The knocking on the door is getting harder and harder. Two days have passed since the party. The tension is getting thick. It’s getting real thick. Real thick. After the threat to two white girls in Birmingham people were pissed. I didn’t understand how things had escalated so quick. When I open the door I’m surprised by who is standing out there. I’m surprised when I open the door and see who it is. It’s Stevey.
“It’s the middle of the night Stevey, what the hell are you doing here?”
He’s been running. Sweat is glistening down his forehead. He’s breathing heavy. Really heavy.
You would think he knows by now to stay away from the Crawfords. You would with all this drama he would find another job or something. I’m wrong. He’s here. Again. In the midst of all of this.
“Ms. Carol called for Sissy. I came with her.”
“Why’d she bring you here? It’s not safe here…”
“I need your help,” he states.
“I need to stay away from it all…all of it…” he states.
The look on his face scares me. I’d never seen Stevey like this. I can see from his face that something had changed. He was panicking.
I grab him, “Sit down. Take a breather. You need some water…”
“Yeah. Water. Water please…”
Something had gone wrong. Something terrible had gone wrong. It’s written all over his face. I can see it just in the way that he’s presenting himself. For two days I had not heard from him. I was too afraid to ask why Chuck and June left the house everyday. A part of me just wanted to ignore it all. But it’s clear I couldn’t. The drama was literally showing up right on my doorstep.
“What’s wrong Stevey?” I ask, “Talk to me.”
“Where you been?” he asks.
He squints when he asks it. It’s this weird way. It’s almost as though he’s trying to accuse me of something without saying the words.
“I’ve been here. I’ve been minding my business. Keeping a low profile.”
“Must be easy for you,” he responds rolling his eyes, “Nobody brings trouble to a white boy.”
This boy had literally come to me for my help and now he was getting an attitude with me? I didn’t understand it. A part of me wants to tell him off. A part of me wants to put him in his place. I don’t though. I just stay patient with him. It’s clear he’s emotional right now.
“You going to tell me what the issue is or you going to keep acting like a needy brat?”
“Needy brat?” he asks, “Is that what you think of me? Maybe I came to the wrong place.”
He was sensitive. It had come out of nowhere. All I knew was that he was on 10. There was this fear in his eyes. It’s real fear. I hadn’t seen real fear like this up North before but something was going wrong and I knew the trigger had gone off at that party.
“White folks are mad…” he explains.
“Your friends,” I ask him, “You can’t tell me it wasn’t Beau? This has him written all over it. I saw how angry he was. That was real anger.They attacked Mary Flannery. They killed her dog. What did ya’ll people expect would happen?”
Dammit. It’s like every word I said to him now was being nitpicked.
“You know I don’t mean it like that,” I explain to him, “All I’m saying is there was already tension after Carol. Things only got worse with your friends. Can you honestly tell me you still believe they didn’t rape Carol?”
“White girls lie all the time on black folk,” he responds.
“Wasn’t no lie what happened to Mary Flannery…”
“Mary Flannery wasn’t raped, was she?” he asks, “One bad apple don’t spoil the bunch.”
“One bad apple?” I ask.
He pauses. He’s quieting up. Dammit. I hate when he got like this. I watch as he gets off the bed and walks to the window. It’s clear he doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s clear he doesn’t want to go into what he meant by what he just said.
I repeat myself. I’m not going to let him get away with this.
“One bad apple?” I ask again, “Answer me…”
He pauses for a few awkward seconds. He’s trying to compose himself but I knew there was something he was hiding.
“Lonny has an issue.”
“I knew it. I fucking knew Carol wasn’t lying!” I find myself shaking my head, “I can’t believe I listened to you. I can’t believe I took your fuckin side when that poor girl was in trouble.”
My feelings for Stevey blinded me to the fact that there was a possibility that Carol was telling the truth. After what happened with Mary Flannery a little doubt was taken off, but there still was some remaining. Now that was confirmation that everything I suspected was real. I had called Carol a liar. I had gone out of my way to defend Stevey’s friends because I felt like I wanted to defend Stevey. Instead, I was the one who was actually one the wrong side of history in this. I had made the mistake.
“I’m PISSED!” I tell him.
I bark at him. I can’t believe I allowed myself to catch feelings for this guy so hard and be so dumb for him. No wonder people were so mad. No wonder June had joined the guys Chuck hung out with. No wonder Millwood was leading this sort of thing.
He gets quiet as though thinking.
“They raided the church this morning,” he explains.
“The church I go to. A few white people from Up North had come down to support the end of segregation. When news came out about Mary Flannery, mobs of white pro-segregationists patrolled the streets with guns and other weapons to prevent black children from entering. The mob hung the negro pastor at the top of the school’s flagpole and set it on fire. Signs attached to each pants leg read, “This Negro is hiding rapists” and, “This is a warning, niggers.”
“Oh my god. Is it true?” I ask.
“Was he hiding them?”
He looks at me like I have two heads, “No it ain’t true. That pastor damn near raised us. Sure maybe from time to time Beau and Shug went there for some money. All of us did. He didn’t deserve to die.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You’re saying it matters if he was protecting them,” I respond, “They sleep at my house. Does that mean I should be hung?”
He was upset. Tears were rolling down his eyes. All of a sudden I feel like shit for even asking the questions I asked. All of a sudden I am just so aware of my bias. People were being terrorized because of what Lonny did.
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” I tell him grabbing his hand, “Listen. I won’t let anything happen to you OK? You can stay here for as long as you can. Away from all the bullshit that is going on out there.”
Shit would only get worse from here.
“Of course, I do,” I tell him, “Go ahead. Lay down. Get some rest.”
I lay in the bed with him that night. I’m looking at the back of his neck. The truth was that I wasn’t all the way sure why I was getting myself involved in this. Sure, I felt bad about the negros being terrorized, but I also felt bad about what happened to Carol. It just felt like everyone in this goddam town was wrong and I was stuck in the middle trying to protect this boy.
“You can’t sleep?” he whispers in the darkness.
He’s facing away from me. Until this moment I had sworn Stevie was asleep.
“No. Not really.”
He grabs my hand and pulls me towards him. He pulls me so close that my crotch is pressed up against the seat of his pants. I’m not expecting it and I didn’t give my body the chance to adjust. Before I know it I’m completely hard and my dick is pressed up in the crease if his pants. The more I feel his ass, the harder my dick becomes until I’m sure it is clearly noticeable.
“I’m sorry about that…”
“That’s your problem,” he states.
“You’re far too nice,” he explains to me.
“Is that a problem?” I ask, “Being too nice?”
“You want me,” he explains, “I can smell it on you. I want you too. You know it. Why haven’t you made a move yet? Aren’t the signs all there? Do I literally have to sit on your dick while you’re asleep?”
I’m shocked he’s talking like this. Most gay men were so secretive. Clearly, we had moved past that point. Still… I didn’t know how comfortable I was with this. I can see him just sitting there and I can tell that he’s having trouble accepting that I might not be as aggressive as he wants me to be. I wanted to be though.
“What if I told you I wanted more than just sex?” I ask him.
“That doesn’t exist with people like us?”
“I’m black. You’re white. We’re both men. All the cards are against us. But we can make tonight last.”
He slides down his pants. His ass is pressed up against the seat of my pants. My dick is throbbing as he takes my hand and guides it to his hole. His hole is wet for me. He’s so ready for me. He pushes back slowly as though just trying to get the feel for it at first but then I realize that he’s taking my dick out. When he takes my dick out he slowly begins to back up on it. I feel precum forming on the tip of my dick and it’s just enough to ease the tip of my dick into his ass.
“You’re so much bigger than I thought,” he whispers, “I want you inside of me. I want you inside of me all night long. I want you to own me tonight. Is that OK? Can you be my daddy tonight?”
We both moan at the same time. I want nothing more than to push in deeper. I want nothing more than to wrestle him down and manhandle him. I want to pound him until he never doubted my manhood again.
But I don’t.
That’s easy for me to do. That’s what he would expect. And I wanted more. I wanted more from this. So I pull my dick back out.
“Goodnight Stevey,” I tell him.
He isn’t expecting it. He doesn’t expect me to put my dick back in my underwear and go to sleep holding him. Of course, I have blue balls, but it doesn’t matter. I wanted to show him something new. I wanted to show him an emotion that he wasn’t going to get anywhere else. That’s how much this relationship meant to me.
I wake up at that moment to the door slamming. It had to be one of the house girls. They usually came in early to take the dirty clothes so they can wash them. When the door shuts I realize that I’m not asleep alone tonight. Stevey is in the bed with me. I think we notice it both at the same time because he jumps up and turns to me. There is this look of concern in his eyes.
“Did they see me?” he asks.
I don’t know the answer to that. It’s kind of scary to even think of what the answer to that could be.
He seems more than eager to listen to exactly what I have to say. I get off the bed and start walking downstairs. When I get down the stairs I see Uncle Charlie and Aunt Loribeth sitting in the sunroom. They are having morning coffee. Uncle Charlie has his paper in his hand. On the front cover I can see that news is spreading around about what happened at the party.
“Morning,” I state.
I wanted so badly to know if there was anything they knew about Stevey being upstairs. Looking at Uncle Charlie I couldn’t really tell. Aunt Loribeth wasn’t the type to hide much of anything though. She gives me a welcoming smile and raises her glass just in time for one of the House girls to come pour her tea for her.
“You sleep well?” Aunt Loribeth asks.
“Any tea today?”
“No, ma’am. Just wanted to check to see if there was any news this morning after what happened with Mary Flannery.”
“They still out there looking for those negros,” Aunt Loribeth states, “I expected you to be out there with your cousins.”
“June and Chuck need to come home,” Uncle Charlie states, “This is beneath us.”
“They assaulted a white girl on our property. How is that none of our concern?”
“We are Crawfords. We have better things to do then hanging niggers in Townsquare.”
I’m not confused by my Uncle. Not too long ago I would have confused it with empathy but I knew better now. He put the Crawford name above any sort of savagery. Knowing that his sons had gone to join a mob was irritating to him but that was it. There was no empathy for black folks. He could care less. It was really a shame because I wonder deep down how racist he was. I wondered if he was better or worse than someone like my Aunt who was just so open about hers.
“I’ll leave you two to your discussions,” I state feeling the awkwardness in the room, “Just wanted to make sure nothing had changed.”
I turn around. I start walking out of the room realizing that the status quo remained the same. I felt like Stevey and I was in the clear, at least for now.
“It will go back to being the same once June and Chuck come home,” he tells me, “And once you get that negro out of your room.”
I stop at that moment. Shit.
Uncle Charlie is just looking at me. He glares at me. Aunt Loribeth seems confused.
“What negro?” she asks.
“He’s hiding Stevey upstairs,” Uncle Charlie states coldly without any sort of expression.
“You crazy hiding him here?” Aunt Loribeth asks.
“He has nothing to do with it,” I respond.
“Ain’t none of these niggers innocent,” Aunt Loribeth asks, “Rumor has it Alvin Fulton saw Stevey talking to one of those negros that Mary Flannery described not too long ago. They going to be looking for him. You going to lead him right back here.”
“And so what?” I ask, “You acting like Stevey is a stranger all of a sudden? He’s worked for this family for how long?”
“Listen to your Aunt,” Uncle Charlie says, “We all love Stevey, but these negros got a lot of heart. He’ll manage on his own.”
“Settles things,” Aunt Loribeth states getting up, “I’m sure you understand. Nothing against Stevey. He did good work. Maybe after this, all blows over we can have him come back to work. Matter of fact I think I’ll go enjoy his garden. Would you like to join me August?”
Her fat ass probably just wanted someone to lean on.
“No,” I respond.
She smiles a little bit and walks out. I can’t stand her. I couldn’t stand any of them.
“You just going to let her do that?” I ask Uncle Charlie.
He could care less. He goes back to his newspaper. It means nothing to him. Not a goddam thing. This is all just so inconvenient for a man like Uncle Charlie. He was all about his business and as far as he was concerned this was just a waste of that.
“He’s staying,” I respond.
The words come out of my mouth fast and sharp. Uncle Charlie slowly and steadily looks up from his newspaper. Our eyes connect.
“Who the hell do you think you —-”
“He stays or I tell Aunt Loribeth and anyone else who would listen to the real reason why Stevey’s mother isn’t around,” I state, “Trust me. I know your little secret about the doctor. I know what you have been trying to hide all this time.”
He looks at me. He was family but I didn’t care at this point. This man was a monster and he was a monster that I needed at this moment. There was no place as safe as the Crawford house and if I cared about Stevey then I needed him here…with me.
I wonder if he’s going to ask me how I know. I wonder if I’m going to have to give away Chuck. All of a sudden this is getting way too inconvenient for him. I watch as he shuffles a little in his chair. This is the most phased I’d seen Uncle Charlie look.
His face returns to his cold, natural demeanor quite shortly as he reopens his newspaper, “The basement. Keep him in the basement. Use the back entrance. No one better not know that he’s in this house…”
I walk out the room at that moment to see Stevey’s sister…Sissy. She’s standing there at the bottom of the stairs.
“I did it for him.”
“I know,” she states, “People are going to put two and two together. Folks are going to get scared. They are going to talk. They are going to give Stevey up. It’s only a matter of time.”
“He’ll be safe here.”
“Can you ride with me?” she asks.
“To get his stuff from the house?”
I nod, “Of course…”
The ride to her house was odd, to say the least. I didn’t understand why she asks me especially when she is the one behind the wheel. I understand why she didn’t want to take Stevey. Stevey wasn’t safe. But why did she choose to bring me?
Halfway through it all clicks.
“You don’t feel safe either, do you?” I ask.
“No safer than any other negro in this sort of environment,” she explains.
“Nothing to do with Lonny?”
“So you know?” Sissy asks.
I nod, “Yeah. Yeah, I know. I don’t blame you. Beau is scary enough.”
“I’m just glad my brother is away from all of them,” she states at that moment, “They are animals. The worst kind. It started with my sister Lena. You know that?”
“Was it just Lonny?”
“Yeah it was just Lonny, but does it make it any better that Beau and Shug knew about it? They didn’t do a damn thing. And who was going to believe a little negro girl if I went to the cops?” she states, “All I could do is send Lena away.”
She’s crying at that moment. She’s really upset. I can see her tears at that moment building up. I put my hand on her shoulder. It’s the only thing I can do. She slows down on the road long enough to wipe her tears.
“It’s the first time I’ve really seen you vulnerable.” I realize.
She always seemed so detached, just like Uncle Charlie.
“I had to be strong for my family. That’s what happens when everyone else is gone,” she states, “I was supposed to protect them. I failed Lena. And now I feel like I’m about to fail Stevey.”
“You’re not going to fail Stevey…”
“I wished he listened. I wished he had listened when I told him shit was going to hit the fan. He wasn’t even supposed to be at that goddam bar that night. I specifically told him not to go that night.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
She turns over to me and smiles, “You’re a good guy, August Crawford. You see the best in people. I wish my brother wasn’t so stubborn. I wish he would just run away with you, but he doesn’t want to leave me.”
I smile, “I’m OK, but you’re the good sister. And I’ll talk to him again today. Once we get his stuff we’ll have a conversation at…at…Oh god…”
I stop talking.
Sissy stops driving.
We had pulled up to the house at that moment. That’s when we see the smoke. The smoke is mounting up. We run out of the car. The house was on fire. It was burning! The entire fucking house was burning down!
She’s tearing up at that moment. It seems like the dam that she used to hold back her emotions had just cracked and everything was flowing out. I try to grab Sissy. I hold her. I try to show her every bit of love I can at that moment. She’s crying in my arms looking at the house that she had. It’s clear what happened.
It’s clear the mob had burned down the house.
“Oh god…oh god…”
“Get Carol, I need Carol,” she starts crying louder.
I’m confused. Why the hell would Sissy be crying for Carol at a time like this?”
“Carol? Carol Millwood?” I ask confused as hell.
She ignores me and starts running back to the car. She isn’t in the position to drive. The house that her family was raised in just burned down. She couldn’t even see let alone drive. I pull her out the car and watch as she kicks me off of her and falls to the ground. She begins to roll around on the side of the road. I haven’t seen this sort of pain before.
All I can hear her do is repeat these strange words over and over again.
“It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault…”
I don’t know what she’s saying but I stop her. I grab her.
“Nothing’s your fault.”
“Yes it is,” she responds, looking up at me, “Carol didn’t even like those boys. We just thought. We were so tired. You know? We were so tired of these men getting away with treating us the way they did. Her father. How Shug treated Lena. What he allowed Lonny to do to Lena. We couldn’t let that happen.”
“What did you do?” I ask, “What did you do?”
Truth is though I know the answer to it. Sissy had always been a little off to me. Now I knew exactly why.
“We didn’t think it would go this far.”
“Carol is your lover. Isn’t she?”
She doesn’t answer. She just keeps rolling, “I just wanted justice for my sister. Who was going to listen to a little black girl? We are the lowest of the low. Who?”
This wasn’t just about racism or homosexuality. This was all about sexism as well. Carol understood being gay far too well. That was the real freedom she wanted.
Lonny had an issue with rape, but he never raped Carol. He’d done it to Lena. And because no one listened to a black female, she got her white lover to recreate the scene. Only thing is her lie had gone too far. Justice for Lena had turned into something completely different…