I have had my second set of edits for Wet Paint. I have my cover for Wet Paint (done by the amazing Reese Dante!) and will be asking the bloggers of Pride to help with the unveiling.
For those who haven’t read Pitch and met Benny, this is his story. Of all the characters that I’ve ever written, he is my favorite. He is the best friend you’ll ever have. He’s got brains, he’s got brawn, and he’s got a heart as big as all outdoors.
This is my Benny (except he doesn’t have facial hair).
Benny has been Taylor Andrew’s best friend since kindergarten (it was the whole pee pants thing that started it). He’s never been one to turn away from a friend in need – though he was driven to that point once and has regretted it ever since.
Taylor and Benny also appeared in two shorts. One was for Mrs. Condit and Friends and one was for Harmony Ink during the Day of Silence. Both of those are posted below if you’d like to see them.
Day of Silence
Taylor Andrews sat in the assembly, waiting for the class president, Jackson Kern to make his way to the podium. He wasn’t sure what had prompted this unannounced gathering, but if it gave him the chance to see Jackson, he was certainly going to take it. Taylor watched as Jackson bypassed the large screen on the platform and slowly approached the microphone. He shuffled the index cards in his hand, before placing them on the inclined surface. Jackson tapped the microphone a couple of times, causing the vibrations to echo through the gymnasium. Silence fell over the crowd and all eyes turned to the star pitcher of the school’s undefeated baseball team. Jackson cleared his throat, raised his eyes toward the bleachers and started his obviously rehearsed speech.
“Good morning students and faculty. Friday, April 19th, 2013 will be the National Day of Silence. What this means is some students will remain quiet throughout the day in support of LGBT people and their allies.”
Jackson paused while murmurs rippled through the crowd. A coughed out ‘faggots’ carried across the wide gym. Laughter was heard, which only exacerbated the situation. Taylor watched wide-eyed as Jackson stood stock-still, taking it all in. Considering Jackson’s feelings about gay people, Taylor was surprised when Jackson held up his hands and called for the group to quiet down.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re talking about your friends. Your classmates. People you see every day. Is this the kind of of treatment you’d give them to their face? Or is it just funny because no one knows who you are? To be honest, I don’t find it amusing at all. What if it was your brother? Your sister? Your best friend?” Taylor watched as Jackson’s eyes roamed over the crowd. He was uncomfortable when they came to rest on him. “What if it was someone you cared about?”
Taylor shifted in his seat. Becca had already made Jackson’s feelings toward him clear and the fact that Jackson was looking at him when talking about gay people made Taylor all the more uncomfortable.
“The student council has spoken with the teachers of the school. We have been assured that anyone who wishes to participate will not be called out for it. We have cards to hand out to students who would like to support their friends. You can pick them up at the student council office. To make it perfectly clear, if a teacher asks you a question, you must answer it. Please don’t make this difficult for anyone. If they disagree with you, simply smile and carry on about your business. They are within their rights, too, but not to harass or ridicule you.”
Jackson held up a card to the audience.
“Today, I am silent. Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?” he read. He then put the card down and regarded the audience with what appeared to be pain etched on his face. Behind him, pictures began appearing on the screen.
“The statistics concerning gay teen suicide are staggering,” he said. “Every day more promising futures are cut short by self-loathing. We can’t fix it for everyone, but we can start to show that we won’t tolerate it here. By joining in the National Day of Silence, I hope to show what happens when we lose one more person, one more friend, one more family member to pain and abuse. My voice will be silent for a day, to speak for those who have been forever silenced.”
Jackson turned and gestured toward the screen. A young man with blond hair and bright blue eyes appeared. “This is James. When James was thirteen the bullies started in on him. According to his parents, James was a slight, effeminate boy, but so strong in many ways. He loved his family, his church, and his friends. It got so bad that he begged his parents to let him stay home, but wouldn’t tell them why. He was fifteen when he hanged himself. His twelve year old sister found his body.”
Another picture appeared. This time it was a young girl. Long red hair, deep-set green eyes opened wide, peering at the sky with a look of awe on her face. “This is Melissa. She was teased at school for two years when she was caught kissing another girl. Her parents kicked her out. She ended up in a foster home. Mr. and Mrs. Arkin wanted to adopt Melissa and give her a safe home to grow up in. Melissa finally couldn’t take the constant teasing. She took pills, went to sleep and never woke up. She was twelve.”
Over and over, the pictures changed. Each time Jackson gave the story of a young life, snuffed out by cruelty and hatred. When at last he reached the final picture, he turned and faced the students who sat in rapt attention. “Any one of these young people could have been someone you know. Any of them could be someone who would have been your friend. Each of them had potential that was extinguished too soon. This can’t go on. We can’t lose any more of our peers. It’s my hope that you will join me on April 19th and support those you may not even know, as well as those you have yet to discover the truth about. Thank you.”
Everyone in the gym was quiet as Jackson left the stage. There were tears streaking the faces of people close to Taylor. He looked to his best friend Benny Peters, who raised his eyebrows before he stood up and began to clap. Taylor counted his breaths, focusing on them, praying to not have a panic attack just this one time, as he joined Benny. Around them others rose, until the applause was thunderous in the enclosed gym. Taylor noted that some people didn’t stand, but they were vastly outnumbered by those who did.
As people filed out of the gym, Taylor turned to Benny. “What did you think, Benny?”
Benny smiled down at him. “I’m gonna do it, Tay. I’m doing it to support my best friend, but also because I can’t deal with the thought that someone I know might not be here tomorrow because I didn’t stand up for them today. I know how you feel about coming out, and I respect that, but I need to do this. I’m not going to ask you to join in, but know that if you do, I swear I’ll have your back.”
Taylor gave Benny a wide smile. “I’m there with you. Always was, always will be.”
Benny bumped Taylor’s shoulder with his beefy arm, causing Taylor to bounce against the lockers.
“Let’s go see about getting some of those cards, okay? I want everyone to know that I support LGBT people and that I am most definitely their ally.”
Taylor got a warm feeling throughout his body as Benny slid an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. “Why do you think he did it? Jackson’s made it really clear how he feels about gay people. Why do you think he stood up in front of everyone today and made this speech?” Taylor wondered aloud.
Benny shrugged slightly. “Maybe he’s evolving on the issue. A lot of politicians today seem to be. I’m hoping that one day we’ll be able to look back when our children ask us, ‘what the hell were they thinking back then?’ and have an answer for them. I hope that one day, a Day of Silence won’t even be necessary anymore.”
“I just hope it’s within our lifetime, Benny. We’ve already lost too many people.”
“Amen, Tay. Amen.”
Benny Meets Mrs. Condit:
Benny sat quietly on the butter soft gray fabric couch. He could see a few cat hairs and it made him smile. He loved people who really cared for their furry friends. When the woman, who said her name was Mrs. Condit, entered the room with lemonade he could smell the delicious aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and he groaned. When she smiled at him, it made him think of his Grams. She held the plate out to him, clearly offering one of the sinfully tempting treats, but he said ‘I can’t’ and shook his head, “Thank you, but I’m a vegan. I don’t eat eggs or dairy.”
The woman gave him a patient smile. “Hon, I’ve been a reviewer for years. Trust me, I did my research. They’re totally vegan. Plus,” she whispered conspiratorially, I put walnuts in them.”
Benny bit into one and moaned appreciatively as it melted in his mouth. “Oh my god, these are amazing. Do you treat everyone like this?” he asked, licking bits of crumbs and gooey chocolate from his fingers.
Mrs. Condit shook her head. “Nah, usually Lucky takes care of the interviews, but I pulled rank and got you before he did.”
“With this kind of service, Mrs. Condit, you can interview me any time!” he said with a laugh.
Mrs. Condit relaxed back onto the matching armchair, settling in with a notebook. A Maine coon cat padded through the room and leapt up onto the chair, glaring at Benny. Mrs. Condit gave the kitty a rub between the ears, which set the motor running.
Mrs. Condit thumbed the pages she had in her hand until she found the one she was looking for. “Okay. Ready?”
Benny nodded sharply, stuffing the remainder of the cookie in his mouth. “Mmfready” he mumbled, trying to swallow the cookie. Mrs. Condit went to the kitchen and came back with a glass of soy milk.
“Sorry. I should have given you that to start with.”
Benny gulped the cold beverage and gazed affectionately at Mrs. Condit. “I’m ready.”
“Hi, Benny! Welcome to the blog tour for Pitch. Don’t be nervous. We’re just here to introduce you to Mr. Parkinson’s many fans.”
“Thanks for inviting me. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.”
Question 1: Tell us a little bit about yourself: how old are you, where do you go to school, what are your hobbies, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Benny gave a mischievous grin and started counting on his fingers. “Sixteen. I go to school in Bay View, Wisconsin. Hobbies?” Benny scratched his head. “Keeping Taylor out of trouble, I guess. With my school load, I don’t really have a lot of time for much else. It’s hard enough to make the time to see Tay. As for what I want to do when I grow up, since I’ve been a little kid, I knew I wanted to do something to help people. I don’t know exactly what yet, but I know that’s where my heart is at. I get this warmth through me when I do something that benefits other people.”
Question 2: Tell us about your family. Do you and your parents get along well?
“My mom and dad are great. For the most part, anyway. They’re entirely focused on school. I have to be the best. It’s expected that I’m going to be the valedictorian. Once in a while I wish they’d let up, just a little. I think that’s why I need Taylor in my life.”
Question 3: How long have you and Taylor been friends? What makes him a great friend?
“Taylor and I have been besties since kindergarten. There’s a funny story there, but I don’t usually tell it to people. What makes him a great friend? There isn’t just one thing. Taylor is the part of my life that is like a release valve. I need that smile that he brings to me. The way his eyes light up when he talks about his crushes, the way my heart breaks when he talks about his fears. He needs me and I need him.
Question 4: What does the word “bully” mean? Why do you think some people are bullies and how does it affect you when you see someone bullied?
A bully is anyone who takes pleasure in hurting another person – either physically or emotionally. I think that people fall into two categories when it comes to being a bully. 1) They’re afraid they see something of themselves in the person they’re picking on or 2) They’re just jerks. I know I’m oversimplifying things and that there is a lot more to it than that, but that’s how it seems to me. I’d never tell anyone else this, but when I see someone being bullied, I always see them with Tay’s face. The fear and panic when they’re close to the edge. That’s my friend’s face and I’m not about to stand by and let it go on. I will step up for them.
Question 5: Does it bother you that Taylor is gay? When did you first find out that he is gay, and what did you think at the time?
Benny fingers his jacket, not meeting Mrs. Condit’s eyes for a moment. “No,” he answered quietly. “It doesn’t bother me that Tay is gay. I think I knew before he told me. It was mostly that I was just waiting for him to trust me enough to let me in. I knew he was working up to it one day when I was at his house and he was so nervous. When he finally blurted it out, I acted cool about it, but inside I was so damned happy that he finally admitted it out loud.
Question 6: You spend your summers working at Camp Care. Can you tell us what you do there?
“Camp Care is a place for abused kids to feel safe. When Tay told me he was going to be going there, it seemed like something I could do to make a difference. It was like it was calling my name. The fact that I’d be able to spend some time with my best friend just made it that much better to me. I try to engage my camper in activities, to find an outlet for their feelings. Mostly, though, I listen.”
Question 7: You are a big guy. How tall are you? Do you like to work out to keep in shape? Do you think you intimidate people just because you are so big? Why is that a good or a bad thing?
“I’m six-one. I do a lot of weightlifting in my downtime. Every night I do reps to burn off excess energy and help calm my mind before I go to sleep. Are people intimidated by me? Yeah. Definitely. It has advantages and disadvantages. A lot of people are afraid to approach me because I’m big and scary. It works to my advantage when I have to face a bully though.
Question 8: When you go away to college what do you think will be an important thing for you to do right away?
I’ve got a plan, but it really depends on someone else. I know that I’m going to be heading to Vermont for college, but so much about this revolves around decisions I hope someone else is going to make. Don’t ask me who, though. I’m not ready to talk about that.
Question 9: Taylor likes to watch his friend Jax play baseball. Is there a sport you particularly enjoy playing or watching?
Benny rolled his eyes. “Sports are frowned upon in my house.” ‘They take time away from your studies,’ Benny said in a mocking tone. “My parents are all about the grades. They have to come first. And I get it, I do. My dad had to work hard to get where he is. Nothing ever came easy for him and I don’t expect it will be easy for me, either. But I’ve got a long-term plan and I know what has to be done to get there. Of course, there’s been something added that I hadn’t considered before, so now I have to adjust a bit.”
Question 10: Do you know if Mr. Parkinson is going to write any more stories about you, Taylor, Jax, and your friend Addy? Why is it important for young people to be able to read stories about people like themselves or like people they may know?
Benny gave a sly grin. “Well, there’s talk about a story called ‘Wet Paint’. When he told me about his idea my jaw dropped. I think he might want to reconsider it, because I know that no one is going to want to read it. He seems to think they’ll enjoy it, though. As for why it’s important for people to read stories like this? They need to know they aren’t alone. The world is big and scary. When Tay finally worked up the courage to tell me he was gay, he was so sure he’d lose it all. It shouldn’t be like that. Not for anyone.”
Thank you for taking the time away from your studies to visit with us today. Best wishes for success in college, Benny.
Benny thanked Mrs. Condit for her time as she led him to the door. He looked back at the rest of the cookies, still oozing warm chocolate and gave a whimper. She patted him on the shoulder and wrapped the remainder in a paper towel for him to take back to the hotel room.
“Thank you,” he said sheepishly. “Those really are the best cookies ever. And you’re the best host ever.”
An exclusive short for Mrs. Condit where Taylor goes to find a special gift for his best friend
Taylor grumbled as the bus stopped yet again. If it wasn’t for Benny’s birthday coming up next week, there was no way he’d ever be downtown during the preparation for festival week. Too many people jammed the bus, leaving Taylor feeling somewhat claustrophobic. The man who sat next to him reeked of sweat and something Taylor was sure he didn’t want to think too hard about. At that point Taylor wished he could offer the man a bar of soap.
He could feel himself getting jittery, his hands twitched and he was unable to still them. Mercifully, the ride was nearly over. His destination was just a few more blocks up on Wisconsin Avenue. Why Benny had to have this particular item escaped him, but when his best friend wanted something, Taylor was going to do his damnedest to get it for him.
The door to the Army and Navy Surplus store was unremarkable. If you weren’t actively looking for it, you’d probably miss it. When Taylor pulled it open, the smells of musty air mixed with dozens of other scents.
“Hey kid, what can I do for you?” the clerk called out as he straightened up a display.
Taylor took a few hesitant steps toward the man, noticing the dog at the man’s heel.
“What’s the dog’s name?” Taylor asked, bending down to greet the canine companion.
“This here’s Jake,” he said, running his hand over the dog’s head. He was rewarded with a bark and a waggling tail. It was then that Taylor noted the milky eyes.
“Is he—”, Taylor fumbled for a word.
“Yeah, blind as a bat. I’m kind of his seeing eye human. Jake’s a military dog, well, at least he used to be. He was part of my brother’s unit in Kuwait. When they got attacked, Leon was killed and Jake was blinded. They retired him and I asked about adopting him. He’s old now. I’m surprised he still gets around.”
The man turned his head and wiped a tear from his eye. Taylor didn’t say anything. Jake stepped toward him, sniffing the air.
“Is it okay if I pet him?”
“Sure thing. He loves to be touched.”
Taylor ran his hands over the stiff fur. He could feel the dog leaning against him, enjoying the attention.
“Jake’s nothing but an attention whore,” the man said, giving a snorted laugh. “So what can I do for you? Pretty sure you’re not here to play with my dog.”
Taylor stood, chuckling when Jake gave a small whine and began nudging his hand.
“My friend came here a while back and found something he liked. It was some kind of silverware set. He told me it was stainless steel and—”
“Your friend’s name wouldn’t happen to be Benny, would it?” the man asked.
Taylor was stunned. He nodded his head and the man gave a hearty laugh.
“That boy is something else. I’m guessing you’re Taylor then, right?”
Taylor’s head was spinning. It was weird enough that this man knew Benny, but to know his name, too?
“Uh…yeah. How did you know?”
The clerk stepped behind the counter and reached inside one of the display cases. He pulled out a small box and placed it on the counter.
“This would be what you’re looking for.”
Taking the top off the box, Taylor looked at the compact silverware piece. It was an interesting piece, The spoon had brackets where the knife and fork slid into it. He had to admit, it was certainly unique.
“Yeah, I think this is it.”
“I can tell you for a fact it is. Benny picked it out himself. He asked me to keep it on the side because you’d be coming to get it.”
Taylor grinned. His best friend knew him way too well. Taylor paid for the set, still uncertain why Benny would want it, gave Jake a quick hug, and shook hands with the clerk.
“Tell Benny to stop back. That boy’s damned funny and he loves Jake.”
“I’m not surprised. Benny is as much an attention whore as Jake,” Taylor admitted.
Taylor had his hand on the door, ready to leave, when it was pulled open. Jackson Kern, class president, stood in the entrance. Taylor sucked in a quick breath. He moved out of the way, allowing Jackson to enter the store. Since Becca had told Taylor how Jackson felt about him, he’d done his best to stay out of the young athlete’s way. Taylor’s stomach lurched. He felt he was in a free-fall. He noted wryly that he was standing behind a packed parachute. How appropriate.
“Taylor?” Jackson said cautiously, stepping toward him.
“I was just leaving,” Taylor mumbled. “I need to get home.”
“Can you give me just a minute?”
Taylor shook his head. “No, I really have to go.”
Jackson sighed and stepped aside, allowing Taylor to get through. “I’m here for the student council. I know you volunteer a lot. Maybe you’d like to be part of the committee for this one?”
Taylor winced and he felt himself begin to sweat. The only reason he was helping the student council was so that he could see Jackson, but being this close to him and knowing his feelings about gay people, Taylor didn’t want to take the chance he’d blurt something out. The closet may be suffocating, but at least it was safe.
“Not right now. Maybe another time.”
Taylor rushed through the exit and stepped out into the bright sunlight. It took a few minutes to slow his hammering heartbeat.
The ride back home seemed to take forever. Taylor took the box from his pocket and was grateful his mind was occupied. He didn’t want to have to think about Jackson, despite the fact the young man lived in Taylor’s mind.
“Hey Tay,” Benny called out. “Where you been?”
Taylor gave an exaggerated eye roll. “Like you didn’t know. The guy at the store said you picked out your own damned gift. Why in the hell would you want this anyway?”
Taylor thrust the box at Benny who chuckled at him. “You never know when you might need something. Imagine me, your vegan best friend, at a party and I can’t eat anything they’re serving. I take out something I brought with me, grab my pocketware, and dig in. So, did you like Jake? He’s a good old boy.”
“Jackson showed up,” Taylor mumbled, ignoring Benny’s question.
The smile on Benny’s face was gone instantly. “What did he say? Are you okay?”
Taylor gave a slight shrug. “He said he was there for the student council and asked if I wanted to work on a project with him.”
“Okay, and that’s a problem because…?”
Taylor gave an exasperated huff. “Gee, I don’t know. Because he hates gay people? Because he thinks I’m—”
Benny put a hand on Taylor’s shoulder to silence him. “Look, you told me how he feels. I know how much that hurts you. Maybe you should give it a chance. If he got to know you, I’m willing to bet he’d come around. Jackson may be dumb, but he isn’t stupid. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He’s doing some amazing things for the community. You obviously see that. It’s one of the reasons you’re attracted to him, yeah? Don’t let his prejudices stop you from doing the right thing. You never know. Maybe you’ll be the one to teach him something.”
Taylor went to bed that night, thinking about what Benny had said. He couldn’t see himself talking to Jackson right now, but maybe one day. Jackson was doing some pretty great things. He obviously had a good heart. Maybe Benny was right. Perhaps he and Jackson could be friends.
And an exclusive to Mrs. Condit featuring Addy’s father and mother
Wet Paint is the upcoming sequel to Pitch. Wet Paint will be published by Harmony Ink this fall.
Daryl Dean stood near the living room. He’d told his son he was headed to bed, but he needed to see with his own eyes that he was okay after his night was disrupted by memories.
He peeked around the corner and saw Adrian give Benny a cup of hot cocoa, then settle onto the couch beside him. Benny lifted an arm and Addy curled up next to him, placing his head on Benny’s broad chest. He could hear the sigh of contentment from his son. The two talked quietly, Daryl unable to catch but a few words. He didn’t want to eavesdrop. More that he wanted to assure himself that Adrian was safe. When Benny pulled Adrian close, Daryl closed the door and headed to the bedroom where he found his wife reading a book.
“Is he okay?” Celia Dean asked, placing the book on the nightstand.
“I think so. Mr. Peters is sitting with him in the living room. He and I talked in the kitchen. Do you know that boy said he was surprised I was romantic?”
The warmth of Celia’s laugh helped relieve the tension he felt in his chest.
“What did you say?”
“I told him to remind me to tell him how I proposed.”
His wife rolled her eyes. “If memory serves, I was the one who proposed.”
Daryl smiled. They had been dating for nearly a year in college. He had been trying to work up the nerve to ask her to marry him, but every time he looked at her, he reminded himself she could do so much better. He left his dorm one afternoon to find Celia on the lawn outside with a throng of people. She stepped forward and the school band began playing ‘How About Us’ from Champaign with Celia providing the vocals. Her voice was crisp and sweet and it brought tears to Daryl’s eyes. When the song ended, she moved slowly to where he stood.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting for you to ask, and I’m afraid if I don’t do it, someone else will grab you up. Like the song says, some people are made for each other, some people can love one another for life. How about us?” She knelt on the grass and held out a ring box. “Daryl Dean, would you do me the honor?”
He couldn’t believe she was asking, but at that moment in time there nothing more important than his next words. He knelt beside her and drew her into his arms. “I thought you’d never ask,” he answered, choking back a sob. It was one of the most perfect moments in his life.
“Don’t worry,” she said softly, breaking him out of his reverie. “If Addy asks, I’ll tell him it was all your idea.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” He wiped away a tear from the beautiful memory, then inished undressing and lay down on the bed.
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” she asked, snaking an arm over his chest.
“Seeing him grow up. Knowing that he’s found someone who loves him with his whole heart and whose love he returns. Realizing he’s going to be moving on with his life and we’re going to be here waiting for him to come home.”
Daryl sighed. “I won’t deny it. But Mr. Peters isn’t your average man. He’s everything I think Addy needs in a partner. He’s intelligent. He’s caring. He’s protective. When Adrian told me he was gay, I was fearful, but the expression on Mr. Peters face, and knowing what I do about him, it told me that he’d treat our son right.”
“He’s a good man. But so are you.” Celia snuggled in closer and kissed Daryl on the cheek. “I love that you love us.”
Daryl rolled to his side and took his wife in his arms. “You and that kid are my whole life. You’ve given me everything I ever wanted and more. Yes, I’m going to be sad to see him leave the nest, but I know you’re here with me, and that makes everything okay.”
“We could always try again for another child,” she said, giving a gentle smile.
Daryl reached over and turned off the light. “I wonder if Adrian would like a brother or sister,” he said softly, pulling his wife in for a kiss.
The last thought he had before his wife overwhelmed his mind was that no matter what else, his life was still going to be amazing.