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If Only …

"I finally found Jimmy, and now I have to persuade him to go with me…"

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Author's Notes

"Sometimes the most innocent things seem unforgivable."

I had just about given up on the library when I spied Jimmy back in the corner, head down in a book – naturally. He was in the history section, where no one else was seated.

He didn’t want to go home. His shiftless, drunk of a father would be there, and Jimmy would have to face him when he went home to cook supper for them both. The school building had closed to students over two hours ago, and the janitor had finally booted him out and told him to go home, which was when he shifted to the public library. But it closed at seven, at which point he would have to go home.

He was miserable, and he was a mess. That was why I was stalking him.

I had big plans for young Jimmy. I smiled to myself, and found a place near the door, pretending to read something so I could get kicked out at the same time he was.

When it finally happened, I argued with the librarian until Jimmy walked by me, then I stopped arguing, turned – and deliberately bumped into Jimmy.

“Oh, sorry mate,” I said. “Didn’t see you there.” I stuck out my hand. “I’m Jaz.”

This was the pivotal moment. I was pretty sure Jimmy would be polite, even to a down-at-the-heels man he’d never met – but there was the possibility that he would flee. I had a backup plan but didn’t want to use it. It was dead dodgy – and this was bad enough.

What I did notice, out of the corner of my eye, was the librarian standing there, frowning at me and my rather disreputable slacks and shirt.

Jimmy hesitated, then reluctantly took my hand. “Uh, hi. I’m, uh, Jimmy.”

I smirked, “Hi, uh, Jimmy. And what do you do?”

Jimmy was tall for his age and had already developed a good set of muscles, but he was so wrapped up in his loneliness and misery that he didn’t use them. “I’m, uh, a high school student,” he said and turned to head for home.

I turned with him, “No shit? High school, eh? Wow! I bummed out of high school when I was about your age. Are you any good?” Glancing back at the librarian, I noticed he was watching us go. Uh-oh…

Never mind. Focus!

Jimmy kept walking, faster now, glancing sideways at me, and licked his lips. “Uh, some.”

“Math was always my best thing. How ‘bout you?”

He looked at me, “If it was your best thing, why did you, uh, bum out?”

I cursed myself out for making such a dumb mistake, then it dawned on me. “Because I had a real shit for an old man. Beat me proper he did.”

Jimmy stopped – and I almost went past him, it was so unexpected. “Your father beat you?”

I stopped, and said, “Yeah – until I got old enough to beat the living shit outta him. That stopped it.”

Jimmy hung on his heel, looking at me and I hoped I had him.

Then his face collapsed, and he turned and resumed walking.

“Look, sport – it doesn’t take an Einstein to see you’re not happy with your home life. How about I show you someplace where you can have some fun instead?”

Jimmy stopped and gawked at me. I think he was shocked, and was wondering how he could get away.

I put my hand over my heart, “Swear to God, it’s just a place where people sing and dance. It’s just good, clean fun.”

At least it is from a certain point of view, I thought to myself.

Delicately, I took his elbow. “Come on. Let me show you. It’s not far from here, and if you don’t like the look of the place, you can turn around and leave, no harm done.”

He stared at me. “Why would you want to show me some, uh, ‘good clean fun’?”

I decided to tell him the truth. Or at least part of it. “To be honest, because you look like you could use some fun.”

He looked down and away from me, then turned, almost belligerently, “Okay, but if I don’t like it – I’m leaving!”

I held up both hands, “Sure, sure, sport. No worries!” I turned, “This way,” and walked on.

We went about three blocks. It was getting to be a rather dodgy part of town. I kept up a steady stream of lies about the interesting things I’d done in my life to try to divert his attention from where we were until we got to the stairs. There was a small sign outside, “The Better Hole”, and steps leading down to a door. I led him down, still talking, and rapped on the door.

The speakeasy flap opened, “Yeah?”

“New in town. I want my friend to see the show.”

The face looked at me, then at Jimmy, who was looking distinctly uneasy about this.

“Okay.” The speakeasy closed, and the door opened. “That’s $10 cover for the two of you.”

I reached into my pocket and gave the man a limp ten – one of the few I had scrounged.

We walked down some more stairs – and into the showroom.

Onstage was a vision in sequins, tights, and feathers, belting out “Strangers in the Night” in a passable contralto. She was good, and I could see Jimmy was entranced. I guided us over to a table with a good view and pushed Jimmy into the seat.

The waitress came over. “Two ginger ales,” I said, ignoring her look of distaste. “Saving it for later, my dear,” I winked at her. She smirked at me, and said, “Whatever floats your boat, sport,” in a deep bass that startled Jimmy.

The waitress took my fiver and walked off.

“She’s a man?” Jimmy asked.

I nodded. “And so is the singer,” nodding towards the stage.

Jimmy’s jaw dropped, but he made no move to leave, settling into this chair, eyes wide.

We stayed for several of the acts. Jimmy was riveted to the scene, face glowing. I was having anxiety pains because my limited bankroll would only go so far, but things were looking good. Jimmy kept asking questions – as I had hoped he would – and I filled him in on the whole scene: drag queens, cross-dressers, transvestites, transsexuals, gays, and more.

Far from being shocked, Jimmy seemed to come to life, sitting up straight and entranced by the whole idea.

Meanwhile, I had to shoo a few hungry-looking queens away with nasty looks. They got the message: my game.

Finally, I figured we needed to go as I had more or less run through my bankroll. “Time to go sport. You found this to your liking?” I asked.

He refocused on me, and it was like he was waking from a dream. “Uh, yeah,” looking at me as if for the first time. “I guess I need to get home.” His face fell, and he started to get up.

I decided I had to say something. “Jimmy, wait…”

He sat down again. “What?”

I took a deep breath. “I had a real hard time with my father, too. But when I was sixteen, I realized two things. First, I was bigger than he was. And second, he was a drunk, and in bad health.” I took a deep breath. “That’s when I decided to stand up to him. I was quaking on the inside, but I decided it was now or never – especially since my part-time jobs brought in most of the money .”

I looked at him. “I suspect it’s similar for you, yeah?”

His face clouded over, but his face closed as if thinking. Finally, he nodded decisively. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

He stood up suddenly. “I gotta go. Thanks!”

And he moved quickly out the door and up the stairs. I sighed, then got up and slowly followed him.

I was stopped before I went up the stairs by the bouncer, who hadn't been there when we walked in. “Listen, my friend, two things. First, if you wanna come in here again, we expect you to dress better. We have standards here. And second – if we find out that your young…friend…isn’t over sixteen, you’ll be in a world of hurt. We don’t want to give the authorities any more excuses to make trouble for us than they already have. Do we have a meeting of the minds?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. That kid turned sixteen three months and four days ago. He’s legit.” I took a deep breath, “And I suspect you won’t see me here again, so – don’t worry about it.”

He patted me on the chest. “Good to know. Have a nice day.” And he turned away.

I trudged up the stairs, the doorman opened up and I went out into the alleyway.

I stopped to look up at the sky and even thought about offering a prayer – when I was grabbed from behind.

It was the librarian, with three other men. “That’s him. He’s the one that sucked up to that young boy.”

I started to protest, but one of the men slugged me in the mouth. I saw stars, tasted blood, and sagged between the two men holding me.

“Prop him up. Let’s show him what we do to child molesters in our town.”

I felt a fist land in my stomach and doubled over, the wind knocked out of me.

Then I heard the snick of a switchblade.

Looking up, I saw one of the men move towards me, blade ready. “We don’t need your kind around here, pervert. You got no call corrupting our kids. And we’re gonna make sure you never do anything like that again…”

My heart was beating fast and hard – faster than it should have. I wasn’t in the best shape to begin with, but I suspected that it wouldn’t matter in a few minutes.

I just hoped that Jimmy got free of his old man.

I squared up. If they were going to maim me, I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of showing them any fear.

Then everything went blurry as if it was all a painting, and the paint was running in the rain.

I slumped down and blacked out.

I felt hands clasp my arms, “Maestro? Maestro, are you all right?”

They helped me to my feet and brushed me off. “Maestro?” A concerned face floated in front of me, attached to a formally dressed and beautiful body. Marius. He was Marius. My assistant. I couldn’t run the show without him, I thought. Besides, he was my lover.

I shook my head. It was as if there were two tracks running in my head. In one, I was a down-on-my-luck rummy who had been beaten by my alcoholic father, run away, and tried to make my life as a straight – and failed, time after time after time. Three marriages – to women – all disasters, then drinking until my world progressively collapsed around me.

In the other track, I had beaten up my father and left home when I was sixteen. Then I returned to "The Better Hole," and got a job, first as a janitor, then eventually as a performer, and finally as an impresario. Meanwhile, the world had evolved – at least partly – from gay bashing, and I was able to make some real money creating drag, gay, and trans shows, first on stage, then in Broadway plays, and finally on TV. I became wealthy and respected.

I shook my head. How could I have these two, conflicting streams running through my head?

Then I remembered. One day, in my drunken track, I realized that if only I had stood up to my old man and become a gay performer, my life might have been different. The idea had always appealed to me, but I had never acted on it.

Then I read a short, two-paragraph article about a crackpot named Winchell or something. He claimed he had invented a time machine. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I went to a coin collector’s store, bought some currency from the 1950s and 1960s, and then found the good Doctor.

It turned out that he really could do it. So, at knifepoint, I made him send me back to 1967. He actually seemed pleased that someone believed him.

Then, when I got to 1967, I looked myself up at the library.

My name is James Peter Behr – but my friends call me Jimmy.

Published 
Written by JamesPBear
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