Cover and Book

by Bi Janus

edited by vwl, aka re-c


Fred and Violet awoke before the alarm. Fred was allowed no breakfast, and Violet ate just a little. As they made their way to the cancer center, Violet decided to press Fred. She would have preferred to wait, but she could see that events would overtake them soon.

"Fred, when Jasey gets home tonight, we're going to talk with him about your health."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Vi."

"Fred, over the summer Jasey is going to take you to your therapy appointments. I'm going to be busy with Ben and Martin keeping the farm going. I can't do it all, and your son deserves the chance to help you. You think accepting his help makes you look weak in his eyes? Well, that's foolish. You want to take care of him? Stop being selfish and let him take care of you."

"I'm not a damn invalid. Not yet, at least."

"Of course not. You don't have an invalid spirit. Would you give your life if you could save Jasey's?"

"You know I would. But why do you think it's so all-fired important for my son to take care of me?"

"I believe you. You need to give your life for him now. You don't see it or acknowledge it, but that boy thinks you're the second coming. Jesus, Fred, he's not an employee."

"That's blasphemous, Vi. I don't treat him like an employee." Vi waited silently. "I need to think about this."

Vi could see that Fred was on a cusp, so she decided to try to knock him off. "Fred, do you ever lie to me?"

"You know I don't."

"Why not?"

"I love you; lying wouldn't be decent or respectable."

"Fred, most men find lying to their wives necessary from time to time. Speak for your sex. Why is that?"

"I don't know, Vi. I suppose because they think they'll lose their wives if they're honest."

"But, you don't think you'll lose me by being honest?"

"Oh, no. I know I'd lose you if I weren't. Your love gives you a claim on who I am."

"How about me? Would you want to make it hard for me to be truthful with you?"

Fred was quiet for a few moments. "What's this got to do with Jason taking care of me?"

"Fred, I'm talking about whether Jason can tell you the truth without fearing that he'll lose you."

"Has he done something illegal?"

"No, you fool. Jason would never cross any of the lines you've laid down for him, but he can't change his nature."

"Vi, I have no idea what you're talking about. Would you just spit it out?"

"Think about it, Fred. Jason hasn't ever had a girlfriend. He's gotten very close to North's friend, Jonathan. He's happy for the first time in a long while."

"Are you saying he's queer?"

"He's what he is, Fred. If he's hot for goats, he's the same boy we've known and loved. If you don't find a way to let him be honest with you about who he is, you're going to leave one miserable boy behind. I don't want to have to pick up the pieces when you're in the ground."

"I knew I shouldn't have let him go to Portland."

Vi shouted, "Enough!"

She continued more quietly, "I've known for two years, and he didn't have to tell me because I pay him some attention. Do you think talking to me was easy for him? If he was worried about talking with me, can you imagine how scared he is to talk to you? Don't you get so wrapped up in your own anger and fear that you lose sight of your son's suffering."

Her voice rose again, "Be a father, for Christ's sake!"

* * * * *

Jason awakened to a bedroom still in darkness. He was awake at his usual hour, but there was no farm work to do this morning. Jon was still sleeping next to him with the thin book by his side. Jason smelled that musty smell, which he would now always associate with having someone who loved him read to him. He smiled at the sleeping form and decided to let Jon sleep. Quietly and slowly sliding out from the light cover, Jason grabbed a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. He walked to the bathroom and, after brushing his teeth, pulled on the clothing and, assuming he was the only one up, carefully walked downstairs.

The kitchen light was on and a quiet voice wished him good morning.

"Morning, Tom. I thought I was the only one who got up this early."

"How'd you sleep, Jason? I was worried. You looked pretty ragged last night."

Jason smiled broadly. "After my lesson, Jon read me a bedtime story. I slept through 'til just now."

"That young man loves you, and I'm not going to ask about the lesson. What did he read you?"

"The King of the Golden River."

"Ruskin. I used to read that to North and Jonathan at sleepovers when they were younger. I read that thing so many times that they and I could recite it by heart."

"I didn't make it through the whole thing. Just to the place where the King was telling Gluck about the benefit of being merciful."

"Let's fix you some breakfast, and then we'll talk a bit more, if that's all right."

"Thanks, Tom."

While Tom was doing up a nice breakfast for the boy, he thought that kids shouldn't have to deal with more than one battle at a time. Jason had to deal both with learning how to be a gay man and with his father's illness, two problems hopelessly muddled together. Tom watched Jason eat in silence, probably working one of those problems or both over in his mind. When the food was gone, washed down with OJ, Tom saw a boy wanting to please a father but also a young man learning about love and sex.

"Jason, Jonathan's not pressuring you to do things you're not ready to do, is he?"

"No way. I've thought about doing things with other boys for a while, but thinking about them and knowing how to do them are different." If the room were brighter, Tom would have seen Jason blush.

"Jonathan's a very caring guy who's been through a lot. You're the first boy he's been with who's let him do some of the teaching and some of the caring. I know you've fallen headlong in love, but some fiery attachments burn out quickly. Others, as I can attest, last forever."

"You know, Tom, I have trouble thinking about forever when I have so little control over life."

"I guess for you now things seem way out of control."

Jason got up and began to pace. "I just hate that Papa won't tell me anything. It's like if I do what I want and try to help him, he's going to get pissed off. And then I think, maybe he doesn't want my help because he suspects I'm gay."

Tom rose and gave Jason a hug. "Do you know the phrase, Sophie's Choice?"

"A movie title, right? And a novel. I can't remember who wrote the novel."

"Styron. The story involves a mother who has to choose which of her children will live. I think you may have to get ready for that kind of choice."

Jason looked as if he didn't understand, so Tom tried again.

"You may have to choose whether to placate a sick father with a lie or to tell him the truth and risk his disapproval or more. I think another way of describing choices like these is being between a rock and a hard place."

"I don't think I could stand it if Papa hates me, but you all have shown me that I can try for happiness if I'm true to myself."

"Think about this. If your father dies soon, in twenty years will you be sorrier if you lied to him or if you told the truth and he hurt you? One job for adults is to try to get teenagers to look a little farther down the road, not to concentrate exclusively on the pain or pleasure of the moment."

Jason was about to reply when a drowsy North and Annie walked downstairs and into the kitchen. Annie's sleep clothes revealed her figure, and Jason wondered how Annie felt knowing that only one male in the crowd of males in this house fully appreciated the view.

Looking at Jason, Annie asked, "Well, did you wear Jon out?"

Jason was trying to figure out what to say when Annie tried to take him off the hook. "You don't have to answer that, but you look so cute when you're flustered."

North wasn't ready to let Jason off that hook just yet. "I'm sure Jon would be at his side if Jason hadn't done him in completely."

* * * * *

Before they went into the procedure room, Jim had told Fred, "This may hurt like a mother."

Vi accompanied Jim and Fred. She could hold Fred's hand and encourage him not to move during the procedure.

The hospital staff started an IV and gave Fred a little short-acting sedative-amnestic. Fred was placed on his left side and the area over the crest of the back of his pelvis was prepped with an antiseptic agent. The insertion site was draped, and Jim injected a local anesthetic around the insertion site. He then uses a slightly larger needle to push some of the anesthetic into the bone's outer covering.

Through his mask Jim told Fred, "I'm starting. Try not to move, please."

With a knife, Jim made a small incision at the site. He used the newer Marrowmax needle system; less pain if he hit a dry site and had to reinsert the needle. Jim conducted the biopsy and aspiration. Other than an occasional moan, Fred was stoic. Jim looked at the sample and, satisfied, handed it to a technician. He then removed the large needle and put pressure over the site to control bleeding.

Back in one of the regular hospital rooms, Jim watched with Vi as a couple of he Center staff got Fred into the bed and put up the side rails.

"Vi, he'll be out for a little bit, and we're going to check him for bleeding around the site. He did well, and we got what we needed. I'm going to look at part of the sample now; the rest I'll send for surface protein testing."

"Thanks, Jim. You've been good to Fred, considering his attitude."

"I wish he weren't so sick, Vi, but he is and that's what I see—a sick man who needs my help."

"I think he trusts you, Jim. Thank you for your compassion."

"I recommend we start treatment tomorrow, as Fred and I discussed."

"Let me know what time. Jason will come with Fred."

Jim's esteem for Vi as manager of the family situation increased as he saw the outline of her plan. He thought, 'Damn, she's taking a chance.'

* * * * *

When Jon was finally awake, he, North, and Annie had breakfast, and the clan decided to dress and play a board game suggested by Annie. The Scrabble board was placed on a card table they brought out to the front porch.

"Author or title," Annie said.

Jason, completely baffled, asked, "What's that mean?"

Jonathan grinned and told Jason, "Jim's and Tom's version of Scrabble. You can only play authors' names or book titles. If the person before you spells a name, you have to play the title of one of the works by that author. If the player before you spells a title, you have to spell the author's name."

Jason was more confused now. "That would take all day, and the game doesn't have enough letters to do that."

North piped in, "Ah. Special tiles, developed by the dads, my friend."

The four decided to play as teams since this was Jason's first time—Jon and Jason against the other couple. They played furiously for a couple of hours. Jon and Jason won the first game, and the second was coming to a conclusion, the lead jumping back and forth. Jason's cell rang. They all stopped and watched as Jason walked away and answered.

When he returned to the table, he said, "It's over. Mama says he did fine. They're staying for a while so Jim can keep an eye on Papa. I'm going to take him in for the first round of therapy tomorrow morning."

Jason was very unsure about that development. He looked to the west at Mt. Adams. Events were changing so fast, and the mountain just stood there changing so slowly. If it had a spirit, how did that spirit experience change?

"Jase, I'll go with you."

Jason loved Jon for his courage. His father was a mostly unknown quantity to Jon.

"I'd really like that, but I'm not sure how Papa would react. Let me see, okay? Martin, one of the foremen, is going to drop us off and pick us up when the treatment's done. There'll be plenty of room in the crew cab for all of us."

"Jason, not to butt in, but what's your father going to think if Jon comes along?" North asked.

"Papa and I are going to talk tonight. One way or the other, he won't have to guess."

Jon felt a wave of anxiety. His pulse and breathing rates accelerated and he felt a slight nausea. "Jase, don't do anything stupid. I don't have to go."

Annie looked serious and told Jason, "If your father gives you any shit, I'll come over and kick his ass, sick or not."

Jason wondered at how quickly friends could bond, and the thought of Annie in pitched combat with his father dissolved him in laughter. He couldn't stop laughing as the other three crowded around him for support.

'Better laugh than cry,' Jason thought.

The kids put away the special Scrabble set without finishing the second game. Jon and Jason walked down the porch steps and around the side of the farmhouse. Jon couldn't discourage Jason from talking with his father. Finally, Jason grabbed Jon and kissed him.

"Now, please, shut up. Whatever happens will not be your fault. I need you to man up, Jon. If I get kicked out on my ass, I'll need you to pick me up."

Among more kisses, a teary-eyed Jon told Jason, "If Annie doesn't kick his ass, I will."

* * * * *

Fred hobbled into the house and went up to bed. He wasn't used to medicine and he was surprised that, whatever they gave him, he couldn't remember the specifics of the procedure. He was sore with a deep, aching pain in his back where the bulky dressing was taped. Jim had told Vi to keep him still for the rest of the day, so she wasn't going to take any of his crap about getting back to work.

"Jasey's going to stay over at North's for dinner, so you can rest. When he gets back, you two can talk about the details of tomorrow's trip. Martin's going to drive you in the 350."

A couple of hours later, Vi fixed a very light dinner for both of them. She ate with Fred up in their room. She felt as if this was the beginning of a watch. They talked about how they had met, fallen in love and married, laughing together about her father's objections to Fred and about Jason's birth and how the little boy had made them a better family.

"Vi, I'm not sure I would have stayed on the straight and narrow if Jason hadn't come along. I mean you probably would have kept me there, but it would have been a bigger struggle for you." Fred sounded tired.

"You rest a bit. I'm going downstairs; holler if you need me."

"I'd be screaming all the time, Vi."

'Damn,' she thought. 'That kind of talk isn't like Fred at all. He smells his fate on the breeze. I hope that smell lets him treat his son right.'

When Jason returned, Vi told him the details of the procedure, and Jason described his stay at North's. She nearly cried when Jason told her about the bedtime story. Jason haltingly told his mother about his decision to have Jonathan accompany him on the trip tomorrow and about Annie's comment.

Vi laughed. "I think I like her."

She looked at her son, about to do the most difficult thing he had ever tried. God, she was proud of him.

"I'm going up to talk with Papa."

As if hesitation might undo him, Jason hurried up the stairs. Vi heard the knock on their bedroom door. She knew she had to wait to pick up any broken pieces that might result from the conversation between the two men.

"Papa, I guess you know I'm going to be taking you tomorrow." Jason waited for the complaining and argument.

"You up to it?"

Jason was shocked. "Yes, Papa."

"You have something else you need to say?"

Jason looked at the floor. His mouth was dry, and he felt sick to his stomach. "Yes, sir."

"Look at me when we're talking, Jason. I need to see your eyes."

The boy looked into his father's eyes. "I'm gay, Papa. Please don't hate me."

Fred sat up on the bed, fixing Jason with the paternal gaze Jason had come to know.

"How'd you come to that conclusion, son?"

His father hadn't called him son in five years. Jason sighed. "I've known for a while. I tried not to be, honest. But, it's what I am and I'm through lying about it."

"I can't find my way clear of thinking that God doesn't countenance what you're talking about."

Jason suddenly felt anger well up alongside the fear. "Well, He'll have to get used . . ."

"Jason! Let me finish. Your mother is the most spiritual human I know. The Spirits reach out of her people's deep past to speak through her. I'll deny it if you tell anyone, but between God and your mother, I might just have to choose your mother."

Jason was unsure about what had just happened. "Papa, you don't hate me? You're not going to throw me out?"

"Jason, the reason I'm so hard on you is that you're precious to me. You're becoming a good man. I can't say I'll ever be happy about the way these things have turned out, but I believe I'm convinced that you didn't choose this. I never thought quee … gay people could be any good, but Dr. Underhill has behaved like a decent, hell, a good Christian person. If it's possible for him, then it's possible for you. God will have to sort out His judgment later."

Jason began to cry. Fred held his arms open, and the boy ran to sit on the bed and accept his father's embrace. He cried himself out before Fred let him go.

"We have to be up early tomorrow, so let's get some sleep."

As Jason left the room, Fred said, "Oh, you're going to have a lot of time on your hands tomorrow, so you might consider bringing a friend along, maybe that Jonathan boy. Well, think about it. Good night, son."

A smiling Jason left the room. Fred hoped he was doing the right thing and that God would forgive him.

Jason could see his mother's concern when he came down. His smile unknitted her brow, and when Jason told her about the discussion, Vi knew she had been right about Fred all those years ago. Jason had been true to himself, but Fred had gone against everything he had been taught and believed. Who was the braver?

In his room, Jason made the happiest call of his life to Jon, ending with, "Be ready early, Jon."

* * * * *

Jon screamed to North, Annie, Tom, and Jim, "He fucking did it! His father actually told him to invite me to come with them."

The kids were a whirl of hugging, fiving, and congratulations. Jim thought about how the matter had trembled in the balance and how Jason's mother had orchestrated the events. She was a formidable woman, indeed.