A Novel in the Long Pass Chronicles
Everyone wants the best for SCU student and tight end Raven Nez—and they know exactly what that is. Enter the NFL draft, become a big football hero, promote his tribe’s casino, and make a lot of money to help people on the reservation. Just one problem. Raven’s gay and he really wants to work with gay kids. Plus he figures a gay Native tight end will get flattened in the NFL. Then the casino board hires a talented student filmmaker to create ads for the tribal business and asks Raven to work with him. But the filmmaker is Dennis Hascomb, a guy with so much to hide and a life so ugly it’s beyond Raven’s understanding. Still, he’s drawn to Dennis's pain and incredible ability to survive. Captivated by Raven’s stories of the two-spirited and by the amazing joy of finally having a friend, Dennis knows he has to break free from everything he’s ever been taught was good—but that’s a struggle that could kill him and Raven too. Is there a chance for “the great red hope” and the “whitest guy on earth”? A future for the serpent and the raven?
“I’M A weird, perverted, piece-of-shit fag.”
Raven stared at Hick, who was perched on the narrow cot. He wanted so badly to pet that scraggly mane of black hair and tell him he’d be okay. No way. The kid would hate it. “Who told you that shit?”
“So they threw you out?”
“Minister said they had to.”
“Fuck him to hell.”
That got a tiny curve of a smile.
“You know what my people would call you?”
“Yep.” Raven pulled his braid over his shoulder and shook it like a feather duster. Bigger curve on that smile. “They’d call you two-spirited.”
Hick frowned. “Like too much spirit?”
“No, like having two spirits. Double. In a lot of tribes, you might have been a shaman. Like a wizard, you know? The chief would have come to you for advice.”
His dark eyes met Raven’s dead-on. “No shit?”
“Look it up. Ever heard of Crazy Horse?”
“Sure. Saw a movie about him and Custer. Badass.”
“Yeah. Well, guess who he went to bed with?”
“Mrs. Horse?” That actually got a full grin.
“He was gay? Crazy Horse?”
“Not exactly. He had sex with women too. The Lakota didn’t think about people who slept with the two-spirited as gay. They were just men. The two-spirit were special.”
Hick picked at the rough material of the sheet. “Wish I belonged to that tribe, man.”
“You do. The human tribe. Just like Crazy Horse, you’re a man.” He gazed at Hick’s strong features. “Anyone ever say you had Native blood?”
“You mean like me being an Indian?”
“Don’t think so. My dad’s, like, English or something, and my mom’s Italian.”
“That’s where you got the hair?”
“Yeah.” Tears welled in his eyes, and he swiped at them fiercely. “Wish I was Indian.”
Raven glanced up at the clock on the wall outside Hick’s door. Shit, he needed to go. “The people here at the Youth Center are good, and they’re smart. Trust them. Take advantage of what’s here. They can help you.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Yes. For sure. I volunteer here a lot.” He stood.
“Heard you’re some big football star.”
“Heard wrong. I’m just a tight end. No big.”
“Wrong, man. You’re huge.”
Raven laughed. “You should see the guards.” He slicked the hair that liked to fall out of his braid. “Study, go to school. You can end up in college too.”
“Don’t like school.”
“How do you know?”
Hick laughed. He licked a finger and made a mark in the air. One for Raven.
Raven crossed to the door of the room Hick shared with two other boys. They’d given him some privacy to talk. “See you.”
“Your folks don’t mind?”
How did he answer that? “They’re okay with it.” He touched his forehead with two fingers and walked out the door.
In the hall, Fritzie practically ran into him in her usual headlong forward movement. “Hey, Raven. Want a cuppa?”
“No time. Sorry. I’m already late for a giant family event.”
“At the casino?”
“For your birthday?”
“Have fun. Eat some cake for me.”
She smiled, which made her plain, almost aggressively unadorned face look kind of pretty. “They want the best for you, Rave.”
He flipped his braid. “Yep, and they know exactly what the best is.”
“Yeah, well, at least they love you.”
He took a big breath. “Way to make a guy feel like a selfish asshole.”
She grinned. “That’s my job. See you later in the week?”
“Yeah. I’ve got crap to do, but I’ll make time.”
“You always do.” She put a strong hand on his wrist. “And it’s really appreciated. You give these kids a perspective none of us can duplicate. It makes a difference.”
He nodded but had trouble looking up. “Thank you.”
“Now get home before they send the tribe to burn down the shelter.”
He raised a hand and wrote in the air. “Indian Raid Takes Out Gay Youth Shelter. Where Did They Get All Those Tomahawks?” He gave her a pat. “See you soon.”
After a fast sprint to his apartment to change into his suit, and a faster-than-the-cops-would-like drive out of LA into San Bernardino County, he piloted the ancient piece-of-shit Toyota into the employee parking lot of the Mesa Manos Indian Casino. He turned off the ignition and swung out of the car. Ready for an evening of all his least favorite shit. Happy birthday to me.
Raven smiled as he approached the entrance. “Hi, Jimmy. How’s the family?”
“Good, thanks for asking. There’s about a gazillion people in there waiting for you.”
Shit. “Thanks for the warning.”
Inside the place was jumping. Friday night at the most popular Indian casino in southern California. The sound of slots whirring and ringing created a sense of excitement—the background music to his life. He waved at a couple of dealers and passed the long line for the big Italian eatery as he headed toward the quiet back hall where the small, elegant restaurant simply called Native entertained only the very discerning—and those with fat wallets.
As he entered the narrow hall, a young woman jumped out in front of him. Her large breasts bounced in a skintight silver lamé dress. “Hi, Raven. I hoped I’d catch you here. I’m such a big fan.”
The heat scorched his cheeks. “Thank you, you’re very kind.”
He tried to walk past her, but she cut him off again. “Would you give me an autograph?”
“I’d be happy to, but I don’t have anything to sign.”
“Oh, I can find something.” She opened a jeweled purse on her arm, barely large enough to hold a lipstick, and pulled out a black marker. “Here.”
He took the pen and glanced around. The entrance to Native beckoned only steps ahead. The maître d’ looked out at Raven, grinning.
She leaned forward, her cleavage straining the low neckline of the dress. “Sign here, handsome.”
Hell no. He looked toward the maître d’. “Jack, can you hand me one of the restaurant postcards?”
“Yes, sir.” Jack stepped behind the reservation desk, pulled out a card, and, walking forward, handed it to Raven.
“Thank you.” Raven signed the card and gave it to the girl.
“Awww.” She pouted with a smile.
His smile cooled his blush a little. “They’re just too much for a gay guy.”
She popped a hand on her hip. “Are you really gay?”
“Yes, I really am.”
“Such a waste.”
“Not to me.”
She batted her lashes. “Thank you for the autograph. If you ever change your mind about the gay thing, find me.” She waggled her fingers and then waggled her hips, walking back toward the banks of slot machines.
Raven hurried over to Jack. “I’m really late, aren’t I?”
The maître d’ smiled. “You’re the last to arrive, but since you’re the guest of honor, I’d say it’s your prerogative.”
“I wish I thought my father would share your view.” He patted Jack’s shoulder and threaded through the quiet but crowded restaurant to the private dining room in back. At the double doors, he took a big breath and opened one side, slipped in behind the crowd of people—mostly members of the tribe—and looked for a face that would make him feel more comfortable.
As if pulled by an invisible string—a connection they’d had since childhood—Walter glanced up, smiled, said something to the group he was with, and walked toward Raven. Raven smiled back, then caught a glimpse of his father in the corner of his eye. He extended his hands to Walter and leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Hey, my friend.”
Walter crinkled his laughing eyes. “Hi. Is somebody watching?”
“Shall I throw my arms round you and sweep you to the ground?”
“As if you could, puny critter.” Walter stood about five-eleven to Raven’s six-five, but where Raven had to eat piles of food to maintain two twenty-five, Walter dieted to stay under three hundred. Raven whispered, “Could we just leave and go to the movies?” Since they’d been old enough to sneak away, the movie theater had been their escape.
“Yeah right. This is your command performance, baby, so let’s go give ’em a good show.” He took Raven’s hand and led him back to the people he’d been speaking with. “Rave, you know Mr. and Mrs. Garcia and their daughter, Tiffany.”
Raven smiled. Leave it to Walt to guide him through the hopeless boulders of tribal politics. “Of course, delighted to see you again.”
“We’re so excited about your game tomorrow.” Mr. Garcia slapped his shoulder.
“Thank you, sir.”
Mrs. Garcia had a pinched look around the mouth. “Can’t you get them to stop using those insulting tom-toms?”
Raven took a breath, but Walter tightened his hand and said, “They don’t mean anything by it, Mrs. G.”
Tiffany grinned. “I think it’s pretty strong. Nobody ever recognizes us at all. Better a tom-tom than no tom.”
Walt laughed, so Raven did too, but a strong hand on his shoulder turned him around. “Hi, Dad.”
His father nodded to the Garcias and pulled Raven away. “It took you a while to get here.”
“I had a lot to do. Sorry.” His father never loved that Raven hung out with a bunch of gay white kids when he could be working for the glory of the tribe—preferably on the football field. Raven dragged Walt behind him as he followed his father toward the dais.
His dad’s formidable hawk profile turned back toward him. “Priorities, Raven.”
“Yes, sir.” He had plenty of priorities. They just didn’t include large gatherings of tribal dignitaries.
“These people are starving.”
No. He’d seen starving, and this wasn’t it.
His father took a step up the dais, then turned. “Walt, please wait here.”
Reluctantly Raven let go of Walt’s hand and followed his father, who took the microphone. “Good evening. I’m honored to be with you tonight. I know everyone’s ready for dinner, but first I simply wanted to say happy birthday to my son.”
Everyone applauded, and Walt whistled.
His dad raised a hand, and the noise died down. “As you know, Raven turns twenty-one today, so we’ll celebrate with some champagne tonight. I also have a surprise. The tribal advisory board has suggested Raven as our new apprentice casino manager.”
More applause. Raven plastered on a smile.
“Raven will work a few hours a week around his school and football schedule to begin to learn the business. The council believes his high profile will bring honor to the tribe and—” He smiled broadly. “—business to the casino. Of course, if he happens to be playing football somewhere else next year, it will still bring business to the casino.”
Everyone laughed, and people stomped and whistled. Oh crap.
“Now I’ll hand this to Raven for a few words.”
Shit, he hated this. He took the mic and stared at Walt for moral support. “I hope my new job won’t have too many moments like this.” He waggled the microphone. “I’m not much for speaking in groups, as you know, but that’s good because it means we all get to eat faster.” Everyone laughed. “Thank you for coming to my party. I’m really honored.”
Somebody yelled, “Go Lions!”
He grinned. “I can get behind that, no problem. Thanks again.” He walked off the dais, and Walt took his hand tightly as people filed into the next room, where a buffet dinner was about to be served. “Was I awful?”
“You were adorbs, baby.”
“Why can’t you do the dumb fucking internship?”
“Because I’m not the great red hope.” He said it lightly but with a tiny edge to his voice.
“You’re my hope, my friend.”
Walt smiled softly. “Thank you. Back atcha.”
His father grasped Raven’s arm. “Walt, may I borrow Raven for a minute?”
“He’s all yours, sir.”
Walt walked away and started talking to another group of people—so easy and comfortable. Raven just felt antsy. His dad led the way into a room off to the side of the banquet room. They used it for smaller gatherings or, as for this party, a bar. Standing against the wall, holding what looked like a whiskey and water, was a tall, well-dressed white man. As they approached, the man smiled and walked forward with his free hand extended. “Raven, I’m so glad to meet you at last.”
Raven glanced at his father but shook the man’s hand.
His father said, “Raven, I’d like you to meet Mickey Mortimor.”
Holy shit. “How do you do, sir? I’m honored.” Only one of the biggest sports agents in the business.
“I happened to be in LA on business and heard about this being your birthday. I contacted your father, and he kindly invited me to join in the festivities. As it turns out, I can’t stay for dinner, but I wanted to meet you.” He grinned. “You know, in case there should be things we have to talk about.” His grin turned into a laugh.
“Thank you for taking the time.”
“I’m led to believe you haven’t signed with an agent yet, is that right?”
“Yes, sir. I’m not sure there’s any reason to.”
His father slapped a hand on his arm. “He’s a modest boy, Mickey.”
“So I understand. But I am going to ask you to not make a decision on an agent without talking to me first. I can’t officially ask for a first right of refusal, but I think you understand my meaning.”
His stomach churned. “I appreciate your interest, sir.”
Mortimor slapped Raven’s bicep. “I like it. Clean-cut, polite, humble—”
“Gay.” Raven gazed at Mortimor’s face and caught the slight wince. His father frowned.
Mortimor smiled. “Well, the times they are a changin’, right? And your image is anything but pansy-assed, so I think we can get past the issue. Hell, it could mean a lot of good publicity in the long run.”
Raven nodded. The whole idea made him a little sick.
“I’d better get back to LA and onto my plane. Thank you for spending some time with me, Raven, on your special day. Here’s to a great life.” He shook his hand. “And I hope to play a role in making it that way.” He turned to Raven’s dad. “Thank you again, Marcus. Delighted to meet you.” Mortimor strode out of the bar and into the room beyond.
Raven’s father turned and grasped his hands. “Are you excited? What an incredible vote of confidence. I looked it up. That man is one of the most influential agents in football. With him behind you, you’re on your way.”
Raven frowned. “My so-called talent is at least fifty percent bullshit, Dad. Razzle-dazzle. It’s the Native thing. The hair, the mystique. If I’m not good enough to back up the hype, I’ll get killed in the NFL.”
“What are you talking about? You’re a great player. As good as any tight end in the business.”
Shit, what was the point of arguing? “I’m happy you think so.”
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