Posted by: Jeff
Visible to: BSC-Active
Baby-sat for Squirt Ramsey. No problems.
Posted by: Jeff
Visible to: Byron
Posted by: Byron
Visible to: Jeff
Rain, rain, go away,” sang Squirt, pressing his hands to the window screen.
“Nah, man, rain’s good.” I stepped up to the window and took a deep breath of the fresh, loamy wet-dirt smell. I’m starting to really dig rain. Connecticut in summertime redefines “humid.” Air pressure just builds up and builds up, and a good storm is the only way to cut through it. I explained, “The trees and flowers need rain to grow.”
Squirt made a face. I guess I sounded like a real crunchy hippie.
“We could go outside anyway. In bathing suits, perhaps,” Squirt suggested.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe Squirt is only six. He’s got a crazy vocabulary, and he’s actually pretty big for his age. (The nickname started because he was born premature, but now it’s ironic.)
“Thinking outside the box, huh? That’s cool,” I said. “But it’s getting late to play outside.” I checked my watch for the fifteenth time. 7:18. Only one minute after the last time I checked, at 7:17. Back home I didn’t even wear a watch, but these days, I’m kind of obsessive about hours and seconds.
What drives me crazy is that I’m antsy even when I’m doing something I like, like baby-sitting. Especially sitting for Squirt. He’s such a good kid, and this was my first time baby-sitting him all summer. I wouldn’t have gotten this job at all, except that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey got last-minute tickets to a play in Stamford. Squirt’s Aunt Cecelia was at a church event, and his big sister, Becca, was baby-sitting the Salem twins, so Mr. Ramsey made an emergency call to the Baby-sitters Club cell phone. Our president, Adam Pike, answered; consulted with his brother Byron, the badass secretary extraordinaire; checked out the schedule; and offered me the job. And that’s how our club works!
Sort of. Technically, parents are supposed to give 48 hours’ notice, so we have time to meet and go over everything and make sure everybody gets equal shot at the jobs. But if an emergency comes up, it’s no big deal. Adam calls this “being accommodating to our customer base.” I call it the “shit happens” clause.
“I have a new bathing suit. I’m going to the beach for eight whole days,” Squirt told me. “On vacation.”
“I know. You and the Pikes.” I wasn’t looking forward to it. Everybody who makes my life here okay and good and tolerable was going to be gone at once. Byron told me he was working on plan to get out of it, but I didn’t have high hopes. The Pikes go to Sea City every summer. It’s like a law of nature.
Squirt nodded, not even a little surprised that everybody knew his exciting vacation plans. “Have you ever been to the beach?”
“Mm, lots of times. Back home.”
Squirt stopped jumping from one foot the other and turned to look at me. “Are you from Sea City?”
I smiled. “Nope. Different beach. Different ocean. I’m from California. My house back home is about an hour away from the beach. We go a lot. Even in the winter. Once we went to the beach on Christmas.”
This is normally a huge mindfuck for Connecticut kids, “the beach on Christmas?” But Squirt’s mind was million miles away. He nodded vaguely and said, “In Sea City, I’m going to wear my bathing suit every day.”
“Nice,” I said. I mean, what else do you say?
The back door clicked open, and I jumped up from my seat. “Hello?”
“Hello there!” called a brusque voice from the kitchen. “Who’s that?”
“Aunt Cecelia!” said Squirt, scrambling to his feet to run and give his aunt a hug.
Even though she’s Squirt and Becca and Jessi’s aunt, not ours, everyone calls her Aunt Cecelia. I don’t know why. It’s definitely not because she is this big warm person who is like an auntie to the whole world. The opposite. Squirt is probably the only person who has ever hugged her. Nobody else would dare to try it.
When she came to the doorway, Squirt clinging to her skirt, she looked just as uncomfortable to see me as I was to see her. “Hello, Jeffrey,” she said coldly. She has a way of saying my name like its true Old English meaning is “shifty-eyed pothead kid I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw him.”
“Heyy,” I murmured.
She was looking at me like she wanted something. I didn’t know what it was, so I just stared at her. She stared back, her eyes getting narrower and narrower.
“Well?” she said finally.
“How long have you been here? How much do I owe you? When did Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey say they would home?”
“Oh! Oh. Yeah.” I explained about the theater tickets. I never notice how bad I am at talking until I’m talking to Aunt Cecelia. She winces at every “um” and “like.”
Aunt Cecelia counted out a few bills and handed them to me with a stern look, like she was trying to telepathically pre-scold me for blowing it on drugs and hookers. “There. I think our accounts are settled, then. And what are your plans for the rest of the night?”
From her, small talk sounded like an interrogation.
I coughed. “I, um, I sort of have a date?”
Aunt Cecelia sighed and shook her head. “Go on, then. Don’t keep the poor girl waiting.”
I didn’t bother to correct her. I’m out and proud to everybody--parents, grandparents, school administration, you name it--but Aunt Cecelia scares the bejesus out of me.
Freedom! I burst out into the street. I’d left my rain jacket behind, but I wasn’t about to go back for it. I didn’t care. The rain felt deliciously cool on my skin. I ran the whole way up the hill.
I raced round the corner onto good old Slate Street. It’s tree-lined and pretty, maybe the only pretty street in Stoneybrook. I flying-leapt that last few steps up to the Pikes’ door and pounded hard.
Mallory Pike opened the door with Vanessa close behind her. The Pikes always race to doors and phones. “Jeff Schafer. What a surprise,” Mal said in a not-very-surprised voice.
“Is Byron home y--?”
“Jeff!” called a breathless voice behind me.
I whirled around and there he was, dropping his umbrella and running up to meet me. I threw my arms out and he ran into them, and we gripped each other, turning around in a circle. He leaned his forehead against mine, resting his hands on my hips, and just like that, all the tension that had been building up in my muscles all day--poof!--gone. Byron is magic.
“Darling! How I have longed for thee!”
“Every moment of our parting was a knife in my very soul, darling!”
Byron turned to shoot a glare at Mallory and Vanessa, who were dramatically acting out our reunion scene in the doorway, hands clasped to their foreheads like they we were about to faint.
“Watch this,” Vanessa said to Mallory in her normal voice. “Hey Byron, what did you do today?”
“Me? I was just baby-sitting at the Newtons’.”
“And before that?”
“I was at Jeff’s, why?”
Mallory burst out laughing.
“What?” said Byron as we followed them into the house. “What’s so funny?”
Mal and Vanessa waved him off and wandered off in the direction of the rec room.
Byron turned to me, grinned, and took both of my hands. “Hi, you.”
Okay, it doesn’t look like much written down, but it was the way we said it. I felt a shiver go down my spine. “Hey,” I breathed.
He dropped my hands and we both ran for the stairs.
We were about halfway up when we heard Mrs. Pike call out, “Where are you two off to?”
Byron stopped short and turned around to face her, all casual. “I dunno. My room. Play computer games or something.”
“Where are your brothers?”
“Rec room. Watching TV.”
“Why don’t you join them? Or invite them to play games. Find something you can all enjoy.”
Byron and I glanced at each other. Well, we had to try. There are a lot fewer rules at the Pikes’ than at my house, but both families are equally committed to one new, special, summertime rule. Never Leave the Gays Alone.
Since we figured out we both liked each other at the beginning of this summer, Byron and I have spent exactly thirty-three minutes alone together. I can’t say we didn’t make the most of the little time we had. It was pretty much the hottest half hour of my life, and I’ve been in the back of Chip Ransom’s Buick. But, damn. The way our families act now, you’d think the world would end if we got each other off. Newsflash: we did, and it didn’t.
Not that I’m using that argument with my mom and stepfather. If they ever ask, by the way, here was our first and last thirty-three minutes alone together as boyfriends:
ME: For some time I have been feeling the strangest sensation. Could it be that my friendly affection toward you, my esteemed colleague, is deepening into something more? Dare I name the feeling?
HIM: You need not dare. I hardly dreamed it would be so, but my dear fellow, for some time, I have felt the selfsame feeling to which you now so obscurely refer.
ME: You are my intellectual equal.
HIM: And you mine.
*we hesitantly hold hands*
Here’s how it definitely did not go:
ME: Fuck, you’re hot.
HIM: Take off your shirt.
*we frantically hump like coked-out bunnies*
I don’t see what the problem is. Why can’t we be alone? Why can’t we have private conversations and make-out sessions and, yes, maybe, sex? We’re mature. We’re in love. I don’t know what to say to my mom to make her understand. For your reference, here are some tactics that do not work:
1. We know about STDs, Mom. I never go anywhere without a condom.
2. In three years I’ll be in college and I’ll be able to do whatever I want and you won’t be able to stop me or even know about it, so why not get used to it now?
3. Why can’t you be cool like Dad?
4. Dawn has oodles and tons of sex, and you don’t care about that. (I actually don’t have any evidence for this. Mom just said, “She’s an adult,” but the next day Dawn gave me an Indian burn and asked me why I hate her.)
Mom’s rebuttal is always the same. “You can’t because I say you can’t, and that’s it.”
My stepdad, Richard, is even worse, if you can believe it. He’s old-fashioned about dating, and when you add the twist that I’m dating a guy, his head basically explodes. The longer Byron is in the house, the nervouser Richard gets, even if we’re doing something non-coupley like playing Zelda or throwing around a Frisbee. God forbid we roughhouse. He’s started giving us projects. Last weekend we had to clean out the garage, and today he made Byron sweep the sidewalk while I weeded the garden.
Then there’s Mary Anne, Richard’s daughter and my stepsister. You’d think she’d be okay because she’s eighteen so she’s young enough to remember what it’s like, plus she started dating when she was younger than us, plus she’s not really related to me so she doesn’t have Dawn’s “ewwww my brother having sex” thing. Wrong. She treats us like we’re five. We went on a double date with her and her “ex-ex-boyfriend” Logan (whatever that means), but it was worse than hanging around the house. They insisted on a G-rated movie, wouldn’t let us order coffee with dinner, and coughed loudly when we tried to kiss goodnight.
It’s like my family got together and agreed on a sacred pact to do everything they can to keep us from being alone together, using every annoying tactic in the book.
The Pikes just do it through sheer force of numbers.
They were all piled around the TV watching Arthur when came down into the rec room.
“This is pathetic,” Nick was whining. “We have an average age of fourteen and we’re watching a show for six-year-olds.”
“I watched PBS Kids until I was nine,” remarked Claire.
“You’re a case of arrested development,” said Vanessa, not looking up from her book. She claims she can read and watch TV at the same time but I think she alternates. She’s always asking us what’s going on and who is that.
“Silly-billy-goo-goo,” said Claire in a baby voice.
“Why is this on so late anyway?” said Margo. “It’d after eight. Bring on the sex and violence!”
“On PBS?” said Mallory, not looking up from her sketchbook.
“It’s a Very Special Episode,” said Adam. He scooched over so me and Byron could squeeze onto the couch cushion next to him. “This is the one where the Brain gets addicted to prescription painkillers.”
“Really?” said Claire.
“Hey, Claire, did you know the word ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary?” said Jordan.
Just another evening at the Pikes’.
I actually really like Byron’s house. It’s always chaos, but in a nice way. He has, count ’em, seven brothers and sisters. Two of them, Adam and Jordan, are his identical triplets. When I first met them, I used to memorize what they were wearing each day so I could call them by the right names. Now I can’t even imagine that. Adam and Jordan are great guys, great pals, but every time I see Byron it’s like a swift kick in the heart.
Byron is about twenty times cuter than his brothers. Don’t ask me to explain the science, because I can’t. They all have blue eyes and dark hair and red lips and freckles, but for some reason Byron wears it the best. Maybe it’s his thoughtful expressions. Or his gentle, graceful movements. Or the steady, smoldering way he has of looking at me from under his long lashes--I can’t even handle it.
Here’s how I met the Pikes. My mom and dad split up, and my mom moved my sister and me here to Stoneybrook, Connecticut, the armpit of the universe. I actually only lived here nine months before I went back home, to my dad, for a bunch of reasons. (I missed home so much it hurt. I got shit grades, I got in fights. I hated everything. I felt like I was going crazy.) But nine months was long enough to make lifelong friends with the triplets.
And when I say friends I just mean friends. We played action figures and stuff. I mean, we were nine. I didn’t even know I was gay until I was twelve.
The triplets and I kept in touch online for way longer than we knew each other in person. It helps that Adam thinks he’s super funny in emails, and I guess so do I. Byron never wrote all that much, but somehow he always seemed to guess when I was down and to choose that moment to send me a nice “How’s it going?”
Fast forward to this year. I finally ran out of excuses not to spend a summer with my mom. (Nothing against my mom. I just really fucking hate the East Coast.) I sucked it up and got on a plane. Three things I did not expect to find: Byron Pike was now into guys. Byron Pike was now into me. Byron Pike was now beautiful. I mean, he couldn’t have let me know any of this ahead of time? I would have come out here sooner.
“Hey, quick question for the Baby-sitters Club,” said Mrs. Pike, sticking her head in the room. “At Sea City--”
A cheer went up. Claire, sitting on my arm of the couch, screamed in my ear. Byron just squeezed my hand.
Mrs. Pike paused, expecting it, before she continued. “The Ramseys are going to want to take some day trips around the Jersey shore--antiquing and things. I told them we’d have someone to look after Squirt. What do you guys say? Adam? Byron? Jordan, if he wants to?”
“Absolutely!” said Adam.
“Sure, if it doesn’t conflict with my practice,” said Jordan. He’s not a member of the Baby-sitters Club because of his baseball schedule (he’s even supposed to do intensive drills on vacation), but he’s still great with kids.
“Great. They can handle it,” said Byron. “I’m not going, as you know.”
“Oh, good grief,” said Mrs. Pike. “For the last time, Byron, you’re going.”
“I’m actually not.”
“Byron--!” Mrs. Pike began sharply.
“Somebody’s in trouble,” Claire singsonged.
Mrs. Pike looked at me pleadingly, like this was my fault. I gave her a “who, me?” puppy dog look. I didn’t ask Byron to come up with this scheme. It was going to be hell here without him, but I’d never ask anyone to stay in Stoneybrook for me. I piped up, “I think a beach vacation sounds fun.”
Byron shot me a “traitor” look.
“You see?” said Mrs. Pike. “For heaven’s sake, you can live without your boyfriend for one week!”
“One out of four,” he muttered under his breath, gripping my hand.
It even took me a moment to work out what he meant.
Four weeks from now was August thirtieth. I’m going back home August thirtieth.
Just four more weeks. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already figured that out for myself. I usually know the countdown to my return flight down to the hour. Down to the minute. Normally, when I’m visiting Stoneybrook, the only thing that keeps me sane is thinking about how soon I get to go home. When I think I have to stay, I panic.
Now, thinking about going home made me panic.
Well, I still felt that old familiar “yay! home!” feeling--that heart-soaring feeling you get imagining yourself standing barefoot under an acacia tree, smiling up into the sunshine--but I panicked, too. I hadn’t let myself think about what would happen to me and Byron when I left. “We have the whole summer,” I’d think.
I bit my lip and squeezed Byron’s hand hard. He squeezed back, not looking at me.
Mrs. Pike took a breath. “Byron, come talk to your dad and me in the kitchen.” She turned and disappeared up the stairs.
Byron glanced at me and swallowed.
About two seconds after he started up the stairs, Claire and I looked at each other, then as one we jumped up and followed after him.
By the time we had ourselves arranged outside the kitchen door at a good eavesdropping distance, Mrs. Pike was already mid-lecture. “...trouble to arrange Nicky’s camp schedule, not to mention Jordan’s training. Do you know how long I had to work on his coach? And the Ramseys set aside this time, too. Jessi’s classes start up in two weeks, and Mallory’s not long after that. When else do you want to go, if not now?”
“I don’t want to go a different time,” Byron’s voice replied. “I don’t want to go at all. I don’t want to .”
“But you love Sea City!”
“I wouldn’t enjoy it this year,” said Byron carefully.
Claire turned and glared at me.
“What do you think’s going to happen--you’ll just stay home alone?” Mrs. Pike asked. (Mr. Pike had still not spoken. I was beginning to wonder if he was even in the room.)
“Can I?” Byron yelped. I held my breath. That would be amaz--
--ing. Rats. Oh, well. It was too much to ask for.
“Why n-o-o-ot?” Byron whined, sounding a little, I hate to say it, like Claire. “I’m responsible. I wouldn’t have any parties.”
“You’re responsible for your age, but you’re still sixteen. Sixteen is a dangerous age. Honestly, I’d trust Claire alone in the house before you.”
Claire glanced back at me with wild eyes. I shook my head.
“Okay, fine. Whatever,” Byron said. “I don’t care, as long as I’m in Stoneybrook. I could stay with the--”
“Do not say Schafer-Spiers!”
“I wasn’t going to! I was going to say the Rodowskys or the Hobarts. Or I could spend one week with each, so as not to overstay my welcome.”
Finally Mr. Pike spoke. His voice was quiet, calm. “You’ve got this all figured out, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Byron.
“Well, forget your plans,” said Mr. Pike. “You’re coming to Sea City, and that’s that.”
That was that, all right. Mr. Pike had spoken. He’s usually pretty flexible and easygoing, so you know when he puts his foot down, he means it. I sighed.
Byron wasn’t ready to give up so easily. “No, I’m not, and that’s that!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. If Mr. Pike is easygoing, Byron is downright timid. Usually, I mean. I’d never heard him so--I don’t know--decisive. I liked it.
“I give up!” cried Mrs. Pike.
My heart leapt. Really?
Claire yanked me back onto the stairs just before Mrs. Pike burst through the door. She crossed to the living room and began furiously organizing suitcases.
Back in the kitchen, Mr. Pike was talking, but his voice was low. Claire and I had to creep right up to the crack in the door to hear.
“...and with Mallory graduating, this could be the last year we’re all doing this as a family. Someday we’ll all be separated. That day is coming sooner than you think. This means a lot to your mother, Byron, and to me, too. Just think about that.”
Oh, man. Guilt. The ultimate secret weapon against Byron.
I was standing right out in the open when Byron came through the door, but I didn’t care if he knew I’d been listening in. As soon as he saw me, his lip quivered, and he buried his face in my shoulder. My arms went up round him. This was bad.
“Sorry,” he mumbled into my T-shirt.
He heaved a gasping breath. I held him tight.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can write me postcards.”