CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FOUR
“Shall we continue?” Hedone asked.
Dr. Nelson Weeks looked at the floor of the odd medical exam room. After a moment, he glanced at Jackson “Jax” Theriol, who had come back from the grave to help him. Jax gave Nelson a cocky grin. Nelson looked at Hedone and nodded.
Ten year old Nelson was standing with his hands on his hips as he evaluated the creation in front of him. He and the next door neighbor boy, Junior, were making a snowman. The younger, red-haired boy was rolling the final ball of snow for the head. When he got close, Nelson bent down to help the boy lift the ball of snow.
The ball was too heavy. In a gale of laughter, the boys fell over into the snow. Junior’s sister was sitting in the snow making snowballs in preparation for their “epic” snowball fight.
They’d spent the last week working on snowmen in the morning and watching cartoons in the afternoon. Nelson was getting paid to watch Junior and his sister while their mom was on bed rest for another baby. Junior’s father traveled for work so they never knew when he’d be home. Nelson was on child duty regardless. Right now, Nelson’s father and Junior’s father were drinking beer and watching the children from the porch of Nelson’s house.
“Ut,” Nelson’s father, Pierre, said from the porch. “Attends une minute!”
Pierre yelled for the boys to wait. He ran to the boys. He made a show of struggling to lift the ball. Junior’s father ran to aid Pierre. Laughing the entire time, the two men put the head on the snowman.
Junior’s father pulled a carrot out of his pocket. Pierre took two pieces of coal out for the eyes of the snowman. Junior’s father stuck the nose in the middle of the snowman’s face. Pierre put the pieces of coal in the snowman for eyes. Excited, Nelson and Junior were jumping up and down. Pierre snatched Nelson’s hat off his head and stuck it on the snowman.
Everyone laughed. Pierre put his arm over his son’s shoulder and they surveyed their work. There was a noise from inside the next-door neighbor’s house. Junior’s mother came out to say something like “It’s time.”
The dance of labor had begun. Junior and his sister did their part by scooting over to Nelson’s house. Pierre ushered the children inside the house for afternoon cartoons.
“Michael and your father were good friends,” Jax said in an even voice.
Nelson looked at Jax but didn’t respond.
“Do you remember playing with M.J.?” Hedone asked.
“Sort of,” Nelson said. “I remember that we were friends. I mean, we used to play together. I was his babysitter for … Gosh, a long time. He was a lot younger. I mean at that age, even a couple of years feels like decades. ”
“What happened?” Jax asked.
“He changed,” Nelson said. His voice became hard. “Became the homophobic prick you know today.”
“Let’s take a look,” Hedone said.
Nelson was fast asleep in his bedroom when the sound of glass shattering awakened him.
The next door neighbor lady was screaming and breaking things. Again.
As he did every time he woke this way, he went to his window and looked out through the curtains. They lived in small houses situated right next to each other. There wasn’t any real sound insulation. He could tell before he opened the blinds that tonight was going to be a bad one.
He heard his father’s door open. His father came up behind Nelson. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder as they looked out Nelson’s window at the little house next door.
“Wait here,” Pierre said in French. “I will go take a look.”
Pierre turned to go.
“Papa!” Nelson said.
Nelson pointed out the window. Junior, his sister, and the toddler boy were looking out at Nelson from the bathroom window on the second floor.
“Papa!” Nelson pleaded.
Pierre sighed. From where they stood, they could hear the mother banging on the bathroom door and screaming like a banshee.
“Put on your shoes,” Pierre commanded in French.
Nelson pulled on his Converse All-Stars. For good measure, he pulled his bathrobe over his pajamas. Pierre took Nelson’s hand, and they ran to stand under the bathroom window. Junior pushed up the double hung window. For a moment, Junior’s panicked eyes locked on Nelson’s.
Nelson’s life was mostly devoid of drama. They lived a sedate, structured life of intellectuals. Nelson did what was expected of him, and Pierre loved him. Nelson got up at the same time every day. He went to bed at the same time every day. They ate at “meal times” and had pizza every Friday.
Outside of Pierre’s struggle with tobacco, their lives were free of conflict. Nelson had no experience with the kind of drama that had started to happen next door.
With Junior’s look, Nelson felt flooded with Junior’s desperation.
“Il est terrifie,” Nelson told his father that Junior was terrified.
“Oui,” Pierre nodded to Nelson. Looking up to the window, Pierre spoke in unaccented English to Junior, “Throw the baby, then your sister. You know how to climb down?”
Junior’s head nodded.
“Do it now!” Pierre commanded.
Junior grabbed the toddler by the straps of his overalls. The baby hung in the air for a moment before dropping into Nelson’s arms. Nelson set him down.
They heard wood splinter. Junior and his sister turned to look behind them.
“Now,” Pierre commanded.
Junior pushed his sister out of the window. Always strong, Nelson easily caught the girl. Junior hurled himself out the window. He almost made it, but a large hand wrapped itself around his leg.
Shock and horror fixed on Junior’s face. Nelson felt the full force of his friend’s terror. The furious woman pulled her son back into the bathroom. They heard to boy scream with pain as the blows rained down on him.
“Go,” Pierre said in French to Nelson. “Take them. I will deal with this.”
“But Papa!” Nelson said.
“Go to the basement,” Pierre said. “Take the children. I will deal with this.”
Nelson picked up the baby and grabbed onto the girls arm.
“Guy?” Pierre called as they neared the house.
Nelson stopped and looked at his father.
“Tu es mon coeur,” Pierre said, reminding his son of Pierre’s love for him.
Nelson nodded and ran into the house with the children. As soon as they were in the still quiet of the basement, the baby began to wail. Only a few years older than the baby, the girl shuffled to take care of the baby.
“I will do it,” Nelson said.
The girl looked at him in surprise. He realized that he must have mistakenly spoken in French. That hadn’t happened in years. Embarrassed, he shrugged.
“It’s okay,” Nelson said in English. “I’ll take care of him when you’re settled.”
He turned on the television and set it to the girl’s favorite cartoons. When she was settled in cozy blankets, he took the baby to the bathroom and undressed him. The baby was filthy. It had been at least a day since anyone had changed his diaper. Nelson peeled off layer after filthy layer of clothing. Once out of his wet, smelly clothing, the baby stopped crying. Nelson bathed the baby in the sink. They didn’t have diapers, so Nelson wrapped the child in towels at set him in the now dry sink.
To be sure, he ushered the girl into the bathroom. She was filthy too. He helped her out of her clothing. As she stepped into the shower, he saw that she was nearly a skeleton. While she showered, he warmed up towels in the dryer and found some of his old clothing for her to wear. He left the towels and the clothing on the toilet cover and took the baby out into the television room. When she came out, she was clean and starving.
He fed the children packets of oatmeal, beef jerkey, and cocoa from their camping supplies. He was making more cocoa in the microwave when he heard his father’s footsteps on the porch.
Nelson was frightened.
It wasn’t like his father not to come to see him. They were a team, a pair. His father cared for Nelson more than anyone or anything in his life. Yet his father was lingering on the porch! Nelson couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
Why didn’t his father come down to see him? To praise him for caring for these children? To help him with the baby?
Instead, his father paced back and forth on the front porch.
Nelson’s chest clenched with fear. The girl’s face reflected Nelson’s fear. The baby began to whimper.
Something different, something bad, was going on.
Nelson didn’t like it. Seeing the fear in the small children, Nelson did what his father did when Nelson was afraid. He put on a happy face. He finished making the cocoa and dug the last of the homemade strawberry ice cream from the freezer.
Nelson was handing the children their bowls of ice cream when they heard the front door burst open. Pierre’s heavy foot fall followed a set of lighter steps.
“Downstairs,” Pierre said, in English. “Get cleaned up.”
Nelson gasped when Junior said something nasty to Pierre.
“If you will not speak with the police, you will go downstairs with your brother and sister,” Pierre said, in firm English.
“Fuck you,” Junior said.
Nelson flushed bright red. The girl gasped.
Pierre’s footfall came down the stairwell. He had Junior by the scruff of his shirt. Pierre may not be the tallest of men, but he was fit and very strong. Pierre and Nelson worked out in the garage gym every single morning and evening. It was part of their routine and the only thing that kept his father’s pain at bay.
Junior was no match for Pierre.
They took the last few steps at a run. Pierre pushed Junior forward into the basement. Junior’s face was a mask of fury. The boy was bruised and bleeding. He had a swelling knot on his head. His nose was broken. He had choke marks on his neck. He was limping. The boy’s face was marked with shame and the fury brought by shame.
“I need to speak with the police,” Pierre said, in French to Nelson. “Keep him here.”
“I will do it, Papa,” Nelson said.
“Good boy,” Pierre said. Turning to Junior, Pierre said in English, “Get cleaned up.”
Pierre slammed the downstairs basement door and locked the deadbolt with his key.
“The bathroom’s right …” Nelson started.
“Get off me, faggot,” Junior said.
Nelson reeled back. Junior sneered at Nelson and stalked to the bathroom.
They were back in the medical exam room with a blue sky as the ceiling. Nelson didn’t say anything. Jax looked at Hedone, and she gestured for him to wait.
“I’ve gone over that memory in therapy,” Nelson said finally. “Over and over it. Again and again. EMDR, hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, ‘The Work.’ I know this memory, backwards and forwards.”
“Why is this memory so important?” Hedone asked.
“It’s the first time I heard the word,” Nelson looked up at her, “applied to me, that is. The moment I heard it, I knew that it was true. Why did he say it?”
Nelson looked up at Jax. His words held emotion but his face was clear.
“Why did he say it to me?” Nelson asked. “I was just trying to help. I was a child too. Their family mess didn’t have anything to do with me or my father. Until now, I never …”
“You never?” Jax asked.
“I never realized that he knew too,” Nelson said. “He knew that I was trying to help. He knew that the chaos and abuse which had become a part of his life was not a part of my life.”
Nelson gave a quick nod.
“So it wasn’t M.J.’s mother who mocked you for being gay,” Hedone said mildly.
Nelson shook his head.
“She’d said it many times before,” Nelson said. “She was a psycho. Why did I care? It just didn’t … I just didn’t … I mean, my father was right there and … But when M.J. said it, I knew it was true — and worse, so did he.”
“As an adult, a doctor, I can see that he was injured,” Nelson said with a nod. “Beaten. Humiliated by his brutal mother. I have seen it in the ER before. Abused boys in early adolescence. The rage of shame pumps through them. They lash out at everyone, especially those who are trying to help.”
“Sounds like you’ve learned things in therapy,” Jax said.
Nelson grinned at him.
“Jax was the one who convinced me to go,” Nelson said as he looked back at Hedone. “Do the work. So I did.”
Jax put his hand around Nelson’s shoulder for support. Nelson looked at Hedone.
“Is it possible that was all there was to it?” Nelson asked. “Things were falling apart more and more at M.J.’s house. We were there at least once a week. M.J.’s mother started calling me that horrible name to get back at us for witnessing her insanity, for helping the children, her children, in the middle of the night.”
“You knew what she did to them,” Jax said. “Her secret.”
“M.J., his little girlfriend,” Nelson shook his head. “It’s like I started to hold my breath the moment he said the word, ‘faggot.’ I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped.”
Nelson let out a slow steady breath. After a moment, he shook his head.
“Could it be so simple?” Nelson asked.
“I don’t know,” Hedone said. “He is standing outside of your house, knocking on your front door. We could go ask him.”
Hedone waved her hand over a framed picture. They were looking at Nelson’s doorstep where M.J. and Joseph Walter were standing. Jax sucked in a breath at the site of his former teammate.
“I can take you there if you’re ready,” Hedone said.
“Not yet,” Jax said.
Hedone and M.J. looked at Jax.
“There is something that you need to know,” Jax said. “You were to be told when you finished medical school, but …”
“We were killed,” Jax said. “You had already changed your name so …”
“What is it?” Nelson asked.
“Can we go there?” Nelson asked Hedone.
“Of course,” Hedone said.
“No,” Pierre said to Michael, the next-door neighbor and Fey Special Forces Team Member. “I will not.”
They were sitting on Pierre’s front porch. Pierre was chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes. They were speaking fast French.
“I promised Mabelle when she agreed to marry me and again when we learned that we would have a baby,” Pierre said. “I will not let them have her or my son. I will not.”
“But …” Michael started.
“That evil witch has found us now,” Pierre said. “She will not give up.”
“She’s found you before,” Michael said.
“Now she has something to exploit,” Pierre said. “You don’t understand.”
“Explain it to me,” Michael said.
“Guy is almost eighteen,” Pierre said. “Once he turns eighteen, he will be subject to all kinds of pressure. Mabelle barely escaped from it with her sanity intact. They will only get more desperate, especially now that they know that he is a homosexual. They will use his nature to exploit him and …”
Pierre shook his head.
“I should have sent him away a year ago,” Pierre said. “If I had any kind of courage I would have done just that but … I love him too much. He looks so like my Mabelle. He is such a good and kind soul. I wanted him with me. Now …”
Pierre sighed, lit another cigarette, and wiped his face.
“Guy has done what I could not,” Pierre said.
Michael nodded to Pierre.
“Where do you think he went?” Michael asked.
“In the small space between the garages,” Pierre said. “It is his safe place. He found Yves …”
Seeing that Michael didn’t seem to know who Yves was, Pierre added, “the cat.”
“He found the cat there,” Pierre said. “He will be there. Take him to a hotel. Some place nice. He has already been accepted to university. Send him away as soon as high school is over. Away from me. Away from this place. I will pay.”
“I owe you so much,” Michael said. “You’ve saved my children’s lives over and over again.”
Pierre took a deep drag on a cigarette and shook his head.
“If you can …” Pierre said.
“Yes?” Michael asked.
“Get him to change his name,” Pierre said. “It may keep him safe.”
Michael nodded to Pierre and got up. Pierre grabbed his arm.
“Please,” Pierre said. “Please keep an eye on him. I need to know …”
Pierre’s strong façade cracked. Tears began to well in his eyes.
“I need to know that he is alive and well,” Pierre said. “He is … my heart.”
Rather than force a proud man to weep, Michael nodded and got up. Michael sauntered to the back of the house. Pierre took another drag off his cigarette and went inside. Michael walked down the driveway with his arm around Guy Semaines.
While his father watched from the window of the front door, Guy Semaines walked off into the night. Pierre wiped his tear wet face and retreated into the house.
They were back in the medical exam room. Nelson was sitting on the stool and staring at the floor.
“How are you?” Jax asked. He put a hand on Nelson’s shoulder.
“I was just wondering that myself,” Nelson said. He smiled at his friend. “Tired, mostly.”
“But about …” Jax started.
“I don’t know why, but I am not surprised,” Nelson said. “I think I always knew. It was just easier to hate him.”
“Rather than hate yourself?” Hedone asked.
“Oh no, I’ve done plenty of that,” Nelson said.
Nelson looked at Jax for a long moment.
“Thank you,” Nelson said.
“Mike just introduced us,” Jax said. “He thought that I might be able to help you when you first came out. Talk to you. That’s all. He didn’t make us friends or lovers. You made us family.”
Nelson’s eyes scanned Jax’s face.
“You are a lovely soul,” Jax said.
Nelson stood and the two men embraced.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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