The Tuesday after Christmas I met with Mr. Sweeton, his brother and their father. I discussed our firm’s work and showed them photos of offices we had done. We cabbed to an office I had been the lead designer of and one of the larger spaces our office had done, comparable in size to the office the Sweetons were expanding into. I took a chance not showing them anything done in a traditional style, either in the photos or with the walk-through.
The father picked up on this, “Don’t you do a more traditional form of architecture too?”
“Yes, sir. Yet, from the conversation I had with your son on Christmas I understood that this was far more than an expansion of your business. This was to be the benchmark to pass on to a new generation of your family that is now beginning to come on board. I believe it would be better to show them that what they have is moving into the future with them, not lost in the past of previous generations. Stability while moving with the times, sir.”
“And traditional does not say stability?”
“Respectfully, sir, it says ‘stick in the mud!’”
The father began to laugh, “That is what my oldest sister Flo has called me for over half a century! Maybe it is time to change.”
He took a moment to stop chuckling and then said, “OK, get a proposal on our desks as soon as possible. As long as we can work out the numbers you got the job.”
He paused and scanned around the office space we were in.
“Can we return to the last place? Actually, I like that design much more. If we are going to do this I want it to go in that direction and would like to talk about it more.”
I hadn’t told them that was my personal design work. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
My boss and I spent the rest of the afternoon working out the details of the proposal and getting it typed up. A messenger delivered it to them by the end of the day.
“The job is all yours, Pete. You design it, manage and administer it. I’ll hang back. Just show me what you’re up to every once in a while, OK?”
“Don’t ‘Sir’ me, please…and another thing. I’m dumping a huge amount of work and responsibility on you, more than I think is fair. You still have your other jobs to finish up. If you feel overwhelmed tell me, it’s OK and I’ll help out. That said, I know that you wouldn’t want to do this any other way than to take on the whole shebang.”
He stopped and stared up at the ceiling for a few seconds, then looked me straight in the eyes.
“The real shit about this is that if you pull this off you and I will both know that you’ll be able to go it alone and it will be only a matter of time before you leave me. That sucks for me…but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
He spun around in his chair, picked up an envelope and spun back around.
“Here, when it comes back signed you can cash it. And when you finish it there’ll be a matching one.”
He stood up and stuck out his hand.
“Don’t spend it all on Tom, OK,” he said with a laugh.
“Thank you, si…Thank you.”
I opened the envelope. I was shocked. I put it back in the envelope.
I walked over to Tom, “Come on, let’s go home,” I whispered in his ear, “We got a lot of fuckin’ to do before Tim gets here tonight.”
“Let me turn off my computer and grab my coat…five seconds…WoooHooo!”
Tom had become the assistant to our computer department of one person.
Tom and I were in the shower cleaning ourselves up when we heard the front door unlock and two suitcases hit the floor.
“In here, Tim,” I called out.
“Duh,” he said when he appeared in the bathroom doorway with a huge smile.
“Leave it running, I need to wash off that trip before bed.”
“Just join us,” Tom said. He left a pile of clothes in the hallway.
“I hate winter. Too many layers.”
He climbed in. We stood hugging each other. Tom and I kissed him on opposite cheeks. We could tell Tim was dead tired. The two of us washed him. Then we both dried him and then ourselves.
“Do you want to do Christmas tonight or early tomorrow morning?” I asked.
“It already is early tomorrow morning,” he replied.
“Let’s go to bed,” Tim said.
My eyes opened at six, my norm. I don’t use an alarm clock, don’t own one either. I don’t understand why I have this inner sense of time and don’t question it. I roused Tom so I can get out of the middle. He rolls out of bed. We shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee and then into the bath. Tom was brushing his teeth and I was shaving when Tim staggered in to sit down and pee.
“Mormum,” he mumbled with his eyes closed.
Tom leaned over and gave him a white pasty kiss on his forehead. I started to laugh. Tim cracked his eyes. Tom spit, turned on the shower and got in. I followed when I finished shaving. Tim got in after brushing his teeth.
“Ya know, both of you don’t have to be up. I’m the only one who has to go to work,” I said.
“I want to go to work,” Tom said.
“I want to spend time with you two,” Tim said, “and besides, I need to go ta Fitz’s.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded of how Dan, Jason and I communicated and planned our days as we showered together. It was happening again. It wasn’t the same, but there was something comforting about it. I kissed them both.
“Come on, let’s hurry up so we can open presents. I can be late today. Geez, we all leave by two anyway. It’s New Year’s Eve, so what’s the difference.”
We had our second naked Christmas. We spent an hour sitting on the floor drinking coffee, gabbing and handing each other presents. Tom set the camera up in the same spot and we took a portrait of the three of us. We were all laughing about where he intended to hang the photos when the flash went off. I didn’t want to get dressed and leave after our present exchange. I wanted to crawl back into bed and snuggle with these two men I loved so much. My thought was interrupted by the phone ringing, it was Fitz wanting to make sure Tim had arrived and when he was coming over. She couldn’t wait to talk to him.
“Geez, Fitz, had enough coffee this morning,” I exclaimed.
“Well, actually, I had the first good night’s sleep in a long time and then two cups of coffee and I feel ready to take on the world.”
“Till you crash about lunch, here’s Tim. I need to get dressed and get to work. I’m late; love you and that crew of yours.”
I handed Tim the phone. I walked into the bedroom. Tom was bent over looking into the sock and underwear drawer. I went up behind him and leaned over his back to pick out my own socks…and underwear. I had begun to wear underwear with a suit or when it was below freezing. It was freezing today.
“Mmmmmm,” Tom moaned, “Do ya wanna? I’m game.”
I smiled and put my arms around his chest, “I’d love to, but I don’t want to tease Tim either.”
“I know,” he said softly as he rubbed his butt against me.
He turned his head around and gave me an impish grin. We got dressed. Tom and I each put on jeans and one of the sweaters we had gotten for Christmas. It was a treat not to wear a suit to work. We got our coats on and said ‘bye’ to both Tim and Fitz. I tugged on Tim’s cock and winked.
“Call me before two, OK?”
Tim smiled and nodded and blew us a kiss.
Tim spent the day with Katie and the kids. They went shopping and to the Whitney and MOMA. They enjoyed the day talking to one another. Tom and I met up with them at a small coffee shop near the museum. We walked over to Central Park and meandered through the park, stopping to watch the ice skaters at Wollman Rink. I called Steve as he was just leaving work. He had a lot of work that had to get done on the final day of the year. We waited for him to meet us at the rink and then went to dinner; where we talked about our plans for New Year’s Eve. Katie and Steve couldn’t get a babysitter so they could go to the party they had been invited to. Tim, Tom and I had discussed going to Times Square for once in our lives. I had begged off from the party we had been invited to when I found out the theme was drinking, drugs and orgy. Tom and Tim, though curious, had agreed it wasn’t a good idea. I just complained that I was turning into an old fart. In the end we all agreed a couple of bottles of champagne, some beer and the seven of us were the best party around. At midnight we toasted each other on the roof of their building, then were dazzled by the fireworks. Afterwards, I walked to the parapet with Daniel asleep in my arms, his face nuzzled into my neck. I kissed his cheek. Tom joined us, wrapping his arms around us both. I wished out loud for a happy 1987 for all of us. I prayed silently for a year without heartache or tragedy.
It was late in the morning when the three of us woke to a cold, rainy, day. We spent most of the day in bed, just talking, reading or snuggling with one another. We made phone calls to family and friends. It was late afternoon and dark already when we got up to do yoga.
While showering afterwards as I soaped Tom’s chest and stomach and Tim did the same to my back, Tom looked at Tim and then me straight in the eye and said, “I would love to see Tim fuck you.”
A mischievous grin crossed my face and I replied, “I beg your pardon.”
“I only want to fuck you or be fucked by you but…I really would love it to see you fucked by Tim.”
Tom shuddered with excitement at the thought. I craned around to look Tim in the face and then at his cock which twitched in anticipation.
Tim whispered in my ear, “I’m negative. I just got tested. It was a Christmas present to myself.”
I nodded to Tom with a grin. I had actually fantasized about this while we had been snuggling in bed earlier. It was heaven to feel Tim inside of me for the first time in almost two years and to be inside of Tom. It didn’t take long before we all exploded amongst our gasps and moans.
“Thank you,” I said quietly after giving them each a long passionate kiss.
We silently finished showering and then padded into the kitchen and living room in our robes and socks.
I spent the next hour preparing and cooking dinner while Tom and Tim fussed with the computer. Tim just had one installed on his desk at work and had been through the first of a series of training sessions. The two of them made a great team of teaching one another. I was content to be alone with my thoughts, my joy of them becoming friends and the feeling of the sex we just had.
As Tim and Tom placed the last of the dinner dishes away, I walked into the kitchen from my turn being frustrated by the capricious computer. The two of them turned to me as they toweled their hands dry.
“Ready to go at it again?” I asked.
Their eyes shifted back and forth between each other and me. Smiles slowly appeared across their faces. A trail of robes led down the hall. They took turns on me for more than an hour. We did it again in the morning before Tom and I went to work and Tim left for the airport. I stood the entire day at work. Tom could see me pace back and forth as I talked on the phone at my desk. He gave me a knowing smile. I gave him the finger while I rubbed behind my ear.
He called me from across the office and said, “I’m willing to get sore for you anytime. I love you,” and hung up.
I was a happy man. I couldn’t believe that this was his last full day in the office till summer. He started school on Monday.
The boy who tried on the uniform a month ago was a young man in gray slacks, blue blazer and tie on Monday. He had a forlorn look on his face as he stood in front of the mirror with me behind him.
“I can’t believe I have to wear this every day.”
“I can’t believe I have to pay to see you wear it every day. What have we done?”
There was a long silence, “The right thing.”
“Thank Dan,” I said, “You are on the Special Daniel Boone Elliot Scholarship. Promise me you’ll do right by him…or he’ll haunt us both.”
I started to laugh.
“I promise,” he said as he turned and hugged me.
I gave him his knapsack empty except for the lunch in it.
“The school promised me that they have a vegetarian menu in the lunchroom, you’re one of eight vegetarian students, but the lunch is just in case it sucks, OK?”
“I wish I was going to work with you, Pete. I feel too old for school.”
“Well, I feel I’m too young to be sending off my son to high school…besides the fact I am completely weirded out by the fact he’s also my lover.”
“Do, da, de, doooo. Do, da, de, doooo.” Tom sang the tune from the Twilight Zone.
“You got dat right dawlin’,” I said, “I wonder what my old therapist would think of this.”
“You went to a shrink?”
“Yes, a few of them, from the time of the accident up until about a year ago. Now I talk to Fitz… you… and the Garden. Y’all keep me grounded now.”
I kissed him on his cheek.
“Let’s go. Time to get on with life!”
“Yes, sir,” he said and smacked me on the ass.
“Cheeky bastard, watch it! Your birthday is tomorrow. I still have time to downgrade gifts,” I said with a laugh.
He gave me his “I’m innocent and naïve” smiley face.
Now I smacked him on the ass. We both went out the door laughing.
He was dragging his jam-packed knapsack when he walked up to my desk that afternoon. His tie was askew and his shirttail hung out.
“What the hell, Tom? That bad?”
“They wore my ass out. We worked today. It wasn’t ‘everybody get to know one another day’ and find out where to go. Noooooooo, I was conjugating French verbs by 8:30am and that was the easiest thing I did all day!”
He unzipped his knapsack.
“Look at these books in here; I have algebra and geometry, English lit and American history. These are just the ones I have homework in. I’m fucked, Pete.”
He slumped against the flat files next to my desk. I looked at him and smiled.
“It ain’t funny, Pete.”
“No, it’s good.” I grabbed the chair at the next desk, spun it around and said, “Sit.”
Tom sat down slowly and frowned with tight lips.
“Hey, stop it with the face. I’m not here to lecture you. We are in this together. What is your final goal in all of this?”
“To be an architect…and to be your partner.”
“Good, we agree. So, you have your own desk here at this office, part of your job is to finish high school and go on to architecture school. You come here every day and start your homework. If you get it done you can work on architecture or computer stuff or you can go do whatever you want … have fun even. If you don’t get it done then we’ll finish it together whether we stay here or do it at home. You have me and everybody here at the office to use as a resource if need be.”
I leaned over and brushed his hair to the side.
“Tom, you are out of practice when it comes to school and this school is definitely tougher than what you remember. You are also smart enough to do it without a problem. Remember, that’s how you got accepted into this school, you answered some tough questions on the fly with no preparation…but they were essay questions with no wrong answers, just OK, good, better and great ones. You have three hours before I can leave. I’ll bet you that you’ll have it all done and be over there with Skip whackin’ at that computer long before I’m ready to go.” I spun around in my chair back to my desk. A second later I spun back, “Oh, by the way, just keep bein’ yourself and the husband part will be easy…still takes a little work, but…” I smiled at him.
He slowly smiled back. “I love you,” he said.
“I know. I love you too, but sometimes when you want something you need to drive yourself…it doesn’t come easy…there’s always grunt work to be done…Like the shit I have to do right now. OK.”
He got up from the chair, took the two steps over, bent down and kissed me on the lips. Then his eyes expanded as wide as they could go when he realized what he had done. Tom scanned around the room. He didn’t see anyone who looked shocked.
“I got to get some work done,” he said. He tucked in his shirt and straightened his tie. “I’ll be ready at six.” He lugged his bag over his shoulder and went to his desk.
I called out across the room, “I’ll field any question except for the ones about English lit.” He smiled and waved. I sat down and said to myself, “Dan could have answered any question about English lit.”
I heard Tom and Skip laughing. I looked at my watch. It was five thirty-five.
“See,” I said to myself. I punched in Skip’s extension.
“Hello, Skip Robie here.”
“Let me talk to him.”
“Hello, Tom Petersen.”
“See, I told you.”
“Yes, it wasn’t too bad, mainly grunt work. And I didn’t even have to call you for help.”
“You will, you will. I’m ready to leave anytime you are.”
“I’ll be over in about ten. We’re just about ready to run this new print program.”
Forty-five minutes and eight yards of plot paper later I walked over and said, “I’m goin’ home. I got an hour of cookin’ to do.” “I’m comin,” he said as they watched intently as the plotter printed correctly for the first time. Tom smiled his broad toothy grin then went and grabbed his bag and coat. Skip turned his head to me as he leaned over the plotter, “He figured out the bug. He’s a smart fucker. Don’t let him get too big for his britches.” “Thanks. I won’t.” I shook my head. He’s one to talk, I thought, Skip was one of the smartest wise-ass twenty-three-year-olds I had ever come across. That’s why he’d been hired to take our firm from pencils to computers. He had put one on my desk but I was still using it as a typewriter with a screen. Drawing on it was frustrating and slow. Only in repetitive work did I find it worthwhile. Any chance of doing any real design work on it was still in the future. The machines had to get faster. I could outdraw the computer on any day with a pencil, but it was the future. Tom, my boss and I understood that.
“Come on, I’m starved,” Tom said as he passed me on his way to the elevator. “Cheeky bastard,” I said to Skip as I took off after Tom, “See y’all in the mornin’.”
Tom and I made dinner together. We ate and cleaned up and then decided to wait up till midnight so that we could enjoy the beginning, middle and end of his birthday. He wanted me to fuck him in front of the window in the living room with the drapes open.
“I want the world to know,” he screamed with delight.
“I just want our world to know,” I said calmly. “You think that old letch down at the subway would ever let you alone if he caught sight of that. He’d be climbin’ through the window, to hell with the bars!”
Tom laughed, but he knew I was right. “But I am gonna kiss you big time right in front of him,” he said.
The phone rang exactly at midnight.
I looked at Tom and rolled my eyes, “Fitz or Steve?”
“Fitz,” Tom said a split second after he spit from brushing his teeth.
I picked up the phone, “NO, we’re not doin’ it yet. Give us a minute!”
“Oh, sorry…Mr. Petersen.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll get him.”
I looked at Tom’s reflection in the mirror. His smile had disappeared.
“It’s something serious,” I whispered to Tom as I handed him the phone. He took a deep breath.
Tom’s face sank inwards, then he fell to his knees and slowly collapsed to one side to sit on the floor up against the tub. Tears ran down his face and he began to sob.
“I’ll be there by tomorrow afternoon,” was all that he said before he hung up.
I was sitting on the floor facing him. He flung his arms around me, pushed me to the floor and cried out loud.
It was a few minutes before he said, “Mom’s dead.”
The phone rang. Tom pushed the button and put it to his ear.
“Hello,” he said, his voice cracking.
“Fitz, Mom died.”
He dissolved into tears again. I took the phone.
“Hey.” “I don’t know. His dad just called. I know as much as you.” “OK, hold on.”
I placed the phone back to Tom’s ear.
took the phone back.
“See you in a bit. Bye.”
I hung up.
We were still lying naked on the bathroom floor, Tom nestled in my arms, when the buzzer went off twenty-five minutes later. I got up, pushed the buzzer, lifted Tom to his feet and then handed him his robe. I walked to the door and opened it.
“Hey, Fitz.” I gave her a kiss.
She then walked slowly to Tom and put her arms around him. It was a long hug. When they broke Tom’s eyes moved to look at me. I wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Tell us,” I said.
Tom sighed to gather his strength and then looked back and forth between the two of us.
“I need to sit.”
We walked to the couch.
Tom looked at both of us, sighed and then said, “She had an aneurysm. She and Dad were in one of their typical screaming matches, one of the ones that used to drive me insane. I hated them when they did that. She always got so red in the face with rage. Dad said she stopped mid-sentence and collapsed to the floor. The doctor told him it was instantaneous. She was dead before she hit the ground.”
Katie leaned over and hugged him.
“She was thirty-nine years old.”
We sat up for a couple of hours talking it through. The three of us crawled into bed with Tom in the middle. He kissed Katie and thanked her. He cracked a smile.
“Mom would have been so proud to know that you would be the first woman I slept with.”
He paused and then rolled to me.
“My birthday and I’m sleeping with clothes on next to you. This too would make my mother proud. Sheesh.”
Fitz and I snuggled up next to him and we fell asleep. Tom tossed and turned with nightmares near dawn.
We got up just before eight when the phone rang. It was Steve. He wished he were with us to help support Tom. Katie asked him if he could be late to work so that she wouldn’t have to take a cab home right now. He said he needed to be there by ten at the latest. She hung up and we started the task of organizing Tom to go home for a couple of days. I called his school and then called work. My boss was already there.
“I’ll see the two of you whenever. Take the time you need. Tell Tom I’m sorry and offer my condolences.”
Katie started cooking breakfast. Tom and I began to pack a bag.
“Do you want me to go with you Tom, or just drop you off down there?”
“What do you mean, Pete?”
“It’s going to be a tough and awkward situation as it is. I don’t want to make it any more difficult for you by being there.”
“Fuck that, Pete. I need you there.”
He stopped and stared at the stack of clothes he was trying to wedge into his duffle.
“OK, so we don’t go around holdin’ hands…although I’ll want to and need to, but don’t leave me alone.”
“OK, good. I just wanted to check. Next reality, sleeping arrangements?”
Tom stopped again.
“Dad isn’t going to go for us sleepin’ in my room I don’t think. Wow, I wouldn’t have thought about that till it was too late. I don’t know how to solve that one.”
“What’s the closest hotel? I’ll book a room there, so at least we have somewhere to go. I can always cancel it.”
“There’s a Holiday Inn on the highway not five minutes from my house.”
I grabbed the yellow pages from under the nightstand and picked up the phone.
“You’re amazing, Pete.”
“No, I just get to be rational and you get to be emotional in this situation. So we work together.”
He latched onto me in a bear hug as I reserved a room.
“Oh crap,” I said.
“What’s the matter?”
“You need a suit. Well I guess we will be waiting when they open. And no, you are not going to wear your uniform,” I said with a smile.
“How did you know I was going to suggest that?”
“I still got some six-…oops…seventeen-year-old in me.”
I paused and cupped his cheek in my hand.
“Despite the circumstances, Happy Birthday.”
“It’s OK. Let’s just put it into suspended animation until Saturday…OK,” Tom stated.
“Now what, Pete!”
“I need to call Tim and Vroom. They were going to call you today.”
I picked up the phone and pressed the speed dial for Tim.
“Sorry guy, I hate to wake you like this,” I said to the phone as it beeped away.
“Come on and eat, guys,” Katie called out.
“Hey, Tim…Wake up, it’s Pete. Tim, ya there?”
I sat on the edge of the bed. Tom went to eat and Tim finally gained a sense of reality to answer the phone. It took a couple of more minutes to get him coherent. I told him what had happened.
“Let me talk to him,” Tim told me.
I walked to the kitchen and sat down at the table and handed the phone to Tom. He sat and listened intently as he nibbled on the corner of his toast. He put the toast down after a minute and began to sob. Then he began to smile.
“Thanks, Tim, I love you too. I will.”
He pushed the button to hang up and then he put down the phone.
Tom looked out of the corner of his eye at me, “He’s wonderful, ya know.”
I just smiled at him and then glanced at Fitz. She understood too. The phone rang. Tom pushed it toward me. I answered.
It was Tim, “Dump that stock today! The big one Dan picked. Call your broker before you head to Reading today. I can’t tell you anymore than that because I don’t know anymore. It’s second hand gossip, but I trust the source. I’m not kidding and don’t forget. Don’t worry about the taxes, just do it!”
“Geez, OK, I’ll call my broker. Call Dad Elliot for me and tell him too. He has a chunk of it too.”
“Yes, love you. Bye.”
I mumbled to myself at having to deal with money matters as I made my way to my desk and got the number for “Junior.” That’s what I called my broker. He looked about the age of twelve, yet he’s a year older than I am. I punched in his number at the World Trade Center. He was at his desk.
“What! Are you crazy?” he said, almost irritated.”
“Junior, I’m serious. Do it on the opening bell, OK. I’m leaving to go to a funeral in an hour.”
“What do you want with the money?”
“Shit, I don’t know. Work me up a list of stocks to buy, I could really give a shit. I’ve just been told to do this.”
“You know something.”
“All I know is that I’m selling it.”
“Shit, how can I work with that.”
“Junior, you know I know shit about stocks. I just don’t pay attention to it.”
“All right, I’ve made out the sell order. Now you know about the taxes?”
“Just money, Junior, just money.”
“Shit, Pete, you kill me.”
“Thanks, now I got to go, bye.”
“See ya, dude.”
I pressed the button to hang up and then dialed John’s number. Tom reached for the phone. I gave it to him. Tom took a big slurp of coffee and got up.
“Hey, John, it’s Tom. Ya got a minute?”
Tom walked to the bedroom.
I smiled at Katie and bit on my lip; “I don’t know if I can deal with this. I feel as if I’m going to shatter at any moment.”
She sighed, “Pete, you’ll be OK. You’ve come through worse.”
“I’m upset because I had this whole day planned out to the last moment and now…”
“Pete, I know you two had been looking forward to this day for months, but remember how you and Dan celebrated your first anniversary by not planning a thing. And remember how it worked out so beautifully. Try that this time too.”
“Our only anniversary,” I said.”
“Pete, now don’t get down. Fly with this, OK. Do it for Tom. He needs you.”
She leaned over and picked up my chin with her finger.
“But I don’t want to grow up, Mom,” I said with a smile.
“I’m gonna smack your ass. Now you guys go get ready. I’ll clean up.”
I went into the bath and started to shave. Tom came in and sat down still talking to John. I closed the door. Tom must have forgotten Fitz was still here. He rolled his eyes and smiled as he chatted away. As I finished shaving he pressed the button to hang up.
“We talked about my responsibilities and things I should expect and need to do at this thing. He knows a lot about funerals.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t know anything. Never been to one.”
Tom cocked his head at me.
“I was still in a coma when Dan’s happened and Jason was cremated. We had a memorial for Dan and Jason, but we did what we wanted.”
He flushed and we traded places.
“I guess I should shave.”
“You need to, Tom.”
“Thanks,” he said with a smile.
A few minutes later we got in the shower.
We finished packing our bags. I walked and got the car. Fitz and Tom were waiting when I drove up. I sighed heavily as we drove off.
“Fitz, ya want to come shoppin’ with us?”
“Sorry, Pete, it’s time to take care of my other kids.”
Tom leaned from the back seat and kissed her cheek.
“Please, call my parents and the Elliots for us and tell them I’ll call tonight.”
Fitz nodded. I knew she had already thought of it. We dropped her off and made our way across town to Macy’s. It took more time to park the car than pick out, have marked and pay for a dark blue single-breasted suit, two shirts and ties. We drove to the tailor near my office. He cuffed the pants in less than ten minutes. Tom called his father collect while we watched the sewing machine work. Tom found out that the viewing would be tomorrow morning and the service and burial in the afternoon. Tom told his dad I was coming along. His father offered to get me a hotel room. Tom said we had already done that and told his father that we would be there in three hours. Then he hung up without saying good-bye.
“God, he seemed half normal for once. I hope it holds out for the time we’re there. I just feel he’s gonna snap at some point. Maybe it’s just that he’s sober for once. I can’t believe this is happening on my birthday. I can’t believe I’m goin’ home to bury my mom on my birthday…”
Tom talked incessantly and I listened intently from the time we left the tailor’s until we were most of the way across New Jersey. He was trying to hold himself together as best as he could.
“Oh my God, I haven’t shut up for all of New Jersey,” he said as he saw the sign for the bridge to cross the Delaware.
Then he kept right on talking for another half an hour. I pulled off the highway right outside of Allentown. I needed to fill up Sammy and take a leak.
Tom said, “I’ll feed Sammy.”
I washed the windows and then we walked into pay the bill and take a piss. Tom had finally quieted. We stood over the toilet. I smiled at him.
“I love you,” I said.
He smiled at me.
“Stay with me. I’ll need you,” he told me.
“I’m here for you.” I paused a second, “But I’m going to stand back half a step and let you deal with this as you see fit. OK, I’m not letting you hang out to dry, but I don’t want to look like I’m running your life either.”
“I know, not to worry, Pete. I need to show my old man that I’m growin’ up and can fend for myself, but I’m scared shitless…I’m still a kid too.”
He smiled as he shook his dick.
“I would have worn my school uniform.”
As I tucked myself in I leaned across and kissed him.
As we walked across the asphalt, hands in our coat pockets, bracing ourselves against the stiff cold wind I said, “Did you know that you were born on the Epiphany, the Twelfth Night of Christmas and that this is also the first night of Mardi Gras?”
He got a silly grin on his face, “I didn’t know I was so special!”
“Well you are but I’ll knock you into next week if you let it go to your head.”
We both laughed.
“Thanks, I can’t wait till Saturday to celebrate.”
I squinted in the glare at him.
“Tom, one serious thing, we need to get your birth certificate while we’re here. OK?”
“Sure, I know Dad keeps it in his little safe in the basement. Geez, when will the paperwork stop?”
I looked at him with a broad smile.
We checked into the motel and then zoomed over to Tom’s house. His dad was somber, yet welcoming. The house was a mess. Tom was shocked. It looked as though no one had picked up, much less cleaned, for months.
“Oh my God,” he whispered to me, “without the slave they didn’t do a damn thing.” Tom immediately turned to his dad and said, “We need to clean up. People will be coming here, especially after the funeral. Pete and I will get started.” He smiled stiffly at his dad, “Help us?”
His dad looked around at a loss of where to start and then said, “Your Aunt Ellen will be here soon. She’ll help ya.”
“Come on, Pete. Let’s start.”
Two and a half hours later with the reinforcements of Tom’s aunt and cousins we had made the first floor and most of the second floor respectable. The washer and dryer would run till late that night. Friends and relatives began to arrive to offer their condolences and food. Tom’s dad received them graciously. Tom was encouraged by his father’s behavior. At midnight Tom came to me.
“I’m whacked…but I think I should stay here. I don’t want to upset the boat. You can bring my suit and stuff in the morning.”
I looked at him. I didn’t want to leave him alone. I was as nervous for him as I was selfish of not wanting to sleep alone.
Tom’s dad was back sitting in his La-Z-Boy staring off into space. Tom and I walked up to his room. We sat on his bed holding hands. I scanned my eyes around the room.
“Are you sure this is your room?” I whispered to him.
He cracked a smile, “No, I think it’s more my dad’s room. The military posters are one of a thousand arguments I’ve lost in my life here, not to mention the bedspread, the layout of the room and the books over in the bookcase. I really don’t have any connection to this room except for a couple of things I got stashed behind a box in the closet. I don’t want to even sleep here, but I think it’s best.” Tom’s eyes wandered the room. “All I did was sleep, cry, fart and dream of somewhere else in this room. Probably my biggest accomplishment here was learning to beat off.”
We smiled at each other. We were both horny for each other.
Tom stood, “It’s a long day tomorrow.”
I got up and we hugged for a long time. He finally began to weep. We heard footsteps come up the stairs. We broke. Tom wiped his eyes. I wrote the motel’s phone number on a paper on his nightstand.
“I’ll be here at 6:30, OK. I’ll bring some things for breakfast too. Just make the coffee by then.”
I smiled at him and snuck in a kiss before his dad appeared in the doorway.
“I’m goin’ ta bed. Sees ya two in the mornin’,” Tom’s dad said.
He turned, took a step and stopped.
Still facing away he said, “Thanks, Tom…Pete…” and then he walked off.
Tom walked me to the car.
“Oh shit is it cold! My nose hairs are crinkling.”
I turned and hugged Tom.
“Call me for any reason, even to say ‘hi’. I love you, Tom Petersen.”
I got in Sammy. He cranked right up. Tom smiled and waved. I had difficulty sleeping and was up for good by 4:30. It was going to be a long day on just over three hours of sleep. I pulled up in front of Tom’s house by 6:10.
I arrived with lots of orange juice, some fruit and a bunch of muffins. Tom opened the door as I got to the top step. He was wide eyed.
“Uh-oh, everything OK?”
Tom gave me a funny face. I could smell sausages cooking. My stomach began to turn. Tom took his suit and hung it on the railing leading upstairs.
Tom guided me into the kitchen and whispered in my ear, “I made the mistake of saying I was vegetarian. Big mistake! I’ve been his ‘pinko commie son’ for the last half hour.” He kissed me on the back of the neck right before we went into the room.
“Good mornin’, Mr. Petersen, I brought some juice, muffins and fruit. Hope that was OK?”
“Did you turn my son into a pinko weed eater?”
“Well, sir, I had to become a vegetarian and that’s the way I cook. Your son accepted that as part of stayin’ with me. I didn’t force it on him. I had told him he could eat meat if he wanted. It wasn’t a condition of stayin’ with me.”
“You HAD ta become a vegetarian? What kind o’ bullshit is dat?”
As calmly as I could I said, “Yes sir. It makes me violently ill. Trust me, I’ve tried. It’s the result of a horrible car accident I was in.”
He turned and stared at me not knowing whether to believe me or not.
“I don’t fuckin’ like it,” he said.
“I found out that it’s not a matter of liking things like this, it’s acceptance of the facts and situations you are handed.”
“Dad, it’s like what we have to deal with today. I hate this. I can’t believe Mom is dead. I don’t want to deal with the fact that she’s gone or the fact that we have to go through this ritual today. I don’t want to do this, but I…we all have to accept it and deal with it and then get on with life. We don’t have a choice.”
Mr. Petersen stabbed at the links in the frying pan.
“You’ve changed my son and I don’t like it!”
“Dad! Pete hasn’t done a damn thing but support anything that I’ve wanted to do. I’m just becoming the person I always was and I’m growin’ up. I turned seventeen yesterday, ya know.”
His dad dropped the fork he was turning the sausages with onto the floor. He picked it up, wiped it on his boxers and started to flick the links onto a plate. When he was done, he turned off the stove and slowly turned around.
“Sorry, Tom, I don’t remember things like that. That was your mother’s department.” He turned back. “I guess I’ll have ta now,” he mumbled as he stabbed at the sausages.
Tom walked over to him.
“Dad, we can’t fight anymore. There’s no reason to. We need to help each other get on with our lives.”
The three of us sat silently as we ate breakfast and drank coffee. By seven I was sitting in the bath with Tom while he showered. He got dressed in his suit. We smiled as we stared at each other in the full length mirror on the back of the door in his room. We agreed we made a handsome couple and held hands as we walked downstairs. Tom’s dad walked into the kitchen ten minutes later. He was wearing a green, pink and yellow plaid jacket and wrinkled khaki pants. He pulled a wad of tie out of the pocket of the jacket. I looked at Tom in horror. Tom’s face was one of complete exasperation.
He sighed and then said calmly, “Dad, you always looked good in that gray suit of yours. Don’t you think that would be more appropriate?”
“Are you gonna start changin’ me now?” he said in a loud sarcastic voice.
“No, Dad, I want us both to honor Mom the best way we can.”
Tom turned serious. “Pete, come on, let’s go see what we can find in his closet. Dad, don’t get pissed, OK. You and I got to do this together.”
Tom and I scavenged his dad’s closet. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The suit just needed to be pressed.
“Let’s hope the pants still fit,” I said to Tom.
“Oh fuck, I hadn’t thought about that.”
We found a starched shirt all the way in the back of the closet and a decent tie. We also found a dark gray wool tweed sport coat and a pair of black pants. We got his dad to start trying on the clothes. In the end I cut the suit pants stitching out of the waist and butt and let them out as far as they would go. I spent a half an hour hand stitching them up again. It wasn’t the best job of sewing and the pants needed to be completely recut to look good but we had no choice.
I said with a smile, “Now don’t bend over or squat, OK.”
He began to laugh.
“I try not ta anyway. I know it ain’t a pretty sight.” By the time we got the pants, jacket and tie pressed and his dad dressed it was ten till nine.
“Pete, thanks, you too, Tom. I know my brother would’ve chewed me out but good if I showed up dressed like I was goin’ ta.”
“Let’s go, Dad. Mom would be pissed if we left her there alone to greet everyone.” He smiled at his dad.
“Cheeky bastard,” I said softly.
“He gets that from me ya know,” his dad said.
Tom and his dad went in his black pick-up truck. I followed in Sammy.
The reality of the situation finally hit Tom when he walked up to the coffin. I could see his knees begin to shake uncontrollably. He quickly spun and flung his arms around me. He cried for fifteen minutes until the first guest arrived. His dad kept placing his hand on Tom’s back or shoulder the whole time of the viewing. Tom told me later that it was the first show of affection he had ever seen the man have.
It was a constant flow of people for the next two hours. Tom’s uncle, the lawyer, stood next to his brother the entire time lending support as I stood next to Tom doing the same. His mother’s sisters were cordial but kept their distance.
I was struck by the familiarity of the expressions on people’s faces, bringing back the time in the hospital four years ago. Those expressions of anguish and loss knotted my stomach. Most every one of them knew Tom had moved to New York and figured I was the man who took him in. They didn’t ask many questions out of respect; that relieved the four of us. Most expressed surprise at how much Tom had changed, that he had become a man in the last year.
After the viewing, Tom’s uncle’s family and the four of us went to a nearby diner to eat. It was Tom’s parents’ favorite spot to eat. They thought it was appropriate. We left one place open at the table at Tom’s insistence. During lunch Tom’s uncle asked him what his plans were for the future. Tom paused for awhile.
“I’m going back to New York. I have school on Monday and my job too. I have my life there…and Pete is there too.”
“He means a lot to you, huh,” his uncle asked.
“He’s shown me what life can be if you allow it to happen. I love him. I want to be with him my entire life.”
Tom’s father stared at him. He then looked hard at me.
“So what does that mean, Tom,” his dad asked, “Are you two doin’ it or what?”
I gulped. I feared a screaming match was about to happen.
“Dad,” Tom spoke sternly, “yes…and let’s leave it at that for now, OK. Yell at me another day. Not today.”
His father stared at the two of us, slammed his palm on the table and then gazed up to the ceiling. He finally looked back down. He swiveled to his sister in law and his two nieces, “OK, excuse me girls for I don’t know what I’m about ta say.”
He turned back to us, “I am not happy that my son’s a fag. It makes me sick ta my stomach. I don’t get it. It ain’t natural. I ain’t religious but I think you two are gonna go ta hell. I don’t ‘spect you care.” He continued to stare. “But, this mornin’, people said things that I hadn’t really thought about. Like the fact that you have grown up so much in the last few months. When I saws you in that suit this mornin’ in the kitchen, I couldn’t believe that you were really my little boy…you’re not no more. When you cared ta go find the right thing for me to wear today and then makes it happen, this was much more than the boy I was so pissed at for runnin’ away from home.” He flicked at the breadcrumbs on the table and breathed deeply. “So if being a fag and livin’ in NewYawk with you did this…well…” He flicked more breadcrumbs, “…I still wish you’d come home and be with me.”
“Dad, bein’ gay has nothin’ to do with anything. It just is the way I am. I didn’t ask to be this way. In some respects, I’d rather not, but I can’t hide, run away or change these very deep feelings I’ve had all my life. As for the rest of me and how I act, that wouldn’t matter if I was gay or straight it’s just how I am…and how I was brought up. The only thing Pete did was give me a chance to not be afraid to be who I am. He gave me respect and I love him for that…The fact that I fell in love with him is a whole nother story.”
The waitress and a bus boy arrived with two huge trays of food.
As we followed the black pick-up to the church I could tell Tom and his dad were having the screaming match that I had feared…at least his dad was. Tom’s cousins were riding with me. The two girls, ten and twelve, had never been in a “Punch Buggy” before. I asked what that was and then they told us about a game where your hit the person next to you and scream out “Punch Buggy” whenever you see a Beetle. I said I’d never heard of the game and didn’t quite get the point either. They also told me that they thought it was cool to ride with a gay man too. I smiled at them in the mirror as I kept my eye on the truck in front of me. I parked next to the pick-up when we arrived five minutes later. I looked up at the passenger window and at Tom as the girls piled out of the back seat. He turned to me, stuck his tongue out and wagged it at me. Then he smiled a big toothy grin. I was thoroughly confused. I got out and stood at his window. He smiled as he watched the long streams of my breath come from my nose. His dad walked around the hood of the truck to me.
“Take care of my son. He’s all I gots now. I’m fuckin’ serious. OK?”
I nodded in agreement and out of total shock.
“I just won’t think about you two together. I still can’t handle that, but I know that if he stands up to me now he’s gotta be standin’ up ta you too…so at least ya ain’t takin’ ‘vantage of him ‘cause I wouldn’t stand for that.”
“I respect and love him too much for that, sir”
His dad spun around took a step, and then spun back around, “One more thing, make that two. Make sure he becomes an awketect…if he’s can do it, and two…tanks for savin’ his life.” He stopped and hung his head and then barely audibly said, “Dat was what his mother and I were arguing about when she died…she was right.” He walked off and put his arm over his brother’s shoulder as they went inside.
I flung the door open to the truck.
“What was with all the tongue action and the smiles?”
“The fact that he said Mom wanted me to become an architect. Pete, she wanted me to be an architect!”
He flung his legs out of the door and jumped into my arms and bear hugged me.
“That’s great, Tom.”
As we continued to hug I could feel his hard-on.
“And what’s that all about?” I said.
“He was all worried that you took advantage of me. I told him no, that we want and ask for what we do…and that got me thinkin’ of fuckin’ each other.”
Tom got a wry smile.
“Wanna find a quiet place for a couple of minutes?”
“Tom, in the church…before your mother’s service…you’ve got to be kidding?”
“No, I’m not kidding.”
I smiled. He grabbed my hand and led me to a side door in the service wing of the church. Our shoe clicks resounded down the linoleum floor and stone walls. Down a side hall and up a short flight of stairs he peered into rooms as we went down a red carpeted hallway. He opened the door to a small choir practice room.
“For solos and duets,” he whispered to me.
“Oh shit,” I said sarcastically.
We kissed. He undid my belt and pants as fast as he could and got down on his haunches and began to suck me. He stood back up and dropped his pants and shorts.
“Fuck me, Pete, fuck me.”
I did. As soon as I came he turned around and did the same to me. Red faced and out of breath we pulled ourselves together as best we could and went to find a bathroom. We giggled as we sat in side by side stalls.
“I can’t believe we just did that,” I said.
All of a sudden I see his upside down smiling face looking at me from under the stall wall. The door to the bath opened. Tom quickly jerked his head up and whacked the side of it hard.
“Y’all right, Tom?”
“Owww, Goddammit, I’m OK.”
“Yur sure there now,” came a calm deep voice from the urinal.
“Yes, Reverend,” Tom said softly, “Sorry.”
The two of us got out of the stalls. I looked at Tom’s head.
“Good bump there, guy, but I think you’ll live.”
The Reverend looked back and forth at the two of us, “I won’t ask how that happened. Not necessary. But I think you should think about the fact that you deserved it for whatever reason. Huh?”
He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Come on. I’m starting in less than ten minutes. It’s time you two found your seats.”
We stood at the sink and washed our hands and combed our hair.
The Reverend, after drying his hands, opened the door and said, “Tom, I hope you’re prepared to get up and say something. I plan to call you up.”
I had to grab Tom before he collapsed to the floor.
Tom did get up and eulogize his mother. He spoke passionately for fifteen minutes. He cried. He laughed. He shouted. He whispered. It all came from his soul. We all cried and laughed with him and felt it all in our hearts. In the end he grabbed the podium and pulled himself up so that he could look down on the coffin below him.
“Ma Mere, Adieu.”
He rubbed the bump on his head.
“I’ll know that you’ll always be there to keep me in line.”
He chuckled as he looked at me and then the Reverend. We both laughed.
“I will always love you, Mom.”
He slowly stepped down from the altar, made his way between his father and me, sat and began to bawl. We held him tight.
When the Reverend asked Mr. Petersen if he would like to say anything, he shook his head, “Tom spoke for us both.”
Tom, his father, three uncles and a cousin carried the casket out the side door and up the small hill to the cemetery behind the white wooden church. At the top of the rise under the naked knurled arms of an old oak tree we buried his mother next to hers. Mr. Petersen then invited all to his house.
It was a bittersweet time of remembrance that late afternoon for Tom, hearing all of the good stories about his parents from a time before and soon after he was born.
Tom turned to me at one point, gestured with a nod of his head and said, “Uh-oh, drink number one. I can’t believe that we had 48 hours sober but it won’t last long now. Now the nasty side will come out.”
His dad’s brother looked sideways at Tom, “I don’t think so.”
Then we watched his dad hand the drink to his sister-in-law.
“I told him no drinking until we all went home…including you, Tom. He knows it’s caused more heartache in his life than he cares to admit to. He doesn’t know if he’s ready to do anything about it yet, but that’s his choice. Forcing people to quit drinkin’ never works…look at Gramps. We tried to get him to stop drinkin’ all his life. He just talked rings around all those psychologists we sent him to at those clinics. It wasn’t until it was too late that he figured it out, but the last year of his life when he was sober almost…almost made up for the thirty we had to put up with him drunk. Maybe your dad will get it now…I hope.”
He smiled at Tom and jostled his hair.
“I’m glad you made the decision to go back to New York and build on the life you have created. And to become an architect…you know that’s what Gramps was in school for till they tossed his ass out for bein’ drunk. I think that’s why your dad was so dead set against you becomin’ an architect. He thought that you’d end up like his dad…even though it doesn’t matter…does it.” His uncle stood and then looked back at Tom. “But keep in touch with him though…OK? Keep involved with him…from the safe distance of New York, but you, as his son, and I, as his big brother, have to help him take care of himself at first.” He jingled the ice in the bottom of his glass and walked off to get a drink.
By eleven the last of the guests had left. Tom’s father was soon dressed in sweatpants and a flannel shirt.
I looked at my gray suit and said, “You got the right idea. I think it’s time to head back to the motel and get out of this monkey suit.”
“Take Tom with you, OK. And then I’ll see you two for lunch tomorrow after twelve. Deal?”
“How about brunch at eleven?”
His dad looked at me through squinted eyes.
“Damn smart-ass ain’t cha?” I winked at him.
“We’ll call you at ten and see how you’re doin’ and go from there. Deal?”
“Pete, I like ya. I still don’t like fags…but I like ya.”
We both turned to the sound of Tom closing the door to the basement.
“Tom, why doncha go spend the night with Pete and I’ll sees you for brunch in the mornin’.” He got up from his chair.
“Are you sure, Dad? I’m goin’ back to New York tomorrow. Don’t you want to spend more time together?”
“Tom, I’m not goin’ to know if you’re here or not when I’m snorin’. So go spend some quiet time with Pete. He deserves it. Now grab your stuff and skedaddle.”
As I backed out of the drive we could see through the sheer curtains his dad grabbing a beer out of the fridge. Tom then pulled an engraved form from a large brown envelope under his jacket. It was his birth certificate. He waved it in the air.
“Ta-Da! Ask and ye shall receive. See, I was born on January 6th, 1969……1969!!!!