Fallout Fridays – Prepared For The Future

Last Known Date. Last truly known date: October 23, 2077.

The Day which has become known as The Great War of 2077. The Day my country and another country destroyed The World That Was in less than a dozen hours. After years of fighting over territories and ideologies. Through mutually assured nuclear annihilation. It’s like my late husband said, “War never changes.”

But The World That Was, and my life, forever changed on The Day. And for every day I’ve spent in this Brave New World, affectionately known as The Wasteland of The Commonwealth by the people who inhabit it, the more difficult it becomes to remember What We Lost.

Sometimes, when the nights are quiet and still, and the illusion of safety creeps into my bed, I still dream about The Last Known Date. Because everything before that has become elusive as its relevance disappears. A story I recite like a prayer, but not one which I can truly say I faithfully remember anymore.

I was still a lawyer for JAG when we met, putting in for my career change to Psychoanalytics at CIT when we met in the lobby for his own court-martial mandated therapy appointment. We struck up a conversation, and within six months we were married so he could avoid immediate redeployment to Anchorage.

Thanks to the Sanctity of Marriage Act, we had one year after our wedding night to lead a Congressionally Mandated “Normal Life” before he returned to Anchorage. A year to settle and begin a family. And so we did, with the hopes we would eventually develop our new relationship into one worthy of the lifelong commitment we made before the United States Government.

We always knew we were living on borrowed time. But we never knew Fate would come calling in a trench coat and hat, holding a clipboard.

Would I have done anything differently if I had known this would be our last breakfast together? Would I have studied his eyes a little deeper? Told him any secrets we ran out of time to share? Or would I proceed as though it were a Normal Day, and savor that feeling of safety and certainty, rather than the details of the man I did my best to love while he was mine?


First Unknown Date. Possibly October 23, 2277.

Nate is dead. Shawn was taken. By a bald white man with a scar across his left eye. These facts are all I have now. Everything else is dead. Everything else is gone after a bright flash and a cold sleep.

I wish I’d never woken up. I wish we never made it to The Vault. I wish we just died in each others arms like the rest of the world. I wish I was dead. I wish Nate was the one left alive, avenging my own death and rescuing our son.

But that’s not what happened.

I was the one who got us into the vault. I was the one who wasn’t holding Shawn when we went into the pods. And so I became “The Backup”. That’s what the man with the scar who took my son and killed my husband called me.

The Backup for what?

The Vault doesn’t have any of the “creature comforts” that were advertised to us in the brochures that pushy salesman kept leaving with Codsworth.

There are no food replicators. No community centers. No media libraries. (Unless you count this copy of the Red Menace video game.) There’s nothing here. Nothing. They lied. Because they knew there would be nobody to answer to once the bombs actually dropped.

Nate is dead. Shawn is gone. Vault-Tec lied.

All of our neighbors are dead inside their pods. It doesn’t look like anyone has lived here for a very long time. And I’m not sure how long I can survive out there on my own. But there’s nothing here.

Except giant cockroaches. Working water fountains. Empty Nuka-Cola bottles. And thankfully, a 10mm handgun. With a Pip-Boy 4000 Mark IV, only slightly used.

My name was once Dorian.

Now I am the Sole Survivor of Vault 111.

Fallout Fridays – Prepared For The Future
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Backyard Boys

CN: Sibling Abuse, Homophobic Slurs

I ride my new green bike around the neighborhood and try to think of it as my own. I can hear boys shouting and laughing as I turn the corner of Sunnydale, and I creep closer to investigate.

There’s five boys total, and they’re all older than me except for maybe the smallest one. Three of them are shirtless and the others wear t-shirts tight with sweat. Backs glisten as they wrestle each other to the ground over a football, rubbing grass and dirt into their knees and chests. The smallest boy has long black bangs he constantly pushes from his face as it drips with sweat. I like watching him the most.

Continue reading “Backyard Boys”

Backyard Boys

Numbers

Aunt Jantha is waiting for me when I get home from school, hanging out of her open-top Jeep in cutoff shorts and a tied-up t-shirt with dirty-blond braids sticking out of her baseball cap. Mommy says Jantha is an “overgrown hippie”, and she’s totally the coolest relative on Daddy’s side of the family.

“Hey kiddo. How was school?”

“Fine.” Boring. Like every day of school.

“Any homework?”

“No.” I already finished it during recess.

“Well good!” She follows me into the house and then into Papa Phil’s study, where I set down my backpack, “I was wondering if you’d like to go hiking with me today?”

“Hiking? Like in the woods?”

I think the last time I went hiking I was 6 and Cloud was 3. Daddy took us up a mountain and then spent the whole time going back down laughing at me because I had an accident waiting for the bathroom.

“Sure! I used to go hiking all the time when I was your age,” I have a hard time saying no to my own reflection in her perfectly round purple sunglasses.

In a few minutes we’re cruising down Race Street. Past the churches. Past the Sonic and the Dairy Queen. Past the middle school, the junior high, and even the high school. All the way back into the woods and out of town. We pull into a road with signs pointing left for “Camp Wyldewood” and right for “Riverside Park”. We pull right and park in front of a bright red caboose and a small wooden playground.

“Hey I know this place,” I realize slowly, “I think Papa Phil took us here when we were little.”

Aunt Jantha pulls her own backpack out of her Jeep as I jump down onto the gravel.

“Yup. But you’ve never been past the playground I bet! But I’d say you’re old enough for a little adventure. Just don’t wander too far and neither one of us will get into trouble.”

We follow the chain-link fence around the edge of the playground until we reach a wide concrete trail that crests into a steady hill, declining deeper into the wilderness.

“Think how much fun this would be on a bike!” Jantha says, and I can already feel the breeze through my hair and rushing past my face.

“Did you and Daddy ever ride your bikes down here?”

She laughs, “Well I did, but your Daddy was always ‘too busy’ by the time I was old enough. Back then he only cared about going outside if he could go swimming.”

The deeper we go the quieter it gets until all I can hear is the rustling of leaves, the chirps of birds, and the faint babble of the river next to us.

Mommy always says she hates hiking, camping, and wild nature in general, but I wonder what she would say about this place. Even the air seems cleaner, with just a touch of green as it shines through the canopy. Eventually the trail curves and dips sharply, and Aunt Jantha calls up for me to wait.

“Before we wander too far, we better find some good walking sticks to keep our balance. You’ll want a dry branch that’s about as thick as your arm and about as tall as you. There’s one right there!”

She pulls a large stick off the ground and brushes it free of dirt before she unhooks a pocket knife from her belt loop and opens it before handing it to me by the handle, “Here, smooth out anything on the top where you’re gonna hold onto it. Just make sure you always cut away from yourself, never the other way. Okay? If you get stuck ask for help. I’ll be right back.”

To my surprise it’s very relaxing, slicing off imperfections and bits of dirt and bark until I have a clean, white, smooth handle. Once Aunt Jantha finds her own and does the same, we march slowly along the river bed with me still taking the lead. It feels very grown up. Exploring through the woods and off the walking trail.

We reach a spot that Aunt Jantha calls “The Basin,” a big clearing next to the river full of dried mud and rocks at the bottom of a steep cliff.

She stands proudly on top of a big log next to what must have been an old campfire, “See? This is where the river floods, that’s why there aren’t any trees here. Lots of kids have cookouts here when the weather is nice. I used to do that all the time.”

“This place is pretty cool, Aunt Jantha.”

“You don’t have to call me Aunt.”

“I know.”

“So don’t do it then. It makes me feel old.”

“Okay.”

After an awkward pause she clears her throat and says, “Hey, you know what might be fun? Let’s spell out our names with rocks and see if we can read them at the top of the cliff!”

“Yeah! And anyone else who walks by can see our names too,” Jantha always has good ideas. Her and Aunt Bobby. They’re the only grownups besides Mommy who understand me without asking a lot of stupid questions or telling me what to do all the time.

Lucky for us The Basin is full of smooth, white rocks, and it doesn’t take us long to spell our names out in a space that must have been cleared for an even older campfire. Two rows of logs are lined up like church pews, and we use the aisle between them as a canvas before settling down on one of the logs to catch our breath.

“So, how do you like Searcy so far?”

“It’s okay,” I tell her, except I hate it.

“Have you made any new friends yet?”

I’ve heard all these questions already from everyone else, but I’m okay answering Jantha, “I used to be friends with Elizabeth and Amy, but they won’t talk to me since the fight with Trent. And there’s a couple of boys in my Connections class that I hang out with, but they’re kind of dumb. Their names are Ricky and Clay.”

Jantha gets up and begins to lead me to another path up the side of the cliff, “You’ve had a pretty busy couple of months, huh? Do you like your new teacher as much as you liked Miss Funk?”

“Not really,” I shake my head, “She’s kind of mean. She’s making me teach myself cursive because she says I was supposed to already know it in third grade, instead of fifth grade like they did in Little Rock. And she gets mad when I read in class, even if I’ve already finished all my work.”

Jantha laughs, “I used to get in trouble for that all the time too. How is your Mom? Do you like her new house?”

I lean heavily on my walking stick up the steep slope.

“It’s a nice house. It’s got big rooms and wood floors with a big climbing tree in the front yard. But I don’t really like the other lady who lives there. She has two boys and they’re always loud and always rough and always breaking things.”

“Yeah, some boys are like that. Lucky you’re different, huh?”

I hate that word. Different.

Jantha gives me a strange look, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I’m trying not to cry, which seems stupid because there’s nothing I feel sad about right now, “I just wish I was normal sometimes.”

She leads me to the edge of the cliff and points down to the very bottom:

“DORIAN & JANTHA

Peace & Love”

“Wow! I didn’t think it would be so easy to see. It’s so far down.”

We stare into The Basin for a long time, not saying anything. I dangle my toes past the edge dangerously, imagining what it might be like to slip and fall, even if it was only an accident.

“Being normal is boring,” Jantha finally says, emptying her backpack of sandwiches and a canteen of water, “Only weirdos make a difference because only weirdos change the world from what it already is.”

That makes me smile. Maybe she’s right. Maybe it is better to be weird.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, Dorian, but how are you holding up these days?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what with your mom and dad and the move and everything, it just seems like you’ve been really quiet lately. You know you can always talk with me if you need to, right?”

It’s only then I realize this isn’t a spontaneous idea, but a planned outing while Cloud starts her new dance classes. I’m not sure if that makes me feel angry for being tricked, or happy to have time alone with Aunt Jantha like before Cloud was born.

“I don’t know. It’s all so different. Home. School. Everything. We hardly see Mommy except for the weekends, but Daddy’s never awake anyway, so I don’t know why we don’t just go live with her. Cloud would cry less, although then I would have to deal with those boys, so I wouldn’t really like that either. It doesn’t even matter because grown-ups never listen to you anyway.”

“Boy ain’t that the truth. That’s why I don’t consider myself a grown-up, just a big kid. You know, this used to be my favorite reading spot during the summer?”

My ears perk up, always eager for good books, “Really? What did you read?”

“Fantasy. Science Fiction sometimes too. Anything with fairies or dragons or wizards. What about you?”

“I just finished Harriet the Spy and I think it might be my new favorite. She spies on all her friends and neighbors and writes all their secrets in a private notebook and she lives in New York City.”

“I’ll have to start lending you books. I bet I have a few you might like. Have you read The Color of Magic yet?”

We thankfully avoid further discussion of my parents or their divorce or anything else serious. After our snack we continue to wander until we find a pasture surrounded by trees draped in white and yellow flowers.

Jantha says they’re called Honeysuckle because you can suck the nectar right out of them, and we pick and suck enough of them to make crowns of flowers around both our heads to wear. It’s silly and they’re hard to wear, but that’s why she’s my favorite relative on Daddy’s side.

The orange sky looks beautiful through the green leaves as we begin to make our way back to the playground and the Jeep. As we crunch up the gravel she nudges me playfully and points to the caboose.

“You see that caboose?”

“Uh-huh.”

“When I was growing up, we would sneak out at night and climb up in there so we could kiss!”

And then she plants a wet loud kiss on my cheek before racing me the rest of the way to the Jeep.

I wish I could tell Jantha about Ryan and his treehouse. But I don’t want to go to Boot Camp. And if I can’t tell Jantha, then I can’t tell anyone. But it’s hard to think about that when she cranks up her radio and pulls out of the parking lot to get us two big Blue Ocean Slushes from Sonic on our way back home.

My lips and tongue are still blue when I fall asleep.

Numbers

Leviticus

“Mommy, why are they giving that boy by a bath? I want to go home!”

Just when I think Church is over, they start talking again. I want to change out of these uncomfortable clothes and eat lunch already!

“It’s not a bath, puddin, it’s called a Baptism. They wash away bad deeds so you can go to Heaven. It’ll be over soon.”

She strokes my hair as I lie across her lap, smelling her Mommy Smell and clutching my drawings of the grownups who talked during church.

“Have I had a baptism, Mommy?”

“No, baby. You’re not old enough. When you’re 12 or older you can decide if that’s what you want for yourself.”

“But if I’m not Baptized, how will I go to Heaven?”

She shushes me and whispers, “It’s okay. God doesn’t expect you to be all grown-up right away. And even if never get Baptized you can still go to Heaven. You don’t have to be a Christian to go to Heaven.”

That sounds okay, and before I know it we’re back in the car and going home to play!

My room is in the middle of the house so I can go anywhere I want through the two doors on either side. My Nintendo and The Computer are in the Den, but the TV and Table are in the Living Room. Mommy and Daddy’s Room are just past the Den to the right, and Cloud’s room is to the left. The Kitchen and Front Door are through the Living Room to the right, and the Backyard is out through the Living Room to the left. So I can go anywhere I need to without being too loud or waking up Daddy.

Daddy gets really angry if I accidentally wake him up. Or Cloud. But I’m a really good big brother, so that almost never happens. Even if he forgets to feed us when Mommy is at school, I can still climb on a chair in the Kitchen and make us Peanut Butter Toast.

But since Mommy is home, we have Spaghetti. I love spaghetti, but only when it’s naked. With salt. I don’t like vegetables. They make my mouth feel icky. Everyone says I need to eat them to grow up big and strong like Daddy, but I don’t want to be like Daddy. I want to be like Mommy.

My room doesn’t have real doors though, so when it’s bedtime I can still hear whatever Mommy and Daddy are watching and listen, like one of Papa’s old radio shows he likes. My favorite show is called Taxi, and it’s about people who drive taxis in New York, where Mommy and Aunt Bobby and Papa and Grandma Kowski came from, before they were gypsies.

That’s why Cloud’s bed is a big blue bus, just like Grandma and Papa Kowski’s house. It has a table that turns into a bed, and Papa built a porch and even a whole other-one-house that we get to stay in when Mommy and Daddy and Cloud and I come to visit. But I like the bus. Mommy says living out of a bus wasn’t very fun, but I think it would be the best house because then you could go anywhere and always be home.

I dream I’m floating in a bubble, floating even higher than Daddy’s plane can fly, and looking all the way down at the whole world that looks like ants crawling along my feet. But then the bubble goes up over the clouds and all I see is a mean looking monster.

It almost looks like an elephant or a hippo, but it has three sets of arms and legs like a person. It’s sitting criss-crossed and wearing a pretty blue robe with lots of silver jewelry but all of its eyes and hands and only a trunk without a mouth look really scary.

“God?” I ask. But it can’t hear me through my bubble.

It looks down at me with all of those eyes and then stretches out one of its sixty fingers and then —pops— my bubble.

Now I’m falling past the clouds and can see the ground coming right up to me as the monster laughs at me. I close my eyes tight because I’m scared and I don’t want to die but then the wind stops. And I feel the ground underneath me. So I open my eyes again.

Now my whole room is on fire! All the paintings of Winnie the Pooh and Raggedy Anne are melting and I worry about who will rescue Cloud, because only Papa knows how to fight fires but he’s hours and hours away from our house.

Then I see an even bigger monster, covered in fire, crashing through Mommy and Daddy’s Room and I scream. I run for the door for the Living Room so I can get out of the house, because Papa says that’s always what you have to do in a fire, but now I’m in a room like in Indiana Jones and I can’t find the door anymore. The walls just keep moving closer and closer and I close my eyes and just keep screaming and screaming and screaming.

Then Mommy and Daddy are there. They pick me up off the floor and there’s no fire or monsters anymore. But I know it was real! I even tried to do what I was supposed to do but I still got trapped and so now I can’t stop crying because I don’t know if the monster is still around the corner, about to eat us all. Or if the fire just isn’t big enough yet but maybe it could be soon and then we could all die.

“Baby baby baby, it’s okay, you just had a bad dream.”

I’m so scared I can’t even talk.

“No! I—I couldn’t—I couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t get out—the fire! And then the walls kept closing in and I couldn’t save you or Cloud or even get out!”

And then Mommy and Daddy laugh. And that only makes me cry harder because now I feel stupid.

“You’re okay, Puddin. You must have just walked into the closet by mistake,” Mommy kisses my cheek while Daddy holds me.

“No!”

“Daddy used to be claustrophobic too when he was your age, didn’t you Daddy?” She strokes my hair out of my face and wipes my eyes and nose with her hand.

“That’s right, son. Sometimes I’m still scared of small spaces,” he gives me a kiss.

When I calm down they lay me in my bed and then I hear the funny mechanic from Taxi say, “Thank You Very Much” in his silly voice, and it actually feels like it’s going to be okay.

I hold onto Boy, my baby doll, extra tight so he won’t be scared either. But I still keep seeing those two monsters. The elephant and the fire. I know Mommy says it’s just a dream, but I know they were really God and Satan.

What scares me is that God sent me to Hell, but even more than that I’m scared that maybe Satan just needed to get out of the fire too. Maybe he was just crashing through the walls because he didn’t know how to get out either.

But if God sent me to Hell in a dream, how do I know I can still get into Heaven like Mommy says if I don’t follow the rules? You always have to follow rules, or otherwise you get in trouble. And sometimes when I get in trouble Daddy gets really angry and scares me like the fire monster.

Maybe I just need to be Extra Good, just in case.

The next day I go to Kindergarten and I’m so good, I don’t even get a Behavior Document. Those are these notes my teacher is always sending me home with, and when Daddy sees them he gets really mad and spanks me. But if Mommy sees them it’s okay, and she tells me why Mrs. Brown thought I was rude and how to be better next time.

One time I got in really big trouble for telling her it was a “Yellow” Duck and not a “Yella” Duck, because my mommy said so.

I got in trouble another time for asking if I could read a book on my cot if I wasn’t sleepy enough for a nap.

And another time I got in trouble because I told her I had already read all the books she had in the classroom, but she said I was lying and couldn’t have read all of them. But I wasn’t lying! She only had like ten books and all of them are too boring to read again and again.

But today I was extra good and didn’t even talk at all, so when I waited for Daddy and he never showed up, I got worried the other teachers watching the kids get picked up would get annoyed at me and write another Behavior Document. So instead I told them I knew how to get home.

Because I was pretty sure I remembered how the bus got from my house to the school. I even have a Batman raincoat in my backpack, just in case it rains. And pretty soon I’ll even be big enough to ride my bike.

Mrs. Wyatt saw me walking home and she gave me a ride the rest of the way. Which was really nice of her, but for some reason Daddy was really mad when she knocked on the door to make sure he was home. Daddy’s always home except at nights when he works for UPS. On Fridays if I can stay up extra late, he even takes me to McDonalds for some ice cream sometimes.

But as soon as Daddy and me were alone in the house he starts screaming and throwing things and I start crying because he’s so scary. Then he picks me up and throws me against the wall instead of spanking me, which means I must have done something really bad by trying to walk home by myself.

He gives me a whole thing of Starbursts after, because he still loves me even when he beats me. And then Mommy came home with Cloud and told me how worried she was because I was walking in the wrong direction from school and they never should have let me leave without calling Daddy.

But I don’t think so. I think I just should have gotten home by myself and then played in the backyard until Daddy woke up. That’s what I usually do when I can’t get inside the house. Or if it gets dark I go to our neighbors and play with my friend, Peter. He’s a year younger than me but he has a really cool Powerwheels Jeep and I like to chase him and Cloud on my bike and pretend we’re superheroes.

But after that I got to go to a new school, Bale. And the teacher there is really nice and she keeps telling me how smart I am, and she even let me play King Max when we put on a play of my favorite book, because I was the only one who could remember all the words.

So if I’m that smart, I bet I can figure out how Heaven works. Just to be sure. But I still hope Satan is okay. Maybe he just needs a firefighter like Papa.

Leviticus

Exodus

After the Fourth and Final Parent’s Day at AEGIS, which Daddy has once again failed to attend, Jonathan promises to take me up on the roof after he, once again, attends church with me instead of meeting his own parents.

We’re the only two boys in Theatre. Most others, my friends Dan and Blake included, are in Music or Art. Dance is unquestionably female.

The Art Education for Gifted Integrated Studies camp was a month-long intensive college campus experience for high schoolers, only available through scholarship to those who submitted a portfolio impressive enough to gain admittance. As I was turning 14 and starting Freshman year in August, I was easily the youngest in attendance. Something of a pet for the Seniors who found my wholesomeness adorable. And Jonathan was no exception.

“This is so cool!” I stage-whisper as he gently closes the roof access and looks around for chaperones or counselors.

“Yeah, Kimberly told me about it last year. We don’t ever bring Fish up here, but I know you’re cool. So it’s okay.”

I beam at Jonathan until he gives me a quick, calculating glance. He’s only slightly taller than me, but sleeker and more muscular, with dark skin and long braids he keeps tucked into his head-wrap.

“How old are you again?” His eyebrow cocks up and I quickly reply, “I’ll be 14 in two months! That’s when I start high school.”

“Christ, you’re just starting? I can’t wait to get out of there,” he sighs and unrolls a blanket from his backpack next to the industrial sized AC units, out of eyesight of the door. We settle with our backs buzzing against the warm metal surface.

“When I graduate, I’m moving to New York to write for Saturday Night Live. That’s where my family’s from. My mom’s family. New York accepts everybody. The weirdos and the crazies and the queers. Anyone else the rest of the country doesn’t want can all live together in New York.”

Jonathan turns to me and smiles before he produces a joint from under his head-wrap.

“Ever had one of these?” He teases.

“No,” I sheepishly admit, “But I’ve always wanted to try.”

He cups his hand and lights it in a smooth motion, “Here, let me spark it for you.”

He puffs until the tip glows red, then hands it to me, “Remember to inhale — hold it in — and then slowly exhale.”

I’ve never smoked anything in my life, but I do exactly as he says despite almost immediately gagging on the first breath. My face turns scarlet before I finally back out an enormous cloud, quickly covering my mouth to muffle the sound.

“Whoa! Slow down, killer. Don’t try so hard, you’ll feel it soon,” he takes the joint from my fingertips to puff on it twice while I regain my composure.

He’s right. By the time he passes it back to me I already feel an enormous weight lift from my chest. Before long we’re giggling and leaning close against one another.

“Don’t be offended,” he says as he flicks the roach off the roof, “But why are you in Theatre and not in Music with your other little drummer boys?”

Pot loosening my tongue, I tell him the truth, “Honestly? I wanted to get as far away from my home as possible so I could just be by myself. I needed a break and this camp was a month-long and free.”

“A break from what? You’re only 13.”

“I don’t know…Life? I guess?” I place my head on his shoulder and he rests his own on top of mine.

I can feel the deep vibrations of his voice as he asks, “What, your dad?”

“No, I mean yeah, but not just that. It’s—“ the proximity and the pot and the camp camaraderie embolden me further as I take a deep breath, “I’m…I’m a…I’m not a boy…”

It sounds so ridiculous out loud! I turn away in tears but Jonathan wraps his arms around me and rocks me into his chest as I take shuddering breaths.

“What do you mean, you’re not a boy? It’s okay, baby. I won’t laugh or tell anyone. I promise,” I smell his lotion as he tenderly kisses my neck from behind, sending shivers down between us.

“I mean I’m not a boy. At least I don’t think I am. I think and act a lot more like a girl and I…I think I might even like boys…”

This last sentence hangs in the air, barely a whisper, but his face is so close to mine I know he hears me. He begins to stroke my hair and I can feel his bicep flex against me as he holds me tighter still.

“It’s just not fair! I go to church, I help others, I practically raised my younger siblings, but I’m still never going to be what I feel like I really am!”

I turn around to bury my face and he holds me and rocks me until I finally look up into his brown eyes. He doesn’t say anything. He just leans his face toward mine. And then he kisses me. I open my mouth and find his tongue with my own.

My first real kiss! And it’s with a boy! I feel a slight twinge of guilt about Angela back in Dallas, but that doesn’t stop me from allowing Jonathan to gently lower me onto my back as he crawls on top of me. His bulge swells up against me as he becomes more earnest, and I more willing.

I don’t know if we kissed like that for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but when he pulls back he gives me a sweet smile as I try to regain my senses.

“Well, you sure don’t kiss like a boy, that much is true,” he winks before moving away slowly to sprawl on his back on our abandoned blanket, “I thought maybe you were gay but maybe you’re right. Maybe you are a girl.”

I move to his side and rest my head on his chest, gazing up at the stars and moon with him.

“I try really hard to hide it from everyone, you know? I’ve been praying for God to make me a real boy for years, but I know He can tell I don’t mean it. And it’s a sin to lie to God. That’s why he punished me with these.”

I lift his free hand and place it under my shirt. He gives an appraising squeeze before quickly resting his hand on my head instead, stroking my hair gently.

Finally he sits up and lights another joint for us, “It’s like this. I can’t tell you if you’re a gay boy or a girl or whatever. Right? Only you have the ability to figure that out, but it probably won’t happen right away. That’s okay. You’re young, you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. But you also still have four years of high school and your parents to deal with. Only you can decide if you need to do that in secret or out in the open.”

Before long my spirits lift with our clouds, and I feel comfortable enough to ask him, “So what about you? Are you out? No offense, but Arkansas isn’t exactly super friendly to gay black men.”

He coughs out a laugh, “True, it’s not ideal. But this is my home too. Oddly enough, God gave me the strength to be gay. I used to feel like it was a curse or something I needed a cure for, but think about it? Why would God make me gay if he didn’t want me to be gay? Because it’s actually my character God is testing. To see if I’ll stand up for myself in the face of Hatred and Judgement. That’s what Jesus did, and he changed the world.”

“Yeah,” I cough sarcastically, “And what did they do? Kill him.”

“Well shit, kid. You have to make sacrifices if you want to make change. Some people sacrifice higher than others, but the reward is Salvation. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of religious nut.”

“Hell don’t worry about me, you already know I’m a Jesus Freak,” I laugh and pass the joint back, “But God, I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed.”

He puffs and passes back. I look into his eyes.

“Can I tell you something? I used to love going to church. I used to close my eyes and sing my heart out and feel the Holy Spirit rush through my soul. But now? I’m just not so sure.”

Jonathan just gives me a distant smile as we puff and pass once more.

“There’s just so many ‘Good Christians’ out there who only care about appearances. Who cast out sinners instead of loving them. And they care more about death than being better people now. You know I’ve actually heard preachers say good deeds don’t count without a baptism? I mean, surely Jesus can see past circumstances, but what if I’m wrong? What if I’m still damned no matter what I do?”

Jonathan pinches the last of the joint and holds it to my lips before flicking it off the roof.

“God in the mouths of men makes for some cruel irony, Kid. But you’ll be alright. Just have faith.”

Eventually he folds up the blanket and smuggled me downstairs back to the dorms. He kisses my forehead goodnight and whispers, “Break a leg!”

Shit. I totally forgot tomorrow was The Showcase. Last day of camp.

At least I’ll be leaving for Dallas and not Searcy when I’m done. Until August, when I have to go back.

Exodus