There's no escaping those days when everything that can seems to go wrong, and a few things which shouldn't go wrong do also. So it's with a great deal of irritation I stop at a strip mall to pick up a prescription that was supposed to have been filled on Friday, but the pharmacy was out of what I needed. So I'm back, and irritated enough that my attention factor is not the best.
I jump into my car, intending to beat the commute traffic if I can, and throw it into reverse. There's an immediate crunching sound. I jam on the brakes and get out to see I've partially backed over a bicycle some idiot left sticking too far out of the rack. I'd love to drive on and blame the owner for his carelessness, but my raising was very strict, loving but strict. To tell my parents or anyone else a lie brought the worst punishment my parents could mete out, while the truth and a sincere apology often got me by.
There's a cop standing not far away, so I walk over to him and explain what happened.
"So what you want me to do about it?" He asks.
"I would like you to be around when I find the owner of the bike and try to explain. I'll make it right with him if I can."
"You can have him paged, I guess." He looks at the rear wheel of the bike and shakes his head. "Bet that belongs to some kid and he's gonna really be pissed, cause that bike looks new. Yeah. Guess I'd better stick around the way kids are now."
"Thank you." I go into the pharmacy and ask for the owner of the boy's black bicycle to be paged, then go back outside to stand by the cop.
A couple of minutes later a teenaged boy wearing jeans and a colorful T-shirt comes tearing out of one of the stores and screeches to a halt when he sees his bike. "Oh, shit!" He yells. "Who done that?"
The cop and I walk the few steps to him. "I did, son, and I'm very sorry. I'll make it right with you."
The kid's face is red with anger. He starts to ball up a fist, but the cop moves over by him. "No need for that. This gentleman came to me as soon as it happened, and he's willing to have your bike fixed like new. He could have just driven off and left it."
"I guess. But, damn it, I just got it last week. Worked all summer to get the money and now this."
"Let me put it in my car and I'll take to the shop where you got it and have it repaired for you. You can come along with me."
The kid's still staring at me angrily, but the cop tells him, "You can't ask him to be fairer than that, and you did leave it sticking further out than you should have. Now cool down and go with him."
"Okay, I guess."
When the kid helps me put his bike in the back of my small station wagon I notice he uses his right hand only; then I notice his left arm is gone about five inches below the elbow. I look him over good for the first time, seeing he presents a very appealing picture with his reddish-blond hair, slender build, and nice features, including a slightly tipped up nose.
"Where did you buy your bike?" I ask when we're in my car.
"The bike shop out on the highway."
"I really am sorry about this," I say. "May I ask your name?"
"I'm Ian McCray. Are you in high school?"
He nods. "Centerville. I'm a junior. I got the bike so I wouldn't have to ride the bus. I can get home in half the time."
He says no more until I pull into the parking lot at Mike's Bike Shop. He helps me lift his bike out and I carry it in.
The young man who comes over to us is apparently the one who sold Troy his bike, because he looks at the bent rear wheel then at Troy. "Man, you done trashed it this fast?"
"Hell, no. This jerk backed over it with his car."
"Please replace the wheel and anything else that's damaged. I want it to look precisely as it did when Troy bought it," I tell him.
He scratches his head. "Got the wheel and fender in stock, but the fender's gonna have to be painted. Best I can do is late day after tomorrow."
"Aw, damn, man, can't you do no better than that?" Troy asks.
"Not and make it like this gentleman wants. Got a lot of scratches to buff out and paint. Need to check the gears, too."
"I want it in perfect condition, better than new if possible," I tell him.
"May take another day then," he replies.
"Then do it."
Troy looks at me. "How'm I supposed to get home?"
"I'll be glad to take you. I'll pick you up after school on Thursday and bring you to get it. Is that okay?"
"Guess it'll have to be."
"Where do you live?" I ask when we're back in my car.
"Out Centerville Pike." He's named a lower-middle income area. "Can we stop by Hardee's on the way so I can get a burger for supper?"
"Mom's working late tonight, so there's nobody home."
"What about your dad?"
"Got killed a couple of years ago."
"Why? You didn't know him, did you?"
"No, but it's unfortunate for a young man like you to lose his father so early."
"Yeah. Things were better when he was around."
I glance at him to see him staring straight ahead, his hand wrapped around the end of his stump. He's so appealing that despite his irritation with me I'd like to know him better. "I'm alone this evening also, would you like to have dinner at the Villa with me?" The Villa is a decent restaurant I like.
"As I said, I'm alone and I owe you dinner, at least, for all the trouble I've caused you."
For the first time, he relaxes. "Sure would be better than a burger."
It's just gone six, so we have no wait for a table. The waiter speaks to me by name as he hands us menus and waits to take Troy's drink order. I eat here often enough he knows I want a campari and soda with a twist.
"Troy, would you like something to drink before?" I ask.
"Ah … tomato juice?"
"Fix him a Virgin Mary, light." I tell our waiter.
"Yes, Mr. McCray."
"What's a Virgin Mary?" Troy asks.
I smile at him. "A Bloody Mary without the booze."
"Oh." Troy opens his menu, balancing it neatly between his hand and stump, and looks at the dinner selections before looking back at me.
"What are you having?" He asks, obviously looking for a guide to price.
I appreciate his thoughtfulness and the steaks here are excellent, so I reply, "The sixteen ounce sirloin looks very tempting." It does because I only had a sandwich for lunch.
His eyes widen a little and he nods. Obviously he thought I'd go for the cheapest thing. When the waiter brings our drinks, I order steak for us both, though Troy opts for fries instead of a baked potato.
"How's school?" I ask to begin a conversation, because Troy seems a bit shy all of a sudden.
"Okay, I guess. I'm gonna have a tough time in English."
"We've gotta write a term paper and it's gotta be typed, with footnotes and all that."
"Have you started writing it?"
"Not yet, but I've got most of my research done. The hard part's gonna be typing it cause I'm so slow."
"Do you use a computer?"
"A little. I've got dad's old one, but the printer don't work very well and the teacher told us we couldn't use a dot matrix. That's all I've got."
I'm not about to miss a chance to see this appealing young man again. "Is it easier for you to write your paper in long-hand?"
"Yeah, but it's gotta be typed, and I don't know how to do footnotes and all that."
If you will write your paper exactly as it should appear when typed, I'll do it for you. My word processing program does footnotes and other things for a formal paper automatically. I have a laser printer."
His mouth drops open. "You'd … you'd do that? Why?"
"First of all, I've put you to quite a bit of inconvenience by wrecking your bike. I would also like to get to know you better. You're a very attractive young man."
He ducks his head and his cheeks pink. "Aw, I'm nothing special."
"I rather think you are."
He looks up at me with a slight smile. "Sure you got good eyesight?"
"It's very good. Why?"
"This." He holds up his stump.
"Is that supposed to make a difference?" To me it damn well does, but I'm not taking the chance.
"Naa, but it seems to make some folks uncomfortable."
Now that I've had a good look, I can see he was born without it. I'm about to reply when the waiter sets the sizzling platters in front of us.
"Wow!" Troy says softly, then digs in his pocket and brings out a broad rubber band which he stretches over the lower part of his stump, then slips the handle of his fork under it. Using the fork to steady his tender steak, he cuts it.
"Neat trick," I say when he finishes and takes the fork in his hand to eat.
"You don't have a prosthesis?"
He shakes his head. "Don't need one. Learned to use what I've got and my dad taught me a lot of tricks like this."
"You were lucky to have such a smart father."
"Yeah. That's why I miss him so much. Mom's great, but we don't have much time together cause she works."
I start to eat before my dinner gets cold and Troy's eating rapidly.
I can't finish the potato, but Troy has devoured everything on his platter. "Dessert?" I ask.
"Please. That was sure good."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it." He orders apple pie with ice cream while I have another cup of coffee.
"That was great, Mr. McCray. Thanks a lot."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've certainly enjoyed your company, but if I don't get you home your mother will think you've been kidnapped." I tell him as I'm driving out of the parking lot.
He laughs. "Naa. Who'd want me? She won't be home until eight-thirty."
With the radio going, he doesn't say anything until he directs me to his home. The house I stop before is a typical two bedroom, one bath, tract house. While the others in the neighborhood show signs of age and lack of maintenance this one is painted and trim.
I hold out my hand. "I'm sorry I damaged your bike, Troy. I'll meet you at school Thursday afternoon and take you to get it."
He gives me a firm shake. "Forget it. Being with you and dinner and all, it's almost worth it. You're a nice guy, Mr. McCray."
"Thank you. I'll see you Thursday, then. And get to work on that term paper."
Being self-employed makes it easier for me to take the late afternoon off to pick Troy up at school. I'm a little surprised when it takes him only a moment to recognize my car and come running over.
"Hi, Mr. McCray," he says getting in.
"Hi, yourself. Let's go see if your bike's ready."
He grins. "Yeah. Riding the school bus is getting old."
"Have you been working on your paper?"
"Almost done. I think I can finish it tomorrow, and then maybe you could type it over the weekend."
It's another surprise to have this young man be so considerate of my time. "That would good. Is it possible for you to come to my house Saturday morning? I'd like you present when I start typing to answer any questions I might have."
"I'd like that. If my bike's fixed I can ride it."
"Good. Come about ten. I like to sleep late on weekends."
"So do I, if mom doesn't have anything for me to do."
Troy looks amazed when the young man wheels his bike in from the shop. It does look better than new. "I didn't have a light on it," Troy exclaims, pointing to the light mounted on the steering post.
The man points to me. "He told me to put the best one I had on it."
Troy looks at me. "You did? Why?"
"Because you need one at night. Take it out in the lot and try it out to see if it meets with your approval."
After he's ridden it around the parking lot a couple of times he brakes in front of me. "Oh, man, it's better than when I got it. The gears are a lot smoother."
"I found a manufacturing defect when I was working on it, so I replaced the entire shifter assembly. It's covered under the warrenty."
The bill, with the new light, comes to a little over a hundred and fifty dollars, but I can't complain because the work has been perfectly done and I don't have to pay for the gear mechanism as I expected.
"Thank you for doing such a nice job," I tell the man as I pay him.
"I'm glad you brought it in. That bad shifter could have jammed up any time and Troy might have been hurt if he was riding fast."
He helps me get it in my car. "Well, Troy, I'm sorry I damaged your bike, but …"
"I heard what he said, so it's good it got fixed. I like to ride fast."
"I hope I'm forgiven, then."
"Oh, man, if it had to happen I'm glad it was you. You've really been great getting it fixed and all. I like you a lot."
"I enjoy your company, also."
I help him get his bike out at his house, and hand him a business card. "Here's my address and phone number, Troy. I'll see you about ten on Saturday. If anything comes up, call and let me know."
His smile is beautiful. "I will, and thanks, Mr. McCray."
Holding his bike up with his hand, he lifts his stump in a wave as I drive away. I'm so entranced at his casual use of it, I almost miss my turn at the corner. What a beautiful sight to remember!
My doorbell rings at a quarter of ten Saturday morning. I open the door to see Troy as I expected.
"Come in, Troy. I was just having a second cup of coffee. Would you like one?"
"Thanks, but I'd rather have something cold if you have it. I rode fast coming over, so I'm hot."
"Tomato juice okay? I have that."
"Troy, will you do me a favor?" I ask as I set the glass in front of him.
"Call me Ian. I'm not that much older than you and I like to think there's a chance we might become friends."
"Sure, Ian. I'm glad you want to be my friend."
"Good. Let's go in my office and let me see what you've got."
He stops in the doorway and looks at my large modular work station and three computers with surprise. "Gee, why've you got three?"
"Two of them are strictly for work and connect with the stock market computers. I'm an investment counselor, so I need instant access." I turn to the computer set a little distance from the others. "This is for my personal use."
"What do you do?"
"I advise people how to invest their money according to their future goals."
"They can't do that for themselves?"
"Most don't know how to read market trends, especially if the market is volatile as it has been for the past few months. I advise them when to move their investments from stocks into bonds, and so forth."
"That's how people make money in the market?"
"One of the ways, though a lot of people are trying it on their own now." I smile. "I think I do a better job than they can. I've made a fair amount of money on my own in the market."
"Like if I gave you some money, you could make more for me?"
"That's the idea. Of course it takes several thousand dollars to start."
"What about some ads I've seen saying you can buy stock with just a little, like two or three hundred?"
"Those are mutual funds. The managers take small amounts, pool them together and buy different types of stock and bonds."
"Oh. You don't do that?"
"No. I don't deal much because my service is mostly advisory. I do have a few clients who want me to do the buying and selling for them. In that case I deal with large sums because my dealing is mostly direct to a brokerage house."
He shakes his head. "Too much for me. I wish there was some way I could get more than the little the bank pays. Could sure use the money."
"A bank is the proper place for you, Troy. The market is risky. The rule is never invest more than you can stand to lose."
"Very much so. Where's your paper?"
"Here." He digs in the backpack he brought in and hands me a thick pile of notebook paper. Unlike my scrawl, his penmanship is clear and easy to read. The last two pages are the bibliography, so I flip back through the pages to see he's put footnotes on the bottom of the page the way I was taught.
I bring up my personal computer and begin to type. Fortunately, I type swiftly and with the program automatically inserting superscript numbers and adding the footnotes to the bottom of the page it goes faster than I expected. Troy sits by me reading from the screen silently. There are only a few times I have to question something he's done. A little past one, I save everything and suspend the computer.
"I'm getting a little hungry. Let's go get something to eat, then I'll finish up and you can proofread it. It'll be easier if you do it today, so I can make corrections while you're here."
"Where would you like to go?"
He shrugs. "I guess a burger is okay."
"I have a better idea. I eat dinner at noon on Saturday, so let's go to my favorite place. My treat."
"I can't. You've spent too much on me already."
I stand up and pat him on the shoulder. "I hate to eat alone and I like you, so come along."
He smiles. "Mom's gonna be pissed if she finds out."
"Didn't she ask about your bike?"
"Naa. She's asleep when I leave for school and at work when I get home, so she doesn't know."
I take him to a small restaurant on the waterfront and order my favorite seafood platter for both of us, pleased when he seems to enjoy it as much as I.
When we're back home, I type the last four pages, let the computer arrange the bibliography, and print it out. As soon as I've checked each page for typing errors, especially in punctuation, I hand them to Troy to check against the original.
It's near five when he's finally finished. "Oh, wow, man, this is great. All I need is a binder and I'll be done."
I reach over and take the pages from where he's laid them. "No problem." I have a small binding machine I use for proposals to add a professional look. It takes only a few moments and I hand him the neatly bound paper. "Let me do a title for the cover." I have to ask his last name.
A few seconds later my printer spews out an adhesive label with the title and 'by Troy Andrews' on it. I affix it to the cover and hand it to him with a wink. "Looks professional now."
I'm surprised when he lays it aside and hugs me. "Thanks, Ian. I bet this is going to be the best paper my teacher gets."
I return his hug just as the phone rings. "I hope so. I want to know what you get on it," I say before answering the phone. "McCray Investment Counseling."
I hear a slight gasp, then a voice says, "I must have the wrong number. I was looking for Troy Andrews. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"He's here. Just a moment." I hand the phone to Troy.
"Yeah? … Oh, hi, mom." He listens intently, then says, "I'll tell you when I get home. Be there quick as I can."
"Is something the matter?" I ask as I hang the phone up.
"No. I left your number so she could get me if she wanted. I forgot she wanted me to go to the store with her. She's been, but I gotta get home for supper."
"Wait a moment while I put everything on a floppy for you, then I'll take you home."
"Gee, thanks, Ian."
I pull up in front of his house and help him take his bike out. "Troy, I think it might be good if I met your mother if you think that's possible."
"Sure. She always wants to meet my friends, not that I have any. Come on in."
He opens the door and yells, "Mom?"
"In the kitchen."
I follow him through the small living room to the kitchen door after he's dropped his backpack and taken out his paper.
"Mom, look what Ian did for me."
She turns from the stove. Troy's mother would be a very attractive woman if she didn't look so tired and had on better clothes. Her apron is spattered with tomato sauce. She looks at me in utter surprise.
"Oh, dear, I didn't expect Troy would have anyone with him. I'm a mess."
"That's Ian, mom." He holds out his paper. "Look at how he fixed my term paper for me."
She wipes her hands on her apron and takes the binder flipping through it, then looks at me. "This looks very professional, but I'm sorry Troy bothered you."
"Ian McCray, Mrs. Andrews. I was delighted to help Troy. He's a fine young man."
"You ought to see his computers, mom. He's got three, and the one he used did all the footnotes and things automatically. It was awesome. We had dinner at that restaurant on the waterfront. Ian's cool."
She stirs the pot of sauce and turns the heat down, then offers me a glass of wine. I can tell she's curious about me, so I accept and we sit down at the table.
"I'm very grateful for your helping Troy with his paper. It would have taken him a long time to do it on his computer, and I was worried about how he could get it done on a decent printer, but you must let him pay you for the binder and all the extra things you did."
"Not at all. I do a fair number of proposals, so I have a machine. It only takes a few seconds. I hope his teacher accepts it. I read while I was typing and he did a nice job."
She smiles. "Troy's a good student. I just wish he had some friends his age."
"He's a fine young man. I've enjoyed our time together."
"How did you meet my son, Mr. McCray?"
"Ian, please. I accidentally damaged his bicycle at the mall earlier this week."
"Oh, dear. He worked so hard to get it."
"It's okay, mom. Ian had it repaired for me and it's even better than new. The guy at Mike's said it was dangerous for me to ride and he didn't know it when I bought it. He put in a whole new set of gears and it's great. Better than when it was new. Ian even got me a headlight for it."
"I'm glad you found that out before you got hurt. Did you thank Mr. McCray?"
"Yeah. He even took me to the Villa for dinner that night. I had a fantastic steak."
She looks at me with surprise.
"It was the least I could do." I tell her how I backed over his bike. "But now I'm glad it happened, because the defect could have caused Troy to be injured, perhaps seriously, and it gave me the opportunity to get to know him."
"Thank you. I'm relieved it was someone as nice as you. Most people would have just left."
"I couldn't, especially after I saw Troy. You must be proud to have a son like him."
"I am. He's a good boy, but he needs a man to look up to. You've been so kind even though you must be very busy."
"Actually, not all that much. I spend most of my time watching the stock market and trying to predict trends for my clients. It's not that demanding after the market closes."
"But you must have family responsibilities as well."
I shake my head. "I'm not married and my parents died a couple of years ago. I'm afraid I don't have many friends either, so Troy has been a pleasant diversion."
She gets up to stir the sauce again. "Mom, can Ian eat with us?"
She looks at me. "Of course, if you'd like to. I'm afraid it's nothing more than spaghetti and a salad."
"Sounds delightful if it's no extra work for you."
She smiles. "Please stay, there's plenty. Troy, set the table."
"'Kay." He smiles all the while, making me feel happy I've accepted.
Simple as it is, the dinner is delicious and the conversation light. I find out that she is a surgical nurse at the hospital, and obviously proud of the way Troy takes care of himself when she's working and what he does around the house. I take my leave soon after we've eaten, reminding Troy that I want to know the grade he gets on his paper.
It's the next Friday afternoon that Troy comes by the house. When I open the door he looks close to tears. "Come in, Troy. What's happened?"
He hugs me desperately, and I see a tear trickle down his cheek. "Sit down. Want a Coke?"
He nods, so I get him one and a cup of coffee for myself. When I'm seated he hands me his paper with a big A+ in red across the top. I smile at him. "I'm glad your teacher liked your paper, but why are you upset?"
He finally looks at me and sniffles. "She held it up in class and told everybody it was the best paper she had ever gotten. She said it was so nicely done it would be accepted by any college."
"That's quite a compliment. You should be happy."
"One of the guys said it wouldn't be so pretty if I wasn't a fag, and everybody laughed at me. Then another guy said who wants a one-armed fag around."
"Oh. Are you gay, Troy?"
"I … I tried to keep it a secret. I don't know how they found out." He looks at me tearfully. "Do you hate me too?"
I go over and sit beside him, putting my arm around his shoulders and hugging him to me. "You're a great guy, Troy, and I like you a lot."
He looks at me with hope. "You sure?"
"As I've ever been about anything. You're a very beautiful young man."
He throws himself into my arms hugging me tightly. "I love you, Ian. Hold me."
There's nothing I want more, so I settle back and wrap my arms around him. He lays his head back on my shoulder. After a short while I reach up and rub his stump.
"Why?" He murmers sleepily.
"Because it's so beautiful. It makes you special to me. Do you mind?"
Within a few minutes he's asleep. I gently dislodge myself, laying him down and covering him with an afghan. I need to get back to work, but I look down at him thinking it terrible that he's discriminated against simply because he's gay, knowing from my own experience his tormentors are likely still unsure of their own orientation.
Troy is so sound asleep the chirping of my phone doesn't disturb him. It's his mother wondering if he's with me. I tell her he is and sleeping on my sofa. She doesn't seem disturbed, merely asking me to wake him and send him home. The market has closed so I'll take him.
I lean down and lift his stump, kissing it on the end. He smiles slightly, but doesn't awaken, so I brush aside a mop of hair and kiss him on the forehead. This time he rouses. "Wha … Oh, Ian. Did I go to sleep?"
I nod. "It's almost six. Your mother called and wants you home. I'll take you."
He sits up and gives me his killer smile. "I had the best dream."
"I dreamed I had all my arm and you were holding my hand as we walked along together. You kept telling me how much you loved me, and then you kissed me."
"I do love you, Troy. And the kiss wasn't a dream."
He jumps up and hugs me. "I love you, Ian," he says and kisses me.
"Does your mother know you're gay?"
"Yeah. She's okay about it. It's just those asshole jocks at school."
I sigh in relief. "I know she's going to ask why you were at the house, so do you mind if I tell her?"
"Not really. I just hate her having to know I'm putting up with some shit at school."
"I doubt that's something she doesn't already know. Being a nurse she probably understands better than anyone who isn't gay. My only concern is what she thinks of someone my age being interested in you."
He smiles. "We already talked about that. She knows I like you and you like me. She's cool."
"You're what? Sixteen? That makes me ten years older than you."
"So? That's legal age in this state. Anyway I'm almost seventeen. You can't get in no trouble even if we was to make love." He reaches over and strokes my arm. "That's why my dream was so good."
I go in with him. His mother is fixing their dinner. "Could I speak with you for a few minutes," I ask her.
"Of course. This can wait." She turns off the burner and pours coffee for both of us, then sits down.
"Troy, would you excuse us for a few minutes? I want to talk to your mother privately."
"'Kay. I gotta clean up my room."
"What's happened?" She asks after Troy's gone.
"He got hassled in school because his teacher praised his term paper. He was so upset he came to me for comfort. You do know he's gay?"
She nods. "I was afraid this might happen when he told me two years ago."
"I'm sorry he's been outed so precipitously, but I'm glad he came to me instead of being alone. I'll be quite honest with you, Mrs. Andrews; I'm gay. I've never acted on my feelings nor would I with someone as young as Troy, though I find him very appealing."
"Thank you for your honesty. Now I'll be equally as honest with you. I was hoping you might be gay when we talked last week. Troy needs a male role model and one who's gay to relate to. If you are willing to offer him that kind of guidance, I'm grateful."
"I think the world of Troy and I would never hurt him, but there's a problem. He's told me he loves me and he dreamed we were lovers while he was asleep this afternoon."
"Does that disturb you? Kids his age often have fantasies."
"It disturbs me primarily because of the difference in our ages. I find him very appealing, and even more so because of his arm."
I'm floored when she smiles. "All the more reason I'm thankful you are who you are. He's never known what it is to have his arm and thinks nothing of it, but you know how cruel some children can be. Add that to being gay and you can understand how rough it's been for him at times. He told me you make him feel good about himself."
"I try. He's a sweet young man, thoughtful and considerate."
"All I can say is be there for him whenever he needs you. If he wants to go further than you feel comfortable with, just tell him no. He'll understand, but please be gentle in rejecting him."
"You're a most exceptional mother, Mrs. Andrews. By now most would have the cops at the door."
"You're an adult with experience my son needs to learn. I know now you won't harm him. As I've said, be the man in his life. He needs one so badly just now."
"I'll be proud to help Troy in any way I can. My house is his also. With school it's seldom that he'll be interrupting me during my business hours."
"Thank you for that." She goes to the door and calls Troy.
He comes in with a laundry bag he takes into the small utility room before coming back to sit down.
"Troy, Mr. McCray has been very open and honest with me and I approve of him very much. He's agreed that if anything happens to you while you're in school or I'm working you are to go to him."
He jumps up and kisses his mother, then me. "That's great. I was scared you wouldn't let me see him again."
"You have the mother all young men should have, Troy. We both want the best for you." I tell him. "Since you got such a good grade on your paper, why don't you and your mother get changed and let me take you to dinner."
"Oh, I couldn't," she says.
"Please, if you haven't something more important to do."
"Yeah! Come on, mom. You don't ever go out and it'll do you good."
"Well, if you're sure."
"I am," I say.
Though she still looks tired, she's transformed into the lovely woman I knew she would be. Troy has on a long sleeve shirt, but he's rolled the left sleeve up just above the elbow to free his stump. His Puckish look is entrancing. I'm proud of both of them.
He freely uses his stump at dinner, despite the looks he gets from others. She looks at him proudly while I enjoy the sight.
"This was such a wonderful treat, Mr. McCray," she says when I stop in front of their house. "Thank you so much."
"Thank you for the lovely dinner I had with you and Troy, and for sharing your beautiful son with me."
"No, I must thank you for caring about him."
"My pleasure always."
The evening has been so pleasant I can't help but think of what Troy said earlier about needing money. It's obvious he and his mother are getting by, but not much more. When Troy drops by a few days later, I ask him, "Troy, this is really none of my business, but do you have as much as a hundred dollars in the bank?"
"Got nearly three hundred saved up, even after paying for my bike," he says proudly. "I made it cutting grass in the summer. Why?"
"Are you willing to risk a hundred of it in the market?"
"How? You said you didn't do no trading 'cept for big bucks."
"I foresee a rise in technology stocks. I'm going to put in a little money of my own, and I could combine yours with mine, if you'd like."
"Is it safe?" he asks with a worried look.
"Not one-hundred percent, but I don't play fast and free with my own money and I'd certainly never do it with yours."
He looks at me thoughtfully for a moment, then slowly says, "If you're putting your own money in it, I trust you."
I hug him. "I don't think you'll be sorry. But if it goes well, don't expect to make a lot fast every time. It just doesn't happen that way often."
"Hey, I'll be glad for anything better than the bank pays. When you need it?"
"Leave it in the bank and owe me." I don't tell him I'll take any loss because I don't want him thinking the market is no risk, but what his account will show doesn't have to be reality, I can always correct it at tax time. "Come watch what I do."
I take him over to the computer on which I keep my client accounts and open one in his name, showing an initial deposit of one-hundred dollars, linking it to my personal account.
"What happens now?" He asks.
"Let's see how the stocks are doing." I pull up the quotes of the stocks I'm considering and see they've had a mild gain. It's time to buy, so I look at my personal account and decide to go with ten-thousand. I send a buy order for ten-thousand one-hundred to the broker for the stock I'm certain is due for big gains because of a new computer chip the company has just developed. As soon as I receive confirmation, I close the program.
"That's all?" Troy asks.
I smile and hug him. "Except for the waiting. I'll check on it every morning and night to see how it's doing. When I think it's reaching the top, I'll sell."
"How do you know when to do that?"
I tap my forehead. "Experience. There are a lot of little signs I watch for."
"Gee, you make money that easy?"
"It looks easy, but there's a lot of work goes into it if one is prudent, and I like to think I am. If I weren't, I would lose all my clients. They want to make money, not lose it, just like you."
Troy suddenly hugs me. "Make me lots, Ian, so I can help mom out."
I'm glad he's clinging to me so he can't see the tears that start to my eyes. He hasn't said a thing about what he'd use the money for except for this.
"I'll try my best, Troy. You're a great guy."
He backs away. "Our business teacher has us picking stocks from the paper so we can see how it works. Wait'll he hears I'm playing it for real."
"Let me give you the ticker acronym for this stock so you can follow it in the paper every day." I jot it down and hand him the note.
He's grinning when he drops by the next afternoon. His teacher is both surprised and pleased that he's getting some real experience and several of his classmates have asked if they can get in on the deal, but he told them no. I'm glad the attention to him has turned positive, so I take a few minutes to explain what the five point rise means in terms of money.
Troy often stops by for a few minutes after school, always careful not to interrupt if I'm busy. But every parting is accompanied by a kiss. I'm relieved the incident over the paper at school was apparently nothing more than momentary jealousy, for he says he's not been hassled as much as before. One other boy has apparently sought him out for he speaks frequently of his new friend.
One afternoon he brings him by the house. The boy looks like a jock to me, because he's husky enough. He's rather plain looking compared to the handsome Troy, and soft spoken.
"This is Connor, Ian."
"Hello, Connor. Nice to meet you."
"You, too, sir." He doesn't say anything else, but looks at my computers enviously while Troy is raiding my fridge for Cokes. When he starts to say something then quickly closes his mouth, Troy says, "It's okay. Ian's gay, too."
"Yes, but don't go spreading it around. I would lose some of my clients if they knew."
Connor nods. "I know what you mean. It's hell, ain't it?"
"I never even noticed Troy before that day in class. If Johnny hadn't said he was gay I wouldn't ever known and I'd of missed knowing a great guy." He grabs Troy by the stump and pulls him into a kiss.
Troy's grinning when they break. "He likes my arm as much as you, Ian."
"Good. You guys come over here, I want to show you something."
They gather around me, Troy's stump resting on my shoulder as I pull up a CD I got from the wonderful old Garden when it closed.
"Wow!" They both exclaim at the same time. Then Connor points to one LBE I've always admired. "He's almost cute as you, Troy."
"See if I let you play with my arm any more, you dumb jock," Troy teases.
Connor kisses him again. "I said almost. You're a lot better cause you're right here and I know you."
"Are you a football player, Connor?" I ask.
"Yes, sir. Troy's coming to the game Friday night, cause I'm in the starting line up."
"The other team members don't give you any grief because you hang around with Troy?"
"Let 'em try," he boasts. "I already stomped one ass and I'll stomp some more if they say anything. I love this guy."
"Then you're out?"
"Hell, no, but they think Troy's helping me with my homework. Just wish we had some place where nobody from school might see us. My mom's always home, and Troy's is sometimes. Troy says she knows, but I feel funny about doing anything with a woman in the house."
I look at Troy. "You guys really love each other?"
Troy looks at Connor with admiration and rubs his stump up and down Connor's well built chest. I see Connor shiver in delight, then Troy grins at me. "Never fails to turn him on." I can understand that, just watching them turns me on.
"Damn right," Connor growls before kissing Troy again.
"Okay, guys. Troy, you know where the guest room is. If you want privacy, use it, but I'm going to make you wash the sheets if you mess them up."
Troy kisses me, but Connor is staring at me. "You mean …"
I nod. "This is Troy's second home. The only thing off limits are my computers."
"Cool, man! Troy told me you was okay."
"We gotta go," Troy tells him.
"'Kay. I know you had them pictures on a CD, but is there any on the net?"
"Several sites. For some of them you'll need an invitation." His face falls. "But I'll be glad to send you one if you have e-mail."
"Cool." He grabs my scratch pad and writes it down. "There was a one-legged guy where I used to go to school, but he was straight. I sure did like looking at him," he wraps his arm around Troy, "but it's a lot nicer having a stud like Troy in my arms."
"See you guys later then," I say with a grin.
The two of them come frequently, always quiet if I'm working, willing to sit down and talk if I'm not. They always leave Troy's room neat, and wash the sheets weekly, sometimes more often. They're unrestrained in their affection for each other in my presence, but on the few occasions I take them out to dinner both are perfectly behaved. My opinion of Connor rises considerably.
My phone rings one afternoon. Troy's mother making a request that surprises me. Because she has to be out of town over the weekend, she tells me Troy will likely want to stay with me. I tell her he's perfectly welcome. I expect him to show up with Connor in tow, using his chance to have Connor with him for the weekend, but Friday afternoon Troy turn up at my door alone.
"Can I stay with you?"
"Of course. I thought Connor might be with you."
"The game's out of town."
"I see. Put your things in your room and we'll go out to eat later."
He hugs me. "Thanks, Ian."
When he's put his things away, I call him over to my computer. "I have something to show you. The stock peaked out yesterday, so I sold. Want to see how you did?"
"Yeah, man!" He leans over my right shoulder, his stump on my left. I can't resist reaching up and patting it while his account is coming up.
I hear his sharp intake of breath when he sees the figure; his one-hundred has become six-hundred. His arms go around my neck, almost strangling me. "It's only been three weeks," he gasps.
"It was a fast market. It may rise a little for the next day or two, but then it's going to settle out."
"Why'd you sell, then?"
"Safety." I shrug. "So we miss a few bucks, it won't be many and this is safe."
"Can we get on another?"
"There's nothing looks really good right now. If I find something I like I'll invest again." I don't show him that I've made a cool sixty-thousand on a ten-thousand investment. To do that would encourage him to greed, and I want my student to be cautious.
"Damn. I was hoping for a lot more. Mom needs a lot of things, and her car is about to fall apart. That's why she won't let me drive it."
I pull him around to sit on my lap, something I limit because he seems to love it and it's hard for me to resist the temptation to take it further. He always sits so that his stump circles my neck which I enjoy. "It takes a lot to make a fortune overnight. Despite all the stories you hear about instant millionaires, it just doesn't work that way."
"That's what our teacher tells us."
"He's right. Now, if I find another stock I think is going to do well what do you want me to do?"
"Save out a hundred and go with the rest. If I lose I'm not out nothing."
I hug him. "You're a lot more sensible than a couple of my clients. I'm proud of you. Go get ready to eat."
While we're eating at the Villa I see Troy look toward the door, then say, That's Connor's dad and mom."
I turn to see one of my clients. He spots us and heads this way. After shaking hands with me, he nods to Troy.
"McCray, do you know this young man?"
"Rather well. He's spending this weekend with me."
"Connor comes with him sometimes, doesn't he?"
"Yes. He's very pleasant."
"Good. Since he's been associating with Troy his grades have improved. He told me Troy makes him study, and he's very impressed with you, McCray. I just want to say I'm pleased at the influence you're having on him."
"Thank you. It's a pleasure to have two such fine young men around."
"Wow. I didn't think he liked me," Troy says after Connor's father moves on.
"He's always kind of gruff and he yells at Connor sometimes. If he knew, I bet he'd kill us both."
"Then be very careful."
"That's why we can't go to Connor's. I'm glad you're so cool."
Back at home Troy and I watch a movie he wants to see then go to bed. I'm almost asleep when Troy climbs in my bed and snuggles up against me as I've always dreamed he would. I put my arms around him and he's asleep in moments, leaving me feeling the trust he places in me.
The next afternoon I take him to the mall to look for a new CD he wants, not missing the chance to tease him a little. "Going to spend some of your new found wealth?"
"One CD ain't going to break me," he says, then grins. "Naa, I'm wanting a lot more so I can get those things I told you about."
"I'll help you all I can, because you're so unselfish."
"Mom works hard, and I can't get a good paying job with just one arm and school and all." I'm shocked when he hugs me in the middle of the mall. "Thanks for helping me, Ian."
"My pleasure," I say sincerely, then squeeze his shoulder. "I'm glad I backed over your bicycle, it got me a great friend."
"Yeah. I'm glad you did, too. I wouldn't have ever known you if you hadn't."
He finds his CD and we go back to the house. He asks if he can play it, but I'm sorry I agreed. I've never heard such a racket. It certainly doesn't approach my idea of music, but he looks delighted. What the hell, I decide, I love him and I want such a beautiful kid to be happy.
I find another stock that looks fairly promising and cautiously invest a hundred of his money and a thousand of mine. Within two days it bombs. I shrug and take the loss, but a little fast day trading will cover it. It's a good buy I'm waiting for. Troy asks if I've done any trading. I tell him I was thinking about the stock that bombed but didn't.
He grins. "I saw it in the paper and almost asked you to buy it for me, but it went to hell fast."
"That it did. That's why I'm cautious on unknowns, but if they're good it's the way to make money fast."
"Got any new ones in mind?"
"Not now. Remember I told you they don't come along that often."
"Oh. But if you see a good one …"
"I'll be all over it, don't worry."
Troy and Connor come by twice a week or more, but Troy never mentions the market if Connor's present, so he seldom asks me how his account is doing. Mid-October I find potentially hot prospects in three new stocks. Troy now has about fifteen hundred in his account and I've made quite a bit personally, so I decide to go for the gold. I put ten-thousand of my personal gain into his account, then buy a couple of blocks in all three with our combined assets. That's a savings right there by not having to deal with a small-lot trader.
By the end of the month one of the stocks has dropped more than I like, so I sell and add the yield to the other two, which suddenly take off. I find myself saying, wow, just as Troy did. When the market approaches peak as best I can tell, because it's been volatile for a couple of weeks, I decide to pull out. It continues to rise for a few days, making me wonder if I've been premature, then, with the announcement of an increase in interest rates by the Fed, the sell-off begins. I wipe my brow with relief, and decide my approach to the market is as sound as I maintain it is to my clients.
Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Troy comes by alone. I can tell he wants something.
"Ian, mom and I want you to eat with us tomorrow. It's Thanksgiving."
I hug him. "That's very kind of you and your mom. Thank you."
"How much have I got? I mean Christmas is coming up and I want to get mom something really nice."
I feign ignorance. "I think you have a little in your account. Come on and let's see."
He sits on my lap and watches me bring up his account. I'm glad he's on my lap, because I need to grab him to keep him from slipping off. I feel the end of his stump dig into the side of my neck as he stares at the screen without saying anything. With the ten-thousand I added to the trade his balance is sixty-three thousand and change. I feel him begin to shake then my arms are getting wet. He's sobbing silently.
"Don't cry, Troy."
He turns enough to hug me tightly until he's composed enough to speak. "H… how?" He gasps out.
"Let's just say I took a flier on a few stocks I wouldn't have ordinarily touched and they did well." He'll never know about the ten-thousand I added to his which made the difference. I'm suddenly being kissed hungrily. I hold him tightly and reach back to stroke his stump; my reward and worth every penny.
He finally pulls back. "I ain't believing this; it's magic."
"Not magic, just good sense and training."
"How do I get the money to buy mom something?"
"Write a check." I open my desk drawer and hand him the checkbook for the account I sent up for him.
He takes it and kisses me again. "I'm gonna get mom a new car. Come with me, Ian."
"I'd love to, but will you wait until dinner tomorrow to tell her about the money? I'd like to be with you."
He hugs me again. "Yeah. I wouldn't have it if it weren't for you."
"I know you want to surprise her, but it would be best to let her pick out the car she wants. If she wants me to go with you to get it, I'll be glad to. I might be able to get a better deal."
"It's not fair, but car dealers try to pull fast ones on women. They sometimes think a woman doesn't know as much about cars as men."
"Oh. Tell mom that. Dad bought the one we have now."
He looks at me and starts to cry again. "You do so much for me, Ian, and I ain't got no way to say how much I love you." He kisses me and says, "Won't you take me to bed so I can show you how much I love you?"
"I love you, Troy, and I'd love to go to bed with you, but it isn't right. Your hugs and company are all I need, especially since you let me love your stump."
He holds it out. "You make me glad my arm's like this, Ian."
I stroke it a bit then kiss it on the end. "You wouldn't be my Troy if you had the rest of it."
The next day I have to pinch him a couple of times to keep him from telling his mother about the money before we're at the table. He almost lets the cat out of the bag when she asks him to say grace and he puts in: "And thank you Lord for Ian and all he's done for me and mom, and for letting me get to know such a wonderful man. Thank you, too, for what I have to give mom."
She looks at him, pleased with what he's said, but curious, too. "What is it you have to give me, Troy?"
He looks at me and I mouth the word: slowly.
"Mom, I took a hundred dollars out of the bank and gave it to Ian to invest for me."
She's puzzled now. "But he doesn't deal with small sums like that."
Troy grins. "He did it for me, mom, so tomorrow Ian and I are taking you shopping for a new car." I'd love to have a camera to capture his beautiful loving smile.
She reaches across and squeezes his hand. "You're so sweet to think of me, but I know you don't have enough to even make a down payment, and there's no way I can make the payments."
"Mom," he's dead serious now, "it's your Christmas present from me. I have sixty thousand dollars."
Her mouth drops open and she looks quickly to me. "It's true. Some of the technology stocks have been unusually good." I tell her.
She looks dumbfounded, then begins to cry. Troy jumps up and puts his arm around her. "Don't cry, mom. Now we've got plenty for a car and things you need."
She covers his face with kisses. "Oh, Troy, this is truly Thanksgiving. I just can't believe it. Why it's only been three months since you met Ian."
I smile at them. "Just the luck of the draw that I got Troy's money in the market at the right time."
She gets up, hugs Troy, then comes around the table and kisses me on the cheek. "God bless you, Ian McCray. You've done so much for Troy and now this. I can't believe it's happened."
"I love Troy as if he were my son. Whatever I've done has been for him and now his lovely mother. All kids should be so fortunate as to have a mother like you." I wink at Troy. "But our dinner is getting cold, and it looks delicious."
It is. Troy and I eat heartily, but his mother, still stunned, picks at hers. When we've finished our dessert and coffee, I tell her to go sit down and rest, Troy and I will do the dishes. She protests, but I'm firm, so Troy leads her by the arm into the living room then comes back to help me.
Some help! He distracts me so often by running his stump up and down my back that I almost drop two dishes. I love it, but not when I'm trying to do something. When I turn to admonish him, he kisses me. "I love you, Ian."
"I love you, too, but if you don't stop distracting me we'll never get done."
He grins. "Okay."
She looks up when Troy and I enter the room. "Oh, Troy, this is so unexpected I don't know what to say, but I'd rather you save your money for college. The car will last a while yet."
"No it won't. You have to take it to the shop sometimes twice a month and it costs more each time, you said so."
She nods. "But your education is more important."
Troy looks at me, and I nod. "Mom, take what you need, Ian will keep the rest invested. It's another year before I'll be ready for college, so I'll have enough by then."
She looks at me. "Is that right, Ian."
"The market is never certain, but unless there's a big depression, I can make enough for Troy's college, and leave him enough so that he doesn't have to work while he's there."
"If you're sure …" she has doubts.
"Marie, I'll never risk what Troy has. I'll put it in high yield government bonds if the market looks shaky. They don't yield near as much, but they're safe."
"You do love Troy, don't you?"
"Have you any doubts?" I move over and put my arm around Troy.
His stump goes around my neck and his look at me conveys love at it's best.