It’s a Friday night and the last customer leaves the restaurant and I lock the door behind them. I clean off the counters and mop the floors while two other coworkers wash dishes and throw out food. My dad is out back in a tiny storage trailer that he turned into his personal office. Years ago he decided to live the american dream and start up a restaurant at a truck stop. Business is steady.
“It’s payday. Got any special plans tonight?” One of the coworkers ask as I empty out the sour tea in the kitchen sink.
“Nah, I’m probably going to head home and relax.”
“What you need relaxing for? You half ass work every night.” The other coworker says. I only shrug. It’s not like dad is going to fire me.
Once I complete my tasks, I go out the back door to the trailer for my pay. Dad has his glasses on and his desk is cluttered with receipts from an old receipt machine. He stares at me for a good moment and I already know what he’s going to say.
“I shouldn’t be paying you. How are you going to keep a job if you can’t remember to do the little tasks.” He says as he hands me an envelope. I keep forgetting to take out the trash or refill the tea or check on the customers. Most of the time I’m on my phone texting guys.
“I mean I’m doing the best I can…” I say
“You best be glad you’re my son.” He pauses and stares at me more. “You heading anywhere tonight?” He always asks this question but it’s always the same for me.
“Nah, I’ll probably head home once I leave.” He continues to stare at me and I turn around awkwardly and leave. He’s probably shaking his head right now.
I walk to the front of the restaurant to my toyota pickup. Little drops of rain fall like little tiny bombs clearing away grease and sweat. A few semi’s roll in as I crank up the truck. Before I leave I check my phone and this app. I’ve met several ‘guy friends’ on this app and it might be the reason why I’m lazy with my job tasks. This one guy Max keeps messaging me and I keep responding. I shift the truck in reverse and I head back home.
The rain drops harder while on the highway and lightning zips across the horizons. Dad calls when I’m almost home to see if I’m alright and to be careful. Our house is out in the country on a dirt road, a place where you can see the night sky only except on nights like tonight. I pull into our yard carefully. The grass is knee high and thick and the ground is wet. I was supposed to cut the grass mornings ago but I’d rather sleep in. I turn the engine off and I wait for a few minutes hoping the rain will end. It doesn’t so I quickly race to the kitchen door but I’m not quick enough and I’m drenched in water and the cuff of my pants up the knee is caked in mud.
Inside the house the lights are off except for the night light above the stove. Dad should be home in roughly an hour. On the counter sits my acceptance letter to a university. Never have I seen dad so proud as when I read that letter. The first in the family he says. Mom would’ve been proud. I walk towards the end of the house to my bedroom before stopping at my sister’s room. She’s safely snoring in her bed. Her walls are a mint green with posters of anime and marvel. Above her bed is a giant poster of Chihiro staring at anyone who enters the room. She’ll be a freshman in high school next year. I want to wake her up and warn her about all the dangers of growing up. What the world really does to people. How complicated you can really become.
In my bedroom I strip my clothes and change into red flannel pajamas and a white T-shirt. I read this poetry book one of my English teachers gave me as graduation gift. There’s this poet named Wordsworth and he does this thing in his writing where he expresses meaning and memories of life in the small things of nature. It’s kind of cool actually and I see myself as a kid again riding in the backseat of mom’s car. My sister is small enough to still be in her car seat. It’s one of those days where there is the right amount of clouds in the sky to tell a story—not too many clouds that they all become one and not too few that there is no story. Just enough blue to be the perfect canvas. Cars, trees, and asphalt change as do the clouds but the clouds are never the same.
My phone buzzes and I’m back in my bedroom. Max is messaging me. He wants to do stuff tonight. I play around with him asking what he wants to do. It’s almost a weird art form—talking to guys. I have to wait until dad is back and asleep before I can attempt to do anything so I space out the timing of my messages to Max. I don’t want the conversation to burn out and most guys will ignore you if you don’t reply within a certain time frame so I’ve got to keep him holding on just long enough.
I continue reading but I stop to stare at the ceiling fan. It goes round and round while making a calming clink. Time passes with the blades of the fan chasing the one in front of it but never getting there. There’s a knock on the door.
“Yeah?” The door opens and it’s dad.
“You need to get some sleep, son. When are you going to cut the damn grass? It’s too damn high and needs to be cut.”
“I would cut it now but you know, it’s nighttime. Also it’s wet so maybe later.”
“Don’t be a smart ass with me, son.”
“Fine. I’ll do it tomorrow afternoon if it’s dry enough.” I’m off work so I might as well.
“I hope so, son. Get to bed soon.” Dad says and shuts the door.
About thirty more minutes and he’ll be in bed. I message Max some more and he finally asks the make or break question: can you host? I tell him I can sneak him in my house if he’s willing. He agrees to the idea and once my dad is asleep, I send him the address with instructions of keeping his headlights off while he’s pulling through the yard and not getting stuck in the mud on the dirt road.
I try to read some more Wordsworth but the more I try to, the more I feel guilty and I don’t know why. Closing the book I think more about Max. Does he look like what his profile picture shows? Do I look like what I present in my profile picture? What if he doesn’t like the look of me once he’s here? What if Dad wakes up and discovers a boy in my bed? These fears should be enough to kill any attempt at this but my sexuality is stubborn.
I receive a text and Max is pulling in the yard. I sneak out into the yard to greet him. It’s stopped raining but there is a lingering overcast. Max parks behind my truck. My pajamas are a bit long and I have to pull them up so they don’t get mud on them. Max looks mostly like his profile picture and I greet him with a hug. It gives me a comfort to hug these strangers when I meet them.
“How are you?” He asks.
“I’m good I guess.” I say.
“You’re cute.” He says and I say nothing. It’s cringeworthy but I hold his hand as I escort him through the house to my bedroom. Our clothes are off almost immediately after I close the bedroom door and we try our best to be quiet as we mess around. Luckily my sister and dad are hard sleepers.
“So do they know?” He asks after we finish and are lying with our arms wrapped around one another.
“Does who know what?”
“Does your family know you’re…gay?”
“Not really. Well there’s…nevermind they don’t know.”
“Sounds like there’s a story there.” He says.
“Well, my dad found stuff on the computer a year ago. He tried to talk to me about it.”
“He talked and I listened.”
“What about your mom?” He asks.
“She doesn’t know.” After that comment, the conversation shifted to our interests and our lives. Max wants to go to law school and he sounds like he has it all figured out.
I hear my dad walk into the kitchen for a midnight snack and I immediately put a finger to Max’s lips. Max starts messing with me again as I listen intently. I try to push him away but he persists. After he eats I hear my dad walk back towards my bedroom and Max is under the sheets. Max stops when he hears the footsteps outside the door. Moments pass in silence before dad retreats back to his bedroom. Max continues with messing with me and I wonder what that was about.
After finishing I escort Max out to his car in the dark, holding up my pajamas from the ground as I walk. We say goodbye and he asks if we can do this again sometime soon. I say we’ll see about that. I tell him to not get stuck on the dirt road. As I’m opening the kitchen door I hear the sound of headlights shattering, mud rising and falling on the ground, and wood cracking in the night. I close the kitchen door silently and I wait a few moments to see if my dad’s bedroom light come on. It doesn’t and I rush out through the yard not caring if mud gets on my pajamas. He’s standing beside his car which is lying in the ditch. The car took the mailbox with it. I start to shiver.
“I’m so sorry. The grass was too high and I couldn’t see in front of me and the car nose dived into the ditch.” I say nothing and I step into the ditch trenching myself in mud. I insert myself as best I can in front of the car and I try to push. “That’s not going to work.” I continue to push regardless of what Max says. I slip a few times falling into the mud. Max climbs back into the car and tries reverse out of the ditch but that only makes it worse. We spent two hours trying to get that car out of the ditch.
“I think we may need your dad’s help.” Max says at some point.
“Don’t say that.” I yell. I’m in tears and sitting in the bottom of the ditch. “Don’t fucking say that.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do then?” As soon as he asks, blue lights are flashing. A sheriff’s deputy pulls up beside us on the road. He must’ve been on patrol.
“What seems to be the problem here?” The deputy asks pointing a flashlight at the both of us. I didn’t say anything and Max explained that he was leaving his friend’s house when he accidently went into the ditch. I keep looking back at the house hoping my dad’s bedroom light doesn’t come on because of the flashing lights. The deputy examines the car and tells us that the car has to be towed. Max pleads with him asking if there is anything else that can be done but the deputy says no and calls a towing company. The deputy also tells Max that he has to pay for the mailbox and needs to find a way home.
Max sat next to me on the top of the ditch, backs against the dirt road, as we wait for the tow truck to come. My shirt and pajamas are a mess in mud. I lay back on the dirt road wanting nothing more than to sink in the mud forever. I look up at the sky and the overcast is beginning to break. Little starlights snuck through. I pray to mom for an answer. I tell her this will never happen again. That I’ll cut the grass from now on. That I’ll take my job seriously.
“How am I supposed to pay for this?” He asks in tears. I lean up for a moment to think and then I stand holding my hand out to his.
“I’ll pay for the tow truck and the mailbox. I’ll give you my paycheck and I’ll take you home.” I say.
“Yeah. It’s the least I can do right now.” The tow truck came and I continue to watch the window of my dad’s bedroom, waiting for a judgement day. The light didn’t come on that night. The deputy left with the tow truck and I drove Max thirty miles back to his house.
“What a night.” He sighs and kisses me. I wave goodbye and I drive back home. I’ll never talk to him again. Pulling into the yard, I see my dad’s bedroom light is on along with the kitchen light. There is a sliver of dawn in the horizon and the overcast is no more—broken clouds trailing off into the rising sun. At the kitchen door I hear the frying of eggs and the crack of bacon. Always early to rise. I open the door and he just stares at me. The mud on me is dry.
“I thought you weren’t going out? And what about the grass today? And why are you all covered in dirt. Jesus.” He says.
“Shit happens and things fucking change.” I tell him.
Preston Folsom is a Writing and Linguistics major with a minor in Digital Humanities at Georgia Southern University. He basically lives with his boyfriend and their cat Kenny.