Publication is August 1, 2014
All he wanted was time to consider everything that had happened today. It wouldn’t hurt to recover from the physical and emotional injuries. His father looked up from his newspaper as he headed for his room.
“Hey, sport,” his father called out.
Instead of answering, he lifted a hand in response. Even his nickname felt like an attempt to make him into something he wasn’t. He might as well call him ‘straight’ or ‘hetero’, but they lacked the playfulness that “sport” embodied. Plenty of athletes were coming out gay. Most haters tried to ignore the news conferences as anomalies, complaining that the outed athlete was never very good anyhow.
For his father to condemn him for being gay wouldn’t make any sense, especially since they were Pagan, Wiccan to be exact. Goddess knew there were plenty of gay Wiccans, along with bi, transgender, and even polyamorous unions. Three people in a relationship with everyone getting along was difficult for him to imagine. Sighing deeply, he threw himself down on his bed. “I’ll probably die alone.”
Ethan pushed aside his decorative pillows to stretch out. His bare window allowed the night to spill into the room. In turn, the fluorescent stars in his room glowed a greenish-white light, reminding him of all those fake alien autopsies on the Internet. Movies depicted aliens that often looked more like Olympic athletes than ordinary people. The shimmery green people with big heads and almond shaped eyes worked for him.
A random planet interrupted the ceiling stars. His lips tipped up remembering his great idea to decorate the ceiling. It was only a few years ago when they decided to buy the house. The neighborhood had proved itself uneventful, which meant no one tried to run them out. It wasn’t as if they were bad neighbors. No ritual bonfires or any outside ceremonies to keep peace with the neighbors was always Nana’s complaint. His grandmother wasn’t the type to keep a cap on her views.
They never advertised their faith, similar to the neighbor who put a statue of Mary in a half-buried bathtub. Most advertised no faith whatsoever. Occasionally, the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, or a local church would come knocking on the doors, trying to convert people. It was odd they never knocked on their door, but he suspected Nana had something to do with that.
When they decided to stay in this neighborhood, the family bought the house and started remodeling. An extra bathroom in the basement was the first thing. Second was to work on his room. His mother insisted on enlarging the bedroom window, so he could escape in case of a fire.
The ceiling was the third, after a larger window to meet building codes. A couple of sheets of drywall went up. After that, the project derailed while his father worked long hours on a special project. Still, he had a ceiling instead of a mass of pipes. To celebrate having his own ceiling, he bought a box of stars online.
When the box arrived with an illustration of a smiling young boy looking up in awe at his father applying the stars, he’d had doubts. Was he being childish? The box jolted his father into action. He downloaded diagrams of the night sky at different times of the year to guide them in placing the stars in the proper order. The only problem was he didn’t want the stars as they occurred in the sky. What was the point of having his own room if he couldn’t decide for himself?
Instead, he spelled out his name. A few random planets showed up here and there with a handful of stars to keep them company. His refusal to do things the right way caused his mother to intervene. His father, frustrated at his failure to arrange the stars logically, took the ladder and left. It didn’t matter. He didn’t need the ladder or the diagrams.
The dresser had served as his base as he balanced himself, pressing the plastic stars to the ceiling. Many times, he had fallen asleep, staring at his star-made name, with the sense of peace the sight gave him.
He stared up at the stars then, waiting for the peace to come. Just to add to his lack of peace, one star chose to fall, hitting him in the eye. The adhesive had probably dried. Maybe the magic was gone too. The peace definitely was. The sounds of the television drifted through the vent. The theme music told him his father was watching his favorite police drama. Normally, they watched it together. Part of him wanted to go sit on the couch beside his father and have everything return to how it used to be.
He held out the dropped star in the diminishing light. It appeared to have lost its glow. Yeah, he knew that feeling. What now? The room grew dimmer with the setting sun. A light would help, but he preferred the dark. It fit his mood.
The half-moons of his nails were hardly visible as he waved his hand through the air. What he wouldn’t give to put a major hurting on Caulb and his crew. The Wiccan Rede, which was a type of commandments for Wiccans, stated to do no harm. There were exceptions of course, such as self-defense.
Harm was relative, according to Grandpa Buell. A person who performed a work spell to find a job might risk taking a job away from another applicant. A lack of clarity resulted in some Wiccans deciding the only alternative would be to do nothing.
Grandfather tended to temper his magick with practical thinking. Harm only happened when you meant it to happen. If a person you didn’t like fell down the steps and broke his leg, and you did nothing to cause the accident on a spiritual or physical basis, then you were free of blame. Often Karma took things in hand. Other times, the elements and those who had gone on before meddled too.
A snort escaped him as he wondered how long before Karma caught up with Caulb. An image of Caulb stomping sandcastles as a toddler came to mind. No doubt, he had progressed to breaking Lego towers and crushing blockhouses in kindergarten. His name probably served as a type of alarm, warning children to scatter.
As far as he could tell, no one really liked him in school. The girls tended to look through him. Despite his massive muscles, he was no prize. A crooked nose, showing signs of being broken more than once, dominated his face. His eyes were small, almost hidden by his heavy lids. His expression always appeared to be that of a sly, mean-spirited rat. Those were probably his good features, too. His hair was short enough to display his pink scalp through the blonde fuzz. The right hairstyle would have taken attention away from the nose and softened his face, not that he’d ever give the bully any grooming tips.
Poverty and puberty conspired against Caulb too. Puberty showed itself in his zit-marked face, while poverty sat in his mouth. Not only were his teeth crooked, a couple were broken and a few might be dead. At least that is what Harry Chou said, who sat by him in English. Whenever he opened his mouth, the smell of death and decay escaped.
Ethan always thought it was going to be his death whenever he saw the bully. Still, he couldn’t understand why Caulb hated him, or felt the need to stomp him out. As hard as it was to put himself in Caulb’s shoes, he tried.
While he wished he could be taller, he accepted he probably would not pass his father’s five foot nine. His parents were both reasonably attractive people and had the courtesy to pass on their well-formed features. A good haircut, braces, and dermatology visits remedied any other issues.
His ability to be quick on the comeback kept most malicious bullies at bay. They didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his posse of girls. His appeal with the females, besides reasonable looks and charm, was he listened to them. Living in a houseful of women made him more aware of the nuances of feminine communication. They often relayed messages without the exact words, or sometimes with no words at all. All Caulb knew was the females preferred Ethan. There were only two ways the Neanderthal could respond, violence and name-calling. With his limited intelligence, he figured gay was the worse slur.
Being a moronic thug was at the top of Caulb’s list. He resorted to the only thing he knew how to do, to terrorize him by showing up in isolated locations. A hulking brute of a friend would be nice to have his back. His thoughts went back to Orin.
Unlike Caulb, Orin was kind. There wasn’t a trace of malice in the young man. Their minds had touched briefly. In a moment, he knew Orin was an old soul who learned to accept the stupidity of humankind. He didn’t necessarily feel a great need to interact with them, which explained his refusal to speak.