We went to Rapid City for a concert and a weekend trip for my 22nd birthday. John David Gutierrez wanted to get sodas so we stopped at a gas station near the venue. He said he’d wait outside for me since he needed a smoke. I went in and looked around the aisles. As I stood in the register line, I saw three guys holding John David down on the pavement, punching his face and kicking his body. I dropped the drinks on the floor and ran out, but by then the guys had taken off in their car. John David was on the ground with his pants pulled down and a carving fork lodged in his butt. He was bleeding all over, especially from a gash on his lower back. I didn’t see the guys too well, but I knew they were from the rez. You can’t tell John David is gay just by looking at him.
When the paramedics arrived, John David was unconscious, but still breathing. They strapped him onto a stretcher and wheeled him inside the back of the ambulance. A cop showed up soon after to question me.
“So what happened? Who did this guy in?” he asked.
“Three guys with ponytails.”
“What’d they look like?”
“Indians,” I said, watching the ambulance take John David away.
“C’mon, guy, you ain’t helping,” he said.
“They looked like me,” I said, and showed him my ponytail.
“So three clones of yourself beat up your friend?”
“Actually, yeah,” I nodded. He gave up after that question.
I got in my car, looked at the clock, and saw I still had enough time to get to the concert but I took a U-turn towards the hospital. A nurse escorted me to the waiting room. The old TV was playing an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm but I couldn’t focus, so I stepped into the hallway to call home.
“They stuck a carving fork in his butt,” I said to my ina on the phone. “A fork!”
“That’s awful, Nimo,” she said. “Do you want me and Ate to go up there?”
“Nah, I don’t think you two wanna drive that far.” To be honest, I did want my parents to come, but I was two hours away.
“If you say so,” Ina said. “Keep John David comfortable. And if somebody tries to stick another fork in him, you pray to the Creator that he gets instant diarrhea.”
I went back to my car to find something to read since the waiting room had nothing but design magazines. I got lucky and found a Playboy John David had given me for Christmas. I slipped one of the boring design magazines over my Playboy and tried to enjoy the issue. But the problem was I kept thinking about John David. He had been a target before; people threatened to beat him up, but it never happened. The worst he ever got was name-calling and even then, it was usually something dumb like “fruitcake.” I couldn’t get his gash out of my head.
“He’s still being monitored by the doctors,” the nurse told me when I asked about John David’s condition. “As soon as he regains consciousness, you can go into his room. Are you his boyfriend?”
“I sure am,” I said and then realized I had a Playboy in disguise in my hand. The nurse was nice, so she counted me as John David’s “spouse” and said I could spend the night in his room. People around me gave me dirty looks when they heard I was “gay,” but I didn’t budge. I was just glad I didn’t have to pay for a motel.
John David was awake sooner than expected. His chest was plastered with bandages. There was a tray of chicken, mashed potatoes, and chocolate pudding next to him, but he hadn’t touched any of it. He was slouched on the bed, watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, but not looking interested, even though it’s his favorite show. John David is half-Lakota, half-Costa Rican. He was born in Brooklyn, but after his parents split up, his mom moved him to Pine Ridge. We became best buddies in third grade.
“Nimo, did the cops take the fork?” he asked me, between pauses.
“Yeah, for evidence.”
“Well, that sucks,” he said. “Now I can’t eat the food the nurse brought me.” I laughed a little, but he didn’t notice. He kept his eyes on the television. I lounged back in the chair, trying to focus on my Playboy again.
“You missed the concert,” John David said, after a moment of silence.
“They’ll come again. Don’t sweat it.”
“It sucks that I can’t hook up with anyone right now since it would literally be a giant pain in the ass.”
“Neither can I,” I said. “I told the nurse I’m your boyfriend so she’d let me stay in this room with you.”
John David found that amusing. He laughed, but not too hard. His sides were sore. He’s named after my grandfather, Chief John David Red Cloud. He died when I was a baby and nobody has replaced him. When you’re known around the rez, you get a nickname. My grandpa is still “Chief JD.” I’m “Nimo” because I couldn’t say Geronimo when I was a kid. Ina’s name is Josephine but she’s Josie to everyone. Ate is Jay Eagle, Jay E to most people. John David is The John David, like he’s a species.
“I gotta pee,” John David said with a groan. “Can you help me up?”
“Aren’t you supposed to use a pan?”
“Please don’t talk about kitchen stuff right now, Nimo.”
I helped him get down from his bed. He had thick bandages with dried bloodstains on his lower back. The bandage over his gash came loose and I saw FAG carved into his skin. I quickly put it back into place.
“Thanks,” John David said as we reached the bathroom. “I’ll take over now.”
“Are you sure?” He didn’t look like he could.
“Yeah, I got it under control.” He locked himself inside the bathroom and I heard him crying, but he probably thought I couldn’t. John David wasn’t much of a crier. The only time I saw him cry was when his ex-boyfriend, Ignacio, was sent to college in California by his parents.
“Nothing like a good long pee,” John David said when he was done. I helped him get back into the bed and he was knocked out right away.
John David was released from the hospital on Sunday morning. We had time to sightsee, but he was ready to go home and I was too. After breakfast, we hit the road. Every time we were in my car, John David was the one who controlled the music. This time, he didn’t touch the radio.
“That’s it, I’m putting on Madonna,” I said.
“I hate her,” he said. “She’s seen more sausage than Nathan’s in Coney Island. She’s one of the reasons why I like men.” When I laughed, John David didn’t respond. He set his head against the window and closed his eyes.
“Hey, I gotta take a leak,” I said when we were halfway home. I pulled over to a gas station that also happened to be selling “Indian crafts.”
“What kind of Indian is that?” I said, pointing to a carved figure of a “chief.”
“Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that,” John David sighed. We went inside and headed to the restrooms. While I fixed my ponytail, I saw John David struggling to button his pants. I went over to help, but he almost fell backwards getting away from me.
“Nimo, for the Creator’s sake, someone could walk in!”
“We’re boyfriends until we get home—this could be our last chance to get busy,” I said. He finally laughed, even though it wasn’t much.
When we got to Pine Ridge, it was lunch time. John David asked to stop at my house for a drink. I saw Ate fixing crooked shingles on the roof and waved to him.
“Hiya, son,” Ate said when we got to the porch. “Hey JD, how you doing?”
“Okay,” he shrugged. Then he walked past me and into the house. Ate looked down at me from his ladder with a confused face.
“Some guys put a fork in his—”
“Right, your ina told me,” Ate said. “Poor kid.”
“I wish I could’ve done something about it.”
“Don’t dwell on it too much, Nimo, I’m sure you would’ve done something if you could’ve,” Ate told me. “Glad to have you and JD home in one piece.”
I walked into the living room and John David was on the couch, sipping on Hi-C, watching Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was his favorite episode, so I expected him to be laughing within a couple of minutes. But it didn’t happen. After the episode was over, I shut the TV off and told John David I was taking him home.
I work in the early mornings at Sitting Bull College with Ate. I’m a handyman, I mean, “facility technician.” Ate is my boss, but it’s not like he’s ever threatened to fire me. John David usually comes in around one in the afternoon, close to when I get off my shift and head to my first class. On Monday, he came in thirty minutes later than usual.
“There was a leak in the bathroom,” he said when he saw me.
“Again?” I groaned.
“Well, not anymore, I just finished peeing,” he said. I shook my head and told him to get to class. He walked slowly from soreness. I was hit by a car in Los Angeles when I was 21, so I sometimes walk with a limp. If my leg hadn’t been acting up, I could’ve gotten to John David faster and maybe stopped that fork.
When I got off from class at seven, I met up with John David at Big Bat’s gas station and deli. After our orders came, John David leaned in close and said, “I know who did it, but it’s better if we drop it. I don’t want them getting you.”
“What if I’m gay and I don’t know it?”
“Nimo,” John David laughed. “You’re not gay.”
“I could be,” I said. “I listen to Madonna, I like cooking, and I clean for a living.”
“But,” he went on. “Did you like having sex with Cindy?”
“Aw, geez,” I sighed. “We broke up two years ago, man. Don’t bring that up.”
“Did you like having sex with her?”
“Yes,” I whispered. He pointed and laughed, calling me a hetero. I ate my grilled cheese sandwich and said, “It’s not my fault I like girls; I was born this way.”
“There’s nothing wrong with girls, I just don’t like sleeping with them,” he said. “Sleeping with Ignacio was awesome.”
“And sleeping with Cindy was so great, I did it at least a hundred times.”
“You know what, Nimo? I love that you’re a hetero,” John David said. “You don’t hog up the men.”
“And I love that you’re not a hetero, that means more women for me,” I said. John David smiled and thanked me.
On Friday night, I woke up from a post-work nap and freshened up for my latest date. Her name was Lena Buffalohead. She was John David’s neighbor who finally broke up with her asshole boyfriend after five years. I took an extra long shower and even shaved my armpits. It was our fourth date and things were going well, so I didn’t want to screw up. I came out of the bathroom looking semi-decent. Lena was a nice girl. There weren’t many girls who wanted to go out with me.
“You look so cute, Nimo,” Ina said from the couch. She was cuddling with Ate.
“He’s not cute—he’s not a kitten,” Ate said.
“Then you’re not cute either, you weirdo,” Ina said. “Have a nice night, Nimo.”
“And remember what I’ve always told you,” Ate said. “If you—”
“Feel a little warmth in your heart instead of your pants, that’s love,” I said. That’s actually true. I guess that’s how Ate knew he was in love with Ina.
I got to Lena’s with five minutes to spare. Mr. Buffalohead answered the door before I knocked. He’s known as “On-Time Tom” because he’s always on the dot. Some people say he was born prematurely because he felt like it. Others say Mr. Buffalohead had the doctors at the Indian Health Service Hospital induce Lena’s birth since he thought she would be born past her due date.
“Nimo!” Lena hugged me and kissed my cheek.
“So where you taking our little girl?” Mrs. Buffalohead asked me.
“We’re going to Big Bat’s for dinner.”
“You bring my daughter back at midnight sharp or else,” Mr. Buffalohead said. I took that seriously because knowing the way he was, he’d open the front door right at midnight and expect Lena to be standing on the porch. Lena told her parents not to worry and we were off.
During the drive, Lena held my hand and twiddled with my thumb. I’d heard she thought I was cute, but then again, I don’t believe everything I hear around the rez. Lena and me went to high school together, but I never paid attention to her since she was Jared Whitewolf’s girlfriend. She stood up for John David when he was bullied by a couple of guys in our senior year. They were making fun of him because he and Ignacio had gone to prom together, so Lena told them, “JD got laid that night; the rest of you went home and played with your joysticks.”
At Big Bat’s, Lena held my hand as we ordered our food. Then she rubbed her cheek on my upper arm and gazed into my eyes. She had a birthmark on the edge of her forehead, I’m assuming from being induced, and it looked like a jellybean. It made her face even cuter than it already was.
“Do you come here with JD a lot?” Lena asked as we ate.
“Yeah, at least once a week.”
John David came inside and waved to us. He spoke to me in Spanish, saying he came to buy some spray paint but he’d be leaving soon to give me and Lena privacy. Since not that many people in Pine Ridge speak Spanish, it’s our secret language. John David taught me Spanish in seventh grade, a year before he came out.
“He’s such a nice neighbor,” Lena said after John David left. “Did you know he baked my ina some cookies when she was sick? Isn’t that sweet?”
“Him or the cookies?” She smiled and fiddled with my hand some more.
“Would you mind parking somewhere with me?” she whispered.
“As long as it’s not a tow-away zone.” I was nervous since I hadn’t kissed a girl in a while. Lena took my hand in hers and we went to my car. For the first few minutes, I drove around aimlessly because I couldn’t think of a good place to go. Eventually, I parked in my usual spot at Sitting Bull College.
Lena snuggled against my right arm. I reclined our seats and she kissed me first, which was great since I had almost forgotten how it worked. I kissed the tip of her nose, her lips, and her neck. Lena moved closer towards me and kissed my cheeks, but when things were about to get good, she pulled herself away.
“What’s wrong? Is it midnight already?”
“No,” she said. “I thought I heard somebody screaming.”
“Maybe someone saw Ray Firebird naked,” I said, trying to kiss her again.
“Shush, Nimo!” I shoved my dirty thoughts aside. And then I did hear the scream. I started my car and sped towards the sound.
John David was a block away from home when the guys had surrounded his truck to stop him. They were holding him on the ground, throwing punches at his back.
“Leave my boyfriend alone!” I shouted as I jumped from the car. Lena was behind me, asking me what I was talking about, but I didn’t answer.
“Gabe?” Lena said. I got a closer look and saw that one of the guys was Gabe “Angel” Buffalohead, Lena’s cousin who had just moved to Pine Ridge from Nebraska. Gabe didn’t live up to his nickname, so I heard.
“Nimo, I got it under control,” John David said.
“Quiet, honey, let me talk to these guys,” I said. I told them to step away from him, but they laughed. They said they knew I wasn’t gay and to mind my own business.
“I’m not gay?” I said, like they had insulted me.
“Nimo,” John David pleaded. Gabe laughed at me again, but I told him to let my boyfriend go or things would get ugly.
“If you’re really gay, then kiss him,” Gabe said. I said I would. Gabe and his friends let John David stand up and walk over to me.
“You idiot, they’ll stick a fork in you,” he whispered in Spanish.
“Pretend I’m Ignacio,” I said. Before he could say more, I took him in my arms, closed my eyes, and kissed him like he was a 1980s Madonna. We kissed for a good while, enough for our tongues to join several times. When the kiss was over, I knew John David was right—I wasn’t gay.
“Geez, Nimo, you turned me hetero for five seconds,” John David whispered and spit to his left side. Gabe and his buddies had their mouths gaped open. Lena was asking me what the hell was going on and I couldn’t come up with a straight answer—I mean, a good one. I thought Gabe and his friends would leave after seeing us kiss, but they punched me. I’m five feet nine inches and almost 300 pounds, so I fought all of them with John David’s help. They took off when I made Gabe’s nose bleed. John David had cuts and bruises on his arms and legs. My lip was busted and blood poured down my chin.
“Here,” John David said and gave me his handkerchief. “I’ll take Lena home. You’ve had a rough night. I’ll see you later.”
I didn’t get home until past midnight and lucky for me, my leksi Gray Mountain was visiting from Sioux Plains. His doctor instinct kicked in: he got out his medicine bag and stitched my cut. He was quick when it came to first aid. He used to take care of Ate’s scrapes when they were kids.
“What happened on your date?” Ina asked.
“You’ll find out by tomorrow, Ina.”
“Looks like someone made out too much.” Ate winked.
“Uhm, not really,” I said. “It was from something else.” Then Ate, Ina, and Leksi got upset since they thought I had tried to force Lena to do something she didn’t want to, but I was too out of it to do any explaining. I said goodnight and hit the sack.
John David was outside my house the next morning. He had swollen bruises all over his arms, so I said I could drive him to Sioux Plains and have my leksi look at him.
“I’ll be okay,” he said. “Your lip’s looking better.”
“Thanks, but it’s gonna be a while before we kiss again. It hurts a lot.”
“Rumors are already spreading about you.” He sat on my porch step. “Some don’t believe it. Some say they knew it all along.”
“They can say what they want, but I know what’s true,” I said. “I don’t think Lena’s gonna go out with me again though.”
“She will,” John David assured me. “I told her why you did it. ’Course she was freaking out for a while, but she will.” He turned away. “Anyway, I meant to have it ready earlier, but I got your birthday present in my truck.”
We walked to his truck and I saw my cruiser bike with a new paint job. He must’ve snuck it out of my garage at some point. My bike had once belonged to my Grandpa JD, so it was more than a pair of wheels to me. I climbed on and was riding around in circles when my leg went stiff. I got ready to take a fall, but John David caught my bike before I splattered on the ground.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Anytime,” John David said. “Hetero.”