Car rides have always marked major life transitions for me. My first car ride took me from a cardboard box with my brothers and sisters inside a barn, to my first home with the history professor. My second car ride took me to the animal shelter, then to Ian’s.

Today, we were in Angie’s Honda Civic, a car she had driven since first marrying Ian’s father, Johnny, at the age of 19, two years after giving birth to Ian. With the windows rolled down, I could feel the air and see the sunny sky from my crate.

Ian sat, sweating in the seat next to me. Through tiny slits, I could just see the side of Angie’s face, her Auburn hair blowing, and her eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror, fixed on the search for her own freedom. Fiona Apple’s “Pale September,” played from the stereo. This song, always, meant she was thinking of Beau.

“Uh-huh. That’s right! What do you think about that?”

Ian shrugged. If this car ride signaled a major life change to me, it was doubly so for Ian. Learning of his mother’s plans a week ago; to move again, this time to live with Beau Gantry, a total stranger, had made Ian more withdrawn than normal.

Ian relayed how, over dinner at Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, Angie had delivered the news. As flames shot up from the grille in front of them, Ian studied the cook so intent on his task and flailing like a white-clad octopus against darkness of the dining hall. The faces of the other guests, though dim, all seemed to be looking at Ian, as if sensing he might crack.

Beau Gantry sat with fingers steepled against the bar, looking at Ian with a faint smile. Angie’s face beamed, her excitement palpable as the heat from the grille pressed on Ian’s face. They were going to a new place, she said, as if promising a land of rainbows and enchantment. This idea entranced Ian, as he watched the flames and sizzling meat on the grille in front of him, hungry and punch-drunk on Coca-Cola and shock.

A week later boxes began filling the apartment. Ian’s vacant afternoons, spent idling with popcorn and porn, had become dreary silent epochs interspersed with fits of packing for the move. I hoped today, with the wind and the sun, we’d see the Ian I loved return.

I had picked up some of the details about Beau from Ian’s conversations with Angie; he is a business man with his sights on a career in politics. He had discovered Angie at the pub where she worked, in Roswell, called The Admiral’s Dinghy, and they had been dating about six months.

“But you told me you would never have another man.”

“I know I did. But that’s not how life works.”

“You lied.”

Angie’s hands tensed on the steering wheel, and her eyes searched for an answer. “I didn’t know.”

“How could you not know?” Ian fiddled with a chewing gum wrapper.

“That’s enough!” Angie snapped. “When you’re old enough, you’ll- ”

“Understand… I know. You always say that.” If his experiences with orgasms had taught him anything, it was how addictive they could be. “It’s all about sex, isn’t it?”

Angie chewed her lip. She might be bottom of the barrel working class, but aged just twenty-nine with captivating brown eyes and all that hair, it’s easy to understand why Beau picked her. She’s vivacious, and from what I witnessed from the window, possesses a smoldering sensuality.

“It’s more than that. It’s about companionship, and… it’s hard Ian. I was young when I had you, just a few years older than you are now. Can you imagine that? I have to work all the time, and it’s just so hard… With Beau around, I could work less. We’d get to spend more time together,
the way it’s supposed to be. Huh? … and Beau… I know he’s not your father…”

“Beau has money.” Ian sounded downcast, mesmerized by the sunlight glinting off the foil gum wrapper.

Angie cleared her throat, but didn’t answer. After a moment, her face became somber and she said, “Your father’s gone, Ian. I don’t know where he is, or if he’s ever coming back… Don’t you want us to be a family again?” This grabbed my attention, and I saw her watching Ian intently through the mirror.

Ian sat, fumbling with the foil, feeling conflicted and unable to speak. In fact, Ian had begun to like Beau. This week, they had been away an entire afternoon. Beau took Ian for Coca-Cola and pepperoni pizza with onions, then to the park to play Frisbee. They didn’t talk much, but Beau had been friendly and charming, and had even taken Ian shopping for comic books. But Ian was more interested in the model airplane Beau had bought for him, a Boeing L10-11 tristar, a jumbo-jet Ian thought was the coolest he had ever seen.

“What will it be like to be Mayor?”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Beau began matter-of-factly, “there are a lot of whackadoo liberals in this town standing in the way of common sense.” Beau pointed across the busy four-lane street at an empty lot. “You see those trees over there? That’s fifty acres, worth millions developed, but the liberals want low-income housing. What a waste!” Then he tousled Ian’s hair and grinned. “As mayor, I’ll show those crazy liberals who’s in charge!” And he chomped off a large piece of pizza.

“You could really do that?” Asked Ian.

Beau Gantry leaned forward, smiled and said, “You bet I could.” Then he turned thoughtful, looking down at Ian. As Ian began to squirm, Beau pursed his lips and said, “So… About the other day. How, bout that, huh?”

“What?” Ian said, chewing, unaware of Beau’s point.

Beau Gantry’s face contorted oddly, he spoke quietly. “You like doing that, huh?” Beau made a motion with his hand. “Jacking-off?”

Ian felt stunned by the sudden reminder, he felt confused, staring at his food, then looked at Beau again, “Is that what it’s called?”

“Did the stuff come out? White gooey stuff?” Beau asked intently, biting off more pizza.

Ian looked at Beau, feeling embarrassed, and just nodded.

“That’s called sperm,” Beau said, chomping, smiling proudly as he spoke, “It means you’re a man now.”

“I know. My cat told me.” Ian said as he toyed with a long string of cheese.

“Your cat?”

“General Simon Regis.” Ian laughed. “You met him, remember?”

“Oh yeah… the cat,” Beau responded, then sipped Ian’s Coke.

A moment passed.

“I like jacking-off, too.” Beau said, eyes crackling as they locked on Ian. He lowered his head and said quietly, hovering above a whisper. “I think we’re going to have a very special relationship, just you and me.” Beau’s voice carried low and resonant, and this sent a twinge through Ian that made my tail twitch all the way across town.

Ian relayed all of this to me, but of course he told none of it to Angie, who he feared, but was uncertain why he feared her. Perhaps it had something to do with money. Perhaps it had something to do with missing his father. Perhaps it had something to do with not upsetting his mother’s happiness. Ian couldn’t explain it, but deep down he knew he needed Beau Gantry as much as his mother did, and there was no use breaking what had felt like a comfortable, if confining, routine this last year without Ian’s father – home alone in the afternoon, microwave food, and woodland adventures now involving porn magazines and masturbation…

By discovering his own physical pleasure, Ian had magically begun to feel one with his surroundings. Though his soul did not rest easy, these were the only surroundings, both physical and mental, Ian could relate to. What lay beyond the dreary apartment complex, what came next existed only in his imagination, and equally intrigued and frightened him; an unfamiliar place, an unfamiliar school, unfamiliar kids, and Beau Gantry who had made himself so strange. Ian instinctively felt his only reasonable response to all the looming uncertainty was to stay silent, low inside himself, holding on to what he knew, to his mother… and to me, of course.

“We’re almost there.”

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