Foster and I were a couple now. Not an out couple, an undercover couple. Both figuratively and literally. But we kept our relationship out of sight. Betsy knew. Trying to keep it from her would have been impossible; telling her and pledging her to secrecy worked much better than letting her find out on her own. She was happy for us but said this made her even more eager to find someone for herself. That warm SoCal weather and cold, lonely sheets at night went as well together as horseradish and ice cream.
I had to tell Robin about us. I asked him not to tell Terry, but if it came out, at least to make sure it stopped there. It wouldn’t be bad for Terry to know as long as he could keep it secret; if he couldn’t, then it was important he didn’t know.
But Terry wasn’t dumb. He could certainly figure it out, because Foster had become a fixture at our house. He was living in a one-room apartment. Rancho isn’t a cheap city to live in, and he was making a first-year teaching salary. By many standards in the country, it was very good money. In SoCal, it was just enough for a cheap apartment and a used car. Well-used.
So he came to our house for meals a couple of times a week, and most weekends he was there for the entire time.
The question of his sleeping over was a delicate one. The problem was Robin. No, not really. It was more Terry, who was sleeping over at least once a week now and, especially, Friday nights. So Foster’s nightly stays had to be coordinated with Terry’s, meaning their not staying on the same nights took spontaneity out of the picture for both Robin and me, and spontaneity is half the fun when you’re young and horny, which we both were.
I did try to straighten it all out. “Look, Robin, I’m the adult here. This is my
house. Well, my dad’s, but still. I should have the final say on who’s sleeping
here. That’s only right. The privilege of seniority.”
Okay, that reads much harsher than the words were said. The problem with arguing with Robin was that I liked him so much. Well, okay, I loved him. It was a fatherly sort of love, but I understood much better now how my parents felt about me. When you love someone, you want to make them happy. Want to do what’s best for them. And how was robbing Robin of his spontaneity being best for him? Sure, it was teaching him discipline and delayed gratification, but he’d had a stomach full of both of those growing up. Besides, even though I was older and still horny, I remembered 14. Is anyone ever as horny again as they were when they were 14 and were a walking, talking hard-on?
“I can’t argue with that,” he said, and looked at me with sad, longing eyes. Then he laughed. “Why can’t we be honest and open? I know you’re having sex with Mr. Lees. You’ve certainly guessed than Terry and I fool around. We’re all mature, gay males with sexual needs. Why hide what we’re doing? I can understand why we need discretion, but here? Alone? Just us? Or alone with the just those of us who are partners? Why the secrecy, then?”
“Because both Foster’s and my jobs could very well depend on no one having any idea that there’s anything untoward going on here. Also, it’s possible my custody would be revoked if someone brought it up to CPS that gay sex was occurring in a house with a vulnerable teen. I’m not saying that would happen. I’m just saying there’s a risk. Do we want to jeopardize what you and I have here?”
“No. Of course not. But aren’t you imagining dragons?” He wasn’t giving up that easily. He had much more spirit now that when I’d first known him. Then he wouldn’t have argued about much of anything. I liked this version of Robin!
He was going on. “People have sex, and we’re not in Victorian England. Teens have sex and everyone knows it. Young male teens fool around with each other. Everyone knows that, too, and we’re even told that in Sex Ed. If everyone knows it, then CPS isn’t going to remove me for doing what many other teens do. They might ask me questions to see if I’m being exploited in any way, or if I’m horrified by what’s happening around me, but that would be the extent of it, and if asked, I’d say I have no idea if anything, uh, untoward, to use your word, is happening between you and anyone else. Besides, nothing untoward is happening. Sex. Sex is what’s happening, and that’s normal and healthy!”
“But there are people who don’t agree with that position. So you’re willing to risk it and think we should be more mature about what’s happening here? That’s your position?”
“Absolutely. I think we should continue as we are, being discreet, you going your way and me going mine. Knowing what’s going on but not discussing it. What was that old policy? Don’t ask and don’t tell? That’s how we should behave.”
“I still don’t think Terry should be here all night when Foster is.”
“Okay, but as Mr. Lees will be spending many more nights here than Terry will, how about if I let you know a day in advance when Terry will be here so you’ll know? Then it’s up to you whether Mr. Lees spends that night, too.”
I scowled, he looked at me a bit impatiently, and I said, “I guess we could make that work.”
And so it was decided. Robin had a big smile on his face afterwards. I don’t think he was used to winning arguments with adults. And he certainly had this one. I’d started from the position it was my house and I’d call the shots. It had ended with him determining when Terry would stay over and Foster wouldn’t.
Well, at least I’d won the spontaneity battle. Most nights, Foster could stay over without any advanced planning. So Robin had won one point, but I had, too. So I guess from that standpoint, it was a tie.
Robin and another freshman named Daryl were running columns in the school newspaper where they were interviewing teachers. They were doing an exceptional job from my POV. The writing seemed to be at a college level, entirely unexpected from two kids that age. I asked Robin if the editor was doing a lot of rewriting, and he said no, the guy was basically just letting the columns run as presented.
“You two are writing awfully well. Much better than the papers freshmen are handing in to me.”
“Thanks,” he said, and I could tell he was pleased. I thought he should be and wondered who was doing most of the work, he or the Daryl kid.
Then he asked me if I’d be willing to be their next interviewee. I told him sure, but that it might be best if it didn’t end up in the paper that he was living with me. Some people already knew that, but I didn’t see where everyone knowing it would be anything that would be useful to us. He agreed with the proviso.
So we set up the interview at the school in my classroom the next day. Rob came in about five minutes after the last bell. Another boy was with him. I have to say, the boy was stunning. Blond hair in a mess as most boys wore theirs, but his seemed almost too messy, like he’d spent some time getting it like it was. He had the reddish cheeks a lot of blond boys have and bright, intelligent, lively blue eyes, the color of the L.A. sky in the summer. Really good-looking face, too, halfway between cute and handsome, a face he was still growing into. He didn’t really look like a freshman because he was small, but I found he compensated for that by having a large personality. He presented himself well, and if I were Robin’s age and gay, well, I’d have signed up for the newspaper staff as well. That thought gave me something to ask Robin about later.
Robin introduced us, then looked at Daryl to begin. He did. “Mr. Perry, if we just ask about where you went to school, what you studied there, how old you are, why you wanted to teach, that kind of stuff, kids’ll read about two paragraphs and throw the paper away. Who cares about that? Not kids. So we focus on who you are. The good stuff. What you like to do in your spare time. Hobbies; paramours; how many kids you have and who they’re living with; what kind of a car you drive and how many tickets you’ve had; if you’re married, how long and how much longer till your divorce; your most embarrassing moment when you were a teen. That kind of stuff.”
Robin was trying not to crack up. So I looked at Daryl and start counting off on my fingers: “I play the flute in a boys’ band, none, none, a Porsche Cayman GT4, none wink-wink, single, and when a bunch of us went skinny dipping and the cops came, and what happened next, but that’s not a story for a family newspaper. But I wish I’d had a newspaper, if you catch my drift.”
Daryl was looking at me with wide eyes, and Robin was failing miserably in keeping his laughter in check. It escaped and he roared. Daryl looked at him, then back at me. “Really?” he asked.
“What do you think? I’m 23 years old and a first-year teacher. I think that car goes for around a hundred grand. I don’t think there’s room in it, anyway, for my six adopted Great Danes.”
‘You have six Great Danes?”
He gave me a look and said, “Well, this is going well.” Then: “You’re probably not in boys’ band, either.”
I laughed. “Nor do I play the flute. I did take piano lessons for a while as a kid, but both the piano and I agreed we’d each be happier with the divorce you were mentioning.”
Daryl looked at his co-worker and said, “Your turn, Rob.”
Robin grinned at me. “I’ve heard talk that you like to cook. So you’re single and a great cook. You’re going to be quite a catch, I’d guess.”
“Is that a question?” I asked and pretended to yawn. “You know, it’s getting late, and we older guys do tend to get to bed early. What with spending all my time herding a bunch of teens, not much else goes on in my life, mostly.”
“Uh, huh,” Robin said. “And is it true you came to this school from way, way back East? Why California? What are you running away from?”
“If I told you that, we’d both be in jail. National security, the secrets act, TSA informants, all that stuff. But I did go to school there. Did you know that they have a course in how to kill a man soundlessly, and that’s a very important capability for a teacher to have these days. It’s a prerequisite for Body Disposal 101; now that’s a course!”
He looked over at Daryl. “I think we have enough here. You got anything else?”
“Yeah. Mr. Perry, where do you do your standup act?”
“Hah! The first great question. But as they don’t let anyone under 45 in when I’m on stage, there’s no point in revealing it. Besides, the language you hear in a place like that would curdle your ears. Not safe for you boys. Not safe at all.”
They left, jabbering at each other. The last thing I heard was Robin saying, “If that’s how he wants to play it, why don’t we just write up everything he said. Write that there’s either a humor monger on staff or an escaped mental patient.” And Daryl asking, “Can we get away with that?” And Robin was saying, “Hmmm.”
Both Terry and Foster came to dinner that evening. I told Robin to make a lemon pie and handed him a can of Eagle Brand condensed milk, two lemons, a box of graham crackers and a stick of butter. “Here’s the recipe,” I said, handing it to him. “Better do it straightaway as it needs to set up in the fridge for a couple of hours. Easy as pie.” I laughed. He and Terry groaned. “The directions for a graham-cracker crust are on the box. I suggest, Rob, you make the pie while Terry does his best with the crust. Before you start, turn the oven on and set it for 350°.”
Robin loved challenges, especially cooking ones. One of the many things that set him apart
and that I liked was he wasn’t too proud to ask when he didn’t know how to do
something. The pie filling was something a fourth grader could do, except for zesting one of
the lemons, and once I showed him how to do that, he had no problems at all. Terry was a
different matter, and Robin took over for him so he wouldn’t get too frustrated.
I made a casserole of boneless chicken thighs, cream of mushroom soup straight from the can and mixed with sour cream. Seasoned the thighs, spread the sauce over them, covered the casserole dish. I’d stick it in Terry’s hot oven after he’d cooked the piecrust and we had a little over an hour to go before dinner. I made enough rice to feed an army, remembering how good the sauce on the chicken was with rice and who’d be at the table. I doubted I’d have any left.
It was a school night. Terry was leaving after finishing his homework after dinner. Always surprised me they still had so much to do after dinner. I’d have thought they could get more done before I got home. Maybe they spent that much time in the pool.
Foster was spending the night.
Over dinner, Robin pounded on me for screwing up the interview, and I rejoined that Daryl had set the rules: no boring stuff. Since my life was and always had been the definition of boring, what did he want me to do?
They ran the interview in the paper pretty much the way I’d spilled it out to them. Didn’t hurt my popularity with my students one bit. I had a lot of smiling faces in my classes the day after the paper came out.
I’d told Robin that Foster had figured out that he was gay the first day he was in Foster’s class. I’d told him that I’d confirmed it, but that the secret remained a secret. I’d told him I hoped he was okay with that, but whether or not I’d confirmed it, Foster had known. I’d also told him that Foster was gay and that I’d told him I was, too. And that, although we knew about each other, we weren’t telling anyone else. Except Terry, who was smart enough to have figured some of it out.
That night, after Foster and I had each had a small piece of pie and the two boys fought over and devoured the rest of it, making absolutely, totally sure that it was divided evenly—well, it was a very good pie, much better than the gelatinous versions sold commercially—and Terry had finally left, Robin joined Foster and me on the patio. It was a beautiful, warm, late-December night, almost tropical. Foster and I weren’t talking about anything special.
The relationship between Foster and Robin was fascinating to me. Robin was in Foster’s class. Robin always called him Mr. Lees, even when he was with us at home. Foster had told him he didn’t have to, and Robin had said it was a mark of respect and he felt more comfortable that way. Yet it was also very obvious the two liked each other quite a lot. They often gently teased each other. Foster was careful not to do so in a disparaging way. Robin would answer in screwed-up French, which made Foster laugh. Yeah, they liked each other.
That night, when Robin was going to join us, I asked him privately if it was okay if we discussed Daryl with Foster listening.
“Sure,” he said. “He’s kind of like a favorite uncle. I don’t need to hide anything from him.”
That wasn’t strictly true. When we were with anyone else, I always called him Rob, and when we were alone, Robin. As far as I knew, both Terry and Foster only knew him as Rob. And I wasn’t about to let the cat out of the bag to Foster.
When the three of us were together on the patio, I said to Robin, “Okay, I’d like to discuss this. I saw Daryl and, well, wow is about the best word I can come up with. He’s gorgeous, and he seems both smart and polite and, well, if I were your age . . . But I don’t know; is he gay?”
“That’s the problem,” Robin said. “I have it bad for him, but I have no idea whether he’s gay or not. But I have a plan to figure it out. I hope to know soon.”
Foster was smiling. “This I have to hear. What’s your plan?”
“I got him to agree that he and I will interview each other for wrap-up interviews to end our series. What I’m going to do is go first, and tell him about my background, really schmaltzy stuff, and then tell him that I was shipped out here because my mom couldn’t tolerate having a gay kid around. I’ll tell him that’s why I reacted badly to some of the harsh criticism he laid on me because I had too much of that stuff when I was young. I plan to make it a real tearjerker. But my real reason for saying all that is to slip in that I’m gay. After that, if he’s gay, he’ll certainly tell me. If he doesn’t, I can kiss those hopes goodbye. Either way, I’ll know.”
We talked longer. And all three of us got closer. Having a teenager who’d actually talk about the problems he was having finding a boyfriend was amazing. I felt even closer to him after that session on the patio. Most teens keep all that sort of thing completely hidden from their parents. They don’t want them knowing about that part of their lives, afraid of disapproval, and their attempts to control or derail what the teen feels is none of their business. There’s also an embarrassment factor talking about things having to do with sex. Most teens think their parents still see them as 10-year-olds and that they’d put their foot down on a 10-year-old having sex. Robin wasn’t like that at all. Maybe knowing all three of us were gay was part of his openness. Or maybe it was because he wasn’t talking about anything sexual, just about trying to be in a position where he could begin that part of his life with another gay kid.
That discussion with Robin, the intimacy of it-it must have moved Foster, too. Our session in bed was the most tender we’d ever had.