Chapter One

 

 

The end of my junior year, approximately one year earlier

 

 

WHEN ALL this started, my older brother Geoff didn’t know I was gay, at least not to my knowledge. I’d called him “Goff” when we were really young because I couldn’t pronounce his name. He’d called me “Germy” because he couldn’t say Jeremy. He still calls me Germy, even though everyone else calls me Remy. I still called him Goff, so I guess that was fair.

Goff was thirteen minutes older—we were twins of the fraternal variety—and he milked that older bit like a Holstein cow. Thirteen minutes, but you would have thought it was thirteen years. Anyway, he played football. He looked out for me, or at least tried, but he was and is straight as a plank. We wrangled a lot, still do actually, but he saved me from a lot of homophobic hassling, sometimes at the hands of his own friends, without even knowing I was gay, which was pretty cool of him.

“Teammates,” Goff would say. “They’re not my friends, not if they’re giving you shit.”

He was a good guy when he wasn’t being an asshole.

That said, Goff never understood a fundamental part of me, at least not until I came out to him. I guess that was my fault, though. How could he, when I’d never told him I was gay? But how could I, when I couldn’t have borne losing my brother? He was my twin, the person I was closest to in the world. Losing him would’ve meant losing a part of me. We fought like cats in a gunnysack and it drove our parents crazy, but they never understood that we went to the trouble of irritating each other because we loved each other. We certainly weren’t going to tell each other that. We were (and are) teenage males. Dad was a shrink. Dr. Babcock should’ve gotten that but didn’t.

So anyway, Goff missed a major piece of who I was and everything that went along with that. Now I wouldn’t say all teenage boys were sex-obsessed, just every one I’ve ever encountered. But he had all the sex he wanted and had no idea what it’s like not getting it. For me, it was not being gotten. So I was horny as hell in high school and about to burst. That was the start of all my problems, I guess.

Our family lived in Davis, an über-liberal organo-groovy college town about seventy miles from San Francisco. Davis had bought into Cesar Chavez’s grape boycott, which I read about in history class; it made itself a nuclear-free zone, which was kind of a joke when UC Davis boasted a particle accelerator of its very own. Besides, what good would the declaration of being a nuclear-free zone have done? Protect the city if the US and the USSR had nuked each other? There were three major Air Force bases around the city during the Cold War. There’d have been a bright blue flash and then nothing. Good luck with that nuclear-free zone. The city was also a declared sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. I could go on, but why bother? A homecoming prince even brought his boyfriend to prom one year. As a gay kid, I should’ve been golden in a city and high school like this.

But someone forgot to send my parents that memo, or at least my mother. Mom was a smart woman—she majored in chemistry in college and went on to become a drug rep for a pharmaceutical company after she decided getting a Pharm.D wasn’t for her—but she was oblivious sometimes, especially where Goff and I were concerned. Of both our parents, she in particular was loud with the compulsory heterosexuality messaging, things like telling me I was morally obligated to take some unpopular (read: fat with braces) girl to the prom. She said it was my “gentlemanly duty” or some such bull, but Goff and I both knew it was because she herself had been fat with braces in high school. She wasn’t doing it deliberately—trying to make me miserable—but she succeeded admirably.

Women in Mississippi had taken their girlfriends to prom, or at least tried. Hell, even in Davis a few years ago, the aforementioned homecoming prince took his boyfriend, but my mom? She thought I had to make life better for every desperate and dateless girl out there, just to restore some cosmic balance because her life sucked during high school. Why didn’t she get that this was my life, my one-way ticket through high school, not her do-over?

When I said things like that, her response was, “I think you can take one evening out of your life to make a difference in someone else’s.” Given the essentially obligatory service hours necessary to get into college these days, I thought I already had.

My boyfriend could’ve plowed me on the table at Thanksgiving, and she would have still said that. If I’d had a boyfriend. Well, there was Mikey Castelreigh. He wanted to be my boyfriend. I tended to think of him more as a kid brother even though he was only a year younger. I felt like there was a big difference between a sophomore and a junior in high school, however. Mikey looked like he missed the puberty train. I had a left hand. What I needed was a close friend who was gay. Mikey fit that bill very well.

Even at good ol’ tolerant, GSA-sporting Davis High, it wasn’t easy being different. We were still teenagers. Being smacked on the ass with the gay wand when I was born didn’t change that. I wanted to think Mikey understood that. I think what Mikey didn’t get was why we couldn’t be friends with benefits. Uh… because it would have been like blowing my brother? If I had a brother who swung that way. But then, as has been pointed out to me many times, I also saw what I wanted to see and not always what was really there. Or boats. I saw rowing-related things very clearly. It was life that tripped me up at every turn.

But telling my parents? Like that would ever happen. Hear that flapping noise? That was the pigs flying out of my butt, which would happen right before I’d tell my parents I liked the cock. I never got the best vibe off them where that was concerned. Sure, they had gay and lesbian, even trans, friends, but it was different when it was their kid, you know? They were on a need-to-know basis where my life was concerned. Coming out? Survey says: No!

Goff told our parents about a lot of things that went on his life—whereas I told them very little—but then he and I had very different relationships with them.

“So how’s that working for you, Goff?”

“Shut it.”

I smiled, but it was really more of a smirk. “Still think having the olds know every single detail’s harmless?”

“You’re really kind of a dick sometimes, you know that?”

“Everybody has to be something, I guess.”

“Really? I thought you were more of an asshole.”

He had no idea what he was doing to me with this conversation. I mean, the homoerotic subtext was barely sub. Sure, Mikey and I were going to die laughing about it later, but right then I had to bite my tongue, and that was kind of painful.

I looked at him for a few moments, totally expressionless. Just long enough that he’d gone back to his homework. Just long enough to make him squirm. “What? You’re creeping me out.”

“I could’ve sworn I heard you say stop sleeping in your bed when you sneak out to see your girlfriend.”

Mom and Dad never checked on me. Ever. I never gave them a reason to. Goff? Too many. Neither of us was stupid enough to think pillows under the blankets would fool them, but me in his bed? Physically we were nothing alike, but at least I made breathing sounds. We had a Jack and Jill bedroom setup where our bedrooms met in a common bathroom. We locked the bathroom door leading into the hallway and put the pillows in my bed, I moved to his, and he was out of there. He always showed his gratitude.

“You… that’s harsh, man.”

“Times are hard.”

Goff threw down his pen. “Why’re you doing this?”

“Because it’s almost summer, which means fall’s not that far away, which means neither is the prom, and it’s never too early to present a united front.”

“You’re really twisted, you know that?”

I shrugged. “And you know she’ll try to get you to take someone besides your girlfriend, since you quote-unquote haven’t been dating that long.”

“They’re not that bad,” Goff said, sighing.

“Have it your way, but don’t come whining to me when Mom does exactly that.” It’s not that I was smarter than Goff. I wasn’t. But I was smarter in different areas, like sneaking. It was like he didn’t have an ounce of guile in him. Apparently I received both our shares. Somehow, and despite getting him into endless trouble as children, he still trusted me. Maybe it’s because as we grew older, I got him out of scrapes, at least when I knew about them in time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have complained. Goff got the same kind of nonsense from our parents too, and never mind that he had a girlfriend. She wasn’t even a cheerleader. She was super sweet and amazingly intelligent. He met Laurel because I brought her home to study for AP Biology I. It took him a few months of whining like an Irish setter, but they eventually took to studying each other’s biology. I knew this because Goff was too chickenshit to buy his own condoms, so I had to buy them for him.

Speaking of shit of whatever species, Goff was in it because a teammate was caught dealing molly. Goff’s friend slash teammate was busted by the cops at a team party. Oddly enough what our parents freaked out about was that Geoff had alcohol on his breath. He blew a 0.12 as a matter of fact. I think that was half again the legal limit. Yeah, hi, Mom and Dad, he was at a party where the host was busted for dealing Ecstasy. You maybe want to focus on the larger picture? Or maybe they were, because I knew for a fact my brother didn’t and wouldn’t take drugs. Anyway, Goff couldn’t fart without them breathing down his neck for a while.

But if I’d known about the party, I’d have told him to watch his step, because rumors of drug-dealing by members of the football team had been flying around school for weeks. At the very least, he might’ve limited himself to a beer or two instead of getting trashed. Then Goff could’ve told the olds, “Sorry, Mom and Dad, I know it showed bad judgment, but I planned to call Germy to come and get me.” And I’d have absolutely covered for him. For that matter, he could have gotten trashed, and I’d still have picked him up if he had warned me in time to cover for him.

Weirdly enough, they were totally permissive where I was concerned. They thought I was a late bloomer and hoped the talks they gave Goff about sex applied to me, too, because they made me sit down and listen to every single one of them, not that they contained anything I needed to know. But the last one? I couldn’t take it anymore and I cranked up the sarcasm. It bugged Dad, I knew that for sure, and I was pretty sure I managed to irritate Goff, and never mind the fact that he was sick of those talks, too. Goff already knew not to get his girlfriend pregnant and to make sure he was in charge of his birth control.

Except for the condom buying. I was in charge of that.

“Could you maybe shut up, Germy? This is bad enough without your sniping.”

Dad nodded. “Please listen to your brother. I get that you may be too old for these, but you’re not making this easier on any of us. If you stop, I promise this will be the last one.”

“You’ve said that every time, Dad. Yet here we are, another ho-hum day in paradise listening to these riveting talks,” I said acidly. “I think we’ve got a lock on the prevention of premature grandparenthood. Not much else, but babies are definitely one sexually transmitted parasite we can rule out. Maybe someday we can move on to spirochetes.”

“Jeremy…,” Dad said in that warning tone of his. It held a hint of a threat, but what did I care? I’d heard it all my life and it had long since ceased to have the desired effect. It was more proof that I was the changeling, the odd Babcock out.

These things were so stupid. Take today’s lecture. Please. Dad actually had the nerve to refer to the labia as a butterfly. How the hell was I supposed to keep a straight face when confronted with that? Dad was going on about female anatomy again, trying to help Goff—and presumably me—locate the female G-spot. I would never need to know, and based on the noises issuing from Goff’s room of an evening, he already knew exactly where to find it. What I needed—what we both needed—was basic information on sexually transmitted infections. Anatomy had been covered in eighth-grade sex ed.

Yet this was vintage Dad, blithely charging ahead, with Goff in tow more or less willingly and me digging in my heels every step of the way. I could not say Dad never heard, if only because sound waves did stimulate his auditory nerves. It never changed his behavior, however, and trying to persuade Dad was like arguing with the wind for all the good it did, at least not once he had a notion fixed in his mind. Mom had some facility in managing him, but then, she had more experience. Goff and I were only teenagers, so what did we know? I was convinced that was how Dad’s thought processes ran. The bizarissimo part of it all was that Goff was the good twin whereas I questioned everything, fighting anything I thought absurd with tooth and claw. I had even overheard Dad say as much when he thought he was unobserved. Yet Dad—both parents, really—kept Goff on a shorter leash.

I thought this different treatment was because of our different sports, I really did. Football? Sure. Everyone knew the deal, or thought they did. What they really knew was the reputation that came from a bunch of idiotic movies. Goff sure wasn’t like that, and most of his football friends weren’t, either. But crew? They had no idea about crew, not really, and never mind the stupid amounts of parental involvement my club required. No, when Mom and Dad were in college, rowers were pale, muscular gods and goddesses who walked the campuses, ate obscene amounts of food after their early-morning practices without gaining a pound, and stuck mainly with their own kind. They told me as much. That my club’s juniors program practiced in the afternoon must have thrown them off my scent, because I had a tan despite the sunblock.

Seriously, I got away with murder. Or at least I did the summer before my senior year, and the person I killed—or almost killed—was myself. After that? I lived on Cellblock Q.