ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the prompt calls, based on discussion with [personal profile] lynnoconnacht and other fans. It also fills the "If Only You'd Notice Me: Yearning & Obliviousness" square in my 6-11-14 card for the [community profile] fanbingo fest. It has been selected as the free epic for the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl meeting the $200 goal. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread in the Polychrome Heroics series.

Note: This poem contains frank discussion of teen sex/romance, exploration of sexual orientation, some rude terms for same, evolving relationships, mistakes and reparations, mentoring, and other serious topics along with the fluff. The overall tone is positive, but sensitive readers may want to consider their headspace in deciding when to read this.


"A Walk in the Park"


Stan and Lawrence took to
walking around the Mall,
dressed in their heavy winter coats,
to help get Stan back in condition
as the knife wound healed.

They walked side by side,
not holding hands, just
letting their shoulders
bump together now and then.

The cold breeze plucked at
Lawrence's pale hair, making it
flutter like frost-feathers
even when they stopped
to rest on one of the benches.

Hefty was there too, wearing
a gray coat and a vivid pink scarf.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked.

"No, there's plenty of room,"
Stan said, patting the stone,
and Hefty sat down beside them.

"Hey, Stan, I saw someone
selling hot cinnamon pretzels,"
Lawrence said, leaning over.
"Would you get me one?"

"Sure," Stan said,
and trotted away.

"That's clear across the Mall,"
Hefty observed.

"I know," Lawrence said.
"I wanted to talk to you."

"I'm listening," Hefty said.
"I know my last bit of advice
didn't work out too well for you,
so I hope I can make it up now."

"I, um, I've done some things
I'm not very proud of,"
Lawrence said, looking down
at his slush-covered boots.
"I don't know how to fix that,
and nobody understands."

"Try me," Hefty invited.
"My life hasn't been
a walk in the park."

Lawrence raised an eyebrow.
"Hard to imagine you
getting into my kind of trouble."

"Kid, look at me," Hefty said.
"I'm the size of a prize steer,
but I'm queer as a three-dollar bill.
What do you think high school
was like for me?"

Lawrence shrugged.
"I dunno."

"People called me everything
from faggot to fudgepacker,"
Hefty said.

"Wow," Lawrence said
with a sympathetic wince.

"I got into a lot of fights.
Didn't bother me; I can take a punch
as well as I can throw one," Hefty said.
He sighed. "Then one day,
I hit back a little too hard,
and I put someone in the hospital.
Didn't mean to, just happened."

Lawrence blinked.
"I thought you were ordinary?"

"I am," Hefty said, "but I'm still
strong enough to stave in
a dumb kid's ribs."

"Was he ... did he get better?"
Lawrence asked.

"Mostly," said Hefty. "He had
scars from the punctured lungs,
though, so he couldn't get his breath
as well as he used to. Quit track & field."

Lawrence couldn't help remembering
all the times he and Stan had
thrown each other around
with their superpowers, neither one
realizing how badly it could have ended.

"That sounds awful,"
Lawrence said.

"It was," Hefty agreed.
"I learned a lot from it, though.
So I know what it's like to mess up.
I became a cop partly so I could
intervene before things got really bad,
and help kids figure out how to fix mistakes."

"Stan doesn't get that part,"
Lawrence said, nibbling his lip.

"Stan's a good kid, that's why,"
Hefty explained, tracing a line
in the air with one thick hand.
"He doesn't cut up on purpose.
He makes a mistake, apologizes,
and it's all over for him. Not like us."
Hefty drew a scribble in the air.

Lawrence choked on a laugh.
"Story of my life."

"You're not alone," Hefty said,
patting him on the knee.

Lawrence flinched,
and the big man let go.

Still Lawrence knew that,
like Stan, Hefty wouldn't just
back away and ignore him.
He'd reach out again later.

"How do I stop ... being like that?
How do I make up for my mistakes?"
Lawrence asked him, voice shaking.

"First, admit you have a problem,"
Hefty said, holding up a finger.
"You've done that. Second,
list what you've done wrong.
Third, admit it to the people
you've hurt or let down.
Fourth, do some good things
to balance out the bad ones."

"Like the time I dumped Angelica
in a mud puddle for laughing at me,"
Lawrence said. "I ruined her clothes."

"Sounds like you owe her
replacements," Hefty said.

"Yeah," Lawrence said glumly,
because where was he ever
going to get the money for that?
But at least it gave him
an idea where to start.

"If you haven't found it yet,
SPOON has a webpage
about reparations," Hefty said.
"You're not the first person
to use his gifts for mischief
and then change his mind."

Lawrence brightened at that;
the SPOON site was reliable.
"Thanks. I'll look that up."

"You're a good kid, Lawrence," said Hefty,
"and no, don't shake your head at me.
It takes a lot of courage to admit mistakes
and then work on fixing what you can."

"Not as good as Stan,"
Lawrence said.

Hefty chuckled. "Oh, I'll bet
he has a fine opinion of you."

"Stan likes everybody,"
Lawrence said.
"Doesn't make me special."

"Have you seen the way
that boy looks at you?" Hefty said.
"You show up, and his smile
lights up like a Christmas tree.
He sits as close to you as possible.
He can't keep his hands out of your hair."

Lawrence laughed.
"Okay," he said,
I'll grant you that last one."

"Have you told him how you feel?"
Hefty asked gently.

"No," Lawrence said
with a shake of his head.
"We're just friends, really.
Stan likes girls, and I don't
want to make him feel weird."

"Has it occurred to you that
you know what you're feeling,
but he might not?" Hefty said.

Lawrence frowned.
"What do you mean by that?"

"Some people learn about themselves
earlier, and some learn it later,"
Hefty said. "When I reached junior high,
I realized that I was different. You?"

"I've always known,"
Lawrence admitted.
"Girls never did it for me.
Guys, well ..." His gaze
flitted toward the far end
of the Mall where Stan
had just come into view,
ambling toward them.

"I don't think Stan has realized
how broad his tastes are yet,"
Hefty explained.

"If I just belt it out, he'll freak,"
Lawrence protested.

"I'm not suggesting that you
tell him how he feels,"
Hefty said, smoothing a hand
through the air. "I'm just saying
it might help to tell him
how you feel."

Lawrence bit his lip,
trying not to panic,
words all jumbled inside.

He was saved by Stan
arriving back at their bench,
loaded down with packages --
hot cinnamon pretzels,
roasted chestnuts, and
three cups of cocoa.

"Figured as long as I was up,
I might as well buy for everyone,"
Stan said cheerfully.

Lawrence hurried to take
a pretzel and one of the cups.
It gave him something to do
other than fidget.

"Thank you, Stan," said Hefty
as he took a pretzel and cocoa.

Lawrence tried to hide
behind his impromptu feast,
but he couldn't keep his eyes
from drifting back to Stan.

"You look like you've got
something to say,"
Stan observed.

"I love you,"
Lawrence blurted.

Stan fumbled his chestnuts,
nearly dropping the paper cone.
"I -- um -- well --"

"You don't have to do anything,"
Lawrence assured him.

"Then why say anything?"
Stan said, forehead wrinkling.

"I just thought you should know,"
Lawrence explained. "I mean,
you already know I'm queer;
this is a bit more personal, is all.
It's okay that you don't
feel the same about me.
I know you like girls."

"I like girls," Stan said slowly.
"I like you too ... but it's different?"

"Different how?" Hefty prompted,
his big voice tender and warm.

"I don't know, just that it's not
the same as I've felt before
about anyone else," Stan said.
He picked loose chestnuts
off his coat and put them back
into their paper cone.

"We're listening,"
Hefty said.

"Angelica was my first
really serious girlfriend,"
Stan said. "I liked her
right away, because she's
bouncy and encouraging
and a terrific cheerleader."

"I hear a 'but' coming,"
Lawrence said,
warming his hands
on the cup of cocoa.

Stan nodded. "But she's also
kind of mean to people sometimes,
and jealous in ways that make me ...
uncomfortable," he said. "I still
care about Angelica, but I don't
want to be with her all the time."

"She made you do all the work,"
Lawrence observed.

"Yeah," Stan said. "You're not like that.
We did nothing but fight at first,
and then once we started to make up,
you were willing to pull your own weight.
Now I can't imagine my life without you."

"Same for me," Lawrence said.

"... and I, well ..." Stan mumbled.
"Remember when we saw Frozen?
And you asked about my favorite part?"

Lawrence nodded.
"The little love experts."

"I lied," Stan confessed.

Lawrence's jaw dropped.
Stan never lied.

When he managed to find his voice,
Lawrence asked, "Okay, then,
what was your really favorite part?"

"Watching it with you,"
Stan whispered.

Lawrence's heart melted.

"That's love," Hefty said quietly,
"when you want to be with someone
and do things together like that."

Stan ducked his head,
looked sidelong at Lawrence,
then looked away again.

"I don't know if ... if this is
a boyfriend kind of feeling,
or what," Stan said.

"That's okay," Hefty said.
It doesn't matter whether you want
to add romance to what you have,
or stay really good friends.
My partner and I are close
and that's completely different
from our romantic interests."

"I guess I can wrap my head
around that," Stan said.

"Do I need to give you kids
the lecture about safer sex now?"
Hefty asked them.

"No," Lawrence said
at the same time
Stan said, "Please don't."

Then Stan blushed and
fingered his coat where
the Activity Scouts sash
would go if he had it on.

"I got my Personal Health badge,"
he added. "That was embarrassing.
I almost didn't try for it, but I had
all the others and didn't want to skip."

"Good job," Hefty said,
clapping Stan on the back.

Lawrence didn't have a badge,
but he had some boy-boy romances
and a battered secondhand copy
of The Joy of Gay Sex.

He could make do,
if it ever came to that.
"Thanks for being here,"
he said softly.

"You boys remember that you can
call me if you need help," Hefty said,
looking from one to the other.

"Goes for me too," Stan said
as he lifted his chin. "I know,
I'm still underage, but I've
volunteered with the Activity Scouts
for some stuff already. If you need,
well, a little something extra --"
he touched the fetish that he wore,
"-- just give me the word."

That was one of the things
Lawrence adored about him,
the way Stan was always
putting himself out for others.

Lawrence had no idea how he did it,
but maybe it was something
that could be learned.

* * *

Notes:

Gene Leahy Mall is a popular park in Omaha, Nebraska. In winter, they deck it out with lights.

It's vitally important for young people to have older people they can look up to and seek for advice, all the more so for queer kids. Mentors may be matched in an official program or found individually as role models. When I started this thread, I wanted to explore how a couple of boys could go from butting heads to having a healthy relationship, so I looked at what they'd need for that to happen. I figured they would need good support, hence Hefty.

After making mistakes, responsible people make amends. Know how to make amends. There is a humanist version of the 12 Steps too. This is a leading concern for supervillains who want to stop being supervillains, as happened with Antimatter; but as Hefty shows, it applies to other folks too.

Recognizing love isn't always easy, especially if it appears in an unexpected context. There are ways to know if you're in love and know if someone loves you. Understand how to admit that you like someone, because without communication and acknowledgement, it's unlikely to go further.

People may discover their sexual orientation at any age, although puberty seems to be the most common. Teens often go through a period of questioning their orientation as they try to figure out who they are and what they like. This is something to be encouraged, not mocked; it's natural and beneficial. Lawrence has always known his orientation, Hefty had to feel it out over time, and Stan has made an incomplete assumption that he needs to reconsider in light of new information. There are tips for accepting that you are queer and for coming out.

As mentioned in "Dare Not Speak," the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts merged in Terramagne and also got a lot more tolerant. Badges include those taken from previous sets of Boy Scout badges and Girl Scout badges plus some new ones. A counterpoint to things like Public Health and First Aid, the Personal Health badge covers topics such as reproductive health & safety, sexual orientation, healthy diet, body safety like the right way to lift things, etc.



It helps for teenagers to have good references, and also entertainment that reflects their own interests. Every time I see a messed-up love-hate boy/boy relationship onscreen, I wind up wanting to taking them behind the barn and give them a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex. Goodreads has a list of gay teen romances. And of course, I write stuff like this series to show the possibilities of positive interaction.

Civic duty is a subjective feeling of obligation from individual to society. Some people have it, some don't, and it correlates pretty strongly with whether someone feels that society treats them well (they learn to reciprocate) or poorly (they learn to fend for themselves, and expect others to do likewise). This leads to civic responsibility and civic engagement, thus cultivating a better society. You can see that Stan has started out with a much higher sense of this than Lawrence, based on their different experiences; but Stan is starting to rub off on Lawrence. Some high schools and colleges have civics classes, a topic more popular in Terramagne than here. There are other ways to encourage civic engagement too.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 12:30 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I love this so much. The parts about the bullying were a little difficult, but over all, it was very nice. It makes me happy.

late replying

Date: 2014-08-11 12:52 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I might've read this a dozen times, looking at it from different angles, but after all that work I can finally choose a favorite line: when Lawrence says, "You don't have to do anything."

It shows a self-confidence, a familiarity with himself that is /refreshing/ in a character whose upbringing has left him with a decided lack of spoons to handle surprises.

That, alone, makes him a better match for Stan than Miss Cheerleader (who probably will be a decent person when she grows up a bit more).

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 01:19 am (UTC)
mdlbear: (poly-heart)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
The article about "how to know if someone loves you" lists several reasons why the guy might not "admit it", but leaves off what's probably the most common one -- he hasn't figured it out yet. That cliché about it being obvious to everyone except the guy himself? Very likely. Especially if he's on the geeky side -- aspergers and alexithymia go hand in hand. And apparently "male alexithymia" is a real thing all by itself -- one of my former shrinks did a thesis on it!

I like this one a lot.
Edited Date: 2014-08-11 01:24 am (UTC)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-08-11 01:48 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
"So there's quite a bit of Stan that Stan just doesn't know about yet." Sooth!

I would think that non-gender-specific advice would be hard to come by; too many things might be gender-specific and even orientation-specific. Although that's just a guess; my own experience in that area is very limited.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 02:11 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Very, very good feelings from this.

I forget: Is Hefty soup or (super)nary? And for that, do you have character pages?

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-08-11 02:21 am (UTC)
thnidu: blank white robot/avatar sitting on big red question mark. tinyurl.com/cgkcqcj via Google Images (question mark)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Thanks.

I think I've posted Hefty's character sheet under one of the poems, but I haven't gotten around to adding it to the main list of characters yet.

And how does one get to that?
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Very helpful, thank you!

Would you consider adding a "character list" tag to such posts?
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Yes, that's what I meant. To make it easier to find the character list for a given, um, stream? 'verse?

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-08-12 12:26 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
Huh, I hadn't read that poem. Thanks for linking it!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 04:34 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I think my favorite bit here is the way Lawrence goes from, "If I just belt it out, he'll freak" to... just blurting it out... in the space of about 90 seconds. It's like all he needed was for someone to put the idea into his head.

Regarding reparations and atonement, he's fortunate. He hasn't done anything over the line of being possible to atone for (except for Shiv, and that was to save a life). Some supervillains would have a much harder time if they ever decided they wanted to switch sides. Even Hefty has something in his past that he could never make right, although he didn't do it with intent.

"You show up, and his smile
lights up like a Christmas tree.
He sits as close to you as possible.
He can't keep his hands out of your hair."


This made me giggle. Especially the bit about the hair, because we've already seen that.

"I don't know, just that it's not
the same as I've felt before
about anyone else," Stan said.


Hefty's on the right track there with "Different how?" I suspect that this is Stan feeling, but not yet recognizing, the difference between a casual attraction and something that could turn into a long-term bond. Grownups tend to laugh at teenagers for not recognizing the difference between things like infatuation vs. love, but it takes practice, which teenagers by and large haven't yet had.

Our language makes the word "love" do far too much work, and then loads it down with cultural assumptions over which kind of love someone is referring to. That might be a useful conversation for Stan to have with somebody -- maybe the school librarian?

About 30 years ago I ran into the concept of the 7 types of intelligence, and it's been a useful tool for me ever since. Framed in those terms, Lawrence is above average in Logical/Mathematical and Intrapersonal (which I first learned as Self-knowledge), while Stan is above average in Bodily/Kinesthetic and Interpersonal (Other-knowledge). This has its good and bad points; there are things about each of them that the other just won't get, but it also means that they complement each others' weaknesses, which is one of the things that makes a good team.

Has Lawrence discovered yaoi, or slashfic? That could be Interesting.

Geez, this comment is all over the map. I just can't focus tonight.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-08-12 07:18 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
>> Has Lawrence discovered yaoi, or slashfic? That could be Interesting. <<

I'm not sure about yaoi. Lawrence not only reads slashfic, he writes it too. He's quite a talented fanwriter. That may actually come up later; I've got a fun bit of Terramagne literary divergence, and he's the contact point for how it affects people.


OMG, now I want to read some of Lawrence's slashfic! Does he write about anything I'd be likely to recognize?

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 12:24 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
D'awwwwww.

"I lied," Stan confessed.

Lawrence's jaw dropped.
Stan
never lied.

Paybacks..... *giggles*

Of course, the paybacks that get one's companion all *goopy* are the best ones... :)

Yay!

Date: 2014-08-11 01:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> D'awwwwww. <<

I'm glad you enjoyed this so much.

>> Paybacks..... *giggles*

Of course, the paybacks that get one's companion all *goopy* are the best ones... :) <<

Agreed. I think that's my favorite part of the poem too. Stan is so fundamentally honest, nobody expects him to fib, so that's how he gets away with it on the extremely rare occasions he considers it necessary. And he won't lie to protect himself, but he will in cases like this where he felt the truth might have been unnecessarily harmful.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-08-11 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paantha.livejournal.com
Aww. These two are so utterly adorable. ^_^

So great that things are out in the open (and that Hefty was there to support and advise <3).

Thank you!

Date: 2014-08-12 08:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Aww. These two are so utterly adorable. ^_^ <<

I'm glad you are enjoying this so much.

>> So great that things are out in the open (and that Hefty was there to support and advise <3). <<

I think Hefty's assistance plays a key role in helping both boys to identify and communicate their feelings, so they can work out what's happening between them.

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