by Ladee Caid
In one day, Jerimiah's life changes forever.
|Word Count: 3,894
The wind blew like one pushing a storm. A gust howled in my ear and tossed what clipped hair I had left. As I crossed the dirt road, the air whistled, dust billowed and swirled around me. I closed my eyes and clamped my lips against the particles powdering my face, but somehow, grit had gotten between my lips. I spat.
This morning, buzzards had circled in the center of the dried soybean field. I could see the lump that had interested the carrion birds, but the dead animal lay too far away for me to make out the species. Giving its tawny color and size, I assumed the deceased to be a deer. I wasn’t surprised the beast had expired, for we hadn’t seen rain yet this season. Creeks had dried, and grass had turned brown. My heart hurt just a little for the wildlife I’d grown up around.
The rusty hinges of the mailbox squealed as I looked inside for the letter I’d been hoping for. Two white envelopes lay staggered, one on top of the other. I let out a deep breath and reached inside.
The first envelope was a bill addressed to my father. The other jacket sported my name, Jerimiah Wilson, in the bold pristine letters. My heart raced, and I pinched the mail between my fingers as if it might jump out of my hand. The upper left corner bore the name of my best friend, Joslyn. Well, at least, she used to be my best friend.
Joslyn sat at the desk in front of me in first grade. I don’t know what possessed me to yank her pigtails, but at recess, she punched me. I fell backward off of the swing. Both of us were sent to the principal’s office; I to the nurse for a bloody nose and her to the big man himself.
I could hear Joslyn sobbing. When the nurse left the room, I hopped off of the thin metal bed with cotton in my nose and marched to where she wept. I’d put my arm around her and told Mr. Dickerson Joslyn hadn’t done anything. She was trying to catch me when I fell backward off of the swing. Mr. Dickerson harrumphed and told us to get back to our class. I felt heroic and brave. On the way back to our room, she punched me in the arm.
For two years, she took every opportunity to hit me. Then one day, she stopped. We became the best of friends. Often, we were inseparable.
Halfway through our senior year, Joslyn confessed she used to hit me when we were young because she liked me. She never stopped wanting me. In fact, Joslyn was in love with me. She’d gripped my hands in hers and asked me to run away with her. I’m pretty sure she could see the horror on my face.
“I can’t Joslyn.”
“Why not? Yes, you can. I want to be with you.”
“I’m gay.” There it was. I’d finally said it. I felt both relieved and scared. Joslyn stiffened, studied my face, punched me in the nose, and ran off.
Although I wanted to see my best friend, I left her alone during winter break. She needed time to digest what I said.
On New Year’s Day, I borrowed my parent’s car and drove to town to see her. I missed my friend. I pulled in her drive and noticed the house windows were bare. I went to the front door. Of course, no one answered. I stood on my toes and peeked through the glass. Everything had vanished. The home had been abandoned just like me.
I couldn’t believe it. My mind whirled. Once again Joslyn had punched me, in the chest, and she wasn’t even there.
She never called. She never wrote. She knew my number and address. I didn’t expect her to call, she didn’t like talking on the phone, but I waited every day for a letter.
Every afternoon, I listened for the mail truck. I’d rush outside after it pulled away. Day after day, I sulked back through the front door.
“Not yet?” my mother would say.
Mom’s incessant inquiry irritated me. I snapped after the hundredth asking. “Quit with that stupid question. Does it look like I have it? Don’t you think you’d be the first person I told if I did have it?”
My mother’s eyes narrowed. She whipped around and stomped back to the kitchen. I felt horrid. Of course, I apologized, and we hugged. She patted my back and told me she understood, but she never asked again.
Now, I held in my hand the paper I trusted would mend my heart, and I hoped mom would ask me that bothersome question.
I stood at the edge of the road staring at the Illinois return address with a queasy stomach. My fingers started to shake. I took a deep breath, looked around not really seeing then stared at the envelope again.
The wind blasted, almost throwing me off balance. The two envelopes slipped from my fingers and tumbled into the coarse weeds that grew in the ditch between the road and field. Panicked, I stumbled over my own foot. I smacked the hard ground face first punching the air out of my lungs. From my forearms, I pinned dad’s mail before it could blow away. My letter fluttered then bounced out of my reach as if teasing me. I shimmied and snatched it just as it lifted to cartwheel away.
As I stood brushing the dirt from my clothes, a rumble filled the sky behind me. I turned to see a wall of steel blue darkening the horizon over the distant treetops. I wanted to dash for shelter, but a shiny glint where the woods swallowed the road stole my attention. The gleam turned into a motorcycle.
The air growled again. When the incoming thunder quieted, the bike still roared. It was as if the motorcycle was born from the ominous clouds. I skipped across our lawn onto the porch and watched.
The motorbike neared, and my heart began to patter. Like a disciple of the storm, a square-jawed figure with black glasses, a leather highwayman’s jacket, and dusty boots restrained the beast he rode upon. He stopped in front of our house. The man yelled something, but I couldn’t make out his words. I didn’t remember walking to him but found myself standing near the wheel of his bike. Knuckles gripping the handlebars were tanned and weather-worn. A tattooed skull adorned the back of his hand.
He looked behind himself. The storm had crept closer threatening to engulf us surprising me at the speed with which it had traveled. He cut the engine and pushed his sunglasses to the end of his nose. His deep brown, penetrating eyes made me quiver.
“Is there a town with a motel close by?” he said.
“Um, yeah. I mean, no. I mean, yeah, five miles.” I pointed to the puckering, bruised sky. “I don’t think you’re gonna make it though.”
“Straight ahead or what?”
“Uh, in about a mile this road is gonna dead end into another. Turn right. The motel is on the outside of town.”
“Kay, thanks.” He kicked his motorcycle to life.
“You ain’t gonna make it.” I turned to see my father coming toward us down the walk. His voice boomed again. “You ain’t gonna make it, son.” The biker turned off the engine. “You’re gonna get about a half mile and get poured on. Why don’t you hole up in our barn until this blows over?”
“I’m not afraid to get a little wet.”
“Don’t be a fool son. The storm looks like a doozy. Now, get around here with that thing. Around back.”
My father didn’t wait for protest. He turned and slipped through the front door. The rider kicked up his cycle once again and took off through our grass. The motorcycle with its bungeed pack disappeared around the corner of the house just as fat raindrops made pocked marks in the dirt road.
From the kitchen window through the foggy downpour, I watched the biker stand in the barn’s doorway. He’d discarded his jacket. The tight t-shirt he wore formed around his pectoral muscles and hugged his biceps. His sunglasses hung from his neckline. He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and looked into the sky then at the window I stood behind. I stepped back into the shadow. Did he catch me staring? Was that grinning, or did the rain running down the window distort my view?
I jerked my head to creaking floorboards. Mother shuffled into the kitchen, and I bent over the table straightening placemats.
“What are you doin’?”
Mom’s eyebrows creased, and she pointed with her head. “Those placemats. What are you doin’?”
“I’m just fixing them.”
Mother blinked as if I’d given her a mind-boggling riddle. “Why?”
“Cause they needed fixing.”
Mom shook her head and scuffled to the sink. “The rain is still comin’ down hard. All summer nothin’, now this. Well, we were due.”
“Yeah.” I looked out of the window behind her. The man rested on the old barn’s frame with his shoulder.
“Why don’t you go ask that boy is he wants somethin’ to drink?
“What? You want me to go out there?” I protested, but my mother had given me the excuse I needed to get closer to the rider. “Fine.”
The screen door slapped shut against mother’s words. “Let him know I just started supper.”
By the time I reached the barn, my jeans were soaked. My t-shirt clung to me, only I didn’t have anything to show but the ribcage of a scrawny eighteen-year-old boy. I waved and stuffed my hands into my wet pockets. “Mom wanted me to ask if you wanted something to drink, she is starting supper.”
The man looked up into the rain. “I’m hoping this rain is gonna stop soon. I want to be on my way.” He looked at me. “I really appreciate your father letting me hang in his barn. That’s more than anyone’s done for me in a while.”
I smiled and thrust my hand in his direction. “I’m Jerimiah.”
He shook my hand and held it for an uncomfortable moment. His warm, firm grip felt electric. The shock traveled right to my groin.
I cleared my throat, stuffed my hand back in my pocket, and looked at my feet, hiding the heat in my face.
“I’ll take that drink,” Brent said, “But, I don’t need supper. I have food in my pack.”
I looked at the bike to avoid Brent’s gaze. I glanced at him before making my escape. His grinning stare bored into me. I felt exposed like I stood naked in front of him. Just as I took a step, he grabbed my elbow. “Get yourself one too. It’d be nice to have company.”
I ran back to the house with my mind in turmoil not noticing the rain. I’d never met someone so present as Brent: so mature. I felt ill at ease near him like he’d devoured me, yet my body wanted it. Every nerve ending tingled at the thought of his touch.
In the house, mother helped me find two plastic, lidded cups.
“I hate that you have to use these,” she said. “Ice tea should be drunk out of glass.”
“It can’t be helped, mom. Just give me the cups.”
“Gee-ma-nee Christmas Jerimiah, that boy must be dyin’ of thirst the way your snappin’ around this kitchen and being so demandin’.
I feared that my mother’s sixth sense would kick in, and she’d know of my desire. “I’m sorry mom. I just don’t really want to go out into the rain.”
“Quit whining about the rain. You ain’t gonna melt.” She pushed the cups into my chest, turned around, and flipped a dismissing hand in the air.
I sat on a hay bale clutching my cup while Brent untethered the pack from his motorcycle. His muscles rippled as he carried the luggage to where he’d been sitting. I assumed he was going to dig for food.
“I just want you to know, if you don’t eat mom’s cooking, she will bring a plate out to you herself. You don’t want my mom out here.”
Brent looked at me over his shoulder. Every time he turned his attention to me I felt nervous and giddy.
“Is that so? Why not?”
“She’ll drill you with all kinds of personal questions: Where you’re going, who are your parents, where do you live, whom are you dating. My mom’s like that.”
Brent smiled. “All moms are like that as far as I can tell.”
“I know it’s none of my business, but where are you riding to?”
The bale crunched as Brent sat down. “I’m headed a couple of states over to Illinois and see my mother. My father passed away, and she’s not doing too well. I’m not one to stay in one place, but she’s my mother, you know? You’ve got to look out for your family.
The mention of Illinois reminded me of the unopened letter stuffed in my back pocket. “My best friend moved to Illinois.”
“Oh yeah? Where at?”
I slipped the envelope from the rear of my jeans and read the return address. “She’s living in Springfield.”
“What kind of best friend is she that you have to look at your mail to see where she lives?’
Brent rested his ankle on his knee and leaned forward listening as I told my story. Only, I left out the gay part. I didn’t want this exciting man to run from me too.
“So, you haven’t opened the letter yet?”
“I’m a little scared. I’m afraid of what she has to say.” The real reason I hadn’t opened my mail was that of Brent’s exotic presence. I’d forgotten about the letter.
“I’d think a punch in the nose is about the worst that could happen. Whatever she has to say couldn’t be any worse than that. Go ahead, read it.”
I ripped open the flap and pulled out the paper. The pages smelling of Joslyn’s perfume crinkled as I unfolded them. I didn’t even realize she had a scent until I’d been away from it.
In the letter, Joslyn apologized for hitting me and not telling me about her family leaving. The sudden move happened because her father had the opportunity for a better job with more pay. However, the position needed to be filled immediately. She kept the change to herself because I’d held my homosexual secret from her. It had hurt her that I was her best friend but couldn’t tell her such an important thing.
Joslyn encouraged me to tell my parents that I was gay and stop living a lie. She said if the news went horribly wrong, I could come live with her. She had a job, an efficiency, and a new boyfriend. The best part of the letter read, “I love you and miss you.”
I smiled at the change in Joslyn’s life. I wished I could call her to find out more, but she didn’t leave a number. I looked up at Brent with the pages still poised for reading. “She said she still loves me and misses me.”
Brent leaned forward, put his strong, warm hand on the back of my neck, and used his thumb to caress my cheek. “I knew that’s what she had to say.”
The corners of Brent’s lips raised into a soft smile, and he looked at my mouth then into my eyes. I stared lost in the brown of his irises, lowered the letter into my lap to hide what was hardening, and waited for the kiss to come. I dropped my lashes, and my face tingled in anticipation. But, the kiss never happened.
When I opened my lids, Brent was focused behind me. “The rain has stopped. I can see a bit of blue sky.” He pulled his hand away. “I better get going before it gets too late. I have a headlamp, but it’s fried.”
I sat on the hay with desire in my pants and longing on my lips while Brent lifted his pack to his bike. Curse the rain. How dare you come and ruin my life. You roll in to saturate me only to leave me yearning. Brent slipped into his leather jacket and pushed his bike to the front of the barn.
“Hey, come here.” I dragged my feet to where Brent stood. “Tell your parents ‘thank you’ for sharing their space with me. Let your mom know I’m sorry I’m going to miss her cooking, but I had to get going. And you, don’t be afraid of who you are.” With the last words, Brent’s motorcycle growled to life.
At the dinner table, my father snorted as he ate, my mother gossiped about the husbandless, pregnant cashier at the grocery store, and I picked at my food.
I thought about Joslyn’s anger with me for not telling her I was gay. She’d encouraged me to share with my parents. How could I do that? I didn’t want them to not love me. But, how could I help being the way that I was? Brent’s last words came to me. Words formed at the back of my throat. I looked at my father. I shut my mouth and separated my corn into two piles.
“Jerimiah, what is wrong with you,” my mother said. Both of my parents waited for my response.
“Nothing.” I couldn’t say it.
“Bull-pucky. Why are you playing with your food? Are you sick?”
Well, maybe. Joslyn’s ‘living a lie’ haunted me. The time had come to blurt what was on my mind or forever keep quiet. “I’m gay,” I said.
My father’s fork clattered to his plate.
“What?” my mother said.
“I heard you,” she said. “What do you mean you’re gay? Did that boy do something to you in the barn?”
As a matter of fact, he did. “He didn’t touch me inappropriately if that’s what you mean.”
My father’s face looked like he’d stuck it in the sun. He pushed his plate away. “You know what boy; you need to quit talking nonsense. It’s time you learned how to be a man. Your mom coddles you too much. It’s making you soft. You prance around the farm like you’re afraid to do hard work.”
“I don’t prance around the farm. I do everything you ask of me.” How could he say that? I worked hard. Often, I’m too tired to bathe before I fall into bed. Mom yells that I’d gotten the sheets dirty.
“Tell him, mom.”
“Don’t you blame this on me, Harold. You’re his father. You’re the one supposed to make him a man.”
“I’m going to do just that. Jerimiah, I want you outta my house by morning.”
“What?” I said. Was Dad kicking me out? He couldn’t be serious.
“Harold, don’t be ridiculous. He’s our son. Jerimiah, don’t listen to that.”
The tableware bounced and crashed from father’s pounding fist. I jolted in my seat.
My father’s voice boomed. “I’m the man of the house. I’ve done my best to make Jerimiah one too. He ain’t going to learn anything because we do everything for him. Isn’t it obvious? He’s out. It’s called ‘tough love’ Janet. He’ll get it through his thick skull out in the real world. Out by morning, Jerimiah.” He pushed away from the table and stomped out of the room.
Mom walked into the kitchen, and I followed. I felt freaked out and sick to my stomach. My father couldn’t really be sincere. Where would I go?
“Mom, I don’t really have to leave do I?” She kept her back to me. “Mom?” She put her hand in the air like earlier today dismissing me. If Joslyn broke my heart, my parents were ripping it out. I left her be to go to my room. As I hit the stairs, I could hear mom bawling. I turned to go back to her but thought better of it.
In my room, I dumped notebooks and old school papers out of my backpack. I hadn’t touched my bag since the last day of high school. Now, I needed to fill it with things I thought I might need if my parents were adamant about my departure.
I had a difficult time reducing my belongings into the pack and a gym bag. Tears dripped on my hands as I stuffed. I didn’t know what I’d need. I didn’t know where I’d go. Thankfully, I’d gotten money gifts for graduation. At least, I’d be able to eat until I figured out what would happen to me.
With my bags loaded and propped on the floor, I laid on the bed in my clothes. I didn’t even bother to remove my shoes. What did it matter? I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t sleep. The betrayal of my family hit my face, my heart, my chest harder than Joslyn ever did. They were my parents. I was living my worst fear: that my parents wouldn’t love me because of how I was born. I couldn’t help it. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why I felt the way I did, but I did. Well, Joslyn, I did what you suggested. And I’m sorry Brent, but I am scared. I’m frightened of what will happen to me because of who I am.
I felt my back pocket to see if Joslyn’s letter was still there. I had a long walk ahead of me, but I would run to her. I smirked through my tears at the thought that I would be running away with her after all. I sobbed with the realization that I wasn’t running, I was rejected.
I faced the alarm clock toward me. The green letters blared 4:47. My parents would arise soon. The night had been a sleepless hell. I felt broken and lonely. I no longer wanted to fight with my father or plead with my mother. I didn’t even want to look at them. I just wanted to leave.
I hefted my bags, took one last look at my room, and shut the door.
The muddy road with my massive load seemed ages long, but I wasn’t bothered. I didn’t have anywhere to be. I didn’t really want to walk through town, for those who knew me, which was about everyone, would whisper and point. I thought sure of it. However, I had no choice. I needed to buy a map.
As I walked past the motel’s parking lot I’d told our storm visitor about the day before, someone called my name. I looked up and around. Brent stood next to his bike parked in front of a motel room. I carried myself to him.
Neither of us said anything for a moment: not with words. I knew Brent figured out what had happened.
“Come on, give me your things. I’ll stuff your backpack in with my bundle. You’ll have to keep the other bag on your lap. Let me turn in the key, and we’ll get out of here.”