"Hello," I Liedby M. E. Kerr
I’d always think of it as the summer that I loved a girl . . .
Seventeen-year-old Lang Penner and his mother are spending the/i>/b>/i>
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From the Margaret A. Edwards Award–winning author of Deliver Us from Evie comes a novel about a gay teenager who discovers a different kind of love during an unforgettable summer in the Hamptons
I’d always think of it as the summer that I loved a girl . . .
Seventeen-year-old Lang Penner and his mother are spending the summer in the caretaker’s cottage at Roundelay, the sprawling East Hampton estate of legendary rocker Ben Nevada. Lang passes the time walking on the beach and hoping for a glimpse of his idol. When they finally meet, Nevada is very different from the man Lang imagined. He finds himself confiding in the retired star about his homosexuality. When Nevada hears Lang’s secret, he figures Lang is a safe bet to show the seventeen-year-old daughter of some friends from France a good time in the Hamptons. This was supposed to be the summer of Lang’s coming out. He even has a boyfriend, Alex, a twenty-year-old actor living in Manhattan. The last thing he expects is to become infatuated with a girl.
“Hello,” I Lied is a story about all kinds of love—from friendship to physical attraction to hero worship—as a teenager bravely confronts his sexuality.
This ebook features an illustrated personal history of M. E. Kerr including rare images from the author’s collection.
Written in Kerr's blithe style, this is an urbane story with a bit of an edge, a likably confused protagonist, and some deftly inserted information.
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- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
"Hello," I Lied
By M. E. Kerr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 M. E. Kerr
All rights reserved.
SOME PEOPLE SAID I'D never see him. Very few had seen him in ten years. That was when he quit playing, writing, performing—quit everything. Retired at thirty-two. Not burned out like some rockers. Just finished.
Ben Nevada was a star like Elvis, John Lennon, Dylan, or Mick Jagger. Even if he wasn't around anymore, the name would be, the fame would be. He said it himself in "Flame."
Let the fame go,
Let the game go,
But the flame glows,
And the fire grows,
I'm a fire!
We moved to Roundelay on Memorial Day weekend. You couldn't even see his house from ours, although we were at the same address.
We had the caretaker's cottage. It was down by the road near the gate, where the rottweilers lunged against the fence with their teeth bared, five of them, wearing red collars with silver spikes.
He'd never named them. He had a theory that if you named something, you grew fond of it. If you got fond of dogs, next thing you brought them into your house. He didn't want them in there. He already had three house dogs, all of them chows.
The rottweilers weren't pets. They were guards. He called them A, B, C, D, and E. He fed them himself. He drove down in his black Range Rover and tossed chunks of beef into their bowls. "Eat up!" he'd snarl at them. That was so they knew he was their master. He didn't scratch their ears, pet them, or let them walk with him. He just watched them eat.
He knew A was the fat one, and C was the one who waited for the others to eat before he would. He knew their ways. But he saved his affection for the chows.
I'd been told all that by Franklin, the houseman.
"If you see him feeding the dogs, just take off. You probably won't be up that early, anyway, but if you ever are, get lost!"
Of course, I saw him all the time on tape.
I'll never forget the first time.
Remember "Night in the Sun"? Remember his entrance?
He came out wearing black leather thigh-high boots, red silk jockey shorts, and a long black leather trenchcoat. He wore a big gold star on a gold chain around his neck. Backing him up was his killer band: Bobby Dale on guitar, the Matero twins on keyboards. I can't remember who was on bass, but Twist was on drums.
The song lasted five minutes and ended with him down on his knees, leaning backward all the way to the floor on this darkened stage with the overhead spotlight focused on him.
I never saw anything like it.
Even if I hadn't been a rock fan, I would have remembered that performance. You don't have to know anything about rock to be moved by it. All you need is eyes and ears and some connection with the human race. If you never had a heart, you grew one, listening to that husky voice wrenching out the words.
You wondered how he could put all that out there, come up with those moves, tap into everything you never knew was buried deep inside you. You wondered if he knew what he was causing you to feel, if he cared or didn't care, if he was aiming at you or just letting go some wild stuff he couldn't hold back if he wanted to.
The audience went crazy.
Even on tape you could feel yourself part of it. I almost cried. I did laugh. Hard. It was the first time I ever understood the pull of a Jesus or a Hitler. First time I ever knew what made people scream when a Magic ran out on the basketball court, or a Martina whacked a tennis ball across the net.... It made me appreciate what got into groupies, fans, worshippers, and followers.
So it was Ben Nevada who gave me my first real taste of charisma.
You can imagine how I felt when Mom told me who she was going to work for that summer.
I was seventeen going on eighteen.
After school was over in New York, I'd be living there full-time, too.
I was going to help out, do odd jobs, and five nights a week I'd be a waiter at Sob Story on the Montauk Highway.
Help out, hide out, cool out, come out—all four things at once.
That was the trouble that summer.
About all I was sure of was my name: Lang Penner.CHAPTER 2
"WHAT'S YOUR NAME? LANE?"
"No, sir. Lang."
"Kind of a name is that?" he barked.
He stood on the dunes scowling down at me.
"Lang was my mother's maiden name," I said.
"Are you Lucy's son?"
"Don't you know you're not supposed to be down here?"
"I'm not supposed to be on the beach?"
"This is my beach!"
"I didn't know that, sir."
"This is the second time I've seen you down here."
"Yes, sir. When we first moved in, I walked down here with a friend."
"Walk down there." He waved his hand at the beach farther down. He had two chows at his feet.
"Well, you're here now, aren't you?" he said. "Go fetch my other dog." He tossed me a red leather lead. "You'll need this. Plato is stubborn. He knows we're heading back to the house."
Some house. It was about 20,000 square feet. That early-summer morning it looked like a whole kingdom sifting into sight through the fog.
I whistled at the dog sitting in the sand, his black tongue out as he panted. Once Alex had owned a chow. I remembered him telling me they were the only dogs who didn't have pink tongues.
Then I called, "C'mon, boy!"
Nevada snapped, "No! You have to go and get him! Plato doesn't follow orders. He's like you."
"Nobody gave me any orders," I mumbled.
I was carrying two paperbacks. I went down to the chow, hooked the lead on him, and led him back to where Nevada was waiting for me.
"What do you mean, nobody gave you any orders?" he asked me. "Everything's printed out on the sheet I gave your mother. Didn't you bother to read it?"
"I read it. I guess I didn't understand it."
"Didn't understand it," he said in a crabby tone.
"I didn't!" I protested.
"I heard you."
I walked behind him for a while. He wasn't at all what I'd expected. He was taller and somehow more dignified and well-spoken. There were silver streaks through his thick black hair, and his jeans were pressed and creased. He had on a black T-shirt and black leather thong sandals, and the only jewelry was a large gold watch with a black face. I did some fast addition. He was forty-two. He looked older. He had a tan and the wrinkles around his eyes that go with people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
He turned around and waited for me to catch up with him.
Plato was tugging hard on the lead, but the other two chows heeled nicely, stopped when he did, looked up at him, waiting for the next move.
"What are you doing down on the beach at seven in the morning?" he asked me.
"Walking. Reading." I had always gotten up early in New York, just as soon as the garbage men began rattling the cans outside our apartment windows.
"What are you reading?" he asked me.
"Just some novels."
"What are they?"
"One is a book by Edmund White," I said. "The other one's by Truman Capote." I wished I had butchier reading material: an Elmore Leonard, or even a Stephen King. But I was trying to read stuff Alex liked. He was a big reader, and I was trying to catch up with him.
"Capote?" Nevada said.
I waited for him to vent, wisecrack, whatever.
He said, "Like Elton John."
"He wrote one song I wished I'd written. 'Yellow Brick Road.' You know that song?"
"Don't keep saying 'Yes, sir.' You can say 'Yes, Mr. Nevada.'"
"All right ... Mr. Nevada."
We walked along while the fog began lifting, showing more of Roundelay.
I asked him why he'd named his house that.
"Don't you know what a roundelay is?" he said.
"It's a simple song, with a phrase or a line repeated."
"My mother thought it was a dance."
"It is. That too," he said.
The chows trotted along beside us, Plato still struggling to go faster.
Nevada said, "If you had to describe yourself using only one word, what would that word be?"
"What?" I'd heard him, but the question was so out of the blue, it threw me.
He repeated it, looking down at me with his dark-blue eyes, frowning.
I thought of Alex. I thought of the way he smelled of patchouli sometimes first thing in the morning. I thought of Brittany, too, of how she'd complain, "You don't know how to kiss, do you?"
I said, "Torn."
"Torn?" he bellowed.
"Torn between what and what?" he demanded.
"Torn between comfort and conformity."
What was I doing spilling out my guts to him?
He said, "My father used to say, 'First do what is expected of you! Then enjoy the surprise of finding out you like it.'"
"They fuck us up!" he said.
"What?" I wasn't sure I'd heard him right.
"Parents," he said. "That's from a poem by Philip Larkin."
He stopped in his tracks, tossed his head back, and quoted the whole thing.
It was a real blast against family.
Later, I would learn he liked to quote from Shakespeare, the Bible, Yeats, Auden—all writers you wouldn't figure he'd ever read.
Later, I would come to know he regretted never going to college, never having a decent education.
It was his Achilles' heel.
But that hot, muggy day in June, with the sun already making us both perspire, I just kept trying to put this man together with the fellow in black leather, on his knees, leaning so far back you wondered how anyone could bend a body like that, thrusting his pelvis skyward while the drums and bass played the same lick over and over, and the audience almost crazy.
"That poem is called 'This Be the Verse,'" he said.
I vaguely remembered he had some quarrel with his father, that it was all through his music. Something about his old man never letting go of him, always controlling him.
We walked along silently with the chows until Roundelay stretched before us in all its glory.
There was a fork in the path.
He stopped long enough to take Plato's lead from me.
"I don't want to see you on my beach again, Lane," he said.
"It's Lang, Mr. Nevada."
He gave me a little two-fingered salute, no smile.
He headed toward Roundelay and I took the other path.CHAPTER 3
"HOW'S EVERYTHING AT MANDERLEY?" Alex asked. That's what he called Roundelay. It was the name of the house in Rebecca, an old movie we both liked, with Judith Anderson playing the evil Mrs. Danvers.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again—that was the opening line.
I told him I'd met Ben Nevada, and how he'd asked me to describe myself in one word.
I didn't tell Alex I'd answered "torn." I told him I'd said "content."
"How would you describe yourself in one word?" I said.
I laughed. "I'll probably never see him again."
"If you do, ask him why Cali always said, 'Pain over!' at the end of every song."
"Oh, sure. I'm going to bring her name up!"
"It's been years since she died."
"Fourteen years exactly," I said.
Right after my encounter with Nevada that morning, I went down to the library. I did a little research with the help of the computer there, surfing through old news stories. One I printed out.
EX-ROCK SINGER DEAD IN CRASH: CALI COSS, AGE 26 CALI COSS WAS AMONG the dead in yesterday's crash of the Boeing 707, along with her husband, Leonard Haun. After skyrocketing to fame with Ben Nevada's band, then plummeting into a life of drug abuse, she recovered in her two-year marriage to Haun, an insurance executive.
There was more about her upbringing in a poor family in Kentucky, and about the songs said to be inspired by her, written by Nevada.
There was a photograph of her, a poor reproduction of her singing at a concert in Japan.
I'd never heard her sing, but I'd heard that Nevada wrote his famous song "Heart in My Mouth" about her.
"She's the reason he doesn't perform anymore," Alex said.
"She'd already left him. He still gave concerts after she left him."
"But he never got over her," Alex said. "Didn't you ever hear 'You Took Me with You' or 'Tell Me Where You Are So I Know Where I Am'?"
I didn't keep up on star gossip the way Alex did.
Then he reminded me the call was costing him money and we started making our weekend plans.
"You come in, okay?" he said. "We have a benefit on Sunday night. When you finish at Sob Story Saturday, hitch a ride in and we'll have until late Sunday afternoon."
Alex was playing Fortinbras in Hamlet.
He wasn't just playing Fortinbras. He was also a soldier in one scene and a messenger in another. But it was his very first speaking role on Broadway. And it was Shakespeare again. Usually when he did Shakespeare, he was little more than a spear carrier.
We made arrangements for me to pick up a pizza and meet him at his apartment after the show.
I never went backstage. Even though Alex was "out" everywhere, I wasn't. And I didn't think it did him any good to have me showing up at the theater.
One time he'd played the hunk in Picnic in some amateur summer theater production. The actress starring with him blamed a bad review on Alex. Some small-town drama critic wrote that she was "wooden." She claimed she couldn't work up any emotion playing opposite a boy who preferred other boys to girls.
Alex laughed it off. He said, "When the lady doesn't know how to dance, she says the musicians don't know how to play."
But I never forgot him telling me about it, and I wouldn't hang around backstage for everyone to gape at me.
After I hung up, I went out to the kitchen, where Mom was making fried chicken for Nevada and his guests that night.
Nevada couldn't stand cooking smells in Roundelay, so Mom made most meals in our cottage. Then Franklin would drive down in the Range Rover and pick everything up.
That was just fine with Mom. She said he played music full blast over the sound system, and as huge as Roundelay was, he had speakers in every room and insisted that all of them be on. If it wasn't music, it was his French language tapes. He wanted to learn French for some mysterious visitor he was expecting that month.
"Bonjour, madame," I said. "Comment allez vous?"
"Don't," she said. "I hear enough of that up there."
"Alex sends his love."
"Poor Alex in that hot city all summer!"
"Alex loves New York, Mom."
"Does he have air conditioning?"
"In that dump on Avenue A? It'd blow all the fuses."
I sat down and watched her. She could cook a four-course dinner for twelve and look as unruffled and neat as a clubwoman after a few rounds of bridge. Even her apron was spotless.
We were both blond and green eyed, but I had my father's height, she said, and she hoped that was all I'd inherited from him. Any information I had concerning him was secondhand. He'd taken off before I'd learned to walk. The only photograph I had of him was taken outside a place in Las Vegas called Circus Circus. Mom liked to say it was snapped during one of the rare moments when he wasn't inside a casino. He was a gambler—a grinning, lanky fellow wearing a black, open-collared shirt, white pants, and a belt with a big silver buckle.
Mom had been born in Atlantic City, and when the card players and one-armed bandits took over, she got a job at The Golden Nugget. Met him there, fell in love, married him.
Last we heard of him, he was running the roulette wheel on some ship, specializing in Caribbean cruises.
"I've been thinking about that word game Mr. Nevada played with you," she said.
"Played on me," I said. "He didn't say what word described him."
"I'm glad you said 'torn,' Lang."
"Not about being gay, Mom. About coming out. Sometimes I feel as though I'm living this lie. Other times I feel I should just keep my mouth shut."
"I'm glad you told me, but I don't see why it has to be anybody else's business.... And I still think it's too soon for you to make up your mind about being gay."
"How old were you when you made up your mind you were straight?"
She sighed and said, "All right. I don't have time for one of your gay pride lectures, honey. I have to finish this chicken. Can you lend a hand?"
While we were loading up the tray, I said, "What word would you use to describe yourself?"
She came up with the same word I'd told Alex I'd answered. Content.
"Mr. Nevada is paying me more than I ever got before, for doing something I love doing ... and you're included. That's contentment," she said. "And I'm happy. Is that the same thing as content?'
"I'd say it's synonymous."
Excerpted from "Hello," I Lied by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 1997 M. E. Kerr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
M. E. Kerr was born Marijane Meaker in Auburn, New York. Her interest in writing began with her father, who loved to read, and her mother, who loved to tell stories of neighborhood gossip. Unable to find an agent to represent her work, Meaker became her own agent, and wrote articles and books under a series of pseudonyms: Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, Laura Winston, M. E. Kerr, and Mary James. As M. E. Kerr, Meaker has produced over twenty novels for young adults and won multiple awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her lifetime contribution to young adult literature.
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