I Married Lou Grant
Author Note: I’ll probably catch hell if my husband gets wind of this post. Thank the writing gods that he doesn’t do social media.
A writer’s journey is a funny thing. Not that I think that we don’t fold our towels in some magical manner than others. Or that we pay our bills using money from Gringott’s (that’d be nice if we did … ’cause elves and dragons … jussayin’). No, I think that it’s more that we often jot down things that happen to us. We document lives – our own and those characters and worlds we create.
It’s this documentation that I have rambling in my head as of late. Why? Well, first it started off because I am recasting my Angels of Mercy series cast in a YA format. But that wasn’t the end of it. Angels of Mercy was always meant to be a metaphorical exploration of characters – a character study of three main protags over the course of the same timeline – each boy having a different perspective over the timeline and the answers to the drama I’ve thrown at them. Each boy has an angelic name that is emblematic of their character traits. So, recasting them in a YA setting I wanted to change it up, take the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supernatural route and make the story about actual angels and demons. I also took them back to the 1907s so I could omit a lot of the tech that characters interact in current stories and focus purely on character. Eschewing trappings of today entirely. Old school, er, uh, as the kids today spell it: #oldskool. (Ya gotta love them kids).
Since I grew up in the 70s I decided that I’d throw in all the stuff that happened back then that I could recall, augmenting with image searches and binge watching TV shows of the 70s to keep in the groove in my righteous way. #RightOnMan!
One of the shows that I binged while writing Mercy’s Little Angels was The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I loved this show. I watched it religiously when I was a kid. However, the rewatch completely threw me. The writing was still brisk and funny, but with modern eyes the sexisms and subversive language, while progressive of the time, fall woefully short of what we think today – which is as it should be. But there was another thing I took note of: Lou Grant (played to perfection by the inestimable, Ed Asner). Why? Because there were elements of Lou’s character that mirrored my husband’s. J, my husband, is sixteen years my senior and a relative contemporary (give or take a decade) of Lou’s character. He’s of that age, of that time. I always found my husband to be an amusing man – one of the many traits that endears him to me. I fell in love with his mind far before anything else about him. That remains true to this day. With my recent cancer scare it was his complete and thorough knowledge of medicine (as a retired physician) that kept my oncologist’s feet to the medical fire. I credit my slow climb to win this war against this awful disease to him. He is the light that presses into the night when all I feel is darkness. He’s my angel (I’m not religious so for me to say that, it’s something, believe me). It’s why Angels of Mercy was dedicated to him with the first book. He’s always been that light in my life. And my bout with cancer wasn’t the only time he’s done that.
When he and I got together I had a cat I’d had for about eleven years to that point, his name was Gizmo. I say was because he passed in 2006. But the thing is he wouldn’t have made it to that year (I got Gizmo in 1994) if my husband hadn’t been there. In his eleventh year Gizmo was diagnosed with feline diabetes. This completely restructured our lives. But by then J’s life had taken a turn with his own heart disease and so he built a regimen for himself and Gizmo to monitor and administer their meds at the same time. Everything in our lives revolved around Giz and J’s routine. Dinner plans? What time did Giz require his insulin shot (yeah, shot)? Don’t forget your meds too, hon. “I got it …” he’d call back to me as he went to do both. Movie night? Again, times were selected around their med schedule and feedings. EVERYTHING was according to Giz and J’s schedule. But here’s the thing: Gizmo didn’t suffer for his disease for another 11 years. J meticulously monitored, double checking the vet’s current tests and lab results at every turn. Gizmo’s comfort and quality of life was beyond anything I could’ve done for those remaining 11 years of Gizmo’s life. They bonded over that disease. I’d often come home from work to hear the hubster and Giz “talking” in the kitchen while J prepared dinner for all of us (in some shape or form). Until Gizmo’s stroke at the age of 21 (admittedly VERY old for a cat’s life) J gifted him with a care and quality that always left me breathless. When the stroke happened I saw a crack in my stalwart, former college football playing husband. He broke. It was quiet and removed, huddle up to my cat and whispering such sweet words to him about what he’d do to make it better. This from a life long “dog” person. Yeah, you read that right. That’s how far he’d moved along that pet line to embrace my cat. It’s when I realized he was no longer “my” cat. Giz looked to J for everything. J would have to pick Giz up and put him down for feedings. J would follow him into the cat box area in our bathroom and if Giz made a mess, he’d look up at my husband (I witnessed it) and J would just whisper to him that it was okay, he’d take care of it.
Put simply: I’d married a gem of a man.
When Giz passed – we eventually had to put him down because there simply wasn’t any hope – he’d suffered another minor stroke. The end was eminent, there’d be no magic cure. On February of 2006 we took him to the vet to say our goodbye’s and were there to be with him as he slipped away. My husband broke. This man who didn’t do emotional displays, who didn’t do anything public (no social media presence, remember?), lost it. We went home, he cried silently as I drove us there. He went into a pseudo seclusion. His own medicine regimen suffered because he wasn’t doing Gizmo’s any more that kept time. Things got messy. It went on for months. We languished. It was the most silent part of our relationship. We talked about a lot of stuff. We just didn’t talk about Giz much. His bowls, toys and items weren’t packed away for weeks. J wouldn’t let me. It was then that he told me the moment he fell in love with Giz.
When I first moved to San Francisco, to be with J, my cat stayed behind with my ex. When he eventually moved to SF six month’s later (we’d always planned on moving to SF together – but that’s not how it worked out – even if we’re still friends to this day) Giz made the trip up with him. J was there to help sort my stuff from my ex’s. Gizmo was amongst the moving items. My ex had the cats we had (there were three) mildly sedated for the driving trip (some 10+ hours). When J saw Giz for the first time, those big blue eyes catching J’s brown, J said he swore he would take care of Giz for the rest of his life and that he would never let Giz go through something like passive sedation to make a moving trip easier. J never let that happen for the rest of Gizmo’s life. Again, a supposed “dog” person did this.
So, why the comparison to Lou? Because, so many character elements my husband has are perfectly aligned to that character. J has an enlightened mentality to our times, but he also is staunchly attached to his era. It’s a duality I live with that fascinates me to this day. And the reason I am documenting this aspect now.
You see, we’re in a similar situation. Not only with my battling cancer but one of our two cats (that we got 2 years after Gizmo’s passing), Katya, the Bengal, is having health issues. Her eating habits are off. Being a Bengal, Katya is 5/8ths wild. Her breed is special because it was created by a geneticist who bred Asian leopard cats and snow leopards into the standard silver tab because those leopard cats had a natural resistance to feline HIV and Leukemia. Bengals are also known to have robust systems that keep them fairly healthy throughout their lives. Given our situation with Gizmo this seemed like a good thing.
One thing Bengals are subject to: old age. No getting around that. Katya is now 15. And, at the moment, has been faltering. As I write this early this morning, I woke because my husband had been quietly crying with Katya curled up to him as he whispered that she needed to eat more, and that he’d think of something to help. My husband’s a bright guy – remember, he vociferously and meticulously kept my oncologist feet to the fire throughout my cancer scare – writing medical analysis that eventually went to Second Opinion and got them to see his point of view on my case – they concurred. But animals, it seems, are his waterloo. Katya became J’s return to life. He was always proud to show people his “leopard” – she has rosettes like a leopard because of her lineage. Bengals have been clocked out in the wild at racing 40mph. Did you know that? He’ll tell you that if you meet them. Katya is his pride and joy – I’m not saying I take a back seat, but I do often chide him that the “fish wife” wants him and I have to step aside.
Like Lou Grant, a tough guy exterior, coupled with an acerbic wit and a fiendishly clever sense of humor, my guy has a lot in common with Lou. But it’s the last character trait I’ve yet to mention about Lou that cleaves my heart in two: his heart of gold. Like Lou, when you strip away all the bravado, the humor, the wit, when you really boil it all down, you have a man who loves whole-heartedly and is “all in” with what you’ve both got going on in your life.
This morning – at 4:50am I woke to his muffled tears and sniffles as he whispered to Katya curled up into his chest. Like a cat erping up a hairball, J’s emotional displays are a HUGE wake up call. I often tell people I have to really poke him hard to get him to say anything that is hurting him. I tell doctor’s, when we take him to see one, that if J goes, “Ow, that hurts,” it’s equivalent to someone coming along an whacking your arm off with a machete and then pouring iodine on the wound. J doesn’t do “ow.” He’s very quiet that way. So, when I hear him break it’s like an Emergency Broadcast alert has gone off in the house.
This morning was one of those moments.
He kept apologizing. Like Lou Grant apologized. It was messy and sometimes incoherent. And I found myself not too unlike Mary grappling with the helplessness of wanting to help Lou (even if they weren’t married). We fed Katya 3 hours early this morning because she seemed to want to eat. Something she’s been meh about eating for days. J became emboldened and wanted to take care of it right away. So there we were cutting up filet mignon for Katya (yeah, he bought her absolute favorite to have on hand in case she got hungry). She ate. She seems more active for the moment. My “Lou” seems happier, but there’s a knowing sadness creeping in there. A Gizmo laden one I’ve not seen in years. Fifteen plus years to be exact.
I know what’s coming. I see it, even if he’s trying like hell not to. We’ve decided to take her to the vet on Monday morning. She’s not hiding (usually a very strong sign that something is amiss in a cat), she’s not stopped pooing or peeing – so we’re good there. She’s still grooming regularly – another sign that things are semi-normal. She just does EVERYTHING slower. I’m fairly convinced it’s old age that’s crept up on us while we weren’t watching. It seems sudden, it’s caught him off-guard from his prized leopard, but for those of us of a certain age, as I tell him, that old age thing happens pretty quickly when it comes. We suddenly can’t kneel easy anymore. We could do it yesterday, but not now. Things like that.
So, I watch my Lou. I see his worry and concern. And, like Mary, I do what I can to help the big guy out. There’s no easy win here. There’s no magic balm that will set this right. THIS IS LIFE. It’s how it works. He knows that, I know that. Katya certainly knows it on some level. But it did make me realize and distill the man I married. I’m okay with that. Hell, I signed up for it. Tonight, while he kept Katya close to him on the bed, with me holding Zorro (our Somali cat) close, we watched “Victory at Sea” and “Zorro” (the Disney Guy William’s version from the 1950’s) so J could relive a part of his boyhood past. He was six and ten respectively and he talked a great deal about why these two shows (along with The Swamp Fox – which is next on our list) were so prominent in his childhood. The four of us lie on the bed, watching old TV and letting my Lou reminisce about his youth. In this I saw the boy who had numerous mutt dogs – all called Penny for some silly reason – Penny One, Penny Two … yeah, that’s my guy. He named them all Penny so it’d be easy to remember. Well, that’s what he says.
I now think, after his emotional breaks with Giz and Kat, that he named all those dogs (who were terrier mixes, btw) Penny because he needed the next one to fill the shoes of the Penny before her. It was his way of keeping continuity in his youth. That explains a lot to me about the man I married. The man who diligently sees to our pets care. Cat or dog. Like Lou Grant, beneath that gruff exterior is a heart of gold that is undeniable and the source of my love.
Until next time …
The True Meaning of Queer …
Humans love to classify things. We love order amongst the chaos. It’s just how we’re wired to short cut how we see the world. It gives us order and cohesion that is comforting to us. It makes the world easier to navigate.
But I write this as a queer writer. It’s a word that used to be hurled at us to open new wounds, add salt to old, and denegrate us to the point of tears or real physical gut-wrenching pain. As a matter of history, we, as a community, have used that classification to identify who we are and establish our voices in the mainstream political spectrum as we vied for a place at the table to establish and hold onto our rights. In that particular venue we needed to define ourselves so people not of the community could see us collectively as well as individually as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, etc. In the beginning Gays and Lesbians led the way, albeit with differing agendas. Men established their separatism by holding it close to the bone sexually. Whereas the Lesbian movement was more about poltical rights, personal well-being and emotional quality of life. They both realized in the early days of the movement saw that they needed to present themselves as the next door neighbor. Someone the mainstream knew.
It was important to our early movement to make us seem like any other neighbor. We were human after all. We ate, made a home for ourselves, paid bills, worked, sought personal relationships just like any other human being on the planet. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitius did their level best to put us in that light early on. It started the national conversation on the right foot. Our best foot. That’s not to say that there weren’t detractors from within both those groups. As we’ve seen in We Rise, the mini-series that covered those early days produced by out academy award winner screenwriter, Lance Black, there was a healthy amount of discention from within those movements. Queerdom already had a propensity to refuse to be classified so rigidly. For many within who went along, it was a personal compromise they thought was worth it to gain some value and respect in the greater mainstream.
So why the historical recap? Because, as of late, I’ve seen quite a few of my queer brothers (I use queer purposefully – acknowledging that many of my generation have a visceral reaction to that term) across the spectrum as identifying as anything other than “strictly heterosexual,” commenting on works that don’t fit into the gay rigid classification. Where gay men are meant to be “just one way” with each other – much like how the CIS HET world tended to hold against us (why aren’t you dating a woman like everyone else?!). I think while we’ve asserted ourselves in the mainstream conversation we’ve lost sight that it was queerdom we were embracing. The specifics of where we fall within that rainbow laden spectrum is quite literally irrelevant. We just all can agree we’re queer – derisive commentary from close minded heterosexuals be damned. It’s what we are. Outside the perceived norm, which we ALL know doesn’t exist.
I watched as my gay identifying brothers derided Andre Aicerman’s Call Me By Your Name option into a cinema work as “not gay.” I withheld my own commentary on it until I both read and watched the adaptation. It is decidedly not “gay” by rigid classification for those that need it. I know. I used to count myself amongst them. It’s one of the reasons I hold a great ire for MM Romance which is certainly NOT gay, either. It’s gay in name only but is predominantly written for straight women by straight women who are more in love with men in general and choose a male/male pairing so they can have more of that man-pie they crave. It has nothing to do with queer men. I know some gay men who enjoy it. That’s their call. I personally don’t agree with it. I like stories closer to the bone of who we are. Not that they can’t have the romantic trope of a HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now) endings. Our stories can certainly ascribe to those hopeful ideals. But I like it going into our stories when I don’t know how it will all end. I love that churn I feel, that gut wrenching “no, no, nonononononono,” that happens when things go unexpectedly sour. Why? Because that’s how it happens. The best of circumstances, the best relationships, all hit snags. What I am after is what happens next. What do each of these characters, already maligned in life because of who they are or how they represent themselves rise to the occasion? Do they implode? Do they rise above it (much harder to do in this world – but boy howdy, it’s a great thing to see when they do!)?
At the same time I read K.M. Soehnlein’s The World of Normal Boys. Two works that couldn’t be more different in approach but both explore the exact same turf: “Normal Boys” who defy classification. Boys who find themselves in homoerotic relationships that push against what they expect out of life – the script we, as men, are given to us by society. The one gay boys say, “fuck it, that ain’t me …”
The World of Normal Boys has the main character, Robin MacKenzie, discovering why he’s different from other boys. It’s not because of the exposure to the museums and culture his mother brings to him in New York, though it is certainly part of it. Instead, Robin discovers his sexuality because he begins to crave the touch of those “normal boys” in the form of two non-conforming boys – outlaws – in his high school world. Todd Spicer is a stoner boy, born into a rich aspiring family, but bucking it all and playing a bad boy. Eventually, Todd and Robin find themselves in a sexual situation that Todd easily explains away as his being a free spirit, brought about by an inspirational film he saw about a guy doing whatever the hell he wanted to in life. There were no limits to life that way. His messing around with Robin sexually held no more meaning than smoking the cigarette they shared after their tryst. The other “normal boy” in Robin’s life is Scott Shatz. Scott is a lone wolf (Scott’s own label for himself – isn’t that how we all see ourselves in our teens?). But Scott soon befriends Robin and their relationship evolves to Scott and Robin messing around sexually as well. Scott keeps telling Robin “not to make a big deal about it” when Robin soon susses out that it IS a big deal but Scott and Todd don’t want it to be. What I find so interesting in this work is this is how it works for gay boys. We seek the comfort of other boys who are often not like us, but when pulled away from society expectations other things take flight in the dark, drifting through clouds of marijuana like dark birds who want something secretive that says they are their own man. Only to have the harsh light of day come piercing through their dark dreams and bring them all crashing to the ground of reality. So many gay boys have this story. I count myself amongst them. It was how my early gayboy days revealed themselves to me.
Conversely, though not all that different, Call Me By Your Name, explores the same territory. Men who discover something so revelatory and life shattering that they become swept up by it but find, at the end of the day (or summer in this case), must return to the world better and healthier for their experiences, but no less resigned to life in the rigid normalcy of a heterosexual life. Elio and Oliver meet over a summer of 1983 when Oliver, an American, is hired by Elio’s father (an archeologist) to catalog their findings from recent digs in Italy. At first the story moves about with both men, Elio’s late teen crush on a girl, and Oliver’s supposed romantic summer fling in the arms of another woman. Yet, Elio and Oliver soon start to spiral around one another. An epic dance of two men discovering each other in ways they don’t expect. Mainstream rules say they must reject those feelings at first. It’s part of that script should they have to run to the “troubleshooting” section of that heterosexual manual they all carry. But that troubleshooting doesn’t offer much in the way of hope as Elio keeps longing for Oliver’s attention. When the subject finally rears its head it’s outed under the guise of Elio wanting to discover what Oliver knows about being a man and navigating the halls of love. Hero worship. Oliver, for reasons not provided fully in the work, knows it is something more. He gently lets Elio pull close but eventually pushes him back with a clear, “we need not speak of it.” Saying that with the clear implication that they certainly won’t act on it. Only, they do. And thensome. Peaches, anyone?
Once they come together they are fairly inseparable. Elio’s parents, both educated – delightfully displayed not only in the father’s line of work but also of the intimate moments the three of them share when their mother translates a german work into english as her husband and Elio listen louging next to her. Indeed, the film does this to brilliant effect by having French, Italian and English rotate – often within the same speech as the story moves along. These are not, say, the close minded parents of a similar film that takes place at the same time, Edge of Seventeen, where the parents are working class. Elio’s parents clearly detect that Elio and Oliver are involved in some way. It is the final sequence after Oliver’s eventual departure at the end of Summer that his father has a heart to heart talk that clearly separates European fathers from their American counterparts. While I recognize that not all American parents were close minded (mine weren’t, for example) and all Europeans are open minded, I would think that it is one place where Europeans are ahead of us and have been for quite some time.
What I love most about these works is that they informed me in writing my own. In Angels of Mercy, I quite literally fought against the twin brothers of my series as being rigidly gay. I should’ve known better. Hanging around my queer granddaughter and her queer friends, I know that the spectrum is vast and varied. Yet, I pushed back. I tried to force my boys to be gay and gay only to the point where it was literally strangling the story. I had to step back and have that same heart to heart Elio had with his father – which literally smacked me in the head when I saw it before my eyes. It is better to have the courage to explore love for love’s sake – whatever form that takes. Eventually I was able to let my previously defined gayboys as pansexuals – still part of the queer spectrum, just not wholly of the gay classification. Marco and Pietro discover that they fall in love with who the person is, not what junk they have trapped in their pants.
After all, isn’t that what we’re truly after? #LoveIsLove has greater implications. For me, I’ve learned not to be so craving for a “gay” story – whatever that is. I’d rather it be queer and let me discover it along with the character. It is their journey that brought me to them in the first place, not mine. I want to know what they feel and aspire to, not what I would do.
I’ve come to realize that all my works may focus on first person narrative, but they are essentially ensemble pieces. It takes a village and all that rot.
I am a queer author, writing queer works, and finding myself wholly embracing the term and seek the works of others who want to tell stories that explore that in all its infinite varieties.
Until next time,
– SA C
Mercy’s Little Angels – Episode 1, Part 2
“So, let me get this straight, pardon the pun, but you went to second period Drama and the hottie twins were there. You said they watched you in class and after the pop quiz, you submitted yours and read their quiz for like a couple of minutes and then suddenly it was lunch?” Don asked Elliot as they all assembled at the top of the multi-tiered garden in the middle of the large quad that separated the various campus buildings.
Mercy High had once been a Catholic school, but two years ago the church deconsecrated the grounds and the facility converted to a secular high school serving Mercy and the surrounding unincorporated towns and villages along the Big Sur coastline. While parochial attendance had trended down over the years, the secular incarnation now held over seven hundred students.
Elliot took a bite of his egg-salad sandwich as he contemplated the best way to answer Don’s question. Don Garcia was his crew’s resident smart guy and avid surfer. There wasn’t much Don didn’t know or could gain a handle on. And the guy was quick – quicksilver, sort of quick – but in that Zen surfer boy way. He often presented the answers when the group needed them most, but with all the grace of a wise sage. With his shoulder length black hair, beguiling Latino looks, he wasn’t hard on the eyes or the spirit – he was always good for hang out with for a bit of a laugh, too. Elliot knew if there was anyone who might sort out what happened to him, it was Don.
“Well, see, that’s the thing,” Elliot began, realizing as he looked around that the entire crew appeared riveted to his reply. Some even stopped chewing their lunches altogether. “It all seemed to go like a few minutes at most. So how could two whole periods pass me by?”
“And why didn’t we see you when we left?” Terri added while deciding against finishing the cafeteria Spaghetti Surprise lunch he’d mistakenly purchased.
“Yeah, girl. We saw you get up and put your quiz in the tray and then left out the door before the bell even rang,” Randy added.
“Wait. What?” Elliot nearly choked on his bit of sandwich. “Okay,” he cleared his throat, “that never happened.”
“Girl, we saw you leave. We … as in Terri and me. Four pairs of eyes, unless you count Terri’s contacts then maybe it’s six.”
“Bitch! You said you wouldn’t spill my tea …” Terri gasped and slapped Randy’s arm for good measure.
“Ladies! We’re so beyond Terri’s less than stellar vision right now,” Elliot burst out. He wanted to know what Don was thinking and not this trip down Spilling Tea Road.
“So let me see if I have all of this right,” Don began as he wiped the last of his banana cream pie from his lips. “You two saw him clearly place his quiz in Mr. Ray’s inbox and leave the room but Elliot maintains he not only put his quiz in the box, he picked up the twin’s responses, read them without leaving the room, then heard the twins’ voices in his ear and when he reacted to them two hours had passed?”
“Yup, pretty much,” Els replied as he slipped the last of his sandwich into his mouth.
“Time and Spatial displacement. Wow … I’d read something about it in one of my science mags, but it was all theoretical. I mean, some of it has panned out from recent theory but like, whoa, that’s some serious shit.”
“Mmm-kay, before you go all science nerd on us and start techno-babbling shit we don’t have any way of understanding, are you saying that both can be true?” Elliot leaned in.
“It is possible; again, theoretically speaking. Perceptions are a tricky thing.”
“But that would imply that someone or something was the puppet master here, right?” Elliot pressed further.
“Okay, is it me? Or did we just enter Twilight Zone, now? What are you two going on about?” Cindy asked as she joined them from her trip to the cafeteria. She eyed Elliot and Don as she sipped from her Coke.
“Girl, you had to be there. Miss Thang thinks she stayed in the classroom reading quizzes when we clearly saw her leave,” Terri offered.
Elliot ignored Terri’s commentary because he could see Don was already onto something.
“What are you thinking?” he goaded Don a bit more.
“Well, the one odd thing throughout this whole scenario has been the twins. Anything else you can come up about them?”
“Wow, way to put the new guys into hot water,” Danny added.
“Well, think about it. Elliot told us that they kept staring at him. You two caught them doing it, right?” Don continued.
Randy and Terri both nodded but didn’t add anything further. The serious looks on everyone’s faces said that they’d definitely crossed over into the land of maybes. This was Don’s playground. He loved the possibilities in life and what’s more there was no one who could run down the number of possibilities as fast as he could.
“Okay, then we add to the fact that Elliot noticed how fast they finished the quiz and the sheer volume of what they wrote …”
“And how they wrote it … it was like Declaration of Independence quality script. Ya know, how people who wrote with feathers wrote.”
“Right. Okay. And where were they when you went down to spy on their quizzes?”
“They were busy chatting up Mr. Ray in his office,” Elliot replied.
“So, they hadn’t left yet.”
“No. And I was clear to watch that they didn’t see me reading their replies. They were definitely preoccupied with Mr. Ray. But it was their voices that sort of brought me out of reading those quizzes and when the lunch bell rang I realized I’d missed two whole periods. I mean, Mr. Ray had another drama class in period three. Then none for the fourth – it’s a free period for him. So when I snapped out of it I found myself all alone in the room. Why didn’t anyone see me standing there during the third period?”
“And the twins were nowhere to be found, right?”
“So, they could’ve pulled it off somehow. Hypnosis, maybe?” Don frowned at that simplistic, if slightly unusual idea.
“Okay, say they used hypnosis or something like it, but how?” Danny asked.
Don gripped some grass and tossed the blades into the bushes. Frustration was never a good thing for him.
“That’s the part we don’t have an answer for. And even the things that could be, are simply not plausible.”
“So, we keep an eye on them?” Elliot asked.
“We keep an eye on them,” Don nodded.
A shadow fell across the group.
“So, we heard this where all the cool kids hang out for lunch,” Pietro stated, making everyone jump.
“Mind if we join you?” Marco asked.
*** – ***
To say that lunch from that point out was a bit on the awkward side would’ve been the understatement of the century, at least, to Elliot’s way of thinking.
Everyone seemed welcoming of the twins. Most looked intrigued to have the boys so close to them for the first time. They just felt a bit odd with what they’d been discussing prior to the twins’ arrival. Elliot, however, became slightly tickled eyeing the grit to Danny’s jaw as he watched the brothers observe every move or sound Elliot made – almost as if they couldn’t get enough of whatever Elliot did. If anything, the brothers’ arrival was the perfect solution that just might get Danny to come to a decision if they were together or not.
Chalk one up for the twins, Elliot thought.
“So how are you liking your first day?” Don asked the brothers as he stretched back onto his bent elbows, his gaze intent on their answer. For all his amassed intelligence for a guy so young, Don’s questions were never as topical as they sounded. Don’s ability to suss out a person’s character from brief interactions was nearly legendary with Elliot’s gang. If you wanted a read on someone, you had them talk to Don for a few minutes.
“It’s interesting … for a small town like Mercy there are a lot of students here,” Marco commented, glancing around the quad at the number of students who called it their favorite lunch spot – choosing to sit out in the sunshine rather than the confines of the cafeteria.
“Mercy gets students from the surrounding areas – unincorporated towns and small villages and the random ranch or house along the coastline, which is sort of funny considering that it was once a parochial school but they couldn’t keep the attendance high enough to warrant this large a school.”
“You mean this was consecrated ground?” Pietro inquired, sipping from a thermos, tingeing his lips a darkened red color.
“What are you drinking?” Terri asked. “It’s making your lips go all red like. Almost matches my lipstick.”
“Borscht. We have a particular fondness for it from our time spent in Hungary. It’s a bit odd, an acquired taste, but I really like it.”
Elliot didn’t think that Borscht would be that particular red color but what did he know really about it?
The rest of the lunch period passed with pleasant, if a bit guarded, idle conversation. Elliot became quite surprised that in this setting the brothers seemed more inclined to share their personal stories about where they’ve lived and more importantly – at least as far as the crew was concerned – how rich they really were.
“We come from an ancient Italian family. We’ll just say that Pietro and I can pretty much acquire whatever we want, when we want, and not bat an eye doing it,” Marco offered, his eye moving to each of Elliot’s gathering to see how that little bit of information either intrigued or disgusted each of his friends.
Thankfully, nearly all, with the exception of upwardly mobile Cindy, took what Marco told them without so much as a single flinch. That made him proud of his gang. Rich kids or not, they had to score with his crew on their own merits. Cindy’s eyes just sparkled with the endless possibilities the brothers represented. The fact that there were two only seemed to double her chances on scoring.
Elliot didn’t know how he felt about that.
“Well, that certainly has to be a comfortable place to be. I bet coupons don’t mean a thing to your lot,” Elliot commented as the bell rang signaling lunch was over and fifth period was right around the corner.
“You might think that, but Pietro got the ‘Vette during one of those year-end sales. Made a hell of a deal to get it, too,” Marco added.
“We like a good bargain just like anyone,” Pietro added.
Everyone started to get up and gather themselves together to move off to their respective classes. Cindy gave a quick kiss to Elliot’s cheek, with an eye to the brothers, and then scurried off to her gym class. Don and the two queens paused for a moment before Elliot nudged his chin up to signal he’d catch up with them later before they reluctantly moved on without him. Only Danny seemed to linger – occupying himself with something in his backpack to eat up the time. This pleased Elliot to no end that Danny didn’t want to leave him alone with the hypnotically handsome brothers.
“What do you have next?” Pietro asked Elliot as Danny picked up his backpack and skateboard, trying his damnedest not to look like he was paying attention when he totally was.
A devilish smile snaked across Elliot’s lips as he replied, his gaze moving from a disgruntled Danny to Pietro, “Civics. You?”
“Psychology. Or what this school passes off as Intro to Psych,” he replied mirroring Elliot’s smile. He seemed aware of Danny’s little jealous ploy, too. Elliot thought maybe they weren’t so good at hiding their affection for one another like he thought.
“Marco’s got Spanish,” Pietro added.
Elliot had to admit that the Sforza brothers were wickedly sexy no matter what expression they chose to share with others. Marco stood slightly behind his brother and pretended to look around the quad as people moved off to class. There wasn’t much time left.
Danny snorted and began to move off without saying anything further.
“Meet up after school like usual?” Elliot called out to him.
Danny paused and glanced at both brothers before nodding and moving on without saying a word. Nothing could please Elliot more than the brothers’ finding a way to do something others could not – leave firecracker Danny speechless.
Now, that is some kinda power, indeed, Elliot thought.
The brothers turned to watch Danny leave, though what they thought about that little exchange between him and Elliot they didn’t say.
“Well, thanks for letting us join your little crew for lunch. Being new here makes it a bit difficult to find our own group of friends at school. So, um, thanks.” Marco said as he turned to move off to his Spanish class.
“Sure thing …” Elliot called out to them as Pietro followed Marco off the plateau. “Anytime …”
They paused for a moment and both nodded before moving off, leaving Elliot to realize he had less than a minute to make it to class.
*** – ***
“So you seem pretty enamored with the newbie guys,” Danny muttered as he slowly rode the skateboard next to Elliot who had to make his way home on foot. They were taking their usual route from the school down a few blocks to Main Street. This way they could make their usual pitstop at the local Dairy Queen his grandfather ran and get a free sundae or something.
There was unease in the way Danny talked to him now. Elliot had to admit that there was a part of him that liked that the brothers’ presence was enough to rattle Danny’s perceived place in Elliot’s world.
Silly boy, no one can ever replace you with me, he thought to himself.
“I wouldn’t say enamored was the right word,” Elliot commented as he plucked a leaf from a tree that lined this part of the sidewalk as they turned onto Telegraph Road and the strip mall where the Q awaited them.
“Oh, no? What word would you use, then?”
“I don’t know. Intriguing, unusual, hypnotic.”
“Ah-ha! Hypnotic … you are smitten with them!”
“Not likely. Jesus, I have a word for you though …”
“Do tell, Donahey. I’d just love to hear this.”
“Oh, how about jealous.”
“Fuck you, Donahey.”
“And there we have it, folks. Supremely confident Daniel Lynn Jericho totally in freak out mode by a couple of rich dudes that don’t mean dick to me.”
Danny suddenly stopped with the back of his hand to Elliot’s stomach.
“Seriously. C’mon D-man. It’s always been you. You know that.”
Danny looked away. This is when Danny usually retreated. Anytime Elliot made their relationship more real Danny took to the hills. Elliot nudged Danny’s shoulder with his to hopefully lighten the mood a bit.
“I know what you want, Els.” He turned from looking down the road to have his eyes meet Elliot’s.
Make or break time …
“And on some level, I want that, too. It’s just …”
“I’m not the one, am I? No matter how much we dance around it, no matter how much I want it, it’s just not meant to be, is it?”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
Danny shrugged. “I wish I knew. God, Els, I really don’t know why I am so afraid of an us. Maybe because if something messes up then I’ll stand a real chance of losing what we have already. I … just can’t chance that.”
“So, what? You’d rather see me with someone else because you’re afraid we wouldn’t work out and I’d cut you out of my life forever? That’s a pretty shitty thing to throw on someone. And a pretty pathetic excuse for why we can’t be.”
“Nah, forget it. I got the message. I’ll see ya around.”
Elliot moved off, leaving Danny, and a piece of his heart behind him.
Two hours and two hot fudge sundaes later he made his way from the Q down the road that led to his house. Dusk had fully started to cloak the evening in darkened hues and magical light. It was Elliot’s favorite time of the day and yet, never had his heart been so heavy or so troubled.
He shuffled his feet as he turned onto Oak Ridge Way. His house was the last on this cul-de-sac. A few houses lined his side of the road; the other side was a bramble of blackberry canes and various bushes and trees that lined the sloping ridge his street straddled along the hillside in this part of Mercy. A slightly cool breeze billowed across his body, bringing goose flesh to the surface of his skin. Elliot couldn’t tell if the goose bumps were from the breeze or from something else.
For the past block or so Elliot couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t alone. A few times he glanced around but the street was eerily empty except for him. Not even a passing car moved along the road with him. Maybe it was just his rambling thoughts over Danny’s commitment issues might be making him feel a bit on the anxious side of life. Maybe that’s what it was.
He glanced back to the corner and then across the street to the blackberry canes.
He started to walk toward his house again when some movement in the canes caught his attention. It could be anything. Deer often wandered the hillside in these parts, even coyotes and bobcats on occasion. Elliot was used to those things. But this, this felt different.
Like someone was there.
The light was almost gone now. Only a single porch light a few houses down glimmered in the distance, but otherwise there wasn’t much in the way of adequate illumination that he could count on to reveal what that sudden shift in the bushes could be.
Elliot took a few steps off the curb onto the street, his eyes squinting the tiniest bit, trying to sort out what was there. Another step brought him closer to what was on the other side of the canes. He could almost make out the shape. Whatever it was, it was big.
Bright headlights caught him standing in the middle of the street. The rumble from his father’s Ford pickup throbbed behind those brilliant beams. His dad leaned out the window.
“You wanna tell your old man what you’re doing in the middle of the road or is this some sort of school project?”
“Jesus, Dad! You fucking scared the crap outta me!”
“Uh huh. Get in, Son, before you turn into someone else’s road kill.”
Elliot spared a quick look at the bushes along the hillside before joining his father in the truck. Whatever it was no longer lingered there. No doubt startled by the massive pickup and the bright lights. He slumped into the seat next to his father as he closed the door not caring where his backpack ended up on the floor of the vehicle.
“Bad first day?”
“Jury’s still out. It was … shall we just say it was, odd?”
“Oh, yeah? How so?” He put the truck into gear and started to move the couple hundred feet to the end of the street and their house.
“Oh, nothing. Just new guys on campus.”
“They didn’t try to mess with you, did they? That’s the whole reason why I taught you how to …”
“What? No. It’s nothing like that. Just … I dunno. It’s all mixed up. Then, there’s Danny. He certainly didn’t help matters much.”
Elliot’s father, Nick, smirked the tiniest bit. He’d been watching his son and his would-be boyfriend go back and forth on making anything permanent in their relationship. He was slightly conflicted about Elliot’s woes with Danny. On one hand, he got why Danny kept doing the guy thing and being non-committal while on the other, he totally wanted to wring Danny’s neck for causing his son so much grief. But, on the whole, he knew it was best for them to sort it out. He accepted that Danny as one of the good guys. He didn’t think Danny would intentionally hurt Elliot, but being a good father, he was always keeping an ear to the ground whenever Elliot grumbled about their on-and-off status. So far it seemed just more of the same. Nothing too much to worry about.
“You two have a spat?” he asked as he turned the truck into their driveway and up to the large two car garage that doubled as Nick’s workshop.
“Nah, not really.”
“Okay.” Nick knew to wait it out; eventually his son would cough up the goods.
“It’s just …”
And here it comes …
He turned off the truck, carefully placing a hand on his son’s arm to stall him from climbing out of the truck.
“Well,” he sighed, then in his usual slurry of verbal diarrhea it all came out, “there’s these new guys, right? Totally hot new guys and yeah, I get it that you don’t get that, but you gotta trust me on this. They’re the shit. And they’re nice, too. I met them. Well, we have Drama second period together. Oh and they’re twins, identical, too. Two hottie boys, total foxes and they keep looking my way. Why? I have no fucking idea. But they watch me … in a weird but slightly sexy way that’s completely unnerving but totally hot all the same time. So, of course Danny got all what the fuck about it and yeah, we sorta had a tiff about it and I ended up eating two hot fudge sundaes and now I think I’m gonna be sick and that’s why the jury’s still out on my epic first day of school.”
Nick ran a hand down his face, mostly to hide the small smile that threatened to consume his face over his son’s teen angsty hormonal boy troubles. Not that he was making light of them, but more of how much adjusting he had to do whenever he had these one-on-one father-son talks. He knew when Elliot was born that he was going to be gay. It just came to him in a dream while his wife was pregnant. But it never prepared him for the “boy trouble” talks. They still sort of amused him a bit.
“Okay, so no dinner for you, tonight? You know your mom’s gonna be a little cranky about that, spoiling your dinner and all.”
“So not the point of our conversation here.”
“No, I get that. So who are these boys?”
“Marco and Pietro Sforza.”
“Oh, those guys.”
“You know them?”
“Contract work. I did some modifications to their bedrooms and a few other rooms in that old abandoned mansion they purchased on the other side of town.”
“So you’ve met them?”
“No. I worked with I guess what could amount to their butler or house manager or hell, I dunno. Anyway, his name is Angus. Nice enough guy, easy to work with. So, I did the work and was out before the brothers took possession of the house. Never saw ’em.”
“Well, that’s probably a good thing. They’re way … well, just way.”
“Well, that’s evocative.”
Elliot smirked. It was so like his dad to pull out his literary genius with just the right word to catch his attention. He loved his dad and the fact that Elliot’s gayness didn’t seem to bother him at all even if he could sense his dad having to constantly play the translation card from girl troubles to the boy flavored variety.
He had to give it to his dad on how hard he tried to be there for him as he navigated this thing called teen life. It couldn’t be easy. Maybe he needed to cut his dad some slack.
“Look, I appreciate your taking the time to listen to my first school day woes, and boy troubles, which can’t be an easy thing for you. But I seriously need to just chill and take some Pepto-Bismol or something to settle my stomach and get some homework done sometime before sunrise.”
Nick pulled his son to him for a hug, mussing his hair the tiniest bit as he did.
“Love ya, Son. And don’t you worry about the whole boy trouble thing. Yeah, it’s different from what I thought we’d talk about when you were growing up, but I’ve settled that score inside a long time ago. We’re good. Okay?”
“Dad, the hair … really?” He smiled softly as he tried not to barf all over his dad. He really needed to get inside and do something about his stomach. He popped open the door to the truck and started to climb out. His father came around the other side of the vehicle and hugged his son.
“Alright, alright. Time out on the boy probs. Get inside and see to your stomach and homework. I’ll do my best to pacify your mom about you spoiling your dinner.” He moved off to the house while Elliot re-inserted a few things that slipped out of his backpack. After he closed the door his stomach gurgled.
Just as he reached for the back door to the kitchen he shivered from head to toe and he heard it. A soft rustle of leaves along the hillside caught his attention.
“C-a-s-s-i-e-l …“ a male voice he couldn’t quite place lingered on the air.
That shiver moved through him again as a small gust of air moved across the backyard, caressing his skin, a small trace of lavender scenting the breeze.
He looked from one side of the hill lining the backyard to the other. He couldn’t sort out where the voice or that scent came from. But something was there, something that had an interest in him.
Before he could become bait for something he wasn’t ready for he quickly opened the door and slipped inside. It didn’t stop him from looking out the back door window.
Not a damned thing.
*** – ***
Meanwhile, some 5,416 miles away …
London fog moved over Tower Bridge. At this early morning hour, very few cars moved along this part of the road. A formidable looking man in a dark suit with a dark overcoat stood along the east side of the bridge, his gaze focused on St. Katherine’s Dockyard in the distance.
He lit a cigarette, the soft blueish glow from his electric lighter as he lit the cigarette briefly colored his face in a cool light. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the taste of the tobacco as it snaked its way into him. A stiff breeze coming off the Thames blew his overcoat open. He relished the cold. He found it refreshing from the arid nights of Spain just twenty-four hours ago.
Two men, of similar dark suits and overcoats approached the man enjoying his early morning smoke. The sun still hadn’t threatened to rise just yet. He had about an hour or so if his calculations were correct. Plenty of time.
The men reached him as he took his third drag.
“Were you successful?” he asked his new companions.
“We were,” one of the two men replied.
The man turned to face them, a stream of smoke trailing into the men’s faces. They paid it no mind.
“They’ve relocated to a small Northern California town just north of Big Sur. A town called Mercy.”
He nodded, saying nothing further. He turned to face the docks again.
“So, the Sforza boys thought they could hide from me.”
“Shall we make the necessary arrangements?”
He nodded, taking another drag from the cigarette as the two men moved off.
Stay tuned for further episodes …
If you like these characters in this web series you might want to check out the original Angels of Mercy series that has the same cast of characters but in a completely different setting and time.
Mercy’s Little Angels – Episode 1, Part 1
Coming Up For Air …
The limousine moved quietly along the road into the long-abandoned property. Inside, Night Fever by the Bee Gees played softly from the more than adequate speaker system. The two occupants barely registered the tempo of the song by tapping their fingers to the lilting disco beat.
The car paused briefly at the gate. The driver, a young muscular man with devilishly good looks of dark auburn hair and verdant green eyes punched in the gate code to permit the limo to proceed down the long winding driveway to the house while the late afternoon sun played against the sunroof.
Marco Sforza, one of the two young occupants, glanced up at the glowing orb radiating against the heavily tinted glass before turning that glance toward his twin brother who only snorted in response before he turned his attention to the large moving trucks that already lined the long driveway to the Italian villa styled house.
“Well, it looks like most of the furniture made it here,” Pietro murmured to his brother.
“At least that’s something,” Marco replied slipping on his designer sunglasses in anticipation of moving from the limo to the house itself.
“Well, it means we won’t have to sleep on crates tonight, which will keep me from being cranky.”
Marco chuckled at his brother’s last. “When have we ever had to sleep on crates?”
“1863, in that hellhole of a town in Georgia during that unfortunate uprising of hunters and their ilk.”
Marco nodded, instantly recalling that rather bothersome moment in their past. “We didn’t sleep, though. It was more of a quiet repose before we responded.”
“Well, call it what you will, it was still uncomfortable as fuck.”
The car came to a stop. The brothers departed the vehicle and made their way past moving boys and the many crates and unpacked furniture that dotted the large foyer on their way to their final destinations within the spacious home.
Pietro stopped next to his brother, casting his eye to the large domed stained-glass piece that dominated the entrance to the house. Marco let his gaze match his brother’s. He frowned a tiny bit.
“It looks better than the photos led us to believe.”
“Well, it’s not as if we can’t afford buying the place and remaking it to suit our needs. But I have to say I do like the domed glasswork. Reminds me of home.”
They made their way from the foyer up the grand spiral staircase to take in their sleeping quarters.
“The construction people said that both bedrooms are completed and should be to our exact specifications.”
“Tinted windows and the lot?”
“Tinted windows and the lot …” Pietro confirmed.
The two master bedrooms were exact mirrors of each other, separated by grand pocket doors. Large California King-sized beds stood against opposite walls with a classically designed paneled oak headboard that exuded confidence in a very masculine manner.
The bedrooms still had a few crates of clothing and various items that still needed to be placed within the room, but all in all, they were nearly complete making the brother’s genuinely smile at their good fortune in finding things moving along as they’d hoped.
“Everything to your liking, sirs?” Angus’ warm baritone mellowed its way into the room behind the brothers. They turned to greet him.
“More than adequate, and what’s with this “sirs“ business? When were you so formal?”
Confusion played across Angus’ handsome face as he tried to come up with an adequate response.
“I merely thought that since we’d moved into a new town and the moving staff were about the place it might be prudent for me to take a more … conservative approach.”
“Ah, point taken,” Marco nodded in agreement. Pietro for his part didn’t seem to have a feeling one way or another about it.
Feeling a bit out of place Angus added, “I’ll just go down and see to the distribution of the crates and clothing items so we can get them all inside the house if not in their rightful place. Give me a holler if you need me.”
And with that, he turned and left them.
“You think he’ll fit in here?” Pietro asked as he moved from Marco’s bedroom through the pocket doorway into his own.
“In what way? It’s not like he’s socially inept, ya know.”
“True. But he can be rather … what’s the word?”
“Stodgy? Stick up his ass erect? Stickler for details?”
“Well, some of that but not nearly as bad as you’re making things out to be.”
By now Marco had moved over to a flat crate that contained the brother’s most prized possession: a painting of a young lad with the most beguiling looks that either brother had ever seen. The boy in the picture had long since passed on having lived four centuries earlier back in Ireland. But the Sforza boys never forgot to bring him, or rather the painting, along wherever they set up home.
“Now where to put you, my lovely …” Marco murmured.
“If it’s Cassiel you’re referring to, then he goes in the receiving room. Don’t think you can rob me of his beauty by sequestering him in your own room. You remember what happened the last time you pulled that particular stunt.”
Marco remembered all too well. It culminated in both brothers playing a world-wide game of keep away to the point where the damned thing nearly ended up in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’ll leave it for Angus to decide where best to put it.”
“There’s a good brother,” Pietro called from his room.
“But I’ll pay him extra to make sure it’s more to my liking …”
“Preternatural hearing … I heard that!”
— *** —
Elliot turned up the volume on his small transistor radio, trying like hell to get the best signal from KIDD, the AM disco station broadcasting out of Monterey. The gang still hadn’t bothered to show up for the first day of school. Word had it that some new rich kids had moved into the area and everyone was dying to get a peek at them. His gal pal in crime, Cindy Markham, said she had it confirmed that they were twins and hotter than bacon sizzling on the grill pan, or something like that. She wasn’t very good with her metaphors. In fact, it was a damned good thing she was pretty because she came up woefully short with the smarts. But he supposed that’s why he led this rag-tag group of students he hung out with.
From the far edge of the parking lot he spied Danny skateboarding his way toward their usual hangout along the planter just outside the main entrance to the school.
“Well, at least one of them bothered to show,” he muttered to himself. As Danny drew near, Elliot finally found the best spot for his radio to pick up his favorite station; Diana Ross’ Love Hangover was prophetically playing from the tiny speaker. Indeed, Elliot noted, his summer had been woefully short of any real loving despite his family taking a trip to celebrate the Bicentennial of the country during his vacation. School was about to start full-throttle with the steady flow of students arriving on campus.
“Hey E-man, whassup? Good summer?”
Elliot snorted, “You should know … we ended up spending most of it together, dork.”
“Oh yeah, I thought you looked familiar. Mom said to have a great day at school, by the way.”
Elliot smiled broadly. He loved Danny’s mom more than anything. She treated Elliot like he was a prince and Elliot lapped that shit up. Danny provided no end of teasing whenever he spied their little mutual love fest.
“It’s school, numb nuts. Not like we really want to be here.”
“Ah! Except everyone wants to be here today … new kids hit the school. Seniors, too, from what Cindy said.”
“What she do? Hide in their bushes for the intel or what?”
Danny snorted, “Probably under their beds, more like. You know Cindy.”
They both knew that part about Cindy and her less than pious ways when it came to boys. Right on cue, Cindy’s step-dad’s MG sports car made its appearance and she quickly departed without so much as a goodbye to him before he drove off.
“Hey, girl. Lookin’ mighty fine there, sweetness!” Elliot called out to her bringing a warm smile for his affectionate welcome.
“I wore it just for you …” She did a quick turn from side to side, showing off the pale grey with pink piping short shorts, a low cut v-neck sweater in grey and pink and knee-high socks that matched down to her grey colored Keds. With her long curly dishwater blond hair cascading down her back she was a vision of female beauty. Elliot could appreciate that, even if he had little interest beyond friendship with her. She promptly took up her place next to Elliot with his arm wrapped around her.
“Are you sure it wasn’t for those new boys? I think Elliot’s just getting the benefit of your playing to the newbies on campus, no?” Danny raised a brow to goad her a bit further.
“No, I did not! I had this picked out three days ago. I wore it for my guy, Elliot. You all just reap the benefits of my stunning ensemble.”
“Oy, no one’s gonna buy that …” Danny added shaking his head in disbelief.
It was a stretch, even Elliot had to see that. Cindy may be tight with Elliot, but she was also opportunistic when it came to meeting and playing around with the boys who wanted to play back. She knew that wasn’t going to be Elliot no matter how much she wanted it to be.
Within minutes the rest of the gang had arrived with Marty and Enrique bringing up the rear of their little posse. The final bell of the summer vacation sounded as a fiery Corvette made its way onto the senior parking lot. Knowing they had only seven minutes to get to class, they all stood rooted to their spots to observe who was going to get out of the hottest fucking car at the school.
As if scripted from an ABC After-School Special, two strapping boys emerged from the car. Both were sublimely beautiful with wild manes of thick dark hair, stylish clothes that would make the richest kid at the school envious, and confidence oozing from every pore. These two boys moved from their stud muffin car to a side entrance of the main building while Elliot’s crew looked on. The gang didn’t need any further temptations to get them to rush indoors to watch where these two golden boys were heading.
“That’s them!” Cindy squealed quietly into Elliot’s ear but loud enough for everyone else to hear.
The boys made their way down the long hallway toward the main office to the right of Elliot’s little gang.
“C’mon, dudes, we gotta get to class,” Marty mentioned to them all reminding them of their current destinations. The group slowly broke up and went their separate ways with promises of gathering at the plateau for lunch.
As Elliot began to move off he caught the attention of one of the twins, who paused slightly, his gaze intensifying sharply, almost glowing through the tinted sunglasses for just a moment, before moving off to the administration office. If Elliot were being totally honest with himself, there was something wicked that passed between them in that moment. Elliot walked away from that little scene a changed man. He just had no way of knowing how much change was coming his way.
— *** —
Drama – easily Elliot’s favorite and constant elective class for as long as the Drama department and the instructor would have him.
In recent years, he’d made a name for himself as he possessed the triple threat – he could sing, dance and act without becoming stilted or phoning in a performance. Truth be told, he basked in the aura of the spotlight. He wasn’t the best dancer when he arrived at Mercy High, but his bestie, Danny, who was an accomplished ballet dancer, had improved his ability to move across the stage with far more grace than God had originally gifted him.
He saw the usual suspects, or what other people called students, who had been there the year before. Now that the previous senior class had cleared out, Elliot thought he would have a clear path to dominate the school plays this year. His day suddenly became quite a bit brighter with that thought.
As he took his seat along the perimeter of the staging area he nodded to a couple of the gay boys he knew congregated in the arts – safety in numbers was the rule of thumb when you were queer. Elliot knew that even if he were able to pass it off and confuse most kids with Cindy on his arm most of the time. It was all just an act. That’s why he was so good at this drama thing: acting for him was a way of life. In a town like Mercy, it was nothing short of survival.
The fall play hadn’t been announced prior to the school year. He supposed the drama teacher, Mr. Ray, had something special in mind and was playing it close to the chest.
A second or two later and the two queeniest guys Elliot knew, Terri and Randy, turned the corner. Proud, fierce and totally flamboyantly gay in a swirl of bright colors more appropriate for a nightclub than a high school, they floated in as only two balls-to-the-wall black drag queens could. Their grand entrance caught the attention of some frightened freshman. The duo took no notice and squealed so high when they caught sight of Elliot sitting by himself in the back row of the theatre-in-the-round set up Mr. Ray favored for improv class work. Elliot was sure that the candy glass props in the back room would probably shatter with the racket they were making over seeing him.
“Girl! Whatchoo doin’ hangin’ in the back row like some sad, sorry, freshman? Ain’t you got the memo? We’re upper-class girls now; we needs us some front row seats!” Randy wailed, bringing a warm smile to Elliot’s lips as he rose to meet them.
As much as Randy and Terri counted on Elliot’s protection as part of his crew on campus, Elliot lapped up their brand of fierce defiance in the face of constant adversity. But Elliot also knew these boys knew how to throw down. Randy may sport long nails and pitch his voice just high enough to play with people’s ears as well as their perception of him, but he cut his nails in such a way that a single side-swipe of his hand could slice you open like a knife through warm butter. And Terri was even more limber than Danny – which was really saying something – and knew more moves than Bruce Lee if it came down to it. Sadly, these queens had seen more than their fair share of horrid fights.
Elliot gave them tight hugs and blew soft kisses along each cheek – because you never messed with a queen’s face makeup. That was a sure-fire way to get your ass drop kicked in a New York minute. They took their seats with Randy and Terri choosing the last two in the front row with Elliot next to them.
“So, Mr. Ray hasn’t said a word about this year’s musical production, yet,” Terri began.
“Yeah, not even a word about the play for the fall either.”
“The nerve of Minerva … don’t she know we have a life outside this here joint?” Randy quipped. Terri leaned toward Elliot with crossed eyes, making Elliot chortle a bit at their perception of how Mr. Ray chose to run his department.
“Sometimes that queen don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Now, if he’d just do a local production of The Wiz we’d all make bookoo-de-bucks and gain us a little fame in the process. He’d only have to cast me as Dorothy …”
“You as Dorothy? Your skinny black ass can’t pull off Stephanie Mills, girl. You bettah get yourself to the corner store and pick you up some sense, Miss Thang, ‘cause you is runnin’ woefully short.” Randy laughed his ass off just imagining skinny Terri doubling for Broadway’s Supreme Miss Mills.
“Oh? And you think you can pull it off? Girl, you know you got them Glinda wide hips that just demands that you play her. So, you can’t do Dorothy, neither,” Terri shot back.
“Okay, we’ll leave it to Els to sort it. Go on girl, you tell us who should play her,” Randy offered by way of a truce.
Elliot stammered for a couple of seconds. “I was thinkin’, maybe … I … should play her?”
They looked at Elliot as if he suddenly was struck dumb or something, then turned to each other with a snark-laden glance between them.
“Girl, now, we know you can sang with the best of us. Our little trio’s rendition of Diana Ross and the Supremes at last year’s talent show was legendary. We nailed that shit to the fucking wall. You know we did. And you know we love you like our luggage. But seriously, girl, there just aren’t enough starring roles for diva’s like ourselves as it is. What makes you think we’d let a lily-white assed queen like yourself take all the best songs? Might as well do the original if we’re gonna Ease On Down that road. Okay, chica?”
Elliot smirked at being schooled by them in the nicest of ways when they could’ve just given him real shit about it. “You’re right … of course. I suppose I could usher while y’all carry on in the spotlight.”
Randy gasped, “Nah, you ain’t gotta get all over dramatic nor nothin’ … a little darker foundation and you could pass for Puerto Rican or a high-yellow black.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? With my white ass? There ain’t a Max Factor foundation real enough to pull off that cultural shift. You know what I’m sayin’?”
They all broke out laughing and high-fived each other.
“Yeah, you were the whitest Diana Ross this world has ever seen. Even if she sometimes forgets who she is …” Terri added, laughing through tears.
“That diva has some serious identity issues,” Randy snorted, waving a hand to dismiss their perceived Ms. Ross’ cultural confusion.
“Mmm-hmm, can you spell passin’?” Terri readily agreed.
“Oh-kay …” they high-fived each other.
A few more students found their way into the classroom and started to fill in the empty seats, just as Mr. Ray entered, his bald scalp framed by long wisps of wild gray hair that was combed into a sweeping mane. Coupled with his salt and pepper goatee his appearance gave him a Shakespearean flair. He slammed his lesson book onto his desk at the corner of the room just as the bell rang to call class to order.
Elliot surveyed the current class makeup. For the most part, it was inundated with terrified wide-eyed freshman.
Cool, he thought to himself. It meant that he and his two besties sitting next to him would dominate the class and terrify the little runts into submission.
They should know who reigns in this class from the start.
Before Mr. Ray could say his first word of the school year two more students made their entrance and caught everyone off-guard. It was the twin boys Elliot and his crew spied this morning parking that hellacious Corvette in the senior lot.
“Fuck me running …” Terri whispered, fanning himself furiously as if the temperature in the room suddenly rose with these two boys making their appearance. He wasn’t far off the mark on that one. Even Elliot felt a bit flush eyeing them so closely.
“Girl, who are those two hunks of man-flesh?” Randy leaned in and asked.
“New boys. Rich boys, too,” Elliot offered by way of a loose explanation. Aside from that, he didn’t know much about them. Only now, as they gazed out among the classroom he found himself seriously cursing himself for not grilling Cindy on them last night when they had their nightly phone call.
They handed Mr. Ray their add slips. Their teacher couldn’t help but beam that the two most gorgeous boys on campus had signed up for his class. Their prospects of ticket sales just increased tenfold if not more. To say Mr. Ray was delighted at this turn of events would be akin to his being given carte blanc on this year’s budget. Given the boy’s perceived wealth, that just might be the case.
“Well, everyone, it appears we have two new seniors in our fold: uh, a rather handsome collection of brothers, Marco and Pietro Sforza. Gentlemen, if you could take your seats and welcome to the Drama department.”
“Ol’ Raymond is just giddier than shit at these two studs being interested in his class,” Randy quipped with a small knowing snort watching, along with everyone else as the brothers moved to the opposite side of the room and took seats along the back row, almost mirroring where Elliot sat before Randy and Terri’s arrival.
A crackle from the loudspeaker broke the whispers and murmurs among the class. A small smile graced Elliot’s lips in anticipation of the daily announcements only because Danny was the one to give the school the 411 on all things Mercy High.
“Yo, dudes, and dudettes! Time for the first daily Mercy High report of the school year. School spirit week is on this week. Discounts for school lunches if you wear school colors during spirit week so be sure to take advantage of your downward spiraling dietary needs by paying less for that round of botulism and show your school spirit in the process. Ouch! Jesus, what was that for?”
Principal Silverstein’s voice could be heard in the background.
“Just read the notices without the commentary.”
“Okay, okay. Geez! In other news guys and gals, before I was so rudely interrupted, the annual Halloween dance is a little over a month away. Any local bands wanting to audition for the dance are encouraged to show up this Friday after school in the gym. Let’s all hope they know more than four chords and sing in a key other than X, though we’re not holding out much hope if past years are any indication.”
“Yeah, yeah, moving on … aside from the new exchange students roaming the halls, we have new dudes on campus! I won’t bore you with the people who don’t really matter in life, but two new dudes have made a serious impression within a matter of seconds arriving this morning. Please welcome Marco and Pietro Sforza to the school. It’s not like you didn’t see them arrive in that hellaciously hot ‘Vette with the kick-ass sound system this morning. So, uh, welcome bros, you’re Mercy High Avenging Angels now. I bet you just can’t wait for the absolute dullness that is Mercy to permeate every facet of your lives now, right? Lastly, in other boring news, choir, band and drama auditions are being held this week if you’re interested and have no desire to gain a social life. Because we all know that talent reigns supreme in this here joint. And yes, Silverstein, I’m moving on. Details on the auditions are located on the main bulletin board outside the administration office and outside the music and drama rooms.”
What? I’m done already. Chill out, man. And that wraps up this edition of Mercy High news.”
Mr. Ray didn’t look too pleased with Danny’s slight against the Drama and Music departments, especially given that Danny was a bona fide artist himself. But Elliot got why Danny did such things and knew it flew under the banner of survival, just like Elliot did every time he pulled Cindy close and mocked their pseudo-relationship – a relationship that he knew Cindy wanted to become real at nearly any cost. It was a touchy part of his life that he did everything to avoid. Having Danny in his life only complicated matters more. He loved Danny with all of his heart and thought Danny felt the same. They’d even messed around from time to time and it got very heavy each time they did. Only Danny never seemed to want to commit to being Elliot’s boyfriend so they’d mutually decided to cool things a bit between them. But he saw that grit of Danny’s teeth each time Elliot pulled Cindy to him.
Why can’t he just admit we’re meant to be together? Elliot pondered for the umpteenth time.
“Sweetness, you aren’t still carrying a torch for that foxy-assed boy, are you?” Terri whispered as Mr. Ray began to write something on the blackboard for the class to begin.
Elliot shook his head, but couldn’t hide from either queen how painful that situation with Danny truly was.
Terri took Elliot’s hand and gently stroked it. “Girl, you know he loves you more than he can ever willingly admit. Just give him time to come around. That boy is fine as fuck and you two look so damned cute together.”
“No one has a finer ass than Danny. You can bounce a quarter off that shit,” Randy concurred, shuddering at the thought of having a little naked time with him.
Elliot appreciated his friend’s encouragement, but to be honest, Elliot thought that boat had now truly set sail. He didn’t know if Danny would ever come around like he wanted him to.
Besides, I got two fine-as-fuck boys sitting on the other side of the room to think about now. Danny can just stew in his contradictory juices for all he cared now.
Elliot eyed both boys who seemed to have a trained eye on Elliot as well. If Elliot were honest with himself he seriously felt like both boys were undressing him with their eyes, as if they knew what he looked like naked to the world. It was positively carnal the way they were looking at him as if he were fresh meat.
“But don’t look now, baby boy. It seems you have the attention of our newbie boys,” Terri added, letting go of Elliot’s hand and nudging him with his shoulder.
“They’s looking at you like you’re what’s for lunch. Ooh, oui! Yes, queen, they just want to eat you up,” Randy added with a hushed squeal for emphasis – as if it needed any.
Mr. Ray had taken a position in front of his desk, choosing to sit along its edge to get things rolling.
“Well, let’s all get acquainted, shall we? Let’s go around the room and say our names and let everyone know what you’ve done in the world of theater, if any, and don’t be shy. The theater is no place for shyness to have a home. We’re in the business of exploring the human condition and truth. If you’ve got issues with talking to a group, then you’re going to struggle in this class. So fess up if that’s an issue for you and we’ll talk after class. As a side note, I’ve posted the audition times on the board for our first production of the year. We’re doing a mystery: Any Number Can Die, a sort of send-up of Agatha Christie. It’s a comedy and I hope you all will be interested in auditing for it, despite what Mr. Jericho had to say about it.”
Elliot knew that Danny would have to eat some major crow with Mr. Ray over that first school announcement. A smirk graced his lips just imagining that scenario playing itself out. Danny often didn’t police his mouth when it came to such things and it never ceased to be a source of entertainment watching Danny verbally dance his way out of his own messes.
For the next thirty minutes, the class members introduced themselves. It turned out for a predominantly freshman-laden class, several of those fresh faces had actually trod the boards in community or semi-professional theater. There was one aspiring kid, Dana, who had even done TV commercials and union work in Hollywood during pilot season. Randy and Terri almost openly sneered at the list of accomplishments the wide-eyed boy seemed more than happy to announce to the class.
Even Elliot had to admit that the little twerp grated on his last throbbing nerve a bit too much. They were going to have to sideline the little beast before he got uppity with everyone.
Then it came to the Sforza boys.
One of them stood up with such cat-like grace that Elliot found himself flushing at just how stunningly beautiful the boy was.
No, not a boy at all. He was already a man. I can practically smell it, Elliot pondered as the man announced himself to the class. His brother remained silent but never lifted his pointed gaze from Elliot across the room.
“I am Marco Sforza. This is my brother, Pietro. We are both classically trained actors and performers. We’ve been active over the years in professional theater back in Italy, having performed at La Scala in a few operas and even spent a summer or two doing traditional Commedia dell’arte work through small villages and towns all over Italy to much acclaim. While we respect the industries of film and television, they hold little interest for us as we prefer the immediacy of live performance to those captured on film or video.” Marco eyed the freshman twerp with a pointed stare that did worlds for quashing the little upstart’s ego. “Fame is fleeting. Serving the work is what’s important.”
Mr. Ray nearly cried tears of joy just hearing Marco’s words. Elliot swore he ran a quick hand over his face before he responded to Marco as he retook his seat.
“Well now, that was very encouraging to hear you and your brother’s experiences in theater. I don’t know how we were so lucky to benefit from your experiences but I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you both here in our little classroom.”
Both brothers nodded at the same time. Almost eerily so. Something about these two unnerved Elliot a bit. He couldn’t put his finger on why that was.
“But the brothers bring up a valid point that I want to poll from each of you so I know where you are with regards to the history of theater. While we do concentrate on performance in this class and will be going through improvs and scene studies, we will also be covering the history of theater so this is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of elective. You will work in this class. With that in mind, I will be passing out a one-page pop quiz of sorts to see how much you know. This is not for a grade, so the pressure is off with this one. It’s more of a barometer so I know what areas I need to concentrate on as we move through the class over the semester. Take the next fifteen minutes to fill it out and leave it in the inbox tray here on my desk as you make your way to your next period class.”
He handed out the quiz and everyone began to write. Elliot, Randy, and Terri had the benefit of knowing most of the material by now as the range of topics never changed. Elliot scrawled out as concisely as he could the answers he knew Mr. Ray would expect of him. As he flipped the page over, he glanced up and found that both brothers seemed to have already finished their quizzes and were quietly chatting up Mr. Ray near his makeshift office behind several ornate dressing screens. Mr. Ray only seemed too delighted that he had such willing participants involved in his department now. He was practically glowing from the experience.
Elliot hastily finished his quiz, scribbling out something coherent but he had to see what the brothers had written on their tests. His curiosity was getting the better of him. That wasn’t always a good thing.
The bell rang just as he reached the desk to find he was the third test to hit the tray. He quickly pulled both sheets from the tray and began to peruse them with wide-eyed fascination. What he found was beyond his wildest expectations.
In the most delicate, but identical script, the brothers detailed every facet of theater history across the ages. Their handwriting belonged to another age entirely. Historical documents didn’t have the deft hand or delicate script these boys possessed. And the sheer number of words that they put down wasn’t simply possible given the amount of time they took to answer the damned thing.
He bit his lower lip just trying to put it all together.
You know … you can always ask if you want to know something about us … he swore he heard Marco’s voice color his ear.
Anytime … any place. We’re here for you, Elliot …
He flinched at the sound of both brothers whispering in his ear only to realize that neither brother was anywhere near him but that the class had also completely cleared out. He glanced at the clock and it was nearly lunch!
How the fuck had that happened?
He’d somehow been overwhelmed reading their quizzes; he missed the next two periods entirely! Didn’t anyone notice him standing there? Why didn’t Randy or Terri say anything to him to snap him out of it?
He hastily grabbed his backpack from where he left it at the end of Mr. Ray’s desk just as the bell for lunch rang out. He bolted from the confines of the classroom into the harsh light of a brilliant fall day. It took his eyes several seconds to adjust but he knew he had to get to his crew and tell them what happened.
“They’re just not going to believe this …” he whispered to himself as he moved among the throng of students idly chatting about random subjects as Elliot tried to cut a beeline to the school cafeteria.
Stay tuned for further episodes …
If you like these characters in this web series you might want to check out the original Angels of Mercy series that has the same cast of characters but in a completely different setting and time.
It’s All Joss Whedon’s Fault …
Okay, maybe not totally. I can’t put the blame on someone because they created something they were passionate about. But what art does, if it’s at its best, is to inspire other artists to create. So, in that case, it is totally Whedon’s fault. He inspired me. His storytelling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I even endured the terrible movie version with Kristy Swanson and Rutger Hauer – in the theater, as a PAYING customer no less – so I get extra-slayer points for being a supporter from the very beginning). I didn’t buy the movie version. Not when it’s available to rent. I’m not that much of a freaky fan.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whedon at Comic Con one year. I’d always heard he moves around in a constant state of exhaustion – the man works so hard all the time – and my meeting with him it was evident that even within the marketing hoopla of what he was there to promote that I was very judicious with my fawning over having a moment with him. I didn’t even bother him with a photo op because he just looked so damned tired – though it didn’t stop my daughter and mother from having me snap a picture of them. I’ve got it somewhere in my photo library … somewhere. Even my granddaughter made the rounds at the Con taking pictures with various Buffy actors when she had barely achieved her first year of life (she has the distinction of being Jonathan Strong’s very first baby pic – or so he told us as he took brief possession of my granddaughter so my daughter could snap the coveted pic of them). I already knew the do’s and don’ts of meeting him … chief amongst them was to NEVER mention his brilliant work for the movie Waterworld. That was a sure-fire way to make him walk away from you with a look that would melt you on the spot. We promptly took my daughter/mother’s pic with him and thanked him for his time and spared a thought to let that man rest soon.
He really did look exhausted. I felt enormously guilty for taking any of his time but don’t regret it happening at all.
But I digress.
I’ve always liked the paranormal or supernatural stories. Whedon’s take – when he emerged on the scene in the mid-to-late nineties – was a breath of fresh air. Not only did he have a great female protagonist but she was sharp, witty, assertive (when she needed to be), and completely three dimensional for a superhero sort of story. Who knew pop-culture refs would work in a serialized fictional story and that people were hungry for that sort of snark in their supernatural drama?
I lapped that shit up like mother’s milk.
So why write about Buffy’s influence on my works? And why wait so long between blog posts? Well, I haven’t been silent about my dealing with cancer. I am happy to report that my last CT scan showed that the cancer is gone and the residual lymph nodes that demonstrated inflammation and germicidal (the type of cancer cells for my type of cancer) cells that caused that inflammation had decreased by more than half after the second round of chemo was a complete. I was happy to discover from that bit of news from my oncologist. So the pause from my last post to this one has, thankfully, been a rosy colored one. Things are definitely looking up for me now. And having something like cancer hit you broadside (as it did for me) completely reset my clock – so to speak. What used to be important that was truly frivolous have all fallen by the wayside. Writing, now that I have some strength returning to my limbs and energy overall, has become forefront in my mind and efforts. I think I can return to the land of writing on a more consistent basis than before.
But back to Mr. Whedon and his inspirational scrivenings.
Aside from the Swanson led debacle, I pretty much own everything he’s ever worked on, written, produced (okay, maybe I’ve missed a couple there – but I’ve seen them). His character development, his ability to find tender threads within any character and make them relatable to a wide audience was something I wanted to harness and add to my own writing arsenal.
Before Buffy, words like “Owenness” (when describing the general aura of a character named Owen), or using the word “much” to proclaim complete astonishment (“Morbid much?”) or references to pop-culture slogans in the media at the time “Gee, Willow, I love your dress. How great that you’ve seen the softer side of Sears…” to establish a character’s snarky teasing/bullying were unheard of in night time evening offerings. Here was an over thirty-year-old man who was successfully capturing the rise in pop-culture use in teenage interactions was beyond brilliant.
If anything, it made me listen to my queer granddaughter and her friends far closer now as I write about my own crew of high school social misfits in Angels of Mercy. I want my kids to sound authentic. I think all writers serious about their craft do.
So why this ode to Mr. Whedon and Buffy? Because I’ve decided to do something completely bonkers. On the verge of ending my Angels of Mercy series, I am taking the entire cast of characters and recasting them all in a vampire/supernatural romp of my own. Only to make things even more interesting (at least for me) I’ve set them all back to the disco-laden days of the 1970s. Angel Flight polyester pants, candy heeled platform shoes, disco anthems on the transistor radios – what could be better for a fluffy Buffyesque vampire romp beach read? Only I’ve taken a page out of another author I admire and doing the new series as a freebie web series that I’ll compile during the month of November (using it as my NaNoWriMo) and adding some filler material and backstories to the web series to turn it into a YA book that will (hopefully) be slightly silly, slightly scary and even slightly sexy using the same cast of characters from my literary fiction series in this new scenario.
I sometimes think I need to have my head examined. I am hoping my readers who love Angels will join me and their beloved Angels of Mercy characters in a new story setting. The Same fictional town, same fictional high school, same snarky set of teens. Just toning down the over sex from the main series so it’s more YA audience bound. Maybe I’ll pick up new readers that way. Who knows? I just want to do this as a way to reexamine and explore my characters I know well and throw them into something completely off the wall fun.
I don’t think I would’ve seriously considered this pre-cancer. I think messing around with my own mortality has given me a certain freedom now that I’ve stared that mortality down and said, “Not yet … I’ve still got shit to do.”
I am confident I can pull this off. Whether my current readers will embrace it I can’t say. Fingers crossed and thanks to Mr. Whedon for giving me the idea (I am rewatching all seven seasons from the beginning while I write – giving my eyes a much-needed break from staring at the computer screen for long periods of time). Let’s see what I can do with Mercy’s Little Angels, shall we? The first “episode” hits my blog this Monday (fingers crossed). I hope you’ll join me for the journey in this retelling of my characters in a paranormal/supernatural frivolous romp.
Until next time …