His dad was ready for brunch at eleven. He said he fell asleep before he finished his third beer. He was only ashamed when Tom produced the birth certificate.
“I’m sorry; dat was nother one of my bright ideas. I didn’t even remember that it was da truth till I wanted to go after you, Pete, for molestin’ my boy. Be thankful that you get yur brains from yur mother. Ya get most things from Ma. Be glad of that.”
The rest of the meal was subdued. I could tell Tom was stewing over this but he also realized that he was powerless do to anything about it and he never wanted to argue with his old man ever again. That frustration would boil over a minute after we drove away.
Tom rolled down the window once we were on the highway and stuck his head in the freezing cold stream of air and screamed as loud as he could. Once he pulled his head back inside and rolled up the window he went on a ten-minute tirade about how he had lost a whole year.
When he stopped to think for a second I spoke calmly, “Tom, you didn’t lose a year, only the realization of it. It wasn’t fair and it was idiotic but it doesn’t change much. You are where you are as you are. You are at the right point to do what you want with your life. And for better or worse you now have had one more year with your mother than you thought.”
Tom looked at me with a pout on his face.
“You son of a bitch…I love you.”
He reached over and hugged me. I struggled to stay in the lane.
“Let’s go surprise Vroom.”
“Cool, I’ve missed our friends. I can’t wait to see Katie and Steve too,” Tom said.
“And the kids,” I added.
Vroom had a broad smile as he opened his dorm room door wide. He recognized my unique knock of two quick raps high up on the door and three slow ones down at shin height. It got started that first summer I knew him when the building super had sprayed the center section of his apartment door with some unknown goo in the name of maintenance. Months later they ended up replacing the door. His mother was not happy the day her dry cleaning adhered to the door as she hurriedly tried to answer the phone.
“Hey, guys!” He immediately bear-hugged Tom.
“Thanks, John. I appreciate it.”
“Since we gotta drive by we thought we’d stop in,” I said.
“Pete this is just a bit off the crow’s route,” John said as he took an arm and put it around me so that he could hug the two of us.
“So what’s up?” John said, pulling us into the room and shutting the door.
“We needed to be with our friends,” Tom said.
“Well I’m here! I don’t know about anybody else. Jeremy will be here once his last class is done but I’m already done for the day.”
“Well, I thought that we could all go to an early dinner and I’d like to run up your phone bill for a while. I’ll pay for it.”
“No, Pete, I owe it to you.”
Tom and I talked to my parents, the Elliots, Steve and Katie in between conversations with John and Jeremy. The topics of the funeral and finding out that Tom was eighteen dominated the banter. Tom got distressed when reminded by Dad Elliot that he needed to sign up for the draft.
“Oh geez, at least my real dad will be happy at that. Son of a …”
When I spoke to Dad Elliot he asked if I had dumped the stock like Tim had told us. I said yes.
“Good, because it’s worth one twentieth of what it was on Tuesday and it’s still headin’ for the dumper.”
“A report came out that the company was inflating its worth and production. The top four guys are under investigation for fraud. I don’t know how Tim knew what he did, but I sure am glad. Now I have no idea what to do with this chunk of cash I got, but I would have lost a lot had I not done it. Actually, it’s back to where Dan originally bought it, but the stock had split five times, sometimes three for one. Amazing.”
I was speechless. I had no idea what to say about the whole deal. I decided I needed to call Tim though. I left a message with Tim, forgetting he was still at work. I told him that we would call before we went to sleep.
We parked in the garage below Steve and Fitz’s just after seven. I almost cried when I heard “Unka Pete” as he raced into my arms. Most of the next hour Daniel sat in my lap as I leaned up against Steve in their love seat. Tom, Katie and little Stevie sat across from us on the couch. I needed to be close to my family today, to enjoy the camaraderie, the easy flow of conversation and the unquestioned, unconditional love that emanated from us all.
As Fitz and I put the two kids to bed Daniel asked me, “Unka Pete, why doncha live with us…an Unka Tom too?”
“I used to live with your mom and dad. Maybe someday we’ll all do it again. You come see me this weekend and we’ll talk about it some more, OK?”
We kissed the boys goodnight and headed back out to the living room.
Steve, as he wandered back out from the kitchen with two beers, said, “Hey, I had an interesting ride with a client of mine. We saw a piece of land he’s thinking of selling. It’s a beautiful hillside tract in New Jersey. He says on a clear day you can see the skyline of New York. It’s big too, over eight acres. The price is too rich for my blood though.”
He then took a swig of beer and handed the other bottle to Tom. I stared speechless. Tom caught my expression and a look of fear crossed his face.
Steve saw the silent conversation between us and said, “Hey, I insisted. He’s eighteen now. We drank at eighteen. He told me he enjoys one every once in a blue moon.”
Steve sat down next to me and said softly, “Look, we all know the hell it has caused in all of our lives but a beer here and there is OK. You even insist I have a beer every once in a while.” Steve gave me his “get over it” goofy grin and then started singing “Blue Moon.” I started cracking up laughing as I leaned over and kissed each of them.
“Don’t mind the old fart, Tom.” I kissed him again.
“Tell me more about this piece of land, Steve.”
“Well, he’s got to find some way to buy out his partner or else he’ll have to split his company, so he needs to get enough to finance the buyout and do it quick. Sellin’ this piece of land can make it happen, and if he can do it in cash he’ll settle for a price that’s below market. Why, you probably got almost half mil lyin’ around.”
“Actually yes and in cash, I had to dump one of Dan’s wonder stocks the other day.”
Steve’s face turned serious.
“You’re shittin’ me, Pete.”
“Nope,” I said quietly, “Dad Elliot said I should diversify and buy some land or a home or something. I was thinking ‘island’ on the drive up here.”
I started to chuckle.
“But really, Steve, I want to go see it and if I could I’d like a plot plan…if he’s got a topo, that would be fantastic.”
“Topographic map,” Tom answered.
“Oh, you are serious.”
“Hell, yeah…and then I can make Daniel’s wish come true and y’all can cash in that gift certificate I gave ya.”
Katie started to laugh.
“We can build two houses. One for y’all and one for me and Tom!”
“I don’t have money for that, Pete.”
“Steve, what would Dan say to that?”
He shrugged his shoulders and then said, “I don’t know but he would probably slap me on the ass for sayin’ such a stupid thing.”
Katie was now laid back on the couch laughing raucously.
I looked up at the ceiling, raised my arms up and spread them out wide, “Finally, I know what to do with some of the money. I love you Dan, Jason…”
I looked down at Steve, Katie and Tom, “I love y’all so much we need to be closer, doncha think? Look, and if this property isn’t it we’ll find one that is.”
Katie looked up at me and asked, “Pete, is this realistic?”
“Katie Fitzmorris, are we not family,” I asked rhetorically, pointing to the photo of us on the front porch on Upperline before my graduation.
“I just can’t believe it could be possible.”
“Look, we get everything. You get your wedding gift. I get to do my own home. We can share a pool and call it ‘Ben and Janet’s’. The kids will have grass and trees to run around and play in. We can have dogs and some peace and quiet sometimes. I could have a studio or even my office on the grounds…eh, maybe not. I could see Daniel and Stevie grow up every day…and a babysitter would be just across the lawn.”
I winked at her a couple of times.
“You are a wonderful dreamer, Peter Langer. A wonderful dreamer, but I insist we pay our way.”
“The Bank of Boone will front you the money. I’ll get Tim to work out a real loan agreement, reasonable rates mind you,” I said with a grin.
Steve walked over to me, “Mr. Planner Man is at it again…and I love it. Matter of fact I love you more than I probably will ever realize.”
He hugged me and gave me a long passionate kiss.
“Wow,” Tom said to Katie.
“Yes, they do love each other. Not to worry though, we’re safe,” she said with a giggle as she put her arm around Tom’s waist.
We said our good-byes after Steve promised to call his client at home in the morning. Although he wondered why we were leaving so soon, “I’m too excited thinking about all of this to sleep.”
“I need to wander around the frozen Garden and to be home again. I want to snuggle in bed with Tom and think about this too,” I said, “Call us…and let’s do something together this weekend.”
“Let’s pick a museum to go to, the planetarium or the Met or something. I’ll think about it and call you all in the morning,” Tom said. “Come on. Let’s go get Sammy out of hock and take him home.”
I was so glad to finally open the door to the apartment. Tom and I hugged each other in release of the last four days of emotion and uncertainty. Tom went to get the mail and I cracked a couple of windows. The steam heat had the apartment baking. I heard Klaus’ door open.
“Iz zat you boys?”
“Yes sir, Klaus,” Tom responded.
I walked out into the hall. Tom handed me the mail.
“Aren’t you going to look through it?” I asked.
“None’s for me. It’s your mail.”
“Are you sure? Your name is on that mailbox too.”
I quickly shuffled through the stack and began to hand him letters and cards.
“Hey! Wow! Mail!”
“You make an impression on people, Tom. People care about you.”
Klaus came down the stairs in almost a run.
“I got zis letter I zigned for, for you, Pete. Iz OK? All vas vell? No trouble? Ja.”
“Klaus, it went as well as funerals could I suspect.”
“Vat is za problem, Tom?”
I turned to see Tom crying as he stared at the envelope on top of the pile.
“Mom,” he said before he began to sob loudly.
I cradled Tom into my arms and led him into the apartment. Klaus waved us on. I nodded my head and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’. It looked like Klaus was about to cry too. I dropped the mail to the floor and then guided Tom into the bedroom. We sat on the side of the bed. He continued to sob as he stared at the card.
He said through his tears, “I don’t want to open the last words I ever will get from my mom.”
“Then don’t. Save them for a time when you are ready. They will always be there,” I said softly as I craned my neck around to look him straight in the eyes. I tried to express as much tenderness and compassion as I could. “Open the other ones first.”
He shook his head no and then softly said, “They can all wait till my birthday tomorrow.”
He shuffled them into neat descending order of size and propped them up against the light on his nightstand. He looked at me with a weak smile.
“I love you. You got everyone to mail cards didn’t you?”
“Actually, they were going to anyway…but it was Tim’s idea to make sure though.”
Tom reached for the phone, “What’s his number?”
As he pressed in the numbers and began to talk to Tim I picked up the other mail off the floor and opened the registered letter. It was a check from my broker.
Tom stopped talking to Tim and said, “What?” I handed it to him.
“Holy Fuck,” he said and started to laugh. “Oh my God, TWO commas and a decimal point.
I could hear Tim’s voice screaming over the phone. I took the phone from Tom as he continued to gawk at the check.
“It’s the check from the broker. I had no idea it was worth that much.”
“It shot up a bunch in the last few months. I was so worried that you hadn’t had time to sell it.”
“Tim, even if I had waited until today to sell it the worth would still be greater than what Dan put into it….but now I’m using the money to buy some land and start building some houses.”
I spent the next ten minutes going over the plan to build what I was now calling the “Spread” and how I would need to lend money to Steve and Katie.
“I’ll set the wheels in motion, Pete. And I want to look into some other options of how to run this for tax reasons too.”
“I trust you, Mr. Financial Planner Man.”
I had stereo chuckling.
“I’m sorry I took you away from the birthday boy, here, let me hand you back to him…and when are you comin’ to visit again…or are we comin’ out there this time?”
“That’s just what Tom and I were talkin’ about when you so rudely interrupted us,” Tim said sarcastically.
“Well,” I responded in kind and handed the phone to Tom.
“Yeah, Tim, when are you goin’ to come fuck my husband again?” he asked with a laugh.
My eyes widened and then I dove on top of Tom, “You cheeky…”
Tim got to listen to us giggle and laugh as I stripped Tom naked and then moan as I entered him. I took the phone and said, “Anytime, Tim. Anytime you want.”
“Soon,” he said, “ Call me tomorrow. I love you both.” He hung up.
In the shower an hour later I said, “Ready for prezzies, Love?”
“I got one,” he said as he kissed me.
We climbed under the covers and I piled a small mound of assorted shaped presents between us. I handed him a large envelope first. He pulled out the contents of forms.
“Pete…paperwork! What is this? This is not a present to fill out… wait…Passport? What?”
“Thus the need for your birth certificate!”
I handed him the next envelope. It was filled with the itinerary and brochures for a three week jaunt through Europe.
“Pete! You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” I said simply.
“Thank Jeremy and his family. I’m spending that bonus I got for getting that job to do their office. Now I got a lot of work to get done before the first week of July.”
“You’re just going to up and leave for three weeks straight!”
“I get such shit in that office because I’ve never taken a real vacation in all the time I’ve been there….Now, I am….we are! Anyway, I’ve already cleared it with them.”
“Wow, wow, wow! This is fantastic!”
I handed him his next gift: a sketchbook.
“So that you can practice drawing on our vacation.”
“No, this one I’m going to fill with drawings of you naked!”
“OK, that’s acceptable…is that naked or nekkid.”
I smiled and said, “Naked is when you have no clothes on. Nekkid is when you’re naked and up to somethin’.”
We laughed. I handed him the next box. He shook it and jiggled it and then slowly opened it.
“Oh man, it’s a camera!” It was a small 35mm camera. I had used one like it for work. It had automatic focusing and a built-in flash and zoom lens. It took great photos.
“You can always use mine if you want but this is a great camera and a hell of a lot easier to tote around.”
He rolled on top of me and kissed me.
“Stay right there. Finally, last one for tonight.” I handed him a small box.
“Open it and then I’ll explain. He propped himself up on his elbows on my chest and opened the box. Inside was a blue leather jeweler’s box. Tom stared into my eyes as he snapped it open. His eyes refocused on the small gold ring in the box. I reached around the box and picked the ring up and placed it on Tom’s left pinkie.
“This is to show how much I love you. I so much wanted to ask you to marry me but with you just being seventeen, I thought, I didn’t think I had the right to make you commit so soon in your life. No matter how much I love you.”
I hugged him as tight as I could as I began to sob.
“Pete, you amaze me,” he whispered in my ear, “You always put me first in your thoughts.”
“Actually, I just think of us. That’s how it works and no secrets. And I can’t hold secret the fact that no matter how mature I think you are you still are growing and changing each day and I don’t want to cramp that growth.” An impish grin crossed my face, “I don’t think your friends at school would understand you wearing a wedding band either.”
“What friends? I’ve been there one day.”
“Oh, soon enough you’ll have lots of friends.” I picked up his left hand and kissed the ring and then we kissed. “I love you, Thomas Nathaniel Petersen.”
“I love you old-what’s-your-name.”
I began to tickle him mercilessly for a minute or so. We spooned as tight as we could and soon fell asleep.
The phone woke me a little after eight. I reached over Tom to get it, “Hello,” I said in the gravelly voice of the still asleep.
“Unka Pete” said the soft unsure voice on the other end. I sat up and rubbed my eyes.
“Good Morning, Daniel,” I said in a gentle voice, “How’s my best buddy?”
“OK, here’s Daddy.”
“Hey, Pete, can you be ready to go in a half an hour. We’ll pick you up. He wants to meet at ten. He’s really excited. Says he has all sorts of plans and maps and zoning crap.”
“Geez, you’ve had one too many cups of coffee and I haven’t even turned mine on yet. I’m not awake yet, but I’m dreaming I know what you’re talking about; bring a thermos for the birthday boy and me and we’ll be ready. Get some bagels too. See you in thirty, sexy.”
“Mmmmm, thanks, see you. Bye.”
I hung up the phone.
“Sleeeeeeping Beauuuuuty. Wake up.”
“Come on, we are going to wander in the woods. Steve, Katie and the kids will be here in less than half an hour.”
“Fuck.” He rolled over.
“Come on we don’t have time to fuck,” I said with a laugh as I rolled over him and out of bed.
“He’s bringin’ the coffee. Let’s go.”
I picked him up and carried him into the bath.
We were putting on our coats when we heard the car horn announcing their arrival. We certainly were awake once we opened the door to the street. Crisp, sunny and only eighteen degrees out, we both had to run back in for our sunglasses. Tom also grabbed his new camera. I had one of my shivers and I truly didn’t know if it was a premonition or the cold.
We turned onto a hardscrabble road signified by the white strip of cloth tied to the trunk of an elm tree. The car bumped and rocked the two hundred feet to where we saw a jeep parked.
“Nothin’ a dozer can’t fix,” I said to Fitz.
By the glare in her eyes she wasn’t amused. As we emerged from the car a tall handsome man in his late fifties strode across the tall grass and weeds to greet us.
“Steve, so glad you could meet me. Brought an entourage, I see.”
“Will, this is my wife Katie and our two boys, Daniel and Stevie…and this is Pete Langer and his partner Tom Petersen. Pete, Tom, Katie, this is Will Winslow.”
Mr. Winslow removed his glove and shook everyone’s hand, including Daniel’s and Stevie’s.
“Well, this is it,” he said, his arms spread out wide, “My slice of heaven in New Jersey. It’s been in my family for over a hundred and fifty years. Actually it used to be almost a thousand acres but being divvied up through the generations this is what I personally have.”
He unrolled a site plan across the warm hood of his car. He continued to talk of the property as I studied the plan. After ten minutes Katie and the kids got back in the car, I was also beginning to get cold. Steve, Will, Tom and I hiked from one end of the property to the other. The plot was roughly 300 feet east to west and 1200 feet north to south. The land rose slightly from the road and then sloped off toward the east as the property gently bent with the ridge of the hill. A few deer trails crisscrossed the land. Most of the trees were sixty to eighty years old. The land had been logged in the late teens and twenties. Through the trees on that crisp cold day, you could easily see the skyline of New York looking like a ragged saw blade.
“Well, what do you think?” Will asked me.
“I need to walk it alone for a few minutes to think.”
“Sure, meet you up at the truck.”
“I’m going to sit with Katie,” Steve said rubbing his gloved hands.
“Tom, stay and walk with me,” I asked. He smiled and nodded yes. For twenty minutes I silently walked the land, unrolling the plan, staring and then handing it back to Tom. I looked at my watch and positioned the sun to find the cardinal directions. I unrolled the plan again. I finally hiked up the hill seventy feet short of the crest just at the bend in the land. I turned and faced the view through the barren trees.
I looked over at Tom and put my hands out as if warming them by a fire, “What do you think of the view standing next to the fireplace in our living room?”
“You mean it,” he said.
“I want to. I think it’s a winner. What about you?”
“This is what I dreamed of as a kid as where I wanted to live.”
I hugged him.
“Come on, let me lead you out of the front door and over to Steve and Katie’s house.” I walked to the west.
“Now here are three steps up and the stairs to the second floor are just to the left, they cantilever off of a rectangular stone shaft. Kitchen is down there and the front door would be just about here.”
I opened an imaginary door and waved Tom through. He smiled and nodded in thanks.
“Now you come out onto a long slab covered in honed white marble. There is a long concrete wall to your left that looks as if it floats above the ground. Down two steps and across the lawn we go.” I looked up to see the five faces smiling at our antics. I waved for them to join us.
As they walked up I took Daniel into my arms and then up onto my shoulders.
“Come, time to go into your new house. Watch your head.”
With his hands on my forehead he leaned over and said, “You silly.”
“Yes, I am.”
I turned to Steve and Katie.
“Our house is over there, cube of glass penetrated by planes of concrete,” as I pointed to where they saw us before.
“You guys are over here. The house is actually going to look like what I drew for you…except that it’s completely reorganized and flipped over in plan.” I gave them a silly grin. “Anyway, what I want to do is to bury a common garage right about where we are walking in this swale and then the walk up to your front door starts over here a bit.” I stopped on top of a huge boulder that sloped gently out of the ground before it flattened to a plateau about four by eight feet. “From here you take one step up to be on your front stoop, a broad thin slab that cantilevers out from the front door, which would be right about here, except up three feet in the air.” I looked up at Daniel, “Turn the knob and open the door for us, would you please?” He got a broad grin, giggled and slapped me on the head like a drum, then opened the imaginary door. “From here you will see directly out to the view…” I walked them through the entire first floor.
When we walked out the far end of the layout Will turned to me and said, “You just had this all come out of your head in the last half hour. That’s amazing.”
“No, actually, I’ve been dreaming of this since I was five…but yeah, it’s all percolating out right now. So, how about 200 and I give you ten percent now and hopefully we can tie up the deal before the end of next week…that is as long as the lawyers can get their shit together in time and there are no weird zoning rules that won’t allow me to put two houses on one common piece of land?”
“You are serious.”
“Yep, as long as I get the nod from the rest of the crew.”
Steve, Katie and Tom all nodded yes with a smile.
“Deal. As long as it goes before the end of the following week; time is money with this deal to buy out my partner.”
“Steve, I guess you have your work cut out for you this afternoon, or can we do this with the check and a handshake?”
“A check and the handshake will work till all the paper work is in order,” Will said.
“Cool.” I pulled my checkbook from my pocket and wrote out a draft for twenty thousand dollars and noted it, “Good deal, Will, I really appreciate this.”
“You’re welcome, and if you want more, my brother owns the next six acres down the way and my uncle owns the thirty across the road, though they’ve always wanted to build up here too.”
I smiled at him, “We’ll see.”
After Will drove off I asked the rest to give me a moment alone. They nodded and headed for the car.
Fitz turned back and said just louder than the wind that had begun to whip through the trees, “Tell them both hello from me.”
I nodded and walked out amongst the trees.
I paced back and forth across the land until I found a boulder that attracted me. I sat down and pulled out Dan’s watch and the rings. I don’t know how long I meditated for. I just know my ass was frozen when I stood and said, “Welcome home guys. I hope I’ve done the right thing.” I only felt the most incredible urge to smile.
“Lunch?” Steve asked, “Our treat.” He meekly smiled at me, thinking he could never match what I had just done for him.
I leaned forward and kissed him behind the ear, “Steve, you’ve given me much more than I could ever repay you for.”
I settled back and Daniel climbed into my lap and snuggled up to nap. Tom was keeping Stevie happy in his car seat.
I turned to him and said, “You ready for a lot of extra homework?”
“I’m ready to work and learn,” he said with a smile.
“Our office opens at nine tomorrow morning.” Tom did a double take from making faces with Stevie. I nodded my head and smiled.
By late that afternoon
when I opened the apartment door I was physically and emotionally spent. I
needed to crash to recharge my batteries. I felt guilty too because I had
planned so much for Tom’s birthday and except for the presents we had yet to
do a damn thing.
He read my feelings and needs explicitly before I could apologize, “You have given me the best presents I could ever hope for, love and a home. Now it’s my time to take care of you.”
He led me into the bedroom and undressed me, got me into bed and then snuggled up with me.
He reached for and handed me the phone, “Call Tim, I know you want to call your banker to tell him that you’re spending your own money.”
“I can’t be any other way.”
Tom was asleep by the time I finished talking with Tim twenty minutes later. Its ring woke us four hours later.
“Hmmm,” I moaned into the phone.
“Geez, the two of you have turned into old men…Gone to bed already?”
“Hi, Vroom. No just napped…what time is it,” I said barely conscious.
“Shit,” I said sitting up, “I thought maybe an hour at the most. Shit, I hate that.”
Tom opened his eyes looking very confused, “What’s the matter?”
“So,” I got in stereo from John and Tom.
“Hey, Pete, Jeremy, David and I are in the city. Can we come over?”
“Vroom, Jeremy and David are on their way, OK?”
“Great, come on, come on!”
“We’ll see you in about twenty, OK, Pete.”
“Let yourselves in. We’ll probably still be in the shower tryin’ to get the sleep out of our eyes.”
“I’ll buzz the doorbell so we don’t scare ya.”
We had barely gotten in the shower when the doorbell rang. A minute later we could see three tilted heads stacked one on top of the other along the doorframe to the bath. David wolf whistled. Jeremy smacked him on his head. Tom was completely embarrassed and hid behind me.
“You two make one sexy couple,” Vroom said, “Come on, let’s raid the fridge and give them a minute.”
I asked Tom why he was so embarrassed.
“David’s straight, it’s weird.”
My eyes popped open wide, “But…oh man…you don’t…he didn’t tell you that he’s gay…still closeted but…”
“NO!…and you didn’t tell me…”
“I assumed….oh shit, I’m sorry…I fucked up, but I was supposed to keep my mouth shut but I could tell you, but I assumed…oh shit.”
We both burst out laughing. Now I was red with embarrassment. We continued to laugh as we rinsed and then dried off.
The five of us talked and laughed till well past two. Vroom couldn’t believe I bought a huge chunk of land this morning.
“You talk about it like you bought a pair of pants at the Gap.”
“It sort of is…just more zeros.”
“Now you for once are being the ‘cheeky bastard’, cheeky bastard,” he said with a sense of frustration.
“John, I’m sorry, but if you can you buy what you want and what you need you do it. The amount isn’t the object. Anyway, I would have been able to do this in about ten years, maybe less, with Steve involved, but since I can do this now through the fucked up twists of fate in my life, why not. I think what made me do it today is that I want to give Daniel and Stevie a place with grass and trees to grow up on…not concrete and asphalt covered in dog piss and broken glass.”
I held up my hand to stop John from starting.
“Not saying that growing up in the city is bad for kids. I have you as a wonderful example of a city bred kid, but…I know there is always a ‘but’…anyway, I want the grass and trees too. I love my Garden here, but…” I winked at him, “I want a huge one that flows into and through the house. One that runs from an untended forest to an orchid that sits next to my pillow.”
“But,” he cracked up a bit, “what about here, this wonderful garden? You can’t just abandon it.”
“You would take care of it,” I said as I walked into the kitchen to refill my glass with mineral water. Silence, except for the glug of the water from the bottle.
“But…” We all started to laugh. John walked over and hugged me from behind.
“Thanks, Pete. I will.”
“Aren’t you going to ask your honey over there to see if he’s willin’?”
“Oh, he’s wanted to move in here since the first time I brought him.” Then he whispered, “He’s been secretly plottin’ your demise to get in here.”
“Ohhhhhhh, nice, Jeremy. Thanks. Love you too,” I said.
Jeremy ran over and hugged me from the front and kissed me, “Sorry.”
“Hey,” Tom said, “Don’t make me jealous, now.”
We all laughed when David went up and started necking Tom and rubbing his crotch.
“Hey,” I yelled, who’s makin’ who jealous!” We broke apart continuing to laugh.
I went and latched onto Tom and then snuggled with him on the couch for the rest of the evening.
Tom jostled me awake, “Hey, it’s ten to nine. Time to open the shop.”
“Hmmmm, want to sleep.”
“Pete, we have work to do. We have our home to design…GET UP!!!”
I popped my eyes open, “Geez, lighten up…OK?…turn on the computer. Make the coffee. Kiss me.”
He kissed me from my forehead to my toes. He dawdled awhile in the middle. After getting the coffee to brew he sat at his desk and waited patiently for me. I paced up and down the apartment from the bedroom to my desk. I poured two cups of coffee and placed one in front of Tom.
“Can I do something besides get impatient?”
“Sure, input the site plan into the computer.”
“Cool, I can do that.”
He pulled the plan from my desk over to his.
“Pete, what’s the matter?”
“Nothin’, I just have to get primed.” I paused. “I guess since I always walked and rode to Tulane and I walk and ride to work now I just can’t sit and do.”
“OK, makes sense…just makes me nervous.”
I paced about ten more laps and put down my coffee cup, “Speaking of sit and do.”
I walked into the bath and sat down. Tom walked in and sat on the edge of the tub a minute or two later. He stared at the rug beneath our feet. I ran my fingers through his blond bed hair trying to make some sense of it.
“What’s up, Tom? Somethin’s on your mind.”
He puckered his lips and sent them left and then right, then left again.
“Spill, Tom.” He peered at me from the very top corners of his eyes, his forehead wrinkled.
“This house…our house…this is so important to me and to you…to us, but…I…don’t…”
He stopped talking.
“Tom, stop tryin’ to not hurt my feelin’s. Is it the fact that you are worried that I have this whole thing planned out in my head and all you’re gonna do is draw it up? Well, that’s what I got to thinkin’ about when I was pacin’ back and forth. Am I right?”
“I was so into it yesterday, it was something I had thought about for so long in my life that I forgot that I shared my life with you and that you would want to participate. Even if Dan and Jason were here, they would want me to do it all, but I still would want their input, and…” I hung my head, “you have a gift for this and I bulldozed right over it. How can I be so selfish?”
Tom got up, straddled my legs and sat on my lap facing me.
“I love you, Pete.” He kissed my nose. “You recognized it. That’s all I really want, because when it comes to actually gettin’ this house done I don’t know shit from Shinola. I wouldn’t even know where or how to start. I’m here to learn, but I get to ask stupid questions and make dumb comments and every once in a while let me figure somethin’ out…even if you have to struggle to make it work in the whole scheme of things. And I get to do the addition to the house. OK?”
“That’s cool by me. I don’t know why we might ever need an addition…you plannin’ on kids? Please let me in on that one, but that works for me. Now, get up so I can wipe and we can get on with this, unless you want to do it.”
He headed for the door.
“I don’t think so…not at least until after were married.”
“I don’t think so even then. Give me a warm up on my coffee, will ya.”
We worked until almost midnight before I insisted on calling it a day.
“You have school in the morning, dear, and I don’t want to get reports of a grump from the principal….although I guess it doesn’t matter now, since I’m not your legal guardian anymore.”
“You’re eighteen. That document is now null and void.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Will you help me straighten that out with the school? I don’t want them to think I’m tryin’ to pull one over on ‘em.”
I nodded, “Now let’s go to bed. I don’t want my boss to call you complainin’ that I’m a grump.”
“But you are, dear, you are.” I smacked him on the ass as he ran for the bedroom.
Through the rest of the winter and all through spring the rhythm was school, work, homework, our work and yoga. We also began all the prep work for the coming Garden season. Somehow I managed to make time to run with Steve twice a week. At least one of those days Tom and I would stay for dinner and update Steve and Katie on the progress of our homes.
When I first proposed running with Steve I looked at it only as a way to help him stave off the ravages of the complacency of family life and to help Fitz from having to nag Steve to get off his ever ballooning butt and take care of himself for his sake and hers. I had come to enjoy running outdoors and by myself, but running indoors next to Steve was an absolute joy. Within a few weeks I couldn’t wait for our “dates.” We returned to the simple conversational friendship we had begun eight years before. The easygoing banter was still the same, the subjects had just changed. Although we each had partners now to be our friends, lovers and sounding boards, we had each other as an echo. Even when the only sounds were our footsteps over the hum of the treadmills, it was reassuring to know he was there at my shoulder. Our time together reminded me of when Dan used to sit in the Garden with me as we shared our thoughts and feelings.
He never complained when every once in a while I would reach over and push two-tenths of a mile faster on the speedometer. Only when I questioned him one day about what he ate at work during the day did he get defensive of my trying to help him lose weight and get back in shape. I knew Fitz was feeding him the right things.
“I’m not going to chastise you, Steve. I just want to know so that if we need to run an extra half mile or so to compensate…because you are going to lose a few. Otherwise your wife is going to assume we’re just down here jerkin’ each other off. And that wouldn’t please Tom to hear that.”
Steve started to laugh. “OK, OK, I get you…although I wouldn’t mind beatin’ off with you every once in a while. It’s been a long time since…Anyway, Katie’s been packin’ my lunch for the last six months or so but I’ve been on this afternoon candy fix for the last year or so. Ever since I cut back on drinkin’ I’ve gotten this incredible sweet tooth, just a couple of candy bars a day.”
“Oh crap, Steve, that’s like an extra two miles a day…every day! Fruit, my good man, fruit or else I’ll start askin’ ya to run the stairs to your office on the 28th floor every day.”
“Hey, you’re chastising me!”
“Sorry, I didn’t know I was up against the evils of refined sugar…and no sodas too! Not even diet ones… eeeewwwww! Water, Steve, water…well tea with lemon…”
He gave me an evil eye.
“OK, OK, honey is allowed…honey.”
I puckered my lips and made an ‘air’ kiss.
He made a fist, “Bang, zoom, Petey!”
I pushed the speedometer up a few more notches.
“Bastard,” he said with a smile.
Every Monday after that day for as long as he worked for that firm there was a fruit basket sitting on his office desk when he arrived at work. It also included a box of orange Pekoe tea and a small jar of honey. The card always read, “With love, Honey.” By Labor Day he looked good in a bathing suit.
Most days when we ran Tom spent time with Katie and the kids. He told me that he felt as if he had a big sister and two little brothers. It gave him time to be outside of his own life with school and me. He also got an echo of life from Katie. He was the happiest he’d been since we met that rainy day in October.
Tom began to call his dad every Thursday while Steve and I showered, separately, after running. Katie insisted Tom call him and even said she didn’t mind paying for it. Tom always left a five dollar bill on the kitchen table after the phone call. Through the winter and spring his dad struggled with loneliness and depression, also with bouts of serious drinking. Yet, he was also serious about being sober when Tom called. Tom soon started calling on Sunday afternoons too. Tom asked him about going to an AA meeting one day. He held the phone away from his ear worried that his dad would start to scream at him. He didn’t. His brother had left him a lot of information about it and even had a few people call him. His biggest hang-up about it was the fact that the nearest meetings were held in a church. He was having a problem with mixing the two. He felt that religion was one of the causes of his drinking.
“Well, go to the next closest one, Dad.”
“They’re “Gay” meetings.”
Tom could only laugh, “Sorry, Dad, but that’s ironic.”
“I don’t understand it, Tom. They got the most meetings and the biggest place.”
“Dad, if you’re hated by the so-called ‘normal’ people and your family too, don’t you think that gays would want to numb that hate…maybe a bit too much too often?”
“You’re a smart kid.”
“Well what about the third closest place?”
“A church, but da forth closest place is a hospital. I hate hospitals too…but I guess I’d rather go to one on my own accord.”
“Will you go at least once for me and Mom?”
“One day I’ll get the guts to do it.”
“Tell me about it when you do, OK?”
Three months later his dad called near midnight. He wanted to tell Tom that he had been to his first meeting and wasn’t ecstatic about the whole thing, but was going to go back. Tom asked him why. He said because there were other people there who wanted to talk about not drinking. His father laughed when Tom responded, “Duh, Dad, duh!” By the end of the year he had even gone to a bunch of meetings at the “Gay Place” because they had a group for alcoholic parents with gay kids.
“I fit that group, huh Tom?”
“Yes, Dad, you do.”
His dad was so proud to finally fit in a group of other people with whom he could be open about his feelings. They even accepted him when he ranted on about how much he hated that his son was gay, even though he loved and was proud of his son. It would be almost two years before he stopped slipping back to drinking here and there. And then he fell in love again.