie is sad we aren’t doing the kids shows anymore.
“You can always sit in with Jazz. He needs a lot of confidence building.”
“He’ll do fine. Playing bass is easy.’
“Remember when you thought we were going to fire you.”
“Michael’s dad wanted to.”
“He also told all of us to get music lessons.”
“Typical bass player. Says what he thinks. Doesn’t mince his words.”
What he really wants to know was what we think about Anna .
“I like a girl who puts away her food and doesn’t want to look like a toothpick.”
“Well, since we got the Pledge she don’t need to care about attracting a mate. She’s stuck with me.”
“Sounds like you think you’re not a catch.”
“With two moms. They’ll have to pray for me all the time.”
“They prayed for us and got Teen Jesus to come to youth group. The power of prayer is mighty.”
“You sure don’t take it serious.”
“Well, I don’t put it down. You saw me as the devil’s apprentice when Robby scared Dave and Jazz.”
“Scared the crap out of me, too.”
“You didn’t run.”
“Robby’s just a flim-flam man. I don’t take him serious.”
“So you need to be serious about Anna .”
“But she orders you around and doesn’t give you any leeway.”
“No leaning in the church.”
“You want some advice about girls?
They both start paying full attention. A gay boy and a straight boy, both clueless about girls. We keep discussing girls until Mom calls us down to supper.
“I’m Susan, Hippie,” she introduces herself. He says she can call him Gregory if it suits her.
My dad notices his country manner and introduces himself. “I understand you took Tim and Jack to church last night.
“The girls there have been after me since they learned I was in their band.”
When Mom seats herself, he asks, “Do you want me to say grace?”
“That would be nice, Hippie,” Susan answers. He has us hold hands and we bless everything and everyone, including the cow we are about to eat. Hippie grace.
“How long have you known Tim?” Mom asks.
“Well, last year we was in the jock crowd together. Then this fall I was in Iowa with my PeePa and MeeMa. I’ve only been in the band since Thanksgiving. They asked me to join the band because I drive.
“Well, I heard you sing at Viscaya. You have a beautiful voice.”
“God’s gift, as they say in choir.”
“A choirboy,” my Dad observes. “Don’t you feel it odd to be playing the devil’s music?”
“Only Robby’s really is into the pagan worship. I just ignore him. He likes to be mean. Everyone is very nice. Tim really knows how to organize it all. I thought I should be fired for my guitar playing. He just told me to hold the strings down when I was lost on stage. He showed me when to come back in. Rock n Roll is the simplest music. It’s fun if you don’t listen to the lyrics.”
“You don’t listen to the songs.”
“Not the bad words.”
“We met your two moms. They seem very nice. The boys love their food. What’s a dump cake.”
‘You mix up batter and throw in everything sweet to fill up the pan. Cook at 400 until the cake bounces back.”
“You’re a very sensible boy. I admire that.” Dad praises him without thinking how it makes me feel.
“Well, my MeeMa taught me all about women’s chores. My PeePa is good with cars and mechanics. I guess I’m ready for the Apocalypse.”
That’s a conversation stopper.
“When’s it coming/” I ask.
“Tim, don’t make fun,” Susan admonishes me.
“I think it would be good to know.”
“Well, it don’t matter to Tim and Jack, ‘cause they’ll just go straight to Hell.”
I’m thinking maybe he’s laying it on too thickly, when he winks at me. The bastard.
“Why do you say that, Gregory. They’re your friends.”
“All gays are going to Hell. It’s not their fault.
Susan turns white, Dad turns red, and Jack turns green. Christmas with my ex-family in March.
“Is everyone in your life gay, Hippie?” I ask.
“Not Anna. She prays for everyone.”
I see Dad is ready to make his usual stressed out exit.
“Sit down, Dad. Hippie’s making fun of me. They don’t say grace at his house. He chases girls like a heathen, we have a song that mocks the Apocalypse as hokum to keep everyone in line. It’s just time for you to accept what everyone else knows. I’m attracted to boys, as much as to girls. Sometimes more, and some girls I like more than boys. I’m gay but it’s not a problem.”
Susan starts to come to my defense, but I motion for her to let my dad speak.
“I’ve seen a great change in you since Jace was shot. I’m more concerned about you being a good person and having a sense of values. You fought me over learning some responsibility. I think you’ll agree I was right. You have grown up to be a fine young man. I’m so proud of you. When you gave speeches at my conventions about what a great dad I was, I swore I would try harder to really be that. I even love Max. Susan is so proud of you and happy that you accept her. Your sex life is a mystery to me and that’s fine. If you think I’d punish you for that, you’re wrong. All parents wants grandkids, but who knows what you’ll be like when it comes time for that. Jack, you’re welcome in this house which is more Tim’s than mine. If I seem inflexible or down right mean, well, fathers sometimes are. But I love my son. That extends to anyone he loves, too.”
He looks at Mom and asks, “Should we tell them?”
She nods. I worry maybe she’s pregnant, but as they say, that’s putting the cart before the horse.
“We’re getting married. I want you to be my best man. We waited to make sure you accept Susan.”
“I love her. She’s Mom.”
I’m so happy, I start hitting Hippie who had sat through the whole drama as if it was a Lifetime movie. “You bastard, you outed me to my family and now they have to get married.”
“It was about time you grew a pair.” He hits me back. Was that a love tap?
Dad brings out champagne, domestic, as he still has military tastes. There are all these plans to discuss, but all I want is to push Hippie out the door and get with Jack upstairs. The damn underwear is about to burst. I had dreaded the gay conversation for so long. But I had grown a pair, to go with my big dick, and stated my case. They already knew, of course. It’s just a question of how happy they’ll be. Maybe when you’re happy with someone, no other issues can touch you. Then I realize I hadn’t acknowledged Casper. When I look him in the eye, I know he’s hurt. I sign he’ll get first crack at Jack. Jack is watching and signs that they had agreed it was my turn to be double-teamed. With all the frantic signing, Hippie realizes he better leave before he gets dragged into it.
“You’re a sly one, Hippie.”
“All’s well that ends well.”
“Does it help when we talk about Anna ?”
“Why do I think two gay guys can give me girl advice? Better than my two moms telling me all guys are assholes.”
“Sounds like Marge.”
“They used to call her Large Marge, you know.”
“What do they call her now?”
“What’s a MeeMa and a PeePa?”
“That’s what grandparents are called in Texas.”
“I thought they live in Iowa.”
“Yeah, they got kicked out of Texas because of my two moms.”
I hit him again. Hippie is as Hippie does.