So, this Thanksgiving, following a super fun turkey bowl, me and Joyce were invited to Adam and Allan’s again for dinner. We got invited up to Santa Barbara to spend the night at Justen and Luke’s, and I’m sure Thanksgiving dinner there must be incredible, but I needed to be in the store for Black Friday, and I didn’t want to make the drive to Santa Barbara twice in one day. Plus it would have meant missing out on the turkey bowl. Besides, we’re working on developing a tradition of going to Adam and Allan’s…and I still think it’s kinda cool that they’re a couple me and Joyce know as a couple. I really like both Adam and Allan. Adam’s a great teammate…and Allan and Joyce have become really good friends…even if Allan still has trouble keeping his eyes off me lol.
Not that Thanksgiving last year was a success. They had this scaryass lesbian named Frank there who tried to get me into a political argument and said I had toxic masculinity and straight energy (whatever the fuck they are), and Allan made too big a show of having baked a sweet potato pie with me in mind. Probably the biggest problem though was Adam’s batshit crazy sister, who slipped her little boy something to make him throw up in the middle of dinner – it’s called Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, although everyone seemed to know about it except me.
The one thing Adam did tell me in advance about the guest list was that the scaryass lesbian wasn’t coming this year. I reckoned there was nothing he was gonna be able to do about his crazy sister, but, looking back, I found the lesbian way worse than the sister. The sister was just crazy; the lesbian was fuckin meanass.
Adam invited Keaton this year, but, y’all probably guessed it, Keaton wouldn’t go. He said he didn’t want to be a pity invite. I told him that he knew Adam already, and me and Joyce…but nothing doing. The reality is that Keaton was probably happier at home with Wingstop and football. So I didn’t push him too hard on it.
I got dressed (new blue stripe buttondown, khakis, church shoes and a dark blue sweater from last year because it was cold, although it got in the way of the necklace) and headed over to get Joyce. I was a little surprised that she was in slacks and a jacket; she’d dressed up more last year. I like her better in skirts and dresses. Still, of course I told her she looked great and she did do something really nice with a scarf I haven’t seen her do before.
For some reason there was a lot of traffic on the way to Adam and Allan’s, which was good, since Joyce had a lot to tell me before we got there. There was a big update about Adam’s crazy sister Leslie and her Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. Everyone seems to know all about it, but, in case y’all don’t, Munchausen’s by Proxy means you make your kid sick so it’ll attract attention back to you. Leslie’s got a boy named Ethan who was 6 last year and is so messed up he didn’t know what a shortstop was. At last year’s Thanksgiving, Adam’s sister didn’t let Ethan have any turkey or anything; all he got was plain boiled beans and amarinth pasta. Then she kept giving him all these ‘drops’ that she said her acupuncturist had prescribed for his ‘allergies’ and shit. In the middle of dinner, the kid started throwing up out of nowhere, and Leslie had the whole place going crazy. There was a lot of drama before they finally went home early, and, although I didn’t know there was a name for it until later, I could tell something was wrong.
Y’all may wonder where the father was in all this. The answer is that Adam’s sister had surgically removed his balls and he was totally useless, even to protect his own son. She didn’t even let them have TV at home, so he couldn’t watch sports, and, worse, the kid couldn’t watch cartoons.
It was all seriously fucked up.
Turns out a lot has happened them since last year, and Joyce brought me up to date while we were driving. I’m sure she had the whole story from Allan as it was happening, and she could have told me about it sooner…but maybe Adam didn’t want me to know until now. I’m not sure. In any event, it was a lot to digest on the 20 minute drive from Altadena to Arcadia.
So what happened is that the situation with Leslie reached a crisis point back in April, when she finally did something to the kid that landed him in the ER. The doctors there, suspecting something like Munchausen’s by Proxy, investigated and found out that – if you can believe this – she had slipped the kid a small dose of arsenic. Fuckin arsenic.
So they called in the police, and then the social workers and the psychiatrists and the psychologists and the lawyers and finally the judges in both family and criminal court. It looked for a while as though they were going to put Adam’s sister in a long-term mental facility and take the kid away to foster care.
Finally the dad stepped up. I’m not sure who talked to him, but I remembered a story Keaton had told me about someone he’d known with Munchausen’s by Proxy and how he and some other guys had almost gotten together to beat the dad’s ass until he saw sense. Maybe that’s what happened.
The dad (his name’s Thom; Ethan told me he spells it that way) agreed to take responsibility for both his wife and his son, and the judge agreed to leave the kid in his custody. He also agreed to 6 months of house arrest for the mother instead of putting her in an institution. The sentence was up only a couple weeks ago, which was the only reason why Leslie could come to Thanksgiving at her brother’s. Even though she’s served her house arrest term, she still has to have a court-appointed nurse present whenever she’s with the kid.
“So that’s how they managed to hold onto Ethan,” Joyce finished, “but it was very close.”
“How’s the kid doing?”
“We’ll find out. I haven’t seen him since last Thanksgiving either, but I understand he’s much better, now that he gets to eat normal food.”
“And they’re not giving him fuckin poison,” I added.
“Oh, one more thing: the acupuncturist that Leslie was seeing, the one who was giving her all those ‘drops’…”
“She’s in jail.”
“Good. She deserves it. I half wish she were a dude so I could go kick her ass personally for what she got Leslie to do to her kid.”
Joyce was done filling me just in time. When we pulled up to the house (which is still sandwiched between what Joyce called 2 ‘Chinese palaces’), I noticed that they’d made some changes to the front yard, probably because we’re no longer in a drought. Last year, they had too many weirdass cactuses out front for my taste. Inside, the house was just as I remembered it, still totally immaculate, and still with not a nicknack out of place. It’s funny: Allan and Adam put a big white couch in Joyce’s living room, and I was afraid I was gonna be afraid to sit on it. Turns out I wasn’t (I’ve even spent the night on it, if y’all can remember that incident lol)…but, although they’re not all that different, the white couches in Adam’s and Allan’s living room looked totally intimidating. I know I’d cleaned up from the turkey bowl…but I still wasn’t gonna sit on them.
We timed our arrival just right: we weren’t the first to get there, and we weren’t the last. Allan answered the door, shook hands with me, kissed Joyce on the cheek in that gayass way and showed us in. (I can still tell Allan has a thing for me by how he looks at me, but he’s chilled out a lot since last year. That’s a relief. It was getting kinda weird.)
Esteban and Carlos were invited again, and I was glad to see them. Esteban – he’s like Miguel’s size from the Volcano (which is to say 5’10 and close to 300), but without the tattoos and scariness – manages a Home Depot, and I’ve seen him a few times when I was there picking up materials for Joyce’s crafting room. I haven’t seen Carlos (he’s 5’9” and 165 – but they’re the kind of gay couple where you have no idea who’s the chick, which I really like) since last Thanksgiving, but I’ve been following him on Twitter and Instagram. He posted some good stuff during baseball season. His main job is writing the sports page for one of the local Mexican papers, and he also hosts a bilingual sportstalk show. We really hit it off last year, but, well, it’s not always that you meet people at dinner and you stay in touch with them and they end up painting your picture. They each gave me a bro hug (I couldn’t tell if they were trying to do something straight lol), and we went over to where we could get some cheese and crackers.
I was so glad to see Esteban and Carlos again that I didn’t even notice the other people in the room, since they were over behind the piano and looking out at the rain. As Adam was still in the kitchen, Allan brought me over to them to introduce us.
I could tell right off the bat that it was one of those families with ‘two mommies’, although neither of the two mommies was anything like last year’s scaryass lesbian. One was white, one was black, but they were both wearing nice dresses and makeup and jewelry…they looked like regular women. The white one was named Daphne and the black one was named Simone, and I’ll tell y’all more about them in a bit. I’m putting that off because I didn’t get a chance to say anything to them at first: their kid took charge of me and wouldn’t let me go.
Cody’s 8, and he’s Simone’s son with a white dude they know and who’s supposed to be super artistic. They tell people that because Cody turned out totally inartistic and totally sports crazy. They joke about how that plan went wrong lol. Cody’s pretty light-skinned, and has what I guess you’d call hazel eyes, which you really notice given his skin color.
He’s crazy for all sports, but he’s craziest for baseball. Like he makes me, Gardner and Turner at his age seem sane in comparison lol. So when he found out that there was going to be someone who’d played pro ball at Thanksgiving dinner he couldn’t wait to meet me. When he did meet me he shook hands the right way…and then totally bombarded me with questions. The kid wanted to know everything…from my batting average to what the clubhouse was like in Hickory. He was pretty bummed out because it was raining, as he was hoping we’d be able to play catch before dinner (he’s the kind of kid who never leaves home without his glove)…so I told him we’d get together another time.
Now I know a lot of grown-ups say that to kids and don’t mean it…but I still remember how Sumter said it to me and then made good on his promise. One of the things he told me after that was that I needed to make good on a similar promise to another kid, so I made sure that I left Adam and Allan’s with everyone’s phone number so we could set up a date for me and Cody to get together. He didn’t brag too much, but he’s apparently the star of his little league team. One of the things I warned him about pretty quickly was thinking that he was more important than anyone else on the team.
“Baseball’s a team sport,” I told him. “Don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever forget your teammates. They’re the best friends you’ll ever have.” Then I added, “look at me: the reason I’m here for Thanksgiving is that I play softball with Adam.”
“Adam plays softball?,” Cody asked. “But he’s gay.”
“Gay guys play softball,” Adam said, coming out the kitchen and patting him on the head. “But, if you ask Hunter here, he’ll tell you we all play catcher.”
“That’s not funny,” said Daphne, from over where she was standing. She didn’t say that in the way some lesbians would say it, but she still said it.
“But it’s true,” I protested. “Every team I’ve been on since high school has had a gay catcher.”
This is where we got interrupted by the arrival of the other guests – in other words Adam’s sister and her family. I was super interested to find out what they were going to be like, since so much has happened to them since last year.
Allan opened the door, and the first thing that happened was the kid, the one who’d been so timid and quiet because he was malnourished and being poisoned, came tearing into the house yelling “Uncle Adam!” and practically knocked Adam down when he collided with him. I know the kid was a year older than when I’d last seen him, but I’d say he’s put on at least 20 pounds. He wasn’t fat or anything…but he was pretty hefty for a 7 year old. The boy was clearly getting more than plain boiled beans and amarinth pasta to eat.
Next in through the door was Ethan’s father, Thom. The first thing out of his mouth when he was shaking Allan’s hand was:
“I hope we’re not too late. We had a lot of trouble tearing ourselves away from the Dallas game. Ethan’s decided he loves the Cowboys…although they were having a bad time of it.”
(They were. So bad that they lost. I thought Keaton would be upset, but later on he told me he made a hundred bucks betting against them.)
Thom looked like he’d grown a couple inches and put on some weight since last year too. I remembered him as having been almost as thin and pale as Ethan, maybe 5’9” and 160 tops. Now he was almost my size…and looked like someone you wouldn’t be ashamed to have on your side in a bar fight lol. I think he’s lost some hair (no surprise), but he’s got a beard that looks good on him, even if it has a lot of grey in it (way more grey than Adam’s beard…and Adam has to be at least five years older than Thom.)
“Hunter, isn’t it?,” he said, when he saw me and came over to shake hands. The dude even had a grip on him.
Leslie was changed too, and not for the better, although I’m not sure how good she was last year when she was so batshit crazy and terrorizing everyone, especially her little boy. She looked practically like an invalid. Everyone else had dressed up for the occasion, but she had on jeans and sneakers and a sweatshirt. She had no jewelry, no makeup, and her hair was back in a pony tail. From what I could tell, she didn’t even have a purse, although that might have had something to do with the purse she used to carry that contained all the bottles of ‘drops’ from that bogus doctor who’s now in jail.
Although Leslie looked pretty vague (I had a suspicion that they had her on a lot of medication) she did recognize me when she saw me.
“You’re the boy that Allan thinks is so cute, aren’t you?”
She was followed into the house by the woman I reckoned was the nurse. She was a latina, probably no older than I was, and kinda pretty in that done-up latina way. She was dressed up for visiting on Thanksgiving, and had all her makeup on. At least I think that was all her makeup…it would be hard to believe that there was anything she’d left out. I wasn’t counting, but she must have been wearing at least five colors of eye shadow.
Her name, when Thom introduced her, was Belen, and she came in carrying a large plate of something that she turned over to Adam. I think he said something about what being on the plate was going to be a real treat, so I was interested. But I didn’t feel like I could ask. I reckoned I’d find out in time.
Once everybody was there, out came the sparkling apple cider in the expensiveass champagne glasses. Then I got my biggest surprise of the day yet: Leslie sat down on the couch, Belen got her some cheese on a cracker, and she ate it. This is the woman who went fuckin postal on me for offering her some cheese when she was having that fake blood sugar attack last year.
Since last year had been something of a disaster, our hosts totally changed up the table arrangements. This time it was Joyce who was next to Allan, and I was next to Adam at the other head of the table, with Carlos on my left and super eager Cody across from me. Simone (Cody’s birth mother) was next to him, with Esteban next to her. Belen was next to Esteban, from where she could keep an eye on Leslie, who was seated next to Joyce. Next to Carlos on my side was Thom, and then Ethan, and then Daphne. I reckon Adam and Allan figured that, since Daphne had one little boy, she wouldn’t mind sitting next to another one. It all worked out. Even for Joyce, who I could see was nice and gentle to Leslie all evening long.
I later found out from Joyce that there was a reason for seating both her and Daphne down at Allan’s end. Daphne had just hired Adam and Allan to redesign her business offices. Now don’t laugh, but she runs a high-end botox clinic in Beverly Hills, and she says Adam and Allan’s work looks great. Allan’s secret plan was to talk Daphne into letting him and Adam redo their house, so he wanted Joyce – as a satisfied customer – close by for testimonials.
Daphne’s story is that her parents made her go to medical school, but she out and says she doesn’t really give a shit about curing the sick…so she started doing botox. I reckon she’s right that it makes people feel better, and she also out and says she makes a lot of money at it. Simone admitted me to me that she couldn’t afford to be a social worker if Daphne wasn’t making so much money doing botox for (as she put it) “rich bitches, both male and female.”
For me, I was at the sports end of the table. Adam’s not the biggest sports fan in the world, but we all know he plays softball, and that was enough to get Cody interested in him, although he thought it was way cooler sitting diagonally opposite to a dude who was on sportstalk radio. Cody made sure that he got Carlos’ Twitter and Instagram info onto his phone before they left. But that was after dinner: I forgot to mention it last year, but Adam had this nice basket that everyone had to put their phones in before we could go to table. I told Dad about Adam and Allan’s basket last year; I think he got one for our house.
What I sure as heck wasn’t expecting was how involved Ethan was gonna become in the sports conversation.
“I seem to recall you’re a pro athlete,” Thom asked me.
“Yessir,” I said. “I played A-ball in North Carolina.”
“Did you play football too?,” asked Ethan, leaning forward from his place, his mouth full.
“Whoa, big guy!,” said Thom, “take it easy on the sweet potatoes.” He turned to me. “We’ve had to introduce him to new foods slowly, and, if you give him a chance, he’ll eat everything on the table. Today he’s getting his first candied yams. He seems to like them.”
“Who wouldn’t?,” I asked. “They’re awesome,” I said, turning to Adam.
“Like your meemaw’s?”
“Ok…are they close?”
“Yeah, they are. You didn’t…”
“Put a whole bunch of extra shit…oh, sorry kids, stuff…on them? We looked at how many leftovers we had last year and rethought things like the cardamom sweet potatoes. We kept it simple. We bacon-wrapped the breast of the turkey instead of doing the maple glaze again.”
“Bacon! That’s the flavor I couldn’t figure out,” I said. “It’s certainly the juciest turkey I’ve had that wasn’t deep-fried.”
“So do you play football?,” repeated Ethan, after his father got him to swallow before talking.
“I did, in high school,” I said.
Ethan looked a little disappointed. “I want to play center.”
“Travis Frederick’s kinda a big hero around our house,” Thom said.
“You’d have liked our turkey bowl this morning,” I told him. “I may have been a quarterback, but I can block. There was a lot of knocking guys down in the mud.”
“That sounds awesome!,” said Ethan.
“He’s got his heart set on being a bruiser,” Thom said. Then, in the only time all evening he made a reference to how things were, he added, “you’d never have guessed that from how he was last year, would you?”
“Just as long as he doesn’t turn into a bully,” said Simone. “We had a little trouble with that already with Cody.”
I didn’t say anything, but I thought that maybe I could help out with that when I came over to play catch with him. I think I did Lucas some good with that by taking him to El Tigre’s. I didn’t want to get into another whole discussion about my toxic masculinity, even if Simone and Daphne seemed pretty cool for two mommies. Still, I wasn’t sure who made sure you could take care of yourself when you had two mommies. I reckon they tell you to tell a teacher if someone bullies you.
There was already a lot of food on the table, but there was more to come.