The Heart is a Poor Judge Ch. 06

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I finally bring it up one day, when the moment feels right. It’s not that I was ever worried about offending him, just concerned that he wouldn’t listen, which is a tendency of his whenever he doesn’t see value in what I have to say. But today he is in a receptive mood.

“There’s a resource I would like you to take a look at. I’m sure they have it in the library here.”


“A book.”

He places his hand palm-up on the table and beckons me, as if to say, “Bring it on.” This is a signature Miguel move.

I take a breath. “It’s called ‘Life After,’ and it prepares you for all sorts of things you’ll encounter on the outside. I know you’re smart enough to anticipate the ways things have changed while you’ve been away. But everything I’ve read says that even the best mental preparation can fail you at times. The book will teach you how to cope in those moments.”

He scoffs and looks off to the side. (My heart sinks. I’ve lost him already.) “They have a class for that.”

“You should take it, then,” I say quickly.

“I already am,” he says. “It’s mandatory.”

I’m certain he can read the relief I feel in this moment, no matter how subtle the change in my face.

“Hey,” he says. “They keep telling us to find a support network. The irony for a lot of these guys is that the only real network they’ve ever had is in here. But look at me. I’m miles ahead of them.” He laughs. “Fuck, I mean, I’ve got you. What more could a guy need?”

He stops there, but his voice continues telepathically: “And, most of all, forever, I have him.”

Miguel stood with his arms crossed on the corner of Coronet Street and 195th Avenue. A forest-green sleeping bag and bare white pillow lay at his feet. A daypack snugged against his back. He was trying to think of something to say to the kid as they waited for Eddie. It was late in the morning on Saturday, and soon they would be headed out of town. On the train they had cracked jokes, laughing endlessly until an older white man told them to shut up or get off. Who could have guessed they even shared a sense of humor? But now, that easy conversation had drifted from him once again, back into hiding.

If he could have gone back in time, Miguel would have changed his response after Gabe had brought up their fateful night together. Sure, he would’ve said. It was a lot of fun. Thanks. Let’s do it again, but maybe give it a little time? I’m worried I was being too hasty. I don’t want to wreck a good thing.

Now that he’d had time to calm down, this was honestly how Miguel felt about it. But back when Gabe had first brought it up, he had not calmed down. Not even close.

The problem wasn’t the event itself; it was what Miguel had promised himself earlier that night, from the very moment he heard his phone ring from the shower. Don’t come on to the kid. If Gabe can show that much self-control, then you sure as hell can, too. Whatever you do, don’t sleep with him. Not tonight.

How exactly he had known it was the kid calling was a mystery. It could just as easily have been Alice, hoping to vent during her shift over a sticky beige handset hidden beneath the bar, or national polling, or another late-fee collection from Blockbuster. But he’d had a feeling. And when that deep, achingly familiar voice came sailing through the open bathroom door from the speaker of Miguel’s answering machine, he quickly rinsed off and jumped out. The kid went on for so long that Miguel almost caught him before the message ended. Naked and dripping from his elbows onto the brown carpet, Miguel hastily dialed the numbers Gabe had just listed, imprinted on his brain.

Before leaving his apartment, he had told himself once more, all but aloud: Nothing is to go on between you, not tonight. Maybe sometime. Not tonight.

But things didn’t turn out the way he had planned, and by now his mind had replayed the memory of that fortuitous middle-of-the-night episode a thousand times. Every second, every action could be recalled at will. He was grateful to remember it so well—finally, he was grateful for that. Miguel had come a long way since the morning after it happened, scrambling to get out of that sad, stripped apartment, wanting only to forget what he had done. Their actions together had precipitated from a broken promise to himself, a total abandonment of his constitution, which, before that night, he believed he had come too far to forsake. How wrong he had been about that.

Standing on the corner with nothing to say, his mind went right back to it. It was that one instant, which broke into even smaller fragments—each one still burning crystal-clear in his memory—of the kid removing his underwear, that deeply secret part of him all at once fully exposed, rigid, and frankly larger than Miguel had expected.

“There he is.”

Miguel looked to where Gabe was pointing in time to see the sand-colored Acura pull swiftly along the curb twenty feet away. Eddie sounded the horn in two bright blasts urfa escort and the trunk popped open. They slung their bedding inside and Gabe slammed the lid down.

Miguel was more that willing to cede the shotgun seat to Gabe. When he climbed into the dark cool of the backseat, though, the kid climbed right in after him.

“I’m not a chauffeur,” barked Eddie immediately. “Maybe one of you could act like a grown adult and join me up here.”

Without pause, Miguel dumped himself out the other side and circled around to the front passenger door, leaving Gabe alone in the backseat.

“It’s freezing in here,” Miguel said once they got underway.

“Turn up the temperature then,” said Eddie. “I’m not picky.”

Miguel heaved his backpack over his shoulder and into the lap of Gabe, who wordlessly shuffled it to the side. “Did the kids wake you up early this morning or what?”

“I don’t sleep in,” said Eddie flatly. He threw Miguel a smirk. “But I could’ve used another hour or two, I guess.”

“I’d take over if you needed a break,” announced Miguel. “Unfortunately, I don’t drive.” He twisted around and looked Gabe dead in the eyes. “But luckily we have someone in the car who has turned driving into a profession.”

The kid returned his stare so intensely that Miguel was the first to back down. After he turned back, Gabe’s deep voice crept over his shoulder. “It was a profession long before I started doing it.”

Eddie unleashed a startling laugh. Gabe had apparently struck on the big man’s sense of humor, elusive as it was. Miguel felt a sudden twinge of jealously as Eddie turned the car east, connecting onto Sunbird Boulevard, steering aggressively for the express lane which lay insulated near the core, by the tracks. One by one, over twenty miles, the outermost lanes would peel away like skin from a snake until all that remained were this lane, a stripe of yellow paint and its counter-flowing twin. At that point, things got lonely pretty fast.

Maybe in some people’s eyes, the friendly exchange between Gabe and Miguel on the train that morning served as amends. A tacit apology, or something of that nature. But that wasn’t the way Miguel felt about it. Any unspoken component of an apology was worth very little on its own, unconsummated until the words were said aloud: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for how I behaved. Miguel knew then exactly what he should have said back when they were waiting on the corner. He should have apologized for being so standoffish, for abandoning the kid during a sensitive time for them both. For only adding to the confusion. He glanced helplessly around his small corner of the car, knowing the opportunity to do so had passed him by, perhaps for some time. He would just have to live with it.

A soft beeping came from Eddie’s pocket and he drew out his cellular phone. “Battery’s low. Remind me to grab the charger from the trunk next time we stop.”

“Can I take a look at that?”

Eddie threw it into his lap.

Miguel studied the small lump of gray plastic, running his thumb across the raised rubbery buttons. “In ten years, everybody’s going to have one of these—that’s what Time Magazine says. Even kids will have one, and they’ll do all kinds of things. Way more than just call people.”

Eddie glanced in the rearview mirror. He seemed to make eye contact with the kid before saying, “God help us.”

Miguel sat in silence for the next half an hour, moping in secrecy, feeling like he had been left out of an inside joke. Or worse, had managed to become the butt of one. Neither Eddie nor Gabe made a peep during this time. It always astonished him to remember that some people were content with saying nothing at all.

They were approaching the godforsaken outer-border of the reservation lands before Miguel realized that any hope of conversation rested squarely on his shoulders. The urge to speak up built inside him until he didn’t care anymore if Eddie and the kid had formed an alliance against him.

“Are we going all the way to Headwaters today?”

Eddie nodded.

“How long will that take?”

“As long as it takes.”

“As if you don’t know,” protested Miguel, brushing some black lint from the shoulder of his boss’s white t-shirt.

Eddie eyed the clock in the corner of the car’s vast digital display, perched above a woefully silent stereo. “Four. Maybe five. I hope that works with your busy fucking schedule.”

Miguel looked over and saw, with immense relief, that a grin a taken over Eddie’s face. “Fuck you.”

“You’re going to talk to your own boss that way?” Eddie gave him a playful punch in the shoulder. “You’re stuck with me for the next however-many hours, and that’s how you want to kick things off?”

“Sixty,” Gabe said suddenly.

Miguel twisted around. “What?”

“We’re stuck with each other for about sixty hours, if we get back at midnight on Monday. Not that I’m counting.”

“Sounds like you are,” escort urfa said Eddie into the rearview mirror. “Be careful, Gabe. Counting the hours is the kissing-cousin of marking time. Doesn’t matter if you live to be twenty or a hundred—death will come too soon to anyone who lives that way.”

Miguel scoffed. “And what makes you the authority on these things?”

“I never claimed to be an authority,” said Eddie. “It’s as much my right as anyone else’s to dispense advice as I see fit.”

“You’re one of a kind, Eddie.” Miguel meant it as a compliment, and he gathered from Eddie’s amused expression that he had taken it that way.

The burst of conversation faded quickly back to nothing. Another forty-five minutes passed in silence, pushing Miguel to a second breaking point. Without permission, he reached out turned on the stereo. All hope of entertainment was soon lost, though, as the only clear stations turned out to be Christian rock, which he hated, and Christian evangelism, which he both hated and feared. Defeated, he turned the unit off. “Amazing that none of us thought to bring one fucking CD.”

“You don’t like hearing what they have to say?” asked Gabe.


“The evangelists.”

Miguel balked at this. “Hell no. I can’t think of one reason why they would deserve my attention.”

“They don’t know you’re listening,” Gabe said. “Anyway, sometimes I tune in at night just to know what they go on about. It’s not all bad.”

“Well that’s good for you,” said Miguel. “Not my way of doing things, that’s for sure.”

Miguel waited, but no response issued from the back seat. In the miles that followed, he wondered whether he had hurt the kid’s feelings yet again, deciding he had better stop being such a fucking asshole before it got him into even more trouble. There were kinder ways of relaying his opinions, he knew, no matter how tightly he held them to his chest.

He needed to pee. For some unimaginable reason, he was afraid to tell Eddie. But nature’s call soon outranked his embarrassment—or whatever it was—so he spoke up yet again. “I need to take a piss at some point.”

Eddie stroked his chin. “Did you hear what the guy said? Jesus is the son of man. Do you know what that means?”

Miguel looked over. Was he seriously still stuck on that? “It means what it means,” he said, clueless as to where Eddie could be headed. “And did you hear what I said?”

“I heard,” said Eddie.

He hit the brakes, bringing the big car so abruptly down from speed that Miguel felt the seatbelt constrict across his chest. They came to a dusty halt in the gravel on the side of the road. For a moment Miguel stayed planted in his seat, looking around. “Where am I supposed to go? There isn’t even a bush to hide behind.”

The impatient look Eddie gave him suggested he had better figure something out, so he grumbled his way into the stifling heat of the desert.

“He was human, just like us,” Eddie explained as Miguel climbed back into the cool interior of the car.

“Yes, I know what it means.” His boss clearly wanted to spend some time on this one. “And do you believe that?”

“Yes, I do believe Jesus was human. A real guy who lived and breathed. Nothing more. He wasn’t the first man in history to claim to be the son of God. And far from the last, that’s for sure.”

Miguel paused. “I don’t think that’s what the guy on the radio was getting at, Eddie.”

“Of course it’s not. I just thought it was interesting.”

Miguel did not think it was interesting. He took no delight in deliberating over the words of men who had spent the last few thousand years contradicting themselves. Of all the topics Eddie could have wanted to discuss…Miguel almost had to laugh. But the prospect of continued conversation, even over a subject he disliked, became too tempting. He allowed the air time to clear itself (which didn’t take long in his current company) and drew in a breath. “Actually, ‘the son of man’ could just be referring to the fact that God was a man, who later turned into a god, and Jesus was his son.”

“Who says God was a man?” asked Eddie.

Gabe cleared his throat in the back seat. Miguel whipped around to face him, but the kid just shrugged.

“Lots of people,” Miguel continued. “Take Mormons, for example—they believe he was a man who was exalted. He started as a man, and then became a god.”

“Yeah?” said Eddie. “I guess I’ll ask your favorite question, then: How do you know so much about it?”

Miguel hesitated. “Because I used to believe that if I was good enough, maybe one day I could become a god, too. That’s what they taught me. You should’ve seen me back in the day, Eddie. I was their star member. I was the fucking master of piety. Oh, man, if you could have seen it.”

If Eddie was at all surprised by this new revelation about Miguel’s upbringing, it didn’t register on his face. “Can I ask what caused you to abandon your pious ways?”

For urfa escort bayan a second, Miguel actually considered coming out with it. He had long suspected that Eddie knew—Miguel had dropped hints here and there that at times verged on reckless, but he had yet to discover what the hulking man of mystery thought of people like him. There still lurked the possibility that Eddie had missed all the clues. Perhaps this mostly-friendly giant was, in fact, no friend at all to people of his kind. He wanted to think better of Eddie. He really did. But the doubt somehow lingered. It was one thing to be called a faggot by a stranger on the street; it was another entirely to meet the disapproval of someone whose respect you secretly, constantly pined for. Miguel knew this from experience.

“I think the situation speaks for itself,” he said after a beat. “You know me, Eddie. How long do you think I would let myself be strung along by that bullshit?”

Eddie just nodded and stared dead-straight down the road.

Occasionally they passed through communities, squalid, parched and clinging weakly to the edge of the highway. Eddie stopped once for gas at a station so exceptionally strange and desolate that Miguel wanted nothing to do with it. Eddie stood slowly from the car, stretching as Gabe got the pump going.

“You getting out?” Eddie’s voiced boomed through the open door.

Miguel shook his head. “I don’t like this place.”

“Suit yourself.” Eddie stepped inside the neglected store attached to the station.

Miguel stole a glance through the back window at Gabe, whose backside was pressed against the car window as he waited on the pump. He changed his mind and rose up out of the car, circling around the back and joining up with the kid. The rubber fuel hose dangled between their legs.

“I’m sorry for how I behaved earlier this week,” he said.

The kid looked at him suddenly. Those dark eyes were so beautiful. “Okay,” he said hoarsely. He cleared his throat. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Miguel reach out and took Gabe’s hand. Gabe held onto it for a second, then let it go.

There was a pause.

“Do you think you could finish filling this? I really have to pee.”

“Of course,” said Miguel.

Gabe left in a hurry.

Miguel stared through the tiny glass windows of the pump at the white-on-black numbers, rotating on their dials. When it stopped, he lifted the nozzle clumsily from the car—it was the first time he had ever done such a thing—set it back on the pump and closed up the car’s tank. He stood still in the relentless waves of heat, rather proud of himself.

At first he had felt some awkwardness over his exchange with the kid, then a flutter of nervous excitement. His fingertips still buzzed from their brush with Gabe’s. The move had somehow felt nearly as intimate as that night…

What was more, he had finally offered an explicit apology, and felt like it had really meant something. Gabe had so far been very patient with him, all things considered. It occurred to Miguel that he would soon need to settle into a more consistent way of feeling about all of this, or else risk driving the kid away. The crazy thing was, his feelings for Gabe had soared along a level plateau ever since the moment his vague suspicion—and his hope—had been confirmed. What, exactly, to do with those feelings was a separate matter. Presently, he remembered Gabe’s exact words that first night, drunk in his bed: I’m like you.

“What’s it say?” Eddie shouted from the doorway of the store, waking Miguel from his dream.


“What’s it say on the pump?”

“Oh. Twenty-one ninety.”

Eddie nodded and went back inside.

Another half-hour down the highway, having crossed the border into Arizona, they reached what felt to Miguel like the furthest he had ever been from anywhere. The highway cut a remarkably straight line through a strange landscape of stunted, jagged peaks, rising from a sea of sagebrush and cactus.

Just after four, Eddie hit the brakes suddenly, scanning the road ahead. He made a right turn onto a dirt road so well-disguised that Miguel (figuring Eddie had lost his mind) braced himself for impact with the dense pocket of brush. But an opening emerged at the last second, and after about ten minutes minutes of bumping slowly along, the ragged lane dipped left, down around a low, rocky hill. The Headwaters camp lay cleverly tucked at its base.

It wasn’t that different from what Miguel had pictured. A patched-up old single-wide played centerpiece to a pitiful cluster of canvas tents, flaps opening and closing in the slow, hot breeze. The largest structure, a metal-clad building similar in both scale and design to the warehouse, stood just past the tents. The ruins of an ancient wooden corral scooped up the far side of the camp in a crumbling half-circle.

The hill enshrouding the camp was capped with a massive, emerging boulder, rounded off like a bald man’s head. It took on more of a monolithic quality the longer Miguel stared it.

“Each of you grab a jug of the water,” ordered Eddie. “We’ll bring them to the barracks.”

Miguel and Gabe met at the trunk of the car, They both lifted out a swollen plastic gallon container, along with their bedding.

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