Small Town Boys - Chapter 51
Tyler’s Big Adventure
“Whoa,” said Danny. “Kid’s got some stones.”
Donny had the phone muffled against his chest. “His folks must be freaked,” he said.
“No doubt.” Danny grabbed his keys. “I’ll go pick him up. Meanwhile, you get hold of his parental units and let’em know where he is and that he’s okay.” He glanced at the roast on the counter. “Good thing we’ve got enough to feed him.”
Donny told Tyler that Danny was on his way. “He’s driving a dark green Jeep Wrangler with Colorado plates. What airline did you come in on?”
“United,” Tyler said.
“Okay. Meet him at the arrivals level of Terminal Seven. He should be there in about a half-hour or so. Have you called your folks and let them know where you are?”
There was a long pause. Donny could hear the P.A. in the background paging Mr. Lopez. Then Tyler said, “I’ll be outside looking for the Jeep. I’m wearing a green parka.” The line went dead.
Donny put the phone down. “He’s wearing a green parka. Sounds like he didn’t call his folks.”
“Well,” said Danny, “you do it, then. Meanwhile, I’ll get him back here.”
“You remember what he looks like? From the pictures?”
“Skinny blond kid with a green ski parka. Not too hard to spot.”
The Jeep roared out of the driveway. Donny called directory assistance to get the number of Clark Herlinger in Maple City, Michigan, but the number he got was for the clinic: “Merry Christmas and thank you for calling the Northview Veterinary Hospital. At the present time our office is closed. If this is an emergency, please call the Cherryland Emergency Vet Clinic at…” Donny hung up and thought for a moment. If he couldn’t reach Tyler’s parents directly, he could try getting the number from Mike’s parents. He remembered the card that Mike had given him with the Lankowski’s number on it, and then remembered that he had neatly placed it in his Rolodex at the office. He cursed under his breath, called directory assistance again and asked for Eugene Lankowski, and got the same number for the clinic. Well, he thought, the last resort is to try to get in touch with Mike. He found the number for the Villa on a card in his wallet. The phone was answered on the second ring. “Villa Castelfranco di Sopra,” said a smooth male voice.
“I’m trying to get in touch with, uh, Lance Michaels.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but there’s no one here by that name.”
“Um, how about Michael Lankowski?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” replied the voice and hung up.
Donny then remembered that guests were issued passwords when they checked in so that incoming calls wouldn’t be blocked, but Mike had not called to give it to him. He cursed again, then tried calling Paul Jeffries. There was no answer; he too was probably out at the Villa. He thought about calling the Villa again and explaining that it was an emergency, but he knew that the staff was well-trained and wouldn’t put any call through without the password.
Momentarily stymied, he went into the kitchen and started to get the roast ready, all the while wracking his brains about who he could call. Marc? He wouldn’t know the password, and he was in Santa Barbara. He peeled the carrots and chopped them up and was quartering the potatoes and had decided that the only solution was to try the Villa again when the phone rang. It was Trish calling to wish him a merry Christmas.
“Same to you, Trish. Hey, maybe you can help…” He explained the situation, and smiled to himself when Trish had virtually the same response that Danny had had: “Wow, that takes balls.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard. I need to get in touch with Mike. He knows how to get in touch with the kid’s parents, but he’s out at the Villa and I don’t know the password, so…”
“The guardians at the gate won’t let you in. How ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ can you get?”
“Yeah, right. Can you help me out here?”
“Hey, I’m your producer.”
“I’ll call you back with it in a few.”
Trish was as good as her word. Donny had just put the roast in when she called back. “The magic word is ‘wassail.’”
“It’s Christmas. What did you expect; ‘gay apparel’?”
“How’d you get it?”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Merry Christmas, Donny. I hope the kid gets home all right.”
Donny called the Villa again and gave the password. “Yes sir, how may I direct your call?”
There was no answer in Mike’s room, and after ten rings the operator came back on and said he could take a message. “Ask him to call Donny at home, please.”
Nearly an hour later and as the aroma of the cooking roast was filling the house, the Jeep pulled into the driveway. Tyler had taken off the parka, but he was still wearing a sweater. He looked tired and a little overwhelmed, as if he had nothing to do with what had happened to him. Danny carried in his small light-blue American Tourister suitcase.
“Hello, Ty,” said Donny. “So, what’s going on?” he added trying not to sound judgmental or hostile.
“Hi, Don,” the boy replied, sounding tired, and noticing the smell of the food, looked around the kitchen.
Donny held out the cordless phone. “Call your parents. Now.” Tyler shook his head, and Donny started to say, “Either you do it or I will,” but Danny interrupted. “Why don’t we get you settled in, Ty? I’ll show you where the guest room is, then you can get cleaned up and we’ll get some chow.”
Danny glanced at his twin, and Donny nodded reluctantly. A few minutes later Danny came back alone and leaned against the counter in the kitchen. “He’s gonna take a shower. Were you able to get in touch with his ‘rents?”
Donny told him about the phone calls.
“Take it easy on him for now, okay?” Danny said, munching on a stray carrot slice, “He’s carrying around a real bagful of pissed off, and for the moment he doesn’t need to get it from anyone else. Something really heavy’s going on for a kid to run away like that.”
“Did he say what?”
“No, but the first thing he said to me was ‘I’m not going back,’ and he was quite proud of how he pulled off his escape.”
“How’d he do it?”
“His parents are away this weekend a Christian Christmas retreat. They belong to a church that doesn’t go overboard with celebrating the holiday, I guess. They’re supposed to be back tonight, but while they were gone, Ty was spending the time with his aunt and uncle in Traverse City. Yesterday afternoon he told them he was going to do some shopping at the mall, but instead he got on a bus to Grand Rapids, spent the night in the airport, and got on an early flight this morning to Chicago connecting to Los Angeles.”
“Just like that.”
Danny shook his head. “Nope. He bought the ticket three weeks ago with his birthday money and allowance. He knew enough to buy the ticket when it was still discounted. My experience with AWOL’s is that they don’t do it on the spur of the moment; it’s timed out to the last detail like The Great Escape. He got his cousin to cover for him, and my guess is that nobody noticed he was gone until sometime this morning when he was halfway here. And unless the cousin breaks under interrogation, they won’t know where to look for him until he wants them to know.”
“Yeah, well, as soon as Mike calls back, they’re gonna know,” said Donny firmly.
A few minutes later the phone rang. It was Mike. He sounded cheerful until Donny told him why he’d called, at which time his tone changed to all business. “I’ll make the call. You don’t know Clark, and getting a phone call like that from a stranger will only make it worse. For them and for Ty.”
Tyler came into the kitchen wearing clean jeans and a Traverse Bay Christian Academy shirt. His hair was still damp from the shower. Danny went to set the dining table in the sunroom while Donny finished the last of the meal preparations. Tyler offered to help, so Donny had him mix the salad dressing.
“So you guys are twins,” Tyler said, looking out to the sunroom.
“Yep,” replied Donny, preparing the standard answers to the usual questions. But Tyler said, “Wish I had a brother.”
“Only child, huh?”
“I had a sister, but she died,” he said simply, shaking the cruet.
“Oh, sorry to hear that.”
Tyler shrugged. “She was only a couple of month old when it happened. Mom said the Lord needed her in heaven.”
Donny looked at him to see if he was being cynical, but his expression was unreadable. The oven timer went off.
Donny opened a bottle of wine. Tyler had a Coke, and before they ate, Donny raised his glass, much like his father did, and said, “A Merry Christmas to all near and far. Good to have you here, Danny. You too, Ty.” Tyler nodded, then folded his hands together in prayer and murmured a sotto voce grace. The twins waited respectfully until the boy looked up again and smiled a little. “Thanks for…having me,” he said.
They ate slowly, the conversation a little strained because Danny couldn’t talk about what he was doing other than to say he was a first lieutenant in the Air Force, and Donny’s work on the Starship Enterprise project wasn’t really that interesting to anyone outside of the business, and he decided not to bring up Small Town Boys, fairly certain that he didn’t want Tyler going back home and telling his parents that he had spent his time in L.A. with the executive producer of a TV program about gay men.
They were just finishing up when the phone rang. Tyler looked stricken. Donny got up from the table and took the call on the cordless in the living room. It was Mike. He had spoken with his parents, who had gotten in touch with the retreat center where the Herlingers were staying in Houghton Lake. They would be home at six o’clock Eastern Time. Donny looked at his watch; that wasn’t for another couple of hours at least. “Call your folks back and give them my cell phone,” Donny said, “just in case, okay?”
“I already did,” Mike said. “I know how this town works.”
Donny went back to the table and told a visibly relieved Tyler that his parents weren’t home yet. “So, before they get there, whaddaya say we give you a little tour of Southern California while you’re here. I don’t think we’ve got time to go to Disneyland, but we can at least see some of the sights.”
They cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen quickly. Donny backed the Mustang out of the garage. It was a nice sunny afternoon, so he put the top down.
There wasn’t much traffic on Christmas Day, so they went up Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverly Hills, past some of the more notable mansions, then east to Hollywood. They stopped in front of the Chinese theatre and walked along several blocks of the Walk of Fame. Tyler seemed to enjoy it, but he admitted that he hadn’t seen a lot of movies since his parents didn’t approve of most of what came out of Hollywood.
“Where’s your gym?” Tyler asked.
“We can drive by there, but it’s closed today,” Donny replied.
“Oh, okay,” Tyler said, sounding disappointed.
They drove back to the house, and Tyler asked if he could go in the pool. “I brought my trunks.”
“Sure,” Donny said. “We’ll join you.”
Tyler emerged from the guest room in faded shorts that hung almost to his knees. Danny pulled on his AFA suit and sweatshirt and Donny put on his most modest surfer jams. The air was still cool, but sitting in the sun took the edge off. Donny swam some laps at first, then Danny found an old nerf ball left over from a previous tenant and they played a rousing game of keep-away, Tyler diving and plunging for the ball, at one time nearly climbing on Donny’s back to get it away from him.
When he finally tired of the game, Tyler sat on the steps in the shallow end, the water lapping around his chest. “I can’t believe I’m in an outdoor swimming pool on Christmas Day,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m in California.” All Donny could say was, “Yeah, well.”
It was almost dark when Clark Herlinger called. Tyler was in the living room watching TV. His voice was measured, almost cheerful, and he thanked Donny for taking care of Tyler. “I can’t fault him for getting in touch with you as soon as he got there,” Clark said.
Donny walked out to the patio, leaving Tyler in the living room. “Not a problem. I’ll make the arrangements to get him back as soon as possible.”
“Let me give you my credit card number,” said Clark.
“Don’t worry about it. That’s the least of your worries. I guess you want to talk to him,” said Donny, looking through the sunroom into the living room. Tyler was staring back at him.
“Yes, please,” he replied, and Donny beckoned to Tyler. He came outside to the patio, but before Donny handed him the phone Tyler said, “Is he mad?”
Donny covered the phone. “I don’t know, Ty. He’s your dad.” He handed him the phone. “Talk to him.”
Tyler took the phone reluctantly and sat down in one of the plastic chairs by the patio table. “Hi, Dad,” he said almost mournfully. Donny went back into the house and made a point of not looking back. He went into the office where Danny was setting up his new computer. Twenty minutes later, Donny looked out to the patio. The lights were on in the bushes and in the pool. Tyler was still sitting in the chair, his back to the house, but Donny could see that his shoulders were shaking, and as he approached the door he could hear him talking. Donny went into the kitchen, got a couple of beers, and went back to the office.
A few minutes later Tyler came in, holding out the phone to Donny. “He wants to talk to you again,” he said. He had wiped his face, but it was obvious that he had been crying.
“Hello, Dr. Herlinger,” Donny began.
“Please call me Clark. I just wanted to say again how grateful Stephanie and I are for you taking care of him, and it goes without saying that I’ll reimburse you for any expenses, including the airfare.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Donny. He wrote down the Herlinger’s home number. He felt an overwhelming urge to say something, anything, hoping to let Clark know that he hoped they wouldn’t go too hard on their son when he got home, but he knew it wouldn’t mean anything coming from him. So all he said was, “I’ll call you in the morning with the flight information.”
“Thank you, Don. Good bye.”
He had no sooner hung up the phone when it rang. It was Eric. “So are we still on for tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” said Donny.
“Twins day out. Remember?”
“Oh, shit, that’s right.” Donny took the phone into the office and closed the door. He quickly explained the situation.
“Holy shit. That explains why your line’s been busy forever,” said Eric. “Well, if you don’t want to do it…”
“No, it’s cool. We gotta keep him entertained until we ship him back Tuesday morning; might as well make a day of it.”
“Sure, what the hell,” replied Eric. “Wow, the kid ran away all the way from Michigan. What’s up with that?”
“I have no idea,” said Donny. “He’s definitely got some problems at home, though. So tomorrow let’s just be cool and not give him the third degree.”
“Say no more,” said Eric. “See you in the morning.”
Donny went back to the living room. Tyler had the TV on again, flipping through all the channels on the cable. “I guess you don’t get as many channels up in Michigan,” he said.
Tyler shook his head. “We don’t have cable.” He scanned past a few more, including ESPN, Univision, and the Weather Channel.
“I don’t watch that many,” Donny said. “Mainly the networks and HBO.”
Tyler turned off the TV. “I have to go back,” he said, as if there was any doubt.
“I know. I’m going to get on the phone to the airlines in a few minutes and see what we can do about that.”
Danny came into the room and leaned against the doorjamb into the kitchen, his arms folded across his chest, looking at Tyler with studied interest, the way a teacher watches a student taking a test. “Well, Ty,” he said casually, “you told me how you got here… So you want to tell us why?”
“They’re gonna send me to a boarding school.”
“I’m supposed to start right after New Year’s.”
“Where is it?” Donny asked.
“Somewhere in Tennessee. It’s run by the church.”
“Well,” replied Donny, not sure what to say. “What’s…?”
“Any reason that they’re doing that?” Danny interrupted.
“They want me to spend more time on my schoolwork and serving the Lord,” Tyler said hollowly.
“What’s wrong with the school you go to now?” said Danny, indicating the shirt.
“It’s…nothing. I like it there. Got a lot of friends.”
Tyler shrugged. “Not bad. B’s, mostly.”
“So why send you away?”
Tyler was silent for a moment. “My mom thinks there are too many… distractions. Too many temptations that lead away from …”
“And sticking you in a boarding school will put an end to that.”
Tyler nodded and whispered, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, I can think of a couple of hundred ways of dealing with the situation better than how you did it,” Donny said.
“I just… I just don’t want to go to that school. I don’t know anyone there and it’s…so far away.”
“Los Angeles is a lot further than Tennessee, and you don’t know anyone here, either.”
“I know you,” Tyler said, looking at Donny hopefully.
“So,” Danny said, “what’s your plan?”
“Sure. You got to L.A. Now what? What are you gonna do?”
Tyler shrugged. “I dunno…”
Danny looked at Donny. “See, twin, that’s the trouble guys with going AWOL. They plan the escape down to the last detail, but once they’re over the wall, they haven’t a clue what to do next, so they usually get caught pretty quick because they don’t have a plan. The MP’s know this, so they look in the most obvious places; a local bar or cat house or back home. Back on base and into the brig in less than twelve hours; forty-eight if they’re especially resourceful.”
Tyler looked stricken. “I don’t want to go back.”
“What choice have you got? What are you going to do out here? How old are you?”
“Fifteen, almost sixteen.”
Danny looked at Donny. “You’re the expert in H.R. Can a fifteen year old kid get a job here in California?”
“Flipping burgers, maybe,” Donny replied.
“I’ll do it.”
“The minimum wage is $4.25 an hour, Tyler,” Donny said. “That’s eight grand a year. You can’t live on that. Hell, you can’t live in Michigan on that, let alone L.A.”
“I could work for you. I know stuff about computers.”
Danny snorted. “Tyler, you’re not going to work for him. That’s not gonna happen. You’re gonna get back on a plane tomorrow or the next day and go back to Michigan, and if you’re lucky, your parents won’t send you off to one of those schools where they put ankle monitors on you and lock the windows at night.”
Tyler ducked his head and whispered, “I know.”
Donny looked at his brother, knowing that it was his turn in this impromptu good cop – bad cop routine. “You never really told me why your parents decided to send you off to this school.”
“Yeah, I just did.”
“Well, no. You said your mother wanted you to avoid ‘temptation.’ What exactly did she mean by that?”
Tyler stared at the blank TV screen, glanced at the twins, then bowed his head. “She found my magazines,” he said quietly.
“What magazines?” said Donny.
“Playboy? Girlie stuff?” said Danny.
Tyler shook his head vigorously, his head still down. “No. Weightlifting stuff. Muscle and Fitness. Stuff like that”
“What’s wrong with…?” Donny started to say, but Danny interrupted. “She doesn’t want you working out?”
Tyler shook his head again. “She says it’s vain and ungodly. I tried to tell her that a lot of guys who work out are Christians and that they’re trying to live up to their potential and that working out tests your resolve to sacrifice for the Lord, but…” He put his hands over his eyes for a moment, then continued. “She says it leads to ‘unnatural thoughts’ and sin.”
“She says that looking at men like that leads to….” He struggled with the word for a moment, twisting his mouth, biting his lip, and finally whispering, “homosexuality.”
Donny shifted in his chair and said, “Look, Ty, there’s nothing in those magazines you can’t learn from just working out with your coach or what I wrote out for you, so there’s no sense in forking over all that money when you don’t need to. Trash ‘em; you’ll make your mom happy and you’ll save a few bucks.” He got up suddenly. “So, anybody want a sandwich or something?”
Donny spent over an hour on the phone trying to book a flight for Tyler out the next morning, but every airline was booked solid through every connection out of every airport within the Los Angeles area. The earliest direct flight was 9:15 Tuesday morning. “I’ll take him,” Danny offered. “I need to go out to the base anyway.”
“You can’t take me?” Tyler said to Donny.
“I have to be at work first thing Tuesday.” Donny saw the disappointment on Tyler’s face, so he tried to cheer him up a little. “Hey, tomorrow some of my friends are coming over. We’ll go check out some more sights, okay?”
They said good night in the hall, Donny making sure the guest room door was closed, then went into the master bedroom and closed the door. Danny was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. He undressed slowly and settled in to the left side of his bed, leaving enough room for Danny. “When was the last time we bunked together like this?” Danny said as he pulled the covers up.
“Boynton Beach, I think,” said Donny quietly.
“Oh, right, the Sea Breeze,” he chuckled softly. “Sand, sun, and Lucy…what was her name?”
“McMillan. From St. Louis.”
“Wow, you remember.”
“Yeah,” replied Donny, wondering what happened to Benji Rubenstein, the well-built boy from Great Neck.
Danny flicked off the light, the curtains letting in only the faint glow from the outside lights around the pool. “Well, this was an interesting Christmas,” he murmured. “You know that kid has a major league crush on you, don’t you.”
“Gee, ya think?” said Donny sarcastically. “You do realize that he was bullshitting us on the reason he ran away, too. No way he’d take off just because his mom found some muscle mags. There’s gotta be more to it than that.”
“I don’t know. But it’s something serious and he’s not telling us.”
“Think he’s gay?”
Donny let out a deep breath. “He’s a kid. Kids get crushes on older guys; teachers, coaches, that sort of shit all the time. You saw that in the academy, right?”
“I see it all the time with new recruits and their CO’s.”
“Well, there you go. Doesn’t mean they’re gay.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re not” replied Danny. “How old were you when you started messing around with Craig?”
“Did you know you were gay?”
“Hell, I just knew I liked getting off. Didn’t think about it being gay or anything.”
“Well, whatever, gay or not, that kid has it bad for you. You’re gonna have to find a way to let him down slowly. And gently.”
“I know,” Donny sighed.
Danny settled his head against his pillow. “G’night, twin. Merry Christmas.” It wasn’t long before Danny was asleep, his breathing settling into the pattern that Donny knew like his own heartbeat.
Eric and Greg arrived the next morning a little after eight. Donny introduced Tyler to them as a friend from Michigan, and neither Eric nor Greg raised an eyebrow. After some good-natured arguing about what to do, Danny turned to Tyler. “Hey, ever seen the ocean?”
“No. Well, except for when we were coming in for the landing.”
“That settles it,” said Eric. “To quote the immortal Brian Wilson, ‘if everybody had an ocean….’ Good thing I packed my swimsuit.”
It took them a few minutes to gather up the beach stuff, but soon they piled into Donny’s Tahoe and found a parking spot near Venice Beach. It was not very crowded for the day after a holiday, but there were still people jogging, roller-blading, and even some brave surfers in wetsuits were paddling around waiting for the waves.
Tyler, his hands plunged in his jeans pockets, plodded across the grayish sand, his sneakers making small craters. They followed him down to the edge of the water. The sunlight was a little watery from the haze, but the sky was mostly clear and the air smelled of salt with a touch of smoke from the hot dog stand up the beach.
“Next stop, Hawaii,” said Danny, pointing off to the southwest.
“Wow,” said Tyler.
“Yeah, it’s a little bigger than Lake Michigan,” said Donny. He looked back up the beach to where he had first sat and chatted with Mike and where he and Eric had sat and watched Greg and Danny play football with the high school kids. This time there were some boys flipping a Frisbee back and forth while their dog – in violation of beach rules – ran back and forth between them.
“You come here a lot?” Tyler asked.
Donny thought back to the last time he’d been to the beach. It had been almost two years since he and Eric had come down here and sat on the sand. “No, not really. When you live here, you kinda forget that you live this close to it. It’s mostly for the tourists.”
They walked up the beach past the lifeguard stand. “Sorry,” said Eric, “I guess they gave Pamela Anderson the day off.” Tyler nodded as if he got the joke, but Donny doubted that he was familiar with the cast of Baywatch.
They set up camp close to their favorite spot, and Eric peeled off his shirt, revealing his lean but muscular torso and six-pack abs. Tyler looked at him and said, “You work out a lot?”
Eric grinned a little as he undid his belt and dropped his jeans, revealing his faded Ocean Pacifics. “Yeah, some,” he replied and then nodded at Donny. “Nothing like Schwarzenegger over there, but, y’know, enough to stay in shape.”
“I’m working out, too,” said Tyler, self-consciously plucking at his t-shirt.
“Good for you. Start early and you’ll be huge by the time you’re twenty or so.”
“Hope so,” said Tyler, “but I’d settle for looking as hot as you.”
Eric chuckled. “Thanks, kid,” he replied and shot Donny a quick look.” Danny nudged Donny privately and muttered, “Uh huh.”
They sat in the sun for a while, then Eric announced he was going to see how cold the water was. “Any other takers?”
“I’ll go,” said Tyler promptly.
“You’ll freeze your nuts off,” said Greg, who had already ventured down to the waterline and waded in up to his ankles.
“Nah,” he replied. “C’mon, Donny, you wanna go?”
He shrugged, snubbed out his cigarette, and followed them down to the edge of the water. It was not cold, but as he waded in, Donny didn’t feel like going in all the way, so he just went as far as his knees. Eric, however, took a running start and plunged in with a whoop, then jumped up and clutched his elbows. “Wow! Man, that’s…wild!” After a moment of hesitation, Tyler waded in up to his knees, then took a deep breath and dove in, coming up immediately and shoving his fists in his eyes. “Ow!” he exclaimed, “that stings!”
“Yeah,” laughed Eric, “salt water’ll do that to ya!” He splashed some water at Donny. “C’mon in, you big goof!”
Donny went back up to the waterline. “Nah, this is fine. You guys have fun, okay?”
“Wuss,” Eric snorted, then dove again like a porpoise, coming up a few yards further out.
He went back to his chair. Danny was telling Greg about Tyler’s adventure.
“Jesus,” Greg said, looking at Tyler splashing in the water with Eric. “You think there’s some serious shit happening at home?”
“Has to be. Teenage rebellion is one thing, but…”
Greg said to Donny, “You think he’s gay and his parents found out?”
Donny was watching Tyler and Eric horsing around in the waves. Tyler had grabbed Eric around the shoulders and was trying to climb on his back, practically mounting him from behind. “Something like that,” Donny mused. “Who knows.”
For lunch they got some very overpriced tacos and nachos, then joined in a game of ultimate Frisbee with some other people down the beach. By four o’clock they were all sticky and gritty from the sun and the sand and Donny suggested they go back to the house, clean up, and then go get some dinner. Eric and Tyler went off to the public restroom down the beach to change out of their swim suits. When they came back, Greg said to Tyler, “A little different than Michigan, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Tyler with a grin. “I like it here.”
They got ice cream cones and walked back to the car. “’Course,” Donny said, “you’ve only seen the good side of L.A. There are parts of it that pretty much resemble a war zone.”
“And the people are basically crazy,” said Danny.
“So why did you move here?” Tyler asked, licking the vanilla runner off the side of the cone.
“I got tired of the cold,” Donny said. “I really didn’t plan on staying. A month, tops. But I got the job and…”
“I could do that,” said Tyler.
“Yeah, but I was twenty-one, Tyler. I could sign a lease on a rental agreement. I had some money saved up. I had some marketable skills. And my parents knew where I was going when I left.” Donny started the car, made a sharp U-turn, and they drove back to the house.
They ordered take-out from the Great Wall and ate quietly on the patio. Donny noticed that Eric was mostly silent throughout the meal, and when they were done he helped Donny clear the table, leaving Danny, Greg, and Tyler chewing on their fortune cookies.
As he was dumping the boxes into the trash, Eric looked out to the patio. “So Tyler’s going home in the morning,” he said quietly.
“That’s the plan.”
“Good.” Eric closed the lid on the trashcan.
“Why do you say that?” Donny asked.
“’Cause he tried to hit on me.”
“He came on to me, Donny. When we were changing clothes at the beach in the restroom. He pulled off his trunks, whipped out his cock and asked me if I wanted to suck him off.”
“Or he could do me. Either way.”
“What did you do?”
Eric glared at him. “I fucked him in the stall, Donny,” he said sarcastically. “What the hell do you think I did? I laughed it off, said no thanks, and got the hell outta there.” Eric looked out to the patio again. Tyler was sitting with his back to the house. He was talking about snowmobiling. “He was sending out vibes all day, Donny. When we were swimming, I swear he tried to grab my balls, and when he kept tackling me in the water, he kept pressing himself against me. That kid looks all sweet and innocent, but I’ve seen kids like that before, usually hanging around bars or pickup spots in West Hollywood. Get him home, Donny. He’s trouble.”
Eric and Greg left a little while later, and Donny told Eric he’d be in the office a little late; he was taking Tyler to the airport. Eric said he understood, said a perfunctory “nice to meet you” to Tyler, and waved to Danny as they backed out of the driveway.
It was still early, so they watched some TV, Tyler flipping through the channels until he found a movie on HBO. The three of them watched it in silence, and when it was over, he said, “Okay, time for bed. You’ve got an early flight.” He glanced at his brother. “And change of plans; I’m taking you to the airport.”
Tyler shrugged. “Cool.” He got up and went into the guest room and closed the door. Donny turned off the lights and set the alarm from the inside.
Danny was already in his shorts and getting into bed. “Something you want to tell me?” he said quietly. Donny told him what Eric had said. Danny shook his head. “I had a feeling about that little bastard. I’ll go with you and make sure he gets on that plane. We’ll walk him to the gate if we have to.” He plumped his pillow, rolled over and was asleep in a moment. Donny turned out the light and stared up at the ceiling.
He was at the quarry. The sun was blazing hot, and after an hour of catching sunfish and letting them go, Craig tilted his head wordlessly toward the sheep shelter. The air was a little cooler but still stifling under the splintered roof, and after they smoked a cigarette apiece Craig pulled down his jeans, fumbled with the zipper on Donny’s cutoffs, and buried his face in the damp cotton of his jockeys.
Danny was motionless in his sleep, probably from years of sleeping in barracks and close quarters with other men. Donny looked at the alarm clock. Nearly twenty minutes had passed since lights out, but sleep was no closer. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind, thinking of sitting on a beach and watching the clouds, but nothing worked. He thought about getting up and taking a couple of aspirin; his mom had said that was what helped her.
He quietly got out of bed and went to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He found the Bufferin and shook out a couple of pills, washing them down with a sip or two of water. He was halfway across the room when he heard the faint click of the guest room door opening. Soft footsteps padded down the hall to the other bathroom. Donny listened by the door. A little later he heard the toilet flush, then the footsteps went down the hall, but past the guest room. Donny opened the door a crack. The hall was dark, but the lights from the back came in through the sunroom and showed Tyler in silhouette standing by the couch. After a moment, the TV came on, the glow filling the room. The sound was instantly muted, and Tyler sat on the couch, the cushions wheezing slightly.
Donny made sure that he made a little noise as he came out of his room so as not to startle the boy. The TV went off, but Tyler did not move. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asked, his voice just above a whisper. Tyler shook his head. “Me neither.” He turned on the light on the end table. Tyler was wearing a t-shirt and jockey shorts. Donny sat on the other end of the couch, leaving an empty cushion between them. The only light in the room came from the lights in the yard coming in through the sunroom, leaving them in semi-darkness. Donny turned on the lamp to the lowest setting, and Tyler blinked several times.
“Where’s your brother?”
Tyler nodded. “So, does he know you’re gay?”
Donny looked sharply at the boy. Tyler’s expression was unchanged, but there was an edge to it, almost a smirk. “Yeah,” Donny replied cautiously, “of course.”
Tyler nodded. “Yeah, I kinda figured, you being twins and all.” He absently drew a line down his thigh with his index finger, then looked at Donny again. “’Course, I knew, too.”
Donny shrugged. “It’s no big secret. Not like I’m in the closet.”
Tyler shook his head and smirked. “Yeah, and I pretty much had you pegged when you showed up at Mike’s house for Thanksgiving, ‘cause we all know about him, too.” Donny glared at him, and Tyler held up his hand. “Hey, it’s cool. I mean…” Once again he drew his finger up his thigh, this time resting his hand on his crotch. He looked at Donny and grinned broadly. That said it all, and in an instant Donny got up from the couch and didn’t know where to go. He looked at Tyler again, who had now spread his legs, his hand on the pouch of his briefs, slowly massaging it. Donny paced over to the sliding patio door, staring intently through the glass out to the pool. “Eric told me you came on to him.”
“Yeah, he’s hot, isn’t he? Ever do him?”
“No,” replied, Donny, not turning around.
“You know how I got the money to come out here?”
“Danny said you saved up your birthday money and stuff.”
Tyler chuckled. “Yeah, that’s what I tell people. I earned it. You wanna know how I really got it?”
“Guys pay to suck me off,” Tyler continued as if he hadn’t heard. “First time it happened I was in a store in the mall. I went into the GNC looking for vitamins and this guy was telling me what to take and stuff, and then he says he’s got some other stuff in the back room. So he takes me in there and says he’ll give me twenty bucks if he can do me. He was about your age; big like you. So I let him, and then he says he’s got some friends, and…” Tyler grinned slyly. “They’re all straight – so they say – but they like young dick.”
Donny did not move; he felt frozen in place. “Why are you telling me this?”
Tyler shifted a little on the couch, leaning back, stretching his body. “Well, I thought…”
“No way,” Donny said firmly.
Tyler sat up. “All right, that’s cool.”
For a moment Donny stared into the dim light of the lamp. Neither of them moved, and then Tyler got off the couch and started to go back to his room. Donny said, “Is that why you took off? Your parents found out?”
Tyler snorted. “Fuck no. If they knew…. No, I just had to get outta that place. I hate it there with all their church bullshit and holy rolling. They’re all so fuckin’ boring, and….” He leaned against the wall. “I just had to leave.”
“Are you gay?” Donny asked.
“What difference does that make?” He looked at Donny, his expression softening a little. “Straight or not, my folks’d kill me if they knew.”
“So why me? Why here? You didn’t think I’d call your folks the minute you showed up here?”
Tyler shrugged and blinked a couple of times. “I thought you’d know what I was going through. I thought you might…understand.”
For a moment Donny almost believed him, and then he smiled wanly and shook his head. “Nice try, kiddo. I’m not buying it. You probably thought you could sponge off me, maybe even try to blackmail me into not calling your folks because you would tell them that I tried to seduce you or something, and then… well, I don’t know what you’d try next, and neither do you. All you thought about was getting out here.” Tyler gave him a wicked grin, his expression completely devoid of his boyish innocence, and Donny had a flashback to his last encounter with Jeremy Dixon. “Tomorrow you’re getting on that plane, and you can sell your story to your folks. And to be perfectly honest, Ty, I don’t care if you tell them I fucked your brains out. They’ll know who to believe.”
Tyler gave him an icy scowl and went back to his room, slamming the door. Donny let out a long breath, and then went to the front door to make sure the alarm was set from the inside so that any opening of a door or window would set it off, just in case Tyler got the idea he could run away again. But the rest of the night passed in silence, and at six-thirty when Donny rapped on the guest room door, Tyler responded with a polite “Come in.” He was dressed in his TBCA t-shirt, clean jeans, and he had his parka out ready to put on when he got back to cold weather.
“Breakfast in a few,” Donny said curtly.
“Okay. Listen, sorry about last night.”
Donny shook his head. “Yeah, okay. Get your stuff out to the car. Traffic’s gonna be hell getting to the airport.”
The ride to the airport was silent, the morning rush hour slowing to a crawl in some places, but they got to the airport and parked with time to spare. Danny, in his blue Air Force uniform, hefted Tyler’s suitcase and strode ahead of them into the terminal. By the time they caught up with him, he was already at the ticket counter, and Donny saw him pull out his wallet with his military ID. The ticket agent was nodding, and then she pointed in the direction of the concourse. Danny stood up at attention for a second, said a curt “Thank you, ma’am,” and then led Donny and Tyler along the concourse to the security area.
“All right, here’s the deal. I convinced the airline to take Tyler as an unaccompanied minor, and I got permission for us to escort him to the gate and make sure he gets on the plane.” He showed Tyler his ticket and boarding pass. “Once you’re in Chicago, the airline will escort you to the connecting flight to Traverse City. Once you’re there, you’re in the hands of your parents. You got that?” Tyler nodded sullenly. “All right. Forward march.”
The ticket agent had contacted airport security, and once they showed their ID’s and Tyler’s boarding pass, they were passed through the metal detectors without any questions. When they got to the gate, Danny presented the boarding pass to the agent.
Donny had been watching Tyler the whole time. He looked tired and resigned to his fate, and as they waited for the boarding to begin, he slumped in his seat, his long legs sticking out into the aisle, tapping the toes of his large white basketball sneakers absent-mindedly.
The agent opened the boarding gate and Tyler got up. “Well,” he said softly, “I guess this is it.” He put out his hand to Donny. “Thanks. I’m…sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Tell it to your parents,” Donny interrupted. “They’re the ones you need to talk to.”
Tyler shuddered a little, then shuffled to the gate.
“Good luck,” said Danny.
Tyler lifted his hand in a half-hearted wave and gave his ticket to the agent. Another agent, a tall man with a serious expression, escorted Tyler down the jet bridge, and the last Donny saw of him was as he gave a quick glance and a grin back at him as he made the turn to get on the plane.
They waited until the door was closed and the jet bridge was pulled back.
“Good luck, kid,” Danny repeated. “You’re gonna need it.”
Danny dropped Donny off at the office, telling him to call him when he was ready to be picked up. Donny called Dr. Herlinger and told him what flights Tyler was on. After he hung up he thought about telling Marc about Tyler, but Marc was buried in getting ready for year-end, and Donny had enough work to occupy him. It wasn’t until he took a quick lunch break with Eric at two that he thought of Tyler again, and only because Eric asked him if he’d gotten him to the airport.
Donny called Danny at six, telling him to come get him, and they had cold roast beef leftovers for dinner. They were finishing off the last of the pie when the phone rang.
“Don? It’s Clark Herlinger.”
“Oh, hi,” Donny replied, looking at his watch. It was almost eight-thirty; plenty of time for Tyler to have gotten home. “Tyler get there okay?”
“Well, that’s why I’m calling,” Clark replied, his voice sounding tight and on the verge of panic. “What flight did you say he was supposed to be on?”
Labels: "Small Town Boys"