tagGay MaleThe Heart is a Poor Judge Ch. 05

The Heart is a Poor Judge Ch. 05

bykidboise©

Gabe checked the clock incessantly as he drove back to the park-and-ride. Eddie had been reminding him to relax a bit when it came to the deliveries. Don't get yourself worked up, he would say—not until there's something to get worked up over. Wise words, to be certain, but Gabe was finding it difficult to change his ways.

And yet, he was not alone in the car. He took full blame for that. Miguel had been very persuasive, as Gabe had quickly learned was a talent of his. The thing was, it wasn't Miguel's fault. Gabe was a grown adult, perfectly capable of saying no. Instead he had constructed a flimsy excuse about how it wouldn't be a very comfortable place for them to spend time. The house was empty; there was nowhere to sit. That didn't matter to Miguel. He wanted to see where Gabe had grown up. He had tossed around that light, charming smile like it was nothing, adding that it was a bad time for either of them to be alone, a statement that had sounded so over-the-top to Gabe that he almost laughed out loud.

Miguel sat on the passenger end of the tan leather bench seat. "It's like a spaceship in here," he said, running his fingers over the forest of knobs and buttons on the dash.

Gabe commanded the Avalon with an extra ounce of confidence now, having recently discovered that Miguel never learned to drive. The thought occurred to him that he might possess just as much power over the situation as his shifty new friend. And maybe even more, since he now had Miguel trapped in a nondescript delivery car at seventy miles an hour.

So far, Miguel had not shied away from asking Gabe uncomfortable questions about his life, so Gabe decided it was time to give him a taste of his own medicine. He turned down the stereo. "I want to know how you ended up living on the streets."

Miguel looked over, clearly surprised. "There are a few different versions of that story."

"Pick one."

He shot Gabe a coy grin. "One version is that I had my heart broken by someone and then proceeded into a tailspin."

"Who was it?"

"Remember the waitress at the bar?"

"Yeah."

"Well, she's not really a waitress. She's the owner."

"And she broke your heart?"

"No," said Miguel, chuckling quietly to himself. "Her boyfriend did."

Miguel was messing with him, for what felt like the hundredth time. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Sure it does," he went on cooly. "I fell in love with someone who was dating someone else. I tried to do right by everyone, and it blew up in my face."

"Oh." Gabe's grip relaxed on the steering wheel. "Well if that's the case, then I'm sorry."

"It is the case, and I'm sorry, too. For how I handled everything. He was an asshole, but it wasn't really about him. I was running from a lot of problems at the time, trying to pretend they didn't exist. All he did was remind me just how real they were."

"I'm not sure I follow."


"That's because I haven't given you any context. He and I met at Bonnells—don't know if you've ever been out there, but there are about a million little fishing shacks, and we worked in the same one, gutting. The girl he was dating, Alice, she was about five years older than him. We used to go hang out at the place she owns—the same place I took you—and, man, she had no clue about us. I stayed at his apartment just about every night. If she stayed over, I'd go find some other place to sleep. He was just so fucking good at hiding it. At first, my instinct was to go along with everything, but once I started seeing what a cool person she was, I couldn't handle my shit. He would be all over her, kissing her, touching her, and any normal person would think he was madly in love with her. But then, when him and me were alone, he would confess his love to me. He'd say some shit about how it was me he really cared for, not her, and how he'd liked boys for as long as he could remember, and he couldn't stop it no matter how hard he tried. And then we'd usually end up...you know...having a good time. Well, after about a month of this, I told him he should stop lying to her. He got all offended and asked why I couldn't just be happy with things the way they were. The fucker never even planned on telling her. He just thought it could somehow keep going on like that forever."

To his credit, Miguel was clearly not afraid of answering questions about his own life. Gabe was fascinated. "And I'm guessing that didn't work for you?"

"Fuck no. For one thing, now I could see him for who he really was. I didn't like it one bit. And then there was Alice... I cared about her too much by that point not say something. I skipped work one day and told her."

"How did she take it?"

"Not well. It shook her up a lot. She said she didn't want to see me ever again. She kept asking how I could've done this to her, and all I could say was that I'd liked him as much as she did. Anyway, I knew she'd bring it up with him the first chance she got. Alice is strong like that. Then he would know what I did. I decided to face him head-on. I waited for him that night at his apartment, and by the time he got there he was already drunk. He shouted some shit about how I couldn't keep my mouth shut when it mattered, and that was the reason my life had gotten so shitty. He threw me down on the ground and I hit my head so hard that things started going black. But then they came back. He was yelling like a crazy person. He was saying all kinds of stuff he knew would get to me. He spit on me; he started going on about how my parents never even came to find me and how if I had meant anything to them at all I would've already heard from them. He said he'd never known anyone who was that worthless in the eyes of their own parents. The thing is, I'd already had those thoughts on my own. I'd been pushing them back into a little corner of my mind. He made me face them—all of them, all at once."

Gabe exited from the freeway and slowed the car. He glanced over at Miguel. "I didn't know you ran away from home."

"I didn't. Not really. I was thrown out."

"Why?"

"Because I'm gay."

Even now, the word made him twitch. The ease with which Miguel put it out there intimidated him—almost as if Gabe were stupid for not having realized. To Gabe, such a word required gentle placement, like setting a paper boat into water. "But how do you know for sure they didn't try to find you?"

"I guess I don't. Not for sure. But I had this bank account that my dad helped me open, and when I went to take out the money the night I left, it was already gone."

"Oh."

"I'm sure they worked it all out. Called my high school and withdrew me, gave my sisters some fucked-with version of the story...and who knows what they told everyone at church? They're incredibly crafty—both of them."

"They're religious?"

"Extremely. My father is the bishop of the Allentown ward. Or at least he was. Who know's what he's up to now?"

"They're mormons."

"Yes," Miguel said in a hollow voice. "And so was I."



Gabe felt Miguel's heartbeat directly against his ear. He could feel Miguel all around him, in fact: his arms, his chin resting on the top of Gabe's head, his leg wrapped partway around Gabe's—his hardness pressing slightly into Gabe's thigh.

"I'm sorry. I can't help it."

"I'm not ready," said Gabe.

"Of course not."

"I don't mind it, though."

"It'll go away."

"Miguel."

"What?"

"Did you ever see your parents again?"

"No."

"Do you miss them? Even after what they did to you?"

"Yeah." Miguel released a long sigh into the night air. "And in my experience, the only thing worse than missing someone is missing someone who rejected you."

"I bet they miss you too." Gabe was speaking so softly that he was surprised Miguel could hear him over the static crashing of ocean waves.

"That might be true. But it's much easier to imagine they don't."

It was one of the saddest things Gabe had ever heard. He wedged himself more tightly against Miguel, who hugged him harder. "I know what I said before, but the truth is that I wish my mom was still here."

Thump, thump, thump went Miguel's heart. "I thought so."

"I wish they were both still here," said Gabe. "I wish things could have been good. There was never much hope for that—but I still wish they could have been."

"Me too."

"Miguel, I need to say something."

"Hmm?" (The inquisitive sound emanated from deep in his chest.)

"If we're really going to try and be friends, then I think we should keep a little space between us."

Miguel took the words literally, as Gabe had intended them, and not as a figure of speech. He had long since gone soft, but even so, he unwrapped his leg, still holding Gabe but effectively uncoupling their bodies.

It seemed the next move was up to Gabe. He lifted his head, looked briefly around, then left Miguel's arms, sitting on the edge of the chaise with his back to him. "It would be so easy for things to go a certain way, and right now, I'm not sure that's the best thing."

"I know," said Miguel, a curt tone returning to his voice—the same one he used at the warehouse. "You're right."

Gabe lay down on the mat below Miguel, staring straight up.

"Do you sleep out here?" Miguel asked him.

"All the time."

Miguel must have taken it as permission, because soon after, Gabe heard the faint sounds of his new friend's slumber among those of the restless sea.

I know you're out there. He wanted to speak the words aloud, to let the thick, moaning breeze carrying them high up over the rooftop gardens to the bare, rocky ridge of a foothill, along which the thing undoubtedly crept through the night. I know you're waiting for me.



The phone gave a shrill cry around eleven in the morning, starling Gabe from sleep. Miguel didn't even stir. Gabe guessed it was the real estate agent with whom he had begun the process of listing the property. He rushed in to answer, was instead greeted by Eddie.

"Do you need the delivery car? It's out in the lot."

"I don't need the car, Gabe. I was wondering if you would like to join me and my family at the beach today."

Eddie's cheeriness sounded forced. Such an invitation had never been extended before. "Can I think about it?"

"It's now or never, Gabe. You can meet us there. We're going to Steuben's. Ever been?"

"A couple times."

"Great. We'll see you there in around two hours?"

Gabe did not want to go to the beach with Eddie's family, but by this point it felt like an obligation. "Alright, Eddie."

"I was thinking of giving Miguel a call, too, but I remembered he has a warehouse shift at two."

"On a Saturday?" Gabe asked slowly, staring through the glass balcony door at the ridges and dips of Miguel's sleeping body.

"Otero's meeting him down there to go over some new distribution policy. Dealers are up to more tricks than usual right now. We've got to make some fast changes to ensure they don't get the upper hand. Anyway, glad you're coming. See you in two hours. Steuben's Beach."

What tricks? Gabe wanted to know. Every now and then, he caught a small glimpse of the world outside his role. There was still so much he didn't understand. He was reminded, in these moments, of an ant in an ant farm, peering out through the glass wall, yearning to break into that third dimension.

"Sounds good, Eddie. Two hours."

Eddie hung up and Gabe stood in the empty dining room with the phone still in his hand. He set it back up on the receiver. It would only take half an hour to get down there. He hadn't gotten enough sleep. He looked past Miguel, down at the pitiful mat he had so often slept on, now curling up at the corners like a dead leaf. His bedroom, the only spot in the house that had remained somewhat intact, would be cool enough now. He went in and closed the window and curtains, spilled onto his mattress, and fell immediately back asleep.

He might have overslept had Miguel not come in from balcony an hour later and attempted to close the sliding door, making an impressive amount of noise. Gabe held still for a moment, guessing at what Miguel was up to from the sounds—giving up on the door, stepping quietly around the room...and then, the shuffling noise of shoes being placed on feet, the clack of a deadbolt retracting in the front door, the door opening, closing softly. Footsteps echoing down the stairwell. All fell silent. Gabe got up and brushed his teeth, removed laundry from the dryer, all the while half-expecting Miguel to come back, but he never did.



Gabe did not fail his English classes in high school. He breezed through all the assigned reading, and if he cared much for the written assignments, he tended to do them, too. Mr. Chan, one of the few teachers he had liked, taught his sophomore year English class. Mr. Chan never berated him for incomplete or missing assignments, though Gabe was warned not to expect anything more than a basic passing grade. His teacher pulled him aside after class one day and told him, "Just keep reading. The rest will work itself out." Gabe loved the way the words came together. If only, he thought, all of life could be like that.

The following year, Mr. Chan invited him to become a teacher aid, offering Gabe the entire period to read. His only requirement was that they would meet after school every Tuesday so that Gabe could catch him up on everything he had been reading. "It's Marquez," Gabe told him timidly during their first meeting. "Urbino has fallen from the ladder." When Mr. Chan asked him what he planned to read next, he said he didn't know. "I don't usually know until I'm done, when I start looking for something new."

Mr. Chan pulled a small spiral-bound notebook from the top drawer of his gray metal desk. "See this? It's full of books I plan to read. See how many are crossed off?"

"Not that many."

Mr. Chan nodded. "I always end up getting distracted by something that's not on the list." He put the notebook back in the drawer. "I should just do it the way you do."

By the end of the year, Gabe's skills at conversing with his favorite teacher had improved substantially. They often talked about the motives of characters, especially the ones who were considered evil, speculating over what the author had really intended to say about people, or love, or life. Gabe liked the fact that their discussion skewed toward topics that didn't, or couldn't, occur in a typical high school setting. "What did you think," Mr. Chan asked, "when Nick went with Mr. McKee to his bedroom?" Gabe said he thought Nick was making sure the man got to bed okay, since Mr. McKee was drunk. "Yes," his teacher replied. "That might be all. Or, as some people who study the book would suggest, they sleep together." The possibility had stunned him, though he tried not to let Mr. Chan see how much.

Toward the end of the school year, Gabe admitted to Mr. Chan that he would be not be attending as a senior. "My time will be better spent working in the family business."

"That's a shame, Gabe. Can I ask what you'll be doing?"

Gabe sat there for what felt like an eternity trying to conjure an answer that was not a complete lie. For as long as he could remember, to more people than he could ever dream of counting, he had lied, either to protect his family or himself. Anyone who ever wanted to know about his father's trade had been artfully deceived. When his own parents asked him if there were girls he liked at school, he made one up. Mr. Chan was the one person he had hoped he would never have to lie to. But as the seconds came and went in silence, the truth showed up more raw, more severe than ever in his mind, not even counting what was as stake. He couldn't possibly say it.

Mercifully, it was Mr. Chan who broke the silence. "Never mind," he said with a carefully placed smile. "Let's talk about something else."

Months later, when they didn't talk anymore, Gabe remembered back, wondering what might have gone through his teacher's mind during those many seconds of silence. What kind of work could be so sinister that Gabe couldn't say it out loud? Late in their friendship, he had suspected that Mr. Chan had begun to figure something out. Perhaps Gabe had tried one too many times to vindicate the evil actions of a character he had grown fond of.

During one such moment, Gabe remembered, his teacher sat back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, staring off into emptiness. He said, "That's one of life's many fascinations, isn't it? Evil: a label that sticks just as well as any other—until you try to place it on a loved one."



Gabe burrowed his feet into the earth at the edge of his multicolored towel. Gabby toiled endlessly, shoring up his ankles with hot sand, attempting to pack it down.

"That only works when it's wet," Gabe told her.

She looked up at him, offended. "It's working, okay?"

Lydia had been trying to get Gabby to take a bite of sandwich for over five minutes, but her daughter kept shaking her head, ruffling her dark-brown hair, repeating, "I don't want it, I don't want it."

"Fine, starve then."

"Where's Jackson?" Gabe asked.

"He's with my mother," Lydia replied, not looking at Gabe, but toward the shore, where Eddie played with the twins. "We came in through Odinberg and dropped him off. He's too young to be out in the heat this long."

Gabe watched Eddie through the crowd of bare stomachs and legs, leading the toddlers onto the hard, wet sand. The twin boys were still small and unbalanced, toppling over every time even a small amount of water ran over their feet.

"How are things at home?" Lydia asked him.

"Quiet," said Gabe. "Empty." He realized how easily these words could be misread, adding, "I just mean the house. I took everything out of it that belonged to my parents."

"And you're selling it?"

"That's the plan. Supposedly the agent has a couple people lined up for the day after tomorrow."

"And then what will you do?"

"Rent a smaller place, I guess."

Lydia brushed dried sand from her feet. "Does it excite you that the future is so open-ended?"

It seemed like an awfully optimistic way to look at things. "A little, I guess."

"I suppose not a lot of time has passed yet."

"No, not really."

Lydia's skin was extremely pale. It was unvaried in texture, and looked very soft. He noticed she had applied a liberal amount of sunscreen. Gabe had so far observed her directness, as well as her unwillingness to feign interest in empty topics. Perhaps she detested small talk as much as he did. Based on this trait, he considered her compatibility with Eddie, the enigma, and realized what a favorable matching it really was.

"Look at them," she said.

Eddie wore a huge grin that Gabe had never seen before. When the ocean water washed over his feet, he jumped excitedly up and down, prompting the tiny twin boys to do the same. Gabe could hear his muffled shouts rise just barely above the din of the crowd and the roar of the waves breaking one hundred feet out.

"Parenthood has changed him a lot."

It struck Gabe as an extremely personal observation—not quite on the level of gossip, but still not something he was meant to hear. It made him wonder, though: Had his own father changed at all after Gabe was born? Gabe recalled no childhood memories of the kind of play Eddie now engaged in with his sons. What he did remember was a stern presence, never mean, but serious almost all of the time. He had always imagined Eddie to be this kind of father, too, but the last few weeks had revealed someone very different from that.

Gabe helped Gabby pack down the dry sand. "How did you meet him?"

"On a flight from Salt Lake," Lydia said. "I was in the process of moving down here from Idaho. He had some business in the city. I thought he was the most handsome guy I'd ever seen. He took me out to dinner that night."

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