Tom and I were at our desks at home when we heard the news that Andy Warhol had died at the end of February. I bowed my head and cried. Tom and I had spent an afternoon with him less than two weeks before wandering around shopping, causing trouble and having a great time. I had showed him some perspectives of the home we were designing. He was so happy for us. He told us how he couldn’t wait to see it when it was built. I promised him a wall for one of his paintings. I told him I would buy whatever he thought was best for the space. His eyes lit up and he smiled. It is the expression that I will always remember when I think of him. At his memorial service on April the first Andy’s business manager came down the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and pointed us out to the cop so that we could get through the barricades.
The week after my twenty-eighth birthday Tom and I were wrestling with the thought of getting up on a damp cool Saturday morning or wrestling with each other. We promised each other the night before that we would get up early and get out into the Garden. We decided to break that promise and stay in bed for a little while longer to snuggle and talk. He finally asked me THE question.
I don’t know what brought it up but he asked it simply and seriously, “Why are you a vegetarian?”
I looked at him and sighed.
“Not an easy answer, Love…well…difficult to talk about really.”
“I figured that, since it is always danced around ever so politely when it comes to the surface for some reason. I thought I would figure it out so that I wouldn’t have to ask, by putting together all of the pieces over time, but… I can’t and it seems like the one major piece of the puzzle I don’t know about you…and I seem to be the only one who doesn’t know.”
“You, Vroom and Jeremy don’t know. I’ve never had the strength to talk about it. You deserve to know.”
I held Tom tight and sighed. I didn’t know how to start, so Tom did.
“I know you ate meat at one point and from what I have gathered it stopped at the same time Dan and Jason died. That’s where I get stuck.”
“When I awoke from the accident they gave me food to eat. It included meat. I tried to eat it but I gagged every time. I couldn’t understand why. So, I stuck to the fruits and vegetables and breads and cereal. I kept trying to eat meat but the same thing kept happening. Fitz began ordering the vegetarian meals at the hospital for me.” I sighed heavily. “I could stop right there for the basic truth but…I need to tell you the whole story.” I reaffirmed my grip on Tom. “Fitz knew at that point. She knew the severity of the accident and exactly what had happened. She had gotten the chance to talk to Jason. She didn’t think I was ready for knowing yet. I don’t think I would ever be ready to know what happened that day but in a flash of memory, brought on by an accident I saw on the highway, I remembered what happened. Vividly.” I looked Tom in his eyes, then closed mine and hung my head down. In a soft steady voice I described what I knew. “We had left Grand Isle on our way home from an incredibly fun and wonderful weekend. We were on our way to pack the truck to move to New York. We had our whole lives to spend and grow together. Dan was driving. I was sitting up front and Jason was in back nestled in with the dufflebags. Dan looked up into the mirror and said, ‘Hey, Loves,’ and as he and I turned to look at one another, his face smiling in the warm yellow sunshine then there was a flash of bright white light, we were broadsided by an old pickup truck. Straight into Dan’s door. The man was drunk and never stopped at the sign. Dan’s seatbelt cut him open, killing him instantly. His head hit mine knocking me out. I was covered with the insides of the man I loved. My mouth must have been open from the shock or I was about to say something because I had pieces of Dan in my mouth and they got caught in my throat, gagging me. Jason came to after the initial shock of everything. He climbed out the shattered back window. He tried to get my door open. He couldn’t. He climbed back in and knew that Dan was dead so he moved him aside to see if I was alive. He noticed that I was gagging and couldn’t breathe. He cleared my throat and got me breathing again. I came to for a few minutes and then passed out again and until they loaded me in the ambulance I kept fading in and out. During those times I heard Jason crying and saying ‘I love you, Pete, you’re gonna make it.’ I was in a coma for six days. Jason, whom everyone thought was going to be OK, fell into a coma and then his brain shut down the day before I regained consciousness; he was brain dead, then his heart gave out a few days later. Dan took the force of the accident and Jason resuscitated me. The two of them saved my life. The two of them lost theirs. I don’t understand why I was left to carry on. I don’t think I will ever know. I just have to, that’s all. But I guess it makes sense why I can’t, or don’t want to, eat meat…or drink for that matter.” I opened my eyes and looked at Tom. Tears were silently streaming down his face that had a look of horror across it. He was clutching onto me as tight as he could. I sighed heavily again, “Sorry.”
We stayed locked in each other’s arms silent for about ten minutes or so and then I said, “Ready to dig in the garden?”
He nodded. We slowly got out of bed and pulled on jeans, sweatshirts, socks and sneakers. I started the coffeepot on the way out the door.
We never said a word till it was after one in the afternoon when I said, “Lunch, Love?”
Tom smiled, “You amaze me.” I shook my head no, put my arm around his waist and led him inside.
We sat out on the small stone bench to eat our lunch. We smiled at each other as we ate our sandwiches and slurped our soup from big red ceramic mugs. We held hands as we gazed at the freshly turned brown-black earth and the first bright green sprouts from the bulbs we had planted back in the fall. My heart always raced with anticipation of what it will all grow and blossom into as spring turns to summer. My patience had to be tempered even more here in the climate of New York compared with the sub-tropical growth of New Orleans. Yet I was absolutely content as I sat on that stone bench holding hands with Tom. After telling him of the loss of Dan and Jason, for the first time putting into words what I had seen and what had happened, I realized how much my torn and shattered heart had healed and how strong it had become. I also realized how much I loved Tom. He was certainly his own man, but he had the tiniest bit of Dan and Jason in him in the way he did certain things, which only made me love him more. Dan and Jason would always be a part of me but they didn’t interfere with my relationship with Tom. The fact that he welcomed them into our life together and was not jealous of their ghosts utterly astounded me. I prayed that this would be the first of many springs I shared with Tom Petersen at my side in the Garden.
As we got back to work planting the seedlings we had started over the winter, Tom turned his head to me and said, “When I said that you amaze me I meant that I am in awe of you for not being insane over what you went through that day.”
“I am too,” I responded.
“Can I ask why or how you aren’t?”
“Sure.” I gave him an impish grin.
After a pause he said, “OK, Cheeky…Why aren’t you?”
“It really comes down to two choices: Insanity or Acceptance. I finally worked my way to acceptance through the love and caring of Steve, Katie, Tim, my parents and the Elliots…and you too. They were there constantly without fail, unconditionally. Steve, Katie especially, and Tim were there to put me back together physically. The first three days I was home from the hospital I couldn’t even wipe my butt because I was so stiff and sore. Steve did it, and he didn’t complain, just joked that it would be good practice when he had a baby. He and Tim took me to the bathroom, dressed me and bathed me for weeks. They would even beat me off when I got horny, or more accurately, needed to cum. Fitz worked her physical terrorist acts upon me with all the love and compassion she had. And they put up with all the bitterness and anger I could muster. I owe it to them, my desire to honor Dan and Jason…and diggin’ in the Garden. All of them and these wonderful little green plants that grow in the deep brown dirt make it possible for me to love you so much.”
Tom leaned over and kissed me and said, “I need to thank them for being amazing.”
“We both do.”
We heard the window above us squeak open.
“Yes, Klaus,” we said simultaneously still keeping our eyes and hands at work planting.
“I’ve gut somzing for you,” he said in a high-pitched singsong way.
Tom and I looked at each other, our eyebrows arched as high as they could go. We had never heard Klaus talk in anything but his gruff guttural German accent. We turned our heads upwards. He was holding out a balled bush, an azalea. He promptly disappeared and reemerged with another. This time a small evergreen tree about twenty inches tall.
“Ya got room to plant those on your windowsill,” Tom said.
“Don’t be zmart vit me, zilly. Zey are for you!”
I stood up, “We’ll be right up, Klaus.”
I looked at Tom, “Come on Zmart ass.”
I was lost in thought about where I was going to plant these gifts as we cut through the apartment and went upstairs. Klaus and his wife were beaming with broad smiles when we entered. They had traveled out to Pennsylvania during the week to visit some relatives and had brought these plants from their farm.
“Did you have any place special that you wanted me to plant these?” I asked them.
Mrs. Lang looked me up and down. “Ver your ‘Yonny yump ups’ go.”
Klaus cupped a hand around his mouth, yet still spoke loudly, “She doesn’t like your zense of humor.”
He winked at me. I burst out laughing.
Then quickly stifled myself, “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to offend you.” I continued to laugh. Mrs. Lang began to laugh too.
“OK, but I get to pick where the tree will go. I really appreciate this. Thank you, both, very much.”
“Zhank you for givin’ me zomezing vondeful to look at every day.”
“You’re welcome. Time to get back to work.”
I gave Tom the tree and we paraded back down the stairs and back outside. We looked up to see two smiling faces.
“We’ll plant them tomorrow. We have other chores to get done today.” Two frowns appeared.
“I’ll call you so you can watch.” Two smaller smiles appeared with a nod of acceptance. I got back down on my hands and knees. Tom followed suit.
“What other chores?” he asked quietly.
“We have shopping and to open the office for a few hours…and we do need to clean.”
“Oh shit, we really do have chores….except the office, that’s fun…and I don’t mind cleaning…”
“So the only chore is makin’ groceries? I always enjoy that.”
“Well you go make groceries, as you call it, and I’ll clean and we can open the office for that much longer…how ‘bout that?”
“Deal. Now let’s get this last flat in the ground and ‘Yonny will yump up’ your ass in the shower.”
Tom laughed, and then suggested we dig a small new bed near the gate to recreate the display out of Mrs. Lang’s general view. He thought Vroom’s joke was too good to lose.
I kissed him, “He’ll love you for that. And guess what you can do while I plant the gifts tomorrow?”
“Just what I was thinking, Pete darling.”
By the time Tom’s first term of school was finishing up he was beginning to nurture friends from the Academy. He even invited one over for dinner at the end of May. When he asked me if it was OK I said sure but then I asked him how much his friend knew about us.
He stopped short, “I’m not stupid, ya know.”
I was soft spoken, yet direct in my response.
“Hey, wait a minute. I didn’t say ‘if he knew’ I said ‘how much.’ There’s a difference. I’m not criticizing you. I just want to work with you on this. Please, don’t get defensive.” I felt hurt by his remark and that I had to explain myself.
“Sorry, Pete. Maybe I am stupid.”
“No, just remember it’s us he’s comin’ to have dinner with.”
Tom started to walk away.
“Tom,” I said softly. He turned to me. “Back to the original question,” I said.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry.” He started to laugh. “He knows you’re my partner and that we live together and you’re the most wonderful man in the world…and he’s gay too. He lives with his mom and dad and two older sisters. He hasn’t come out to any of them but he thinks his sisters know. He’s a straight ‘A’ student. He’s tall and lanky, geeky, but he’ll grow out of that. He sort of latched onto me when I told people at school I was gay.”
My eyes opened up. I didn’t know he had come out at school. We had discussed it, but left it that Tom would do it only when he felt comfortable.
He caught my expression, “Ooops, didn’t tell you that I did that, did I?”
I shook my head no, “It’s OK, go on.”
“Well, that’s about it.”
“How about a name? Do I have to pump you for information now or what?”
“Sorry, his name is Paul. Paul Wilson.”
I opened the door for Paul the next week. He was tall and down right skinny. He was taller than Dan had been by at least a few inches and didn’t weigh much more than a hundred and fifty pounds. He had shoulder length straight jet-black hair that was neatly cut and combed and parted on the side. His gold, round wire framed glasses were too big for the scale of his head and he had beautiful dark brown eyes. He was dressed in blue jeans and blue and white oxford cloth button down shirt that was frayed at the cuffs and collar. He was cute but geeky, although he would definitely grow out of it and become handsome.
“Hi, Paul. I’m Pete. Come on in to our humble abode.”
He ducked his head slightly to come through the door.
“Thanks, Mr. Langer.”
“Whoa! Pete, please. I am not his father,” I said with a laugh.
Tom turned from the sink where he was washing vegetables for the salad, “I told you not to do that, Paul. Sorry, I’m behind in getting’ my part of dinner on the table. I’ll give you a hug in a couple. Sit down and talk with Pete and get acquainted. Try not to stick your foot in your mouth, OK?”
“Don’t be sorry, Paul. Be you, it’s cool. We’re all friends here.”
I guided him over the couch. Paul stared at the drafting tables and the computer and all of the tracing paper sketches that were taped to the wall, across the face of the bookcase and even onto the windows. The TV now resided on top of a stack of the Manhattan phone books, the TV table having been commandeered for the site model of the “Spread.”
“I really didn’t believe Tom when he said you guys were designing a couple of houses for yourselves…I guess you really are.” He finally sat down.
“Would you like me to show you what we’re doing?”
He stood right back up. He hiked up his jeans around his non-existent waist; even with a belt his pants hardly stayed on. I think it was only the red and blue striped boxer shorts that provided the friction that kept them up…and a last line of protection if they didn’t.
I explained the project and how one house was for our friends and one for us and then began to talk of how we arrived at the designs. He was fascinated with the use of geometry to develop the designs and easily conversed with me on its finer points.
Yet he stopped me when I tried to explain a wall section and how the houses were going to be constructed, “I can’t nail two pieces of wood together. Sorry.”
“Ah, don’t be sorry. There are a bunch of architects who don’t know how to do that either,” I said with a laugh.
We were sitting on the floor with our chins on the model looking into the houses when Tom finally joined us. He had flour on his nose from making biscuits. I wiped it off and kissed it. He gave Paul a hug. Paul turned and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“This is absolutely fantastic Tom. I’m jealous that you get to do this and then live in it too. WOW! Would it be OK if I stole your husband from you?”
“Maybe share him,” Tom said slyly.
I pinched his ass hard.
“Ouch! Shit! I guess not.”
I laughed. Tom stuck his tongue out at me.
“Come on,” I said, “let’s sit for dinner. It’s ready.”
I stood and gave both Tom and Paul a hand up. I gave Tom a big kiss.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pinch you so hard.”
“Not to worry, I deserved it.”
I turned to Paul, “Don’t mind us, we just love each other.”
“I see that you two do. I’m jealous. I can’t wait to fall in love too.”
“Don’t try too hard. It’ll just happen. You can’t force it. Trust me,” I said.
“It took four years for Tom to show up.”
“Well, you really would have gotten into trouble screwin’ around with minors if I had come any earlier.”
“Touché! But you could have been someone who was, say, forty. Nothin’ wrong with forty-year-olds.”
“Eeewww, I didn’t know you were into raisins,” Tom said.
“You better think twice about what you just said,” I replied with a smirk.
“I think he means that when you’re his age he’ll be about forty,” Paul responded.
Tom gulped, “Open mouth, insert foot.”
“You’re quick, Paul.”
“I love numbers, Pete.”
Tom slumped in his chair.
“Don’t say you’re sorry, Tom. It’s OK. Either you get older or you die. Gettin’ older is all right with me. It’s just makin’ sure that you don’t act old or let yourself look old…now that’s the trick.”
“Most times I forget that you are older than me. I just think of you as you are, Pete.”
“Thank you, that’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me.”
I kissed him. He smiled.
“Now get off that skinny ass of yours and seat your guest and then help me serve. I am not your mother either.”
“Thank God for that, ‘cause you’d be dead.”
“Ooops, open mouth, insert foot,” I said sheepishly.
Tom got up laughing and slapped my ass good-naturedly, “Hey, Paul’s the one with the skinny ass anyway.”
“Leave his ass out of this. Look, you’re embarrassing him.”
Paul was red faced.
“Tom, you got your foot so far in your mouth you’re well past your knee and headin’ for somethin’ else!”
Tom stopped for a second to think about it while Paul burst out laughing.
“He’d like to be able to do that I bet!”
Tom winked at him, “I can after a yoga practice!”
Paul commented as we cleared the table that he never realized that the meal had no meat in it even though he knew ahead of time.
“Cool, we must be doing something right,” I replied.
“It was delicious and those biscuits, wow! Thanks, Tom.”
“Pete taught me that.”
“And Fitz taught me, who said she learned it from Dan and that’s Dan,” I said, pointing at the photo of him and me leaning on Sammy.
“Wow, he’s tall and handsome,” Paul said as he gawked at the photo.
“And twenty-two. You’ll be handsome like that when you’re his age…not that you’re not good lookin’ now…”
“No need to cover yourself, Pete. I know I’m a gangly, gawky, geeky kid. I’ll fill in a bit, but it sure has been tough growing eighteen inches in two years. Thanks for saying I’ll be handsome. I appreciate it even if I don’t really believe it.”
“You will, Paul. Trust me, you’re gonna be one handsome man.”
“What ever happened to Dan?”
My eyes darted over to Tom.
“Only current history,” he said to me.
“I’m sorry to say Dan died in a car accident eighteen months after that picture was taken. I still miss him and Jason too,” I pointed to a picture of Jason, “I always will, but life goes on.”
I put my arm around Tom’s waist.
“I know what you mean. I still miss my older brother. He died of a drug overdose two years ago.”
Tom and I both hugged him.
“Paul, you’re welcome to come over anytime, OK. And sometime we’ll get together and tell our stories of loss and all have a good cry…and then we’ll laugh at all the good things that happened to make us cry so hard for the people we miss.”
Paul looked back and forth at Tom and me, “It seems strange to say but I would like that.”
We crawled into bed a couple of hours later. Tom put his head on my chest and ran his fingers along the line of hair that now connected my navel to my chest.
“I want to thank you for inviting Paul over. He’s a really sweet guy. I like him a lot.”
“Me too. At first I just thought he was a tag-a-long once he found out I was gay, but he’s not. He wants to be my friend and I want to be his.”
“That’s cool, Tom. You’ve accepted my friends as yours and they accept you. I want you to have some of your own too and if they become our friends all the better…but it’s not a requirement, ya know.”
“He’s jealous of me, because I have you…I even think he has a bit of a crush on you.”
“That’s OK,” I said smiling, “even flattering, but don’t worry, Tom. I’m not gonna stray. Anyway, I think he might see me as a replacement for his big brother but it comes out lookin’ like a crush.”
“That makes sense…and no, I’m not worried that you will cheat on me.”
Tom slowly caressed my chest and nipple with his soft cheek and the tip of his nose. He inhaled deeply and then sighed, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
“Hey, what about me…well, OK, I don’t mind, I’ll be the second luckiest.”
“Ya wanna get lucky with me,” Tom said with a grin.
Purring like Eartha Kitt I rolled on top of him.
Tom and I had approached the school administration about Summer school. We needed to work out a solution so that Tom would still graduate on time, allow for our vacation and the help I needed to finish the work on the houses. The headmaster and two teachers, upon visiting our home and seeing the work we had done declared the continued work on the “Spread” was a class all unto itself. They also concluded that the vacation could be counted too if Tom provided a paper, gave a lecture and produced sketches from the trip. Then any final requirements could be made up in the remaining time of the summer session. They had been impressed with Tom’s work ethic and spirit in his first semester, especially in dealing with his mother’s death.
In the three weeks after the end of school before we left for our European Adventure, Tom and I split the time between getting all of the last little things ready to go, working at our jobs, his summer school and working our butts off on the houses. We wanted the design, a basic set of drawings, the model and some colored perspectives done before we left. We were scheduled to go in front of the town council a couple of days after we got back. There were a few restrictions that we had to pacify them about. They didn’t have a true legal reason to block what we wanted to do but I would rather talk reasonably face to face about it. This was going to be Our Hometown. We all agreed we didn’t want to kick the door in to live there, especially since Katie had investigated the school system and found the public schools to be very good. She was looking forward to getting them in school so she could go back to work; that was her dream!
The week before we left, the Elliots came to town for four days. My parents also came in and stayed two days. I think their approval process for our homestead was the most rigorous we went through. We had to cart the model and the drawings out to the site and present it to them. I think the Dads insisted on this just to needle all of us. Katie and the Moms turned it into a picnic. In the end they all smiled and held a mock vote to make it “Official.” Even Stevie raised his hand yes and we all thought that hilarious.
Most of the acreage was going to be left alone except for some limited clearing of dead or dying trees. There was going to be very little lawn relative to the amount of land, just one stretch in front of and in between the two houses. It was to be an extension of a natural clearing that spread toward the east and the view of New York, just enough to toss a Frisbee or play football, otherwise it was going to be woods. In time I felt I would “tame” some of it but for now I wanted as much as possible to remain natural. I was looking for the opposite of the city I had been living in for so long. I officially hired Dad to do the initial clearing, the excavation work for the foundations, the driveway and the limited site work that needed to be done. He joked about how he was going to pad the proposal so he could soak “Mr. Money-Bags.” Steve protested half jokingly because the total cost was reflected in the note he had to pay.
“Hey, at least enough so I can take Mom here on a European vacation too.”
Dad Elliot piped in, “I got to do something with all the cash I got from that stock. Why don’t the four of us go at the end of the summer?”
“WooHoo,” my mom yelled like a kid on a playground.
I rolled off the log I was sitting on in laughter.
John and Jeremy were going to stay in our place while we were gone. It would be the first time that they would get to live together and they were so excited. It was a test drive of not only their relationship but of them living in the apartment which would become theirs in a year’s time. Their official duty was to take care of the Garden and go to their jobs working for Jeremy’s family business. They were enlisted to help with the transition as the office prepared to expand into the new renovated space. I was nervous about leaving the job in the middle of construction but all had proceeded as well as could be expected with any construction process. My boss would not let me reschedule our trip when the building’s approval process delayed the project start.
He was going to fill in for me; “I like takin’ over when things are goin’ well. It makes me look good, like I know what I’m doin’.” He gave me a big cheesy grin, “Go have fun!”
“Yes, sir,” I said sarcastically with a mock salute.
The morning we left for the airport John, Jeremy, Steve, Katie and the kids were all there. Steve promised to take Sammy out once while we were gone. Katie promised to kiss the kids each night for Tom and me. John promised to weed and water.
“I’ll supervise,” Jeremy promised.
“And Vroom’ll supervise you cleanin’ the house, OK,” I responded.
Jeremy gulped while the rest of us laughed.
I looked at Tom.
“OK, I guess I’m ready, are you?”
I looked around at my friends, my family, “I just hate leavin’ y’all.”
I gave them all a huge hug and a kiss, and so did Tom. I heard the car service beep out front. I slung my duffle onto my back and my knapsack around my front. I smiled.
I turned to John and Jeremy, “And one more thing! No sex in our bed…” Their mouths dropped open. “Unless you videotape it for us!”
I laughed and headed down the hall.
Katie slapped me on the ass and said with a smirk, “You’re bad!”
“BYE,” I yelled.
When I got out onto the sidewalk Klaus gave me an extra copy of the six page itinerary he had written out for us, “Ust in case you forgot. I vish ve vere going vit you.” He then smiled and went back to banging the trashcans.
We all waved to each other as the car sped off to Kennedy.
With all of the excitement of going to Europe, I hated the eight hours we spent in the plane. It’s one thing to be able to stare out the window at a map that flowed by; it’s another to see a shimmering ocean for what seemed like eternity. I got so excited when I saw a freighter four hours into the flight Tom mockingly threatened to move to another seat. I turned into a frustrated maniac after a snippy stewardess chastised the two of us for trying to do some simple yoga in the aisles. We had only tried to work out some kinks. That’s when I decided that I should pay for first class on the way home. Otherwise, I thought I would need a vacation from the tension and aggravation I was feeling being crammed into that seat, especially with a perpetual motion knee that went round and round in my back. All of this was made worse by the man who sat in front of me who farted for the first hour of the trip.
It wasn’t until Tom said in a loud voice heard a half a dozen rows in each direction, “Look, asshole, they have toilets on the plane. Go use one!”
The man glared at me as he squeezed his fat ass past his butt ugly wife. We heard him fart as he went down the aisle much to the displeasure of the back half of the airplane.
“Thanks, Tom. I didn’t have the balls to do that.”
Others that surrounded us nodded in agreement.
“That was my dad talking…Somewhere in between his third and fourth drink,” he chuckled. Then he started to laugh, “If it was after the sixth one he would have gotten into a farting competition with him.”
I laughed with him as I lifted the armrest between us, stretched my legs toward the aisle and pulled him toward me. He pulled the blanket over top of us and rested his head on my chest. We soon fell asleep for at least an hour.
Finally, when I saw the coast of Ireland I understood what Lindbergh must have felt, only he had to endure more than triple the time over the ocean. It was two in the morning when we landed at Gatwick. It was dawn by the time we checked into our hotel in London. I was not amused by my travel agent’s selection of flight times. She thought this would be the perfect time to arrive. Obviously, she could sleep on a plane.
Tom and I slept till eleven thirty. After three cups of coffee we were almost awake and after a long hot shower we felt almost respectable. After fucking in front of the window that faced out onto Hyde Park we were ready to go back to bed but we downed another cup of coffee, pulled on our clothes and rushed to the lobby ready to take on London. Tom and I had made lists of things we wanted to see and do. Armed with maps, cameras, sketchbooks, our notes and a wad of money we were off to explore. We acted like two kids in a candy store as we decided which place, activity or direction to go in next. I think we were giddy from the lack of sleep because the two of us laughed at anything and everything. We started with the standard tourist fare of “Towers”- Tower of London, Tower Bridge and then down to the tower at Westminster where Big Ben bonged for us. It was a constant flow of spontaneity of what we did and how we got it done. I was reminded of the way Dan and I explored New York that summer six years before. I again felt as if I had it all now and for far into the future with Tom by my side. It wasn’t what we saw or what we did, it was the fact that we did it together.
By the end of the second day in London we had decided to toss any idea of sticking to the itinerary that had been originally set up by our travel agent. We wanted to be free. If we used the hotel reservations, good, if we didn’t, who cared. It didn’t matter to us. We had originally planned to stay five days in London. We checked out after the third night and got on a train to Dover. We got off at Canterbury before we even reached the coast. It was more important to us to wander the town, photograph the village and sketch the Cathedral than make it to France. We slept in a tiny Tudor styled bed and breakfast with a thatched roof. We had our coffee delivered to our room early the next morning. The owner’s son brought it in to us. The look of surprise and then the broad smile on his face was worth the whole trip when he saw the two of us snuggled up to one another still half asleep. He lingered a few moments telling us about the breakfast of eggs and meat. When we told him we didn’t eat either he promised to bring some toast and jam and fresh fruit to our room. I thanked him. He smiled and told us his name was Nigel. He adjusted his crotch and left.
Two hours later when we were checking out, we asked about the best way to get to Dover. Nigel said he would like to drive us himself. His mother looked at him with an odd sideways stare.
“What, I could use a half a day off once in a while!”
He turned to us and smiled. The three of us were thinking of him handing us our towels as we got out of the shower and how incredibly horny we all were. Nigel did give us a ride to the train station. Tom and I kissed him goodbye and thanked him for being himself. He said that’s what he wanted to thank us for and now he was truly excited about going to University so he could get off on his own. His eyes widened and he got a broad smile at the inadvertent pun. This reminded him he needed to relieve himself before he went back to work. We laughed as he rubbed his crotch and licked his lips before he climbed in the van and sped off down the blacktop. Once on the train Tom and I found a bathroom where we could get each other off as we watched the English countryside slide by.
We did it again on the ferry to Calais. After making it through customs we gave thanks to Tom’s mother for teaching him French. Tom had never realized that he was fluent. He always thought he just understood and could speak it a little. His mother’s passions in life had been gardening and the French language. She spoke to him in French every day and almost exclusively when Tom’s father wasn’t around and definitely without his knowledge. He didn’t want his son to speak like a “Frog.” Tom spoke English back to her except when she insisted he speak French.
As we went through customs, I noticed Tom’s face twisted in disgust. I gave him my tilted head “What’s up” look. He concentrated on the two guards fingering our luggage and passports. They finished their search, stamped us and we moved on. Then Tom turned back and gave the two officials thirty seconds of terse venomous French.
“Come on,” he said to me, “Let’s get out of here before they toss our asses in jail…Assholes!”
The two guards were yelling at us. Tom pushed on my back and told me to keep moving.
At the bus station as we waited to board the bus to Bayeaux he told me what happened.
“Those assholes were makin’ fun of us ‘cause they thought we were queer, callin’ us ‘dumb Americans who fuck each other’s asses.’ I was just gonna let it go but then they said somethin’ about our mothers…didn’t quite get it…slang I don’t know. So I waited till we were clear and then told them that ‘Yeah, we might fuck each other’s asses but at least we didn’t fuck our mothers,’ and a few other choice things.”
I kissed him on the cheek, “Thanks, Love. Can I tell Mom how you stood up for her too?”
Tom smiled, “Wow, this is so strange, I hear you talkin’ and I understand and I hear everybody else talkin’ French and I understand too. It’s sort of schizo…but I love it. Thanks, Mom,” he called out to the sky.
“Yeah, thanks, Mom,” I said.
Tom put his arm around my waist as he heard our bus being called and guided me down the station.
“Geez, I knew there was a reason that I brought you along. I would have completely missed that.”
“I thought you brought me along for my dick.”
“Well, maybe that too.”
Standing in line to board the bus I said seriously, “I love you…Will you marry me?”
Tom stared at me. He smiled and brushed back the hair from my forehead.
Tenderly he said, “Ask me again on Graduation day. Please.”
I know he must have seen the hurt in my face. I nodded OK. He kissed me on the lips.
I stared out the window as the bus roared off down the highway. Tom interlocked his fingers into mine.
“I love you more than I thought anyone could love another, but you were absolutely right when you gave me this ring. I do need some more growin’ up. I’m not ready. I pray that I am ready by Graduation. Oh, Pete, I love you. Please understand.”
I squeezed his hand and then looked at him. He wiped the tear from my eye. I did understand. I also knew that I was deeply in love with him and wanted him to be with me, forever.
“I can’t say I’m sorry for asking you. I truly meant it. I wasn’t prepared for the answer though.”
We kissed and I let any hard feelings about the situation go. We arrived in Bayeaux in a deluge of rain, found a small hotel and checked in. They insisted on giving us a room with two single beds. We never left the room that night. Snuggled in bed we whispered to one another and listened to the rain, it was all we could want. In the morning we were famished. We couldn’t eat the fabulous croissants and drink the horrible coffee they brought to our room fast enough. We ate again after seeing the Bayeaux Tapestry. We ate again in the middle of the afternoon after wandering the town before we boarded the bus for Omaha Beach. It was cold, gray and rainy when we went to the site of the main D-Day invasion and the cemetery there. The ache my heart and soul felt from this serene site was devastating to me. I could not comprehend the enormity of the commitment needed to accomplish what occurred there or the sacrifice of lives. Tom agreed with me that we should move on, only staying half the time we thought we would. By late evening we arrived at Mont St. Michel and found a hotel room. We spent most of the next day admiring the inspired island. The simple grandeur of the dining hall in the castle and the serenity of the cloisters of the abbey at its pinnacle were worth the trip in itself. Tom was absolutely fascinated by the human wheel that lifted supplies up the stone track from the base of the mountain to the top.
“Oooh, I want to be a gerbil,” Tom said laughing.
“Yeah, but did you want to be a slave?” I asked.
“Been there…so I guess not,” he said with a frown as the thought coursed through his head.
We were in Paris two days later after winding our way through the Loire Valley and seeing Amboise, Fontainebleau and Chenonceau. Tom and I fell in love with Paris. From seeing the sights, to wandering the streets, eating in the restaurants and riding the Metro we felt as if we belonged. I also rediscovered my delight, now our delight, in having clandestine sex in public places. Tom was more than a willing participant and encouraged it further than I thought I could go. I only stopped him when he wanted to jerk me off inside of Notre Dame, although I couldn’t stop laughing about it.
Tom kept saying, “Oh come on, in six hundred years somebody has to have done it before us.”
I had to agree with him.
Paris also began our running discourse on architecture. Whether it was discussions of history or theory, construction techniques or structure, style or urban planning we covered it all and Paris had all of the examples. Tom was the most willing of students and made it enjoyable for me to be a teacher. Yet I too learned from his naïve observations.
A week later we got on the train to Brussels, Belgium. Tom couldn’t understand the story of the architect who committed suicide when he realized the buildings of the main square weren’t symmetrical. I shrugged my shoulders not quite getting it either. We both wanted to know exactly how far into the construction that he noticed the mistake, but the guidebooks didn’t tell us that. Brussels seemed to be a small and too quiet Paris. We left after a day and a half because we were bored.
As we boarded the train for Germany, Tom and I agree we should have planned to go to Spain and Italy but if we had bailed on Klaus he would never speak to us again. He had given us complete notes, maps and diagrams of all that we should see. He was visiting his homeland through us and we couldn’t disappoint him. I too wanted to see the land that my family had come from more than two hundred years before. It was funny the way that the two of us were treated. Many times people were startled when we couldn’t speak German. They thought we looked as if we should, especially with our names. We shrugged our shoulders, smiled and then they spoke to us in English or in French with Tom.
Tom and I took as many photos as possible of all we were instructed to see. We followed Klaus’ notes religiously. He was a master at choosing the right things in the right order. The stories that went with each of the places were hilarious. By the end of the week we had been from side to side and from south to north of West Germany. His notes ended by saying he would save “Berlin and the rest of Germany for a day when it all was one again. I pray I live that long. Besides Berlin is nothing like what I remember anyway. I last saw it in 1940. I was twenty-two. I don’t know what is left.”
We boarded a plane in Bonn for the flight back home. The two of us slept most of the way as we had worn ourselves out. I couldn’t believe it when the skyline of New York appeared out of the orange haze of pollution as we circled into Kennedy. The agony of the flight over didn’t exist on the way home, but reared its head as we wound our way through customs. I didn’t know I looked like a drug smuggler. Tom thought it was incredibly funny until they started to search him too. The two of us mumbled every combination of swear words we knew as we emerged from customs onto the terminal concourse. As I scanned for the doors to the taxis I caught sight of two little hands flailing as they approached me. I followed them down to see Daniel racing across the floor. I dropped my duffle and ran to him. I scooped him up.
“Unka Pete, Unka Pete, Unka Pete!”
He wrapped his arms around my neck. He rested his cheek against mine as I hugged him. I saw Steve with Stevie and Fitz. She kissed me on the cheek as she went by to give Tom a huge hug. I kissed the Steves.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, stupidly.
Steve shook his head, “Waitin’ for somebody else…what the hell do you think, Pete?”
I had missed my family.
When we came down the hall to the apartment, I heard the vacuum cut off and clunk as it was shoved into the closet. I started to laugh. The door opened to reveal Vroom, Jeremy and David with broad Cheshire cat grins.
“I’m scared to ask, so I won’t, but I am glad to see y’all!” I gave each one a hug and a kiss. “Home never looked so good.”
“I agree,” Tom echoed.
It did look good. Despite the last minute vacuuming they obviously had done a lot of cleaning before. It also smelled good. They had been cooking too and had a huge afternoon dinner planned for us.
I turned to Fitz, “Your idea, huh.”
She nodded yes, “You probably haven’t been eating all that well, have you?”
I shook my head no; “I love you. You will always take care of me, won’t you?”
“You’ll always be my oldest child,” she said softly as she caressed my cheek.
“What about Steve?” I asked with a smirk.
She chuckled, “He’s in a category all unto himself.”
We ate, talked and laughed for the next four hours. Tom and I told story after story of our adventures. Tom showed off his sketchbook to the group, even a few of the naked pictures of me in Europe. He skipped the nekkid ones.
I dumped out the box of forty rolls of film onto the floor and said, “Just wait till we get these developed.”
“I’m leavin’ town before that happens,” Jeremy laughed,“I don’t have that many years to live.”
Tom threw a pillow at him.
“Hey, give me that pillow. I need it,” I said, “I know I’ve slept a lot on the plane but I have no idea what time it is. I need a nap, especially after that wonderful meal. Do y’all mind?”
No one did. They were just glad to have us back. We made plans to all get together tomorrow for Sunday Brunch.
“We’ll eat out back in the Garden,” John said.
“Check it out, Pete. I’ll come over early to help set up.”
“I’ll come over early to help cook,” Fitz offered.
“Geez, why don’t y’all just stay the night,” I said sarcastically. They all threw pillows at me.
“Love you too,” I said. They all slowly got their things together and left. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave or have them leave, but Tom and I needed a few hours alone at home.
When Vroom kissed me goodbye he whispered in my ear, “Check your VCR.”
He bounced his eyebrows and smiled.
“NO, you didn’t…I was kidding,” I whispered.
“Mmmmm, mmm, good!” He smiled and laughed as he turned and strutted down the hall.
I was already hard when I closed the door.
I walked to the bedroom and tossed my clothes at the base of the closet door.
“You are ready for a nap aren’t you?”
“Well, soon, Tom, after…”
“After what,” he asked as he began to get naked too.
“After we watch this tape and see if it gives us any ideas.”
“NO, they didn’t really do it!”
I turned on the TV and the VCR, climbed into bed, waited for Tom to join me and then hit the play button. We watched in awe for nearly an hour. Obviously the boys had put a lot of thought into this during the last three weeks. They had constructed a porno flick with more plot and dramatics than most and some excellent sex scenes too. Tom and I were completely absorbed in the film and how it developed more than watching porno. We were intrigued to see John and then Jeremy separately in development, but then once they met and the plot gave way to sex Tom and I stared at each other. Each of us wanted to know who was operating the camera! It wasn’t until later that we discovered it was David! He also became part of the plot as the little brother who spies on his sibling and his new found lover. The last scene had David masturbating as he watched his older brother fuck his boyfriend. It was an amazing scene. It was at this point that we both realized that not only was it a great flick but it starred some of our best friends. We were in awe and we couldn’t stop from stroking ourselves to climax. At the end of the tape the three of them appeared naked and took a bow. We both clapped and hooted our approval. I picked up the phone and called them at Vroom’s place. Tom nudged me as it rang,
“Invite them back over, I’m not tired anymore.”
He had the biggest smile I’d ever seen on him.
I was laughing when John picked up the phone, “Hey, stop laughing, my dick isn’t that small!”
I completely lost it in hysterics, especially since it wasn’t an issue.
“Oh My God, the three of you are too much! That is an absolutely fuckin’ amazing piece of videotape!”
“Why thank you. It was a LOT of fun… and a lot of friggin’ work. We’ve been watching a copy here too.”
“I want all of you to come over here and fuck me,” Tom yelled into the phone.
I looked at him and laughed. I asked how they got David involved in this project and if it wasn’t it a bit awkward.
John replied, “David had been asking lots of questions in the last few months. He’s curious and horny at sixteen, oops seventeen, sorry, don’t hit. So when Jeremy and I decided to do the tape we knew we would need a hand.” I could hear giggling in the background. “So we asked David; he might learn a few tricks and answer a few questions for himself. We actually kept it quite proper. We were afraid that if we didn’t do anything he might learn it somewhere that wasn’t safe. Now he has a whole drawer full of condoms…and you’re gonna use ‘em if you’re gonna fuck around…Right?” I could hear David say yes.
“I’m proud of you two,” I said, “That took a lot of guts to open yourselves up like that.”
“We’re all a lot closer to say the least…but not too close, OK. It’s sort of like the way you took me under your wing and showed me how to care first and then the sex is better. So now even though we don’t have sex I love you more than when we did.”
“Stop, you’re gonna make me cry,” I said half jokingly.
“And make sure you tell him about comin’ on to older guys while ridin’ the subway…not everybody’s like me.”
“I already did. He couldn’t believe that’s how we met.”
“Tell him that there will be a lot of older guys who will come on to him that way too. It happened to us the week before we left for Europe. Tom and I are still jokin’ about who he was actually comin’ on to.”
Tom was smiling, pointing his thumb at his chest.
“Well, we just wanted to thank you for the tape. Trust me, we will cherish this for a long time. You have yourself one hunky husband. Don’t ya think Tom?”
He nodded his head wildly and said, “Vroom ain’t too shabby neither. And David…WOW! is all I can say.”
“Ya hear that, John.”
“Thanks, Tom, I’ll tell David too.”
“See you in the mornin’”
“It supposed to be a beautiful day. Bye.”
“Bye, and thanks again. I’m hittin’ the rewind button.”
After we napped I realized that I should erase the tape; having David, naked, onscreen made it illegal to possess.
The day in the sun in the Garden was just one of many times the nine of us got together that summer. There were outings to the Jones Beach and Robert Moses. We also invaded the shore house of my parents for a weekend, had afternoon picnics in Central Park and even attempted a camping trip. That wasn’t one of our more successful adventures, especially after a heavy downpour flooded the outhouse in the direction of our tents. Fitz was not amused. We moved to higher ground, upwind, but life that weekend in a mud puddle tested our mettle as friends. We ultimately survived. Tim made his way east for the long Labor Day weekend where, again, we all headed to the Jersey Shore. My parents, though troopers when it comes to large families, let us have the place to ourselves.
“I’m gettin’ too old for such a large family,” my dad said. “Now if you want to just send Daniel and Stevie, we can handle that.”
When I told Fitz she said, “I hope they were serious. I’ll keep that in mind. I will play that babysitting card one of these days.”
My parents and the Elliots were leaving the next week for their three weeks in Europe. Mom needed time to prepare…by shopping. They also started in London, headed for Paris and then went to the south of France, Monaco and on to Florence and Rome.
Jeremy, Vroom, Tom and I spent a lot of time together finishing up the renovation of the office for the Sweeton Corporation. The project had progressed immeasurably while Tom and I wandered across Northern Europe. Tom finally realized the reasons I struggled over so many of the little details and the coordination of the engineering with the architecture before we left on our trip. Now I just had to argue with the some of the subcontractors about the fact that when I drew and noted that the air conditioning ducts, lights and sprinkler heads all had to make a symmetrical pattern across the ceiling of the Main Conference Room I meant it. He also saw that the way I detailed the different materials to join at corners and along edges made all the difference it the way a room or an architectural element appeared.
“How do you know about and see the solution six months in advance?” he asked me quietly as we sat on some paint buckets one day waiting for the weekly construction meeting to begin.
“I walk through the place in my head, look all around and touch and feel as I wander by.”
Tom did a double take and said, “I know you well enough to know you are serious…but I can’t help but wonder about you, Pete.”
“You’ll get it one day…or else you’ll end up building a lot more models than I do.”
“I’ll build it in the computer…3-D.”
“I know you will…but it’s still a lot easier to erase and recreate in your head…think about it.”
He looked at me with a wry grin, spied around the worksite, leaned over and kissed me. The job was complete by the time Tom started the fall term.
Between finishing the job for the Sweetons, much to my own satisfaction as much as anyone else’s, and having our successful review with the town on the houses, it had been a good summer. I now had the rest of the fall and winter to complete all of the construction drawings and get my architectural license in New Jersey. Getting a reciprocal license was a paper pusher’s dream. And it was my dream to seal the drawings for my own home. I just hoped it wouldn’t turn into a bureaucratic nightmare.
My life was whole. I had my love of Tom, my home and Garden, the home of my dreams becoming a reality, my family and friends that surrounded me, my work and career that were blossoming. As the summer ended and Tom began his senior year I was happy and content, but on the twenty-first of September, I woke up in a sweat. I was scared. Everything was perfect, exactly like five years ago.
I lay in bed not wanting to move. My eyes were wide open staring at the ceiling waiting for that feeling. It wouldn’t come. Tom rolled over wondering why I hadn’t gotten up.
He stared at my face, “What’s the matter, Pete? You look scared shitless.”
He rolled on top of me with his arms outstretched holding his chest and face away from me.
“Of what…what’s wrong?”
“I have the feeling that I’m going to get the ‘feeling’.”
Tom was completely confused.
“From the beginning, Pete. Please.”
“You know, remember, I told you I got that feeling to go out and find you. That something was about to happen that would change my life. Same as when I discovered I wanted to be an architect and when I met Dan and then Jason…and I had one too, five years ago today, a huge one, not more than twenty minutes before the accident. Well, I get the feeling that I’m going to get one and it’s got me scared.”
“Wait, have you had one of those ‘feelings’ or you have a feeling you are going to get one of those ‘feelings’?”
“I have a feeling I’m going to get one of my ‘feelings’.”
“Have you had a ‘feeling’ feeling before?”
I paused, a scowl creased my face.
Tom stared at me for a minute still in his “up dog” position on top of me. Then a smile began to creep across his lips.
“This is one of those times when Dan would end up smackin’ you on the ass…ain’t it?”
I welled up with anger. I felt my face get red with rage. I then saw Tom’s face turn to fear. That broke me. I began to hyperventilate which turned to laughter.
I rolled over on top of him and said, “You son of a bitch, do you know Dan, or what! And yes, my ass deserves to be slapped…hard, you son of a bitch.”
Tom got his patented broad toothy smile and said, “I only know Dan from you, Steve and Katie, but I like him more and more each day. No wonder you loved him. Now get your ass out of bed, you’re gonna be late for work!”
“I love you just as much as I love Dan.”
“Oh come on…” He began to push me up and out of bed.
“I’m serious, Tom. There’s a reason I asked you to marry me in France. I wasn’t kiddin’.”
I was on my feet. I pulled him up off the bed so that he was standing in front of me. I wrapped my arms around him.
“That’s why I feel so strange and have this sense of foreboding. Everything in my life has come full circle since that day five years ago. And my love for you is every bit as great as what I had then…different, I’ll grant you that, but just as good.”
Tom smiled and nodded his head. He buried his nose in the crook between my arm and shoulder, “I’m sorry I doubted you. I love you.”
We tightened our grip around one another. Tom lifted his head back as that smile reappeared.
Then he smacked me hard on the ass and screamed, “Now get in the shower!”
He ran off down to the kitchen and I took off after him laughing. We ended up wrestling on the kitchen floor, which turned to love making. I was more than an hour late for work, but I never stopped smiling all day.