The houses in rossford, part one of chapter one
WHAT THE KIDS ARE WATCHING
“Okay, now you have to watch this!”
On the large bed in his attic, Brendan Miller wrapped one arm around his girlfriend, and the other reached for the remote control, then slapped the back of it to make it work.
“Dumb batteries. We’ve got to turn the volume down,” he told her.
“Who the heck…?” Dena Reardon began, “I’ve never heard of Eagle Studios.”
“They’re not like Paramount or anything,” Brendan said, grinning at her.
“Is this a—”
But then the cheap music began, and there was some innocent, All American looking guy with marmalade hair driving a car with a sign that said Pizza Queen on it.
The credits were running and the movie starred Bick Throbbing, Dirk Thrust and Johnny Mellow, all in various stages of nudity.
“Yeah. It’s really cool. It gets me hot,” Brendan said, snuggling up to her.
The Pizza Boy, played by Johnny Mellow, drove up to the house and stepped out of the car with a happy go lucky look on his face. A baldheaded, ripped man answered the door and let the Pizza Boy in and then, when the door shut, the man’s housecoat fell off and a enormous erection was revealed. As Johnny Mellow placed the pizza on the table near the door and dropped to his knees, Dena said:
“Why are we watching this?”
“Does it get you hot?”
“It’s not even a straight porn.”
“It’s the whole naughtiness of it,” Brendan said, his eyes fixed on the Dirk Thrust being blown by Johnny Mellow. “Doesn’t it just make you wanna… Doesn’t it just shock you?”
“I think this is really weird,” declared Dena.
“Hold on,” Brendan seemed to come back to himself a little. He fast forwarded the DVD and Dena saw bits and pieces of Johnny Mellow being blown now, Johnny Mellow and Bick Throbbing in a Sixty-Nine, Bick Throbbing’s roommate or something joining in. Then it stopped.
“Okay,” said Brendan. “Here it is.”
Bick and Johnny were on a bed now, and against her will Dena thought Johnny had a sweet face. She wondered how the fuck he’d gotten here, to sucking dudes’ dicks in porn. While she was wondering, Brendan’s voice in her ear said, hotly, “There’s something about this guy… Isn’t there?”
And then Bick Throbbing produced a dildo. Wait! Yes, a two headed dildo. And the two of them got onto the bed. They were ass to ass, and Rod fitted one end of the dildo into his ass and then, with it, approached Johnny and next, the two of them began to fuck each other with the dildo while Brendan laughed ghoulishly and said, “This kinda shit gets me so hard!”
“Bren,” Dena tilted her head while she spoke. “Do we need to stop seeing each other?”
“Uh huh,” Brendan said dumbly. Then, coming to himself, he shook his head and said, “What?”
“I said are you trying to tell me something?’”
“Brendan, we’ve been sitting her watching gay porn. That you’re into—”
“You read Anne Rice.”
“Not, really—” Then she shook her head and said, “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?”
“Just,” Brendan said defensively, getting up to take the DVD out of the player, “you read about vampires. But it doesn’t mean you want to drink the blood out of someone.”
“Look, Bren. My mom’s single because she found my dad in bed with my uncle. I’d be stupid not to wonder.”
“Well, you can stop wondering,” he said angrily. “I’m not a faggot, all right.”
“My father is not a faggot.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“He lacks judgment,” Dena said, getting up off the bed, and smoothing her hair back. “And so do you. But he’s not a faggot.” Then she said, “No one’s a faggot.”
“Brendan, it’s getting late. I need to go, all right?”
Brendan’s face was red, and he looked confused. He said, “Look, I just… you’re my girlfriend. That’s why I showed you. No one else knows. No one else has seen. Don’t let anyone. All right? I mean…”
“Sure, Bren. But I gotta go right now,” Dena told him.
Because she pitied him a little, she kissed him. And then she was down the attic steps and gone.
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
Dena fell across the kitchen table and, lifting her forehead from the surface, declared: “Yes!
“What should I do?”
Her best friend, Layla Lawden decided: “What you should do is find someone else to date. Preferably someone who isn’t gay.”
“But he says he isn’t.”
At this moment Layla’s uncle was making his way to the refrigerator and Layla said, “Fenn? What does it mean if you sit around watching gay porn?”
He turned from the refrigerator with a raised eyebrow.
“It means you’re not getting enough sex.”
“What I meant,” Layla rephrased it, “is does watching gay porn make you gay?”
“Well,” Fenn pulled out the pitcher of lemonade and closed his sister’s refrigerator door with his foot, “being gay makes you gay,” he explained in a very Fenn manner all while reaching for a glass and sticking it under the ice maker. “But if you weren’t gay, then why would you be watching gay porn? What are we talking about by the way?”
The two girls were quiet a second, and the only sound was the chunk chunking of falling ice.
“If you don’t say anything, I can’t help you,” Fenn told them.
“My boyfriend showed me a gay porn tonight, and told me it made him hot.”
“Really?” Fenn poured his lemonade, his eyes full on Dena.
“So what does that mean?” Layla demanded.
“I think it means you need to get a new boyfriend,” Fenn said, heading out of the kitchen.
And then he stuck his head back in and said, “Before your boyfriend does.”
And was gone.
“This has been one weird night.”
“Tell me about it. Are you as weirded out about Brendan as I am?”
“Girl, fuck Brendan! I’m thinking about my life.”
Dena pulled her hair out of her face and looked at Layla.
“After prattling on about being the strong African-American family all this time, my mother is leaving my father.”
“Because his bank account says he’s been sending half our income to charity.”
“What the hell charity is that?”
“Oh,” Layla grinned weakly, “his mistress and illegitimate kid.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
“What?” Fenn put down his lemonade.
“You know,” his sister said, “ the first time Nell told me about Kevin, told me they were over, I just thought to myself, ‘how could you be so stupid?’ I’d always known. I mean, you told me, but I knew before that. I always thought that I would know better. I’d be smarter. But my husband had not only…” Adele counted on her long fingers, “A virtual second wife. But a child on the side. My daughter has a sister. Or a brother.”
“You don’t know?”
“Hell no, I don’t know!” Adele snapped. She caught her herself and repeated:
“I don’t know.”
Fenn, unruffled, said, “Well, do you know if they’re entitled to anything?”
“What?” Adele looked at her brother sharply.
“Look, you get to be sad. You get to be mad. But it’s my job to be practical. For your sake and Layla’s. When that divorce comes through what are the two of you going to be getting?” He reached for his cigarettes and lit one. “Or is the court going to be thinking about the whore and her bastard?”
Adele shook her hair out and put her hands through it. Just like a white woman, Fenn reflected.
“Well, I have faith in the justice system.”
“You shouldn’t,” Fenn reflected. Having spent his twenties being tied to trees and standing outside of military bases, hauled in and out of court and fined mercilessly, he had a different take on the way government worked.
“Government’s a real motherfucker.”
‘Is that a Katherine McKinnon quote?”
“I think so. From the phase when she was Black.”
Adele cracked a smile at her younger brother, and then laughed brokenly and reached across to catch his hands.
“What am I going to do, Fenn?”
“Don’t ever do that shit.”
She looked at him.
“You say what are we going to do? We’re a WE, Adele. Always will be. By the way, speaking of Nell Reardon?”
“The child of Nell Reardon—”
“Has a gay boyfriend.”
Adele cocked her head.
“Fenn, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“He just showed her a dirty movie.”
“Wait a minute?” Adele said, reaching for her brother’s cigarettes while he handed her the lighter, “Are you trying to tell me he was dumb enough to… To what? Why would he do that?”
“You know people. You know men. Half the time you don’t know why you do something until you’ve done it. I’d like to think if more people read the Bible and studied Greek philosophy, more people might know what the fuck they were doing. But what I really think it means is that more people would be professors. Which isn’t the same thing.”
Adele inhaled and blew out a gush of smoke.
“Goddamn,” she said.
Fenn shook his head.
“Is there really anything else you can say?”
“I don’t remember it being like this for you,” she said.
“I mean all the gay drama. You didn’t have a girlfriend you were showing porn to. Or a wife you cheated on. Or strange affairs. Or if you did, I didn’t know about it.”
“I was a grown up,” Fenn said. “I was living my life when I met a man and thought… I couldn’t do that. And then I was like, well, why the fuck not. Nowadays—well, hell, probably they had something like the Net in every decade. But there were always people who were half assed getting curious, flipping through porn, leading a secret life for ten years, or not knowing themselves well enough to make a smart choice. Or not knowing anything. I had a life to lead. For a long time I thought I’d be a virgin for the rest of my life and never fall in love. And then Thom came along and I thought. A man, interesting. Okay, I’ll go for it. And then Thom left and I thought, well, hell, I’ll go for it again.”
“And now Todd.”
“And now Todd.”
Adele said: “Are you going to tell him about Dena?”
“Well, shit, I’d rather not. But I should, shouldn’t I?”
Adele looked at him mercilessly, and nodded her head.
“WHAT IS FUCKING?”
“Whaddo you mean, what is fucking?”
They were sitting around the kitchen table at Fenn’s house; him, Todd, Tara and Diego.
“I mean, if you’re straight, you know what fucking is,” Fenn told Tara Veems. “But then you’ve got folks who say lesbians don’t fuck.”
“But they don’t fuck,” Diego said. “Not really.”
“What the fuck do you mean lesbians don’t fuck?” Tara looked at him. “We fuck all the time.”
“How? With a strap on? Or like… fingering each other.” Diego said. “Or like in that movie… with Ellen and what’s her name…?”
“If These Walls Could Talk you mean,” Todd said. He was very tall, so tall that to Fenn, when he sat with his hands pressed together, his elbows on the table, he looked vaguely like a preying mantis.
“Yeah,” Diego said.
“Okay,” said Tara. “So what’s a fuck to you?”
“A fuck is when a dick goes into a vagina or an asshole.”
“There has to be a dick for a fuck?” Tara said.
She laughed and took a drink of her beer.
“That’s bullshit. I fuck my girlfriend all the time.”
Todd smiled at her shyly and said, “You fuck everyone’s girlfriend all the time.”
“Shut the fuck up. I’m a reformed dyke now.”
But Fenn asked: “Why does there have to be an asshole? That’s bullshit too, Diego. That’s that crap that says an asshole is the same as a pussy. But an asshole is an asshole. It’s nothing like a pussy.”
“So you’re saying that you can fuck someone’s mouth?”
“Of course you can. Or someone’s ear if you want to. It’s not like Queer as Folk where everyone’s always getting the condom lecture because everyone’s always fucking in the ass. Think about how many men can never even get it in your ass in the first place.”
“I know that’s right,” Diego said. “The other night, this one poor fuck, I just kept trying to bring it in, and he couldn’t—”
“Diego,” Tara put a hand to her face and shook her head. “This dyke does not need to hear all that.”
“Excuse me, Snagglepuss—”
“Well,” Fenn intercepted, “half the time you, you would never need anything but lube cause you would never be going there anyway.”
“Do you guys fuck in the ass?” Diego asked Fenn and Todd.
Todd, his black hair sticking up, eyes wide, looked awkward.
“That’s not even your business,” Fenn said before Tara said it. “But what I’m saying is, can I fuck a pillow? I mean, if someone says I fucked my pillow, or I fucked a blow up doll or something… you know what it means.”
“Right.” Then Diego said, “But it’s not the same as real fucking.”
“It is real fucking you idiot,” Tara said. “You’re saying the only kind of fucking that’s real is the kind that A. straight people do or B. gets you AIDS.”
“I don’t really need to get fucked in the ass,” Todd said quietly.
“But you all…” Diego said.
“We do it all the time,” Fenn said. “If you have to know. We have a great sex life. But what you said is not the only kind of sex. You’re subscribing to some bullshit that says the more we act like straight people the more it’s real and asses are like vaginas. That’s like that Catholic school shit where a girl blows everyone and says she’s a virgin because she hasn’t taken it in her—”
“Snatch,” Tara snatched it away.
“And then she might take it up the ass and still say she’s a virgin,” Fenn went on. “Only with gay men—they’re always acting like Victorian women—the ass is the ultimate thing.”
“And that’s how you end up with AIDS,” Todd said. “You could fuck like a jackrabbit forever and never even worry about AIDS if you weren’t gung ho on having someone stick his dick in your ass. Though I will admit,” he smiled, shy. “I am occasionally gung ho about having a dick in my ass.”
Fenn said looked at him.
“Just yours,” Todd clarified. “And I don’t think before I got with Fenn I was ever into that whole cum in the ass thing.”
Tara said, “That was too much.”
Diego looked at them in mute disbelief.
“You’ve never done that?” Diego said to him.
“Come in a guy’s ass.”
“This,” Tara declared, “is foreign territory to me.”
“Not intentionally,” Todd said. “Not the whole where some tweaked out freak is like, ‘I need you to come in my ass.’ That weirds me out. I’ve certainly never had anyone do it to me. That would freak me out too much.”
“You’ve never….” Diego sat back. “Okay,” he said, “so you’re saying that anytime a dick is… fucking anything, it’s fucking?”
“But you just said that yourself,” Fenn said.
“So like if two guys are just naked and rubbing up against each other and they come…”
“Or if they don’t come even,” Fenn said.
“Then there’s fucking?”
“Of course there’s fucking,” Todd said.
“And what Tara’s saying is fucking is even more than that,” Fenn said. “Like, do you have to be in a girl to be fucking her?”
“Whaddo you mean?”
“He means,” Diego said, “Can the two of you just be rubbing clits?”
“Well,” Fenn said, eyeing Diego, “that is one way to put it.”
“You and Todd said if it’s a dick pushing up against something it’s fucking, right?” Tara said.
Fenn looked at Todd and they both nodded.
“Okay,” she said. “So I’m going to say if a clit’s being pushed, or if pussy is being pushed, or entered, then it’s fucking.”
“So if your finger’s in a girl?” said Diego.
“Then we’re fucking.”
“And if you’re wearing a strap on?”
“I wouldn’t be. It’s not my thing. But if I did then we’d be fucking too.”
“And if you’re rubbing clits?”
“Well,” said Diego.
Tara said, “Well.”
“WELL, I’VE CHECKED,” Fenn said, putting the bills on the night stand, “and we have enough to live until… I’d say next April, if some good shit doesn’t happen to us.”
“I hate our professions,” Todd groaned, stretching out in the bed beside him.
“Well, no. I hate the pay though.”
“I think it’s like the old triangle,” Fenn pulled his knees to his chest.
“You know. You use it in productions when people are building sets or paying for something or…whatever. You want it cheap, and fast and good. But you can only have two out of the three. If you want it cheap, it might be fast, but not good. If good it might be cheap, but not fast… and so on.”
“Okay,” said Todd, waiting for the connection.
“So you can have steady money, have it easy and do what you want. But you can’t do all three. Right now, what we don’t have… and it’s very important we realize that we won’t have it for almost another year, Todd, so we don’t get nervous… is steady income. I really wanted to pay the mortgage off next year. I don’t know we’ll even be able to make mortgage payments if something besides the play I’m in doesn’t happen.”
Fenn stopped talking while Todd began smiling.
“There is something else,” Todd said.
“I think it shows promise.”
“Well, spill, already.”
“There’s a film maker or something,” Todd said. “Up in Port Ridge.”
“I’m supposed to meet with him tomorrow. Drive up there. He saw something I did. He wants meet to shoot a film for him. About his life I think. He wasn’t very specific.”
Fenn regarded him with a happy, steady gaze. In the last few years Fenn Houghton had come to realize that really, he always saw the dark side of everything until it turned out well.
“That is good news.”
Todd, lying beside him smiled brightly.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes it is.”
Todd reached up and with his very long arm, dusted in black hairs, he caught Fenn’s hand.
“All the talking… about fucking we did tonight.”
Fenn put down the envelope with the bill and said, “You want less talking?”
“I want no talking,” Todd sat up, reached across him and turned out the light.
“And all doing.”
“It’s for you,” Dena whispered behind her hand, passing the note.
Layla pretended not to hear. She kept her head turned in the other direction, observing the map of World War II Europe as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.
Layla turned and hissed, “I know it’s for me. Keep it.”
“Will will never be happy until you—”
“Miss Reardon,” their teacher stopped lecturing.
Dena cleared her throat. “Yes, sir?”
“If you would like, we can all stop the class so you can better get Miss Taylor’s attention.”
The class sniggered as Layla frowned, and her friend sat up straighter saying, “No, that’s all right.”
“You’re ready to pay attention, then?”
“All right?” My Shori turned around. “This is AP European history, folks. At one of the best schools in town. Half of the city would give their teeth to be where you are.”
But Layla looked down, and her eyes widened when she saw that Dena had managed to slip her the note from Will Klasko.
She blew out her breath and shot Dena a cruel look while her friend turned away.
“So some people like to say that Martin Luther caused the Reformation and that this was how the nation state was born. Does anyone have a problem with that?”
By the way Mr. Shori said it, Layla could tell that she was supposed to have a problem with it. In fact, having done the reading she did have a problem with it. But it was Will who put up his hand and said:
“One of the problems is that this theory ignores the birth of the printing press, the schisms with the Church that had been happening in Germany for years and things like… say, how far Germany was from Rome anyway. For a long time the Germans had been forging an identity and trying to separate from Rome. Luther came along when enough time had gone by, and when printing was en vogue and there was high literacy. If he hadn’t been the poster boy for reform and German nationhood, then it would have been someone else.” The dark haired, dark eyed boy nodded curtly in the vague direction of the girls.
“He’s a show off,” Layla muttered.
“Yeah,” Dena whispered. “But he’s showing off for you.”
Layla opened the note.
Three years now we’ve been at school together, but never really known each other. I would like it if you went out with me on Friday night. The new French movie is showing at the art theatre and I heard you say you wanted to see it. My treat. Unless you think that’s too forward. Please get back to me,
William J. Klasko
While Layla sat there with the note, Dena leaned over and whispered to her:
“I think you should say yes.”
Will was on the other side of the class room door when Layla and Dena came out, and he sprang on them, not even noticing Brendan, who was across from him, also waiting.
“Are you two trying to scare the hell out of us?” Layla looked at them.
“Actually, I don’t think he even noticed me,” Brendan said, humbly. “I thought we could all go to lunch together. Will too, actually. Unless you were eating with someone else.”
“No,” Will said. “No, I’d love to sit with you guys. That all right with you, Layla?”
Layla plastered a smile on her face.
“Of course it is.”
“Well, then let’s go,” Brendan said.
He pulled Dena a little ahead of them, and he had whispered something that Layla suspected might have been about the porn. Will was saying:
“So did you get my message?”
“Yes,” Layla said. “And yes.”
“I mean, yes,” Layla told him. “I’ll go with you.”
“Did you know that Layla was the name of an Arabian princess?”
“Who was placed in a loveless marriage instead of being able to marry the man who pined for her. Yeah.”
Will looked at her.
“Did you know?” she said to him. “That you’re actually kind of cute when you shut up and you’re not working to impress someone.”
She looked at him.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Layla caught his hand and dragged him down the hall, behind Brendan and Dena.
“That’s how I like you,” she told him.