A Sneak Peek at A Man’s Man

 I needed to expand my YA novel, A Man’s Man,  to 50,000 words. So today I wrote a dream sequence for the protagonist, RJ, who is determined to turn his gay father straight by driving away his boyfriend. In honor of the novel’s near release, I’m sharing the chapter with you.

CHAPTER 9

To Sleep, To Dream

Sometimes I think of Mom. I talk to her picture, but it’s not the same. When I talk she never answers but once in a while I hear her speaking in my head, mostly when I’m just drifting off or beginning to wake up.

Of course, her voice is only a memory now and I’m not even sure it really is hers. Maybe I’m just pretending I remember what she sounded like. I’m glad I have that one old tape though, because without those bedtime stories I’d forget the sound of her.

The tape has just clicked off and I’m lying in bed watching the moon move across the sky through my window when I see her clear as day.

“RJ,” she says, and I recognize her voice right away. I’m flooded with happiness that she’s back, that it was all some terrible mix up, a horrible joke.

“Mom,” I shout, jumping through the window and landing on a cloud beside her. I grab her and hug her so tight she’ll never get loose. She doesn’t try to, just stands still and hugs me back. Finally, I let go of her. Then I look down and shriek. Our farm is far beneath me, a swatch of white outlined by the roads that surround it.

“No worries, Little Man. You won’t fall.” She takes my hand and we stroll through the clouds which feel oddly like the sand dunes on the beach in San Diego. We climb up to the top where the moon is shining brightly. His old face beams, just as glad to see me with my mom as I am to be with her.

“Why did you leave?” I ask her the one question I really want answered. “Why didn’t you live?”

“Well, it wasn’t my choice, baby. There are some things you cannot control,” she says conversationally, pulling me down to sit beside her on the cloud. A shooting star falls in the distance. She wraps an arm around me, hugging me close. “That’s something you will have to understand sometime, soon I hope.”

“If it hadbeen your choice you’d have stayed, right Mom?”

She kisses my forehead, leaving a warm spot like the imprint of lipstick. “I wouldn’t part with you for anything in heaven or hell,” she reassures me. “Nothing could have split us apart short of death. I’m so sorry, RJ, so very sorry I’m not there with you now. But I left you in very good hands. Your father loves you every bit as much as I do. I’m so very glad you love him back and want him to be happy.”

I suddenly feel disloyal. “Yeah, I do Mom, but not in the same way I loved you.” I’m trying not to cry but first one tear escapes, and then another. They float off into space to become twinkling stars.

“That’s the wonder of love, Little Man. You can love more than one person with all you’ve got because your heart will always make room. You can never love too many, or too deeply. Of course,” she says using her mommy voice, “you marry only one at a time and you bring respect and trust to that union as well as love. That’s what makes a family. Like you, your dad, and Stephen.”

“You know about him?”

“Oh sure, honey. Your dad and I talked and texted back and forth every week. I always consulted him when making big decisions about you and often took his advice. If it’d been up to me, you’d have been studying music rather than playing sports to earn a scholarship.”

“That was Dad?”

“Yes it was. He needed to be part of your life even if he didn’t want to shock you with his lifestyle.  I sent him pictures of you as you grew, and he sent me photos of life here on the farm.

“When he found Stephen something changed. He’d always loved you, and me, but a part of his heart he’d always kept closed opened up. We had decided you were old enough to deal with his having a boyfriend and were going to start sending you back to the farm more often so you could meet Stephen and see how happy they are together, but then fate took a hand. I understand they’re going to get married. They must be very happy.”

I focus on the face of the moon rather than look at Mom directly. “They were,” I answer, “but I fixed that. I helped Dad see the light.” The moon in front of me dims. “He’s straight again now.”

“Oh no, I thought you wanted him to be happy?” Her voice and body fade away and I’m left sitting on a cloud all alone.

“What do you mean, Mom?” She doesn’t answer. The moon goes dark like a total eclipse, and the cloud beneath me starts to shift like drifting sand. “Mom!” I call for her as loud as I can but she’s gone. Again.

What did Mom mean when she said she thought I wanted Dad to be happy? I do want him to be happy. Happy and straight. No one who is gay can be happy. She must not understand, I think, and then laugh at myself because she’s nothing but dust to dust, ashes to ashes. She can’t understand, or misunderstand, anything now.

The cloud sand beneath me opens up and I start falling back to Earth. I try to scream, but suddenly my mouth seals shut. It won’t open, so I try flapping my arms like I’m a bird. I know it’s foolish but I’m desperate. And it works.

My pajama sleeves turn in to wings and I find I can soar. It’s a joyous feeling, better than Christmas or sinking the winning ball in a game, even better than getting straight A’s. I fly high, high, as high as I can go to see if I can find Mom among the clouds again.

This time the clouds feel like spider webs, sticky, light, and creepy. They clutch at my wing sleeves, slowing me down, but I shake them off and continue upward.

It’s not the moon that greets me because the sun has risen. Golden rays spread out from its surface to warm my face. When I look straight at it I’m blinded for a moment and lose control. I’m falling and my sleeve wings burn away, but a huge hand catches me in its palm. I try to follow the hand to the arm and up to the face of my rescuer, but the light is too bright. I’m blinded by its brilliance, so I focus on the hand.

Standing beside me is a boy about my age. His clothes are strange to me, a swirling cloak of many colors. He’s playing a stringed instrument I’ve never seen before and starts to sing:
“There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy,
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, This he said to me:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love, and be loved in return.”
Listening to him fills me with a feeling of safety. When he finishes, I say, “My mom used to play that song on the piano. Do you know where she is? Who are you?”

“Yes, I know where she is and she’s safe. As for who I am, I have a million names. The one I want you to use is Friend.” His eyes, dark with understanding, gaze into mine.

“How did I get here? How will I get home?” I ask him.

 

“You came here searching for something. You’ll go home when you find it.”

I think that over and say, “Sounds like a lot of books and movies, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, A Wrinkle in Time. Can’t you give me a bigger hint than that?”

His face lights up with mischief. “Ultimately we all search for the truth.”

“But that’s as vague as the first hint.” He shrugs. “Listen, Friend,” I try, “how about if I ask questions? Will you answer them?”

Suddenly he’s standing in front of a large and colorful game board. On it are ten spaces leading from the first one, marked Confusion, to the last one, labeled Understanding. Above it hangs a flashing sign that reads: WHAT AM I SEARCHING FOR? A marker with my face on it stands smack in the middle of Confusion, ready to go.

I’m standing behind a contestant’s pulpit with bright lights in my eyes, and somewhere behind them is an unseen audience applauding. They quiet down and Friend says to them, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the game of…”

 He pauses and the audience shouts back, “…What Am I Searching For?”

His teeth gleam white in the spotlights. “That’s right. Our contestant today is RJ, age thirteen. He loves sports and academics, any competition really, but as we all know his only opponent today is himself.”

Friend turns to me. “Good luck, RJ. You may ask me any question you’d like but I’ll only answer with one word, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Partially’ so consider your questions carefully.” Among fresh applause he calls out, “So if you’re ready we’ll let the game begin.”

My first question is easy. “Am I searching for something I can touch?”

“No.” Friend moves my image one step along the path of the game board.

“Am I searching for myself?” I realize it’s a throwaway question as soon as I say it.

“Yes.” He turns around and raises his arms as if conducting an orchestra. As his hands fall the invisible audience choruses with one voice, “We all are.” My icon moves another step.

Twenty percent of the way across already. I’ve got to think of better questions. I take a moment before asking the third. “Okay, it’s not something I can touch, but it is, in some way, a search for myself. Am I searching for love?” It seems to me that’s a crazy question, but so many people online post about looking for love I think it’s worth a shot.

“Partially.” That mischievous look is back on Friend’s face. That makes me think of Jessica.
Uh, why? Where did that come from? But it does make me think of another question. “Am I searching for ability?” Like in sports, or medicine…

“Partially,” but this time as my piece moves Friend’s face darkens, and the unseen audience shifts nervously in their seats.

Question number five will take me half way across the board and I am no closer to finding out what I was searching for than I was before the game. I plan my words before I speak. “Will I be a better person when I’ve found it?”

The audience breaks into spontaneous applause, my piece jumps happily to the next spot on the board, and Friend looks relieved as he answers, “Yes.”

As the applause fades the lights dim and a team of people come flocking out of the dark. They swarm Friend blanketing him from sight and I hear him protest good-naturedly. One woman pulls herself away from the pile and looks at me standing behind my podium.  She walks over to me with a smile jumping from her lips to her eyes.

Taking a towel from a pocket she begins dabbing at my face. I realize I’ve been sweating heavily, but she pats me dry quickly and applies a little clear powder too my face. “You’re doing just fine, honey,” she says as she works. “Most of ‘em give up by this point, but you scored a big one just now.” She looks around and leans in conspiratorially. “Figure out the difference between that question and the ones before. It’ll make things clearer.”

I refresh my memory. “My last question started with ‘will I’ rather than an ‘am I’. Does that make a difference?”

She dips into another pocket and produces a glass of cold water, which she hands me. The lights come back up and she along with the other flock of people begin streaming out. But she pauses long enough to look over her shoulder and nod before disappearing with the others back into the dark.

Friend is standing in front of the game board just where I’d seen him last. He’s spruced up and looking good, his robe is cleaned and adjusted, his face patted and powdered. Even his smile seems brighter. He turns to face the unseen audience.

“Welcome back to the second half of our game. As you will remember, RJ has made it halfway across the board and has five more questions to ask to discover…” He raises one eyebrow expectantly.

“What He’s Searching For,” answers the audience on cue.

Turning back to me Friend asks, “Are you ready, Friend?”

I know he’s speaking to me, but I can’t help asking the obvious. “You told me to call you Friend and now you’re calling me Friend?”

“I call lots of people Friend, with a capital letter and without,” he says. “I’ve always found it a nice way to keep relationships peaceful. It’s hard to get mad at someone you call friend.” The audience applauds. “Now,” he says to me again, “are you ready?

When I nod my head he asks, “What is your sixth question?”

“As it’s something that will make me a better person when I find it,” I muse aloud, “involving love and ability, I think I’ll ask this: “Is it difficult to find?”

The mischievous light is back in Friend’s eyes as he says succinctly, “Yes.”

Watching my game piece move another step forward I say, “Mom always used to tell me that the hardest things to achieve are the most rewarding.”

Friend’s compassionate gaze doesn’t irritate me as so many others have. He says, “She said many wise things during her short life on Earth.”

“Is there any way I can bring her back?” I cross my fingers hoping he’ll say ‘Yes’. If there is, I’ll do anything and everything it takes.

I hear the audience’s collective sigh of disappointment. “No,” says Friend with a touch of sadness, “which you knew already but couldn’t stop yourself from asking, huh?” He knows me pretty well for meeting so short a time ago. My icon moves forward and there are only three spaces left. I have to make them count.

Which is why I’m shocked to hear myself blurt out, “Is it something I have to learn the hard way?”
“Yes,” nods Friend firmly. The game piece with my face on it moves forward on the board.

Well, now I have some clues with which to work. A difficult to find lesson I have to learn the hard way which will make me a better person, involving ability, and love. Lots of wriggle room there. I’ve got to narrow the field.

“Only two questions left,” announces Friend to the audience as he holds up two fingers. “Will RJ finally get his answer to the question…,” He waits.

“What Am I Searching For?” This time my voice alone can be heard. The audience is silent.

“Okay, RJ. What is your ninth question?” I see hope on his face and realize he’s been rooting for me all along.

“Does this have anything to do with my plan, Courageous Change?” I ask.

“YES,” Friend shouts, and again my game marker skips happily to the next space. “You’ve got one more question. Can you figure it out, RJ?” He’s nearly jumping up and down he’s so excited for me. I hear a chattering among the unseen audience. They’re pulling for me too, I can feel it.

A lesson learned the hard way involving Courageous Change. It will be difficult to find but will make me a better person. Ability and love will play a role. And suddenly I know.

“I am searching for something that will make my dad happy and straight!” I announce. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Just as Friend opens his mouth to answer a loud bell interrupts him. The huge golden hand in which this has all taken place tilts. While I slide down Friend floats up. He shouts the answer to me but the bright light of the sun shining through my bedroom window distracts me and the ringing alarm clock blocks my hearing. It’s time to get up. I have to feed the dogs, chickens, and Nanny before the school bus gets here.

As I stumble to the bathroom I hear Dad going out through the mud porch. Morning starts pretty early for a farmer working a piece of land the size of ours, and his workload has doubled. When I finish my chores and get to the kitchen for my own breakfast I find only a cold cup of coffee at his place.

I’m not stupid, I watch TV. I can see Dad is suffering from a broken heart but the afternoon talk show hosts say those eventually mend. A lost soul is a lot harder to fix. I have to stick to the plan.

Courageous Change is for the greater good and soon Dad and I will be happy, living as a straight family like everyone else.

Still, I watch Dad moping around here when he thinks I’m not looking and wonder when the happy part is going to kick in. Maybe he needs to date a woman.

I set about figuring out who that should be.

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