Colleges, specifically Schools of Architecture, had been a constant topic of discussion since the beginning of the year. Now, applications had to be filled out, portfolios copied and essays written. We had innumerable discussions on which schools to go to and how they all impacted our life as much as Tom’s. It was a tough dance for me. I had my opinions, my wants, my theories, my plans and my hopes. I had to balance them all with what was best for Tom and what he wanted, dreamed, planned and hoped for too. I was his lover, his best friend, and in certain ways his big brother and only wanted to do what was best for him but I couldn’t stand the thought of him being off at school for the next five years. I rode the subway to and from work in a funk most days when we had these discussions. I was lost. My talks with Fitz or my runs with Steve didn’t seem to resolve my concerns either. Was I that attached to Tom that I couldn’t let him go? Why should I have to? I was meandering through a morass in my mind.
There were local options: Cooper Union, Columbia, NY Tech and a few New Jersey schools too. I wanted and was willing to give him the support that Dan gave me. That was my ideal. I knew I could do it, even with work. I didn’t see any obstacle that couldn’t be overcome. It was Tom who balked at having to limit himself to schools that were near home. I had to agree with him, but I was hearing the same conversations that I had with my parents when I set my sights on Tulane. I knew it was my chance to run away from home…was that what Tom wanted too? After long talks with him he reassured me that he didn’t want to run away, especially from me, but he also was looking for some measure of independence. He had never had it and felt that he needed it to truly realize who he was. He also wanted school to be a growth experience, not a chore.
He ended up applying to twelve schools across the country. I sat back and let it happen as it would. I couldn’t believe how attached I had become to Tom in less than a year. I also knew that we both needed our own lives too. I had gained a lot of independence in the years following the accident. I knew that Tom needed his too. We both had to learn how to maintain our individuality and nourish our partnership. We had finally talked the subject out; our actions were our dialogue now.
Tom dove into school and being a senior. He had many friends and was doing the things teenagers do. Almost every time I picked up the phone it was for him. It only bothered me when it came during dinner or when we were working on the house plans. Yet to see him smile, laugh and to be full of life was an absolute joy for me because I had already begun to forget what being a teenager was all about.
My deep felt insecurities that he wanted to run away from me were compounded in my mind in the week or so leading up to the anniversary of our meeting under the porch. I had suggested things that we might want to do to celebrate October the seventeenth. Tom listened and commented in an obnoxiously politically correct way but he wouldn’t commit to anything. I was beginning to get nervous that he really did want to break off our relationship. The week before he finally asked if we could meet at home on that Saturday afternoon. We could go to dinner from there and he would make reservations. I began to get suspicious. He didn’t want to make a weekend of it, like Dan and I did, and I couldn’t read him like normal. There wasn’t the typical wide mischievous grin hiding a surprise. He was cold and matter of fact. I tossed and turned on that Friday night as he slept soundly. I tried to make love with him the next morning but he shunned me saying that it wasn’t truly our one-year anniversary until that night. I had to put in a half a day at work, the office had a Monday deadline for a project, one that I wasn’t involved in, but I was needed to help finish on time. I told everyone at work to leave me alone because I was in a horrible mood. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. I wasn’t happy with whatever game Tom was playing. I could hardly concentrate on work.
I had made myself absolutely numb emotionally. I couldn’t accept what was happening in my life…or at least what was going on in my mind. I literally stumbled my way home that afternoon. I never zipped up my coat on the walk to or from the subway home. The bitter stiff wind ripped down the street and through me. The temperature was almost freezing. I only noticed that I was cold when I got to the front door of the building. As I stared into the glass I could see my red, wind burned cheeks and my hair a knotted mass. I had trouble getting my keys out of my pocket because my hands were so cold and raw. I was confused. I felt ashamed to come home on such an important day looking and feeling as I did. I also didn’t care that I looked like a wreck.
“Oh fuck!” I said as I leaned my forehead against the front door.
I was absolutely scared to unlock the door and enter. A biting gust of wind filled with orange, yellow and brown leaves swirled about me.
“Shit! That hurts.”
I unlocked the doors and made my way to the mailbox in the hall.
“Empty, Tom must have gotten it,” I said dejectedly.
I wanted to cry but could not. I turned and headed back for the front door and thought about going to Sammy and just driving off…somewhere. Stopping, I banged my head on the hall wall, then scuffed my toe on the dried gum on the tile floor.
“Klaus is gettin’ lax,” I bitched.
I got to the front door and then stared up at a sky of clouds broken by bursts of sunshine. Thinking about Dan and Jason I could see the stern look on their faces as they reacted to my sour attitude.
“You need your butt slapped and then to be moderated,” I could hear Dan say as his face softened into a smile.
“Stop being such a shit,” Jason said softly.
I sighed, “Sorry.”
“Sorry is between Shit and Syphilis in the dictionary, Pete,” Dan said in my head.
I smiled and turned toward the door to our apartment then ran my hand through my hair a few times as I walked down the hall.
“I love you two,” I said to my memories.
A smile broadened across my cold red face as I put my key in the door and snapped the lock open.
“Hey, darlin’, I’m home,” I called out as I entered.
It was warm in the apartment. The smells of food and incense filled the air. The place was softly lit with candles.
“Hello, Love,” came a caressing voice from the bedroom door.
I looked around the corner as I slowly flung my leather bag to the floor. Tom was leaning against the doorframe swaddled in plastic wrap from his knees to his chest. His hard-on stretched the film across his hips. My jaw dropped. I was hard by the time I ran the three steps to him. I kissed him as I scooped him up into my arms and carried him to the bed. I gently laid him down on the covers. We continued to kiss passionately as I undressed and slowly began to unwrap Tom. The heat that came off of his body as I unraveled the layers of plastic from him overwhelmed me as it warmed my cold soul. I was absorbed into his sensuous sweat. After lavishing my tongue across his body for what seemed like an hour he begged me to fuck him. I did, as I had imagined that first night we met as he stood drying himself off. After we regained our normal breath he lifted me off of him and then carried me into the shower. I was shocked by his strength. I hadn’t realized till that moment how much he had filled out over the last year.
Tom silently, gently, lovingly bathed me from head to toe. I tried to do the same to him. He shook his head almost imperceptibly.
“This night is for you,” he said in the gentlest of whispers.
We continued to kiss. I closed my eyes and disappeared into the deep pleasures of the moment. I thanked Dan and Jason for calming me down. After Tom finished he washed himself off and then stepped out of the tub. He pushed the plunger closed and turned on the water.
“Relax while I get dinner ready. I’ll bring you tea in a minute,” he said as he dried himself off.
After he hung up the towel he turned to me with a smile, “I love you more than I thought possible to love anyone, Pete. You taught me how to love.”
He winked and disappeared. A tear ran down my cheek. I was ashamed at myself for acting the way I had all day.
I sat back into the warm water, closed my eyes and tried to meditate. I couldn’t let go of the fear that I was somehow losing Tom. It was an emotional jungle and I was lost. I chided myself for being hung up about all of this, especially after what had just occurred in the last hour and what was still happening. I finally broke through and let it go.
I felt a kiss on my forehead, “Tea, darlin’?”
“Dinner will be in about twenty minutes.”
I smiled at Tom, “I love you more than I ever thought I could love again. And you taught me that.”
He climbed back into the tub with me and leaned back against my chest. I wrapped my arms and legs around him. I nestled my chin between his neck and shoulder. He sighed and then so did I. We were content in silence for ten minutes when Tom turned his head and kissed my cheek.
“Time for prezzies,” he whispered and then stood.
He turned and offered his hand. I cocked my head wondering what he was up to. After helping me up he took a towel and began to dry me off as the water drained down.
“Tom, you’ve been really secretive about this whole thing…I sort of don’t like it…would you mind lettin’ me in on what’s goin’ on in that wonderful head of yours?”
That caught him by surprise. He got a sheepish grin on his face as he looked through his eyebrows at me. He inhaled a full breath.
“Pete, I think I finally understand the ‘No Secrets’ thing you have been preachin’ since day one. This has been really hard on me and I know that you have been freakin’ out over this too. For the longest time I have had anxiety over this anniversary…I mean, how can I repay the fact that you saved my life, have given unconditionally of yourself, have helped me deal with my family, have given me school and work, and shown me that I can attain my dreams, plus a home…and a garden…a hot home cooked meal and all the love I could ever imagine?”
I tried to interrupt him, but he put a finger to my lips and continued as he finished drying me off. He wrapped the towel over his shoulders.
“The fact is that I can never repay you…and you wouldn’t want that anyway. So I decided that I would give to you what you gave to me one year ago tonight. A warm bath, a hot meal and undivided attention…plus some good lovin’,” he said with a wink, “and something warm to wear.”
He then gave himself a quick rub down with the towel and padded off into the bedroom.
“Tom,” I said as he returned with a huge white box wrapped with a wide purple ribbon.
He put his finger up again and then pointed to the ribbon. I pulled on the end to undo the bow and lifted the top off.
“What, it’s not the size of a basketball,” I commented wryly.
“Sorry, ask Mom and Dad Elliot someday…it’s a good story.”
“Dan and Jason visiting again?”
I nodded my head, “Sorry, this is about us.” I picked up the tissue paper wrapping. “Wow…Tom, this is great.”
I lifted out a thick soft orange cotton flannel bathrobe with my initials in block letters over my heart. Tom placed the box down and helped me on with it, tying the pull in front.
“Wait there’s more, Pete.”
He handed me a pair of matching shorts to wear underneath and a pair of heavy gray socks with orange bands around the ankles.
“But wait there’s more,” he said with a smile.
“You’ve been watching too much TV and all those bad commercials.”
He snickered and nodded his head.
“This is our anniversary, partner, so…”
Under another layer of tissue was a matching set of robe, shorts and socks for Tom. I helped him into his outfit, sans shorts. We kissed. All of a sudden both of our noses began to twitch.
“Shit,” we screamed simultaneously, “the biscuits!”
We tore off into the kitchen, sliding to a halt against the stove in our new socks. I flipped down the door to the oven as Tom grabbed the potholders and snatched the biscuits out.
“Just in time…again, one year later.”
He turned the heat off under the Kachadi.
“Same meal you made for me a year ago too. Oh, yeah, that’s another thing. You’ve taught me how to cook.”
He gave me a kiss.
“Go sit at the table, I’ll serve.”
We spent the next hour slowly eating dinner and talking over the last year, especially working through the last couple of weeks when our communication had broken down. We had both become tense and filled with angst over this inability to share. We promised ourselves to do better as we washed the dishes. This year I washed and Tom dried.
As I was turning out the lights so that we could head to bed I saw Tom standing at the back door looking down at the porch. I walked over to him and interlocked my fingers into his.
As he continued to stare between the boards of the porch he said, “What if you hadn’t gotten that feeling to go outside? You couldn’t have seen me from here.”
“Don’t think about it. I can’t. It scares me too much to imagine the horror of the whole thing if I had waited till morning. That’s why I accept and allow those… feelings… premonitions, whatever they are, to happen and follow them. I have to, good or bad. At least there have been more good than bad…way more.”
I turned my head and kissed Tom’s temple.
“Come, we got some more lovin’ to do.”
He smiled, “Yeah, we do.”
We took a few steps toward the bedroom.
“Oh, one more thing, leave next Saturday evening open. We are going out to dinner for Part II of our anniversary.”
“Don’t I get to give to this celebration,” I asked.
“Next year, dear, next year. Just be ready in a jacket and tie at five-thirty, with Sammy, out front.”
I raised my eyebrows, “Ja vol, Herr commandant! What about no secrets?”
“Well, only the place is a secret…you can handle that can’t you?”
“Sure,” I said shaking my head, “I love you, Tom.”
“I love you too. Now, ready to fuck some more?”
We were tired when we arrived at work late Sunday morning, but we had smiles on our faces. Tom had come to help too and to be with me. My work mates and my boss all noticed that the grump in me hadn’t returned but his scatterbrained brother had. I apologized, explained that I was tired and that it had been our anniversary yesterday. They all gave a knowing smile. Only my boss voiced concern over why I was such an angry ass the day before.
“You can always come talk to me about things besides work, you know, Pete.”
“You’re right. I should have. You know the two of us pretty well and you know a few things in your own right,” I said with a wry grin.
“Hey, why don’t you color that rendering I was working on instead of trying to detail today? I think it would be easier on your head.” He squeezed the back of my neck.
Life returned to normal with Tom and with me. I let go of the future and took care of what was in front of me, although I couldn’t wait for Saturday. On Thursday I thought it might get the best of me and I took my boss up on his offer. We spent half of the afternoon talking about me, Tom and the two projects we were working on together. The talk about architecture was the salve in between the conversations about Tom and me. I had tried very hard to forget about our age difference but in reality it was the root of the difficulties in our communications with each other.
My boss put it to me this way, “Pete, Tom has had to change and accept so much in the last year. He has also learned more than I thought imaginable. He’s also growin’ up. He’s gone from kid to adult, although he still has a lot of kid in him. He’s even discovering some things about being a kid that he had to cover up before, yet he’s also incredibly mature. So he’s strugglin’ from time to time. I think more than you realize. You’re settled and content with yourself…well at least relative to him. I think he’s finding that constrictive. I know he loves you immensely. I also think he’s scared too. Scared of making a mistake. Think about it, Pete.”
“What, scared of makin’ a mistake by bein’ with me?”
“No, no that’s not what I’m sayin’. Just that you can be so cock sure of yourself and he’s not. It’s the simple things he’s afraid of makin’ mistakes on. He doesn’t want to offend you.”
“Oh shit! I’ve…Oh, shit, I see. He’s worried about the little things and I’m worried about the whole deal. No wonder we don’t see what’s goin’ on and how to talk about it.”
I slumped back in the chair and put my knees up against the slab of Baltic Green granite that was his desk top. I stared at the ceiling.
“I just hope I haven’t pushed him too far that he resents me somehow.”
“I don’t think so, Pete. Just give him some slack. I bet you weren’t a masterpiece of maturity at eighteen, huh?”
“No, I wasn’t…and compared to Tom I was…well…let’s just say I have a whole new aspect of respect for him.”
My boss looked up across the office, “And look who just bounced in the door…with Tall Paul. Now, go give your partner a hug and then put him to work. I could use his help today on inputing those base plans for the Dana job.”
“Sure. I can’t thank you enough for the conversation today.”
“Anytime, Pete, anytime.”
I gave Tom a warm hug and nibbled his ear.
“Hey, Love,” he said with a bit of a giggle.
“Now don’t embarrass me in front of Paul and the rest of the crew,” he said lightheartedly.
“OK, now the lovin’s over. No homework today. Get to work…Boss’s orders.”
Tom looked over toward the office. The boss was pointing to the presentation drawings for the Dana job. Tom nodded his head.
“Hey, Paul, duty calls. If you want to hang out and watch me draw in the computer you’re welcome, but no promises on excitement. But you can stay and work on the assignment we were gonna do and I can help when you get stuck.”
“Cool, that’ll work,” he said with a cheesy grin.
I’m not the only one who is entranced by Tom’s charm I thought.
“Come drag me toward home about six or so, OK, Tom?”
“Sure, and can Paul join us for dinner so we can work on homework together?”
Now I had two cheesy grins staring at me.
“Sounds good to me,” I replied.
I enjoyed our house full of fun, laughter and the serious discussions of space science that evening.
Saturday afternoon as the two of us stood in the shower we talked of the coming evening.
“We don’t have to do this tonight, ya know,” I said, “a formal dinner isn’t necessary. I really enjoyed last Saturday night. You had the perfect solution to celebrate our year together.”
“Thanks for saying that, but that was my gift to you and this is a gift for us. Just trust me one more time, OK?”
“Hmmm, but can we go like this instead of gettin’ all dressed up?”
I slid my hand between the cheeks of his ass. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.
“There’ll be lots of time for that tomorrow, darlin’.”
“Not tonight?” I exclaimed with a sassy grin.
“Well, there’s some time right now,” he said as he turned around and lifted his leg up onto the side of the tub.
I didn’t waste a second. We were both ready to go out the door to get Sammy by five-twenty.
After pulling the garage door down and snapping the padlocks I climbed into that beautiful orange bug.
“Where to, my good man?”
“Head on over to Eighth Avenue.”
“Hmmm, what could this mean…let’s see….”
“Oh geez, Pete, you’ll know soon enough…but you always love this game, so go on.”
“Let’s see, what’s this dressy in Hell’s Kitchen…or wait…a porno palace…The dress up is all a front.”
“Oh fuck you, Pete.”
“Oh, please fuck me later, will ya?”
“I am bein’ serious about tonight OK, so no, we’re not doin’ the silly route.”
“Tom, you’re losin’ your sense of humor. I know you’re bein’ serious. Come on, it’s me, Pete…and we’re goin’ to Tavern on the Green.”
Tom’s jaw dropped as he spun his head toward me, “You shit, how did you find out. You’ve been leadin’ me on all this time.”
“Woo Hoo, good guess and I got him to admit it too!”
“No, really, how did you find out?”
“No lie, no secret, I guessed right now…it just came into my head.”
I burst out laughing, “Sorry, to steal your thunder. I love you, please forgive me.”
“You’re a smart-assed shit.”
“Hey, I always like to go there…maybe not just the two of us. I think it’s better in groups, but I’m glad. This is great.”
Tom got a big smile on his face, “Thanks.”
We parked and walked hand in hand through the front door. The Maitre D’ met us and said, “Right this way.” I was confused…he didn’t even ask for our names. He led us into the Park Room. I was stunned. I stopped dead in my tracks. My mouth was wide open.
“Pete, glad to see you still have your tonsils,” my dad said.
“Happy Anniversary, Dear,” my mom said as she kissed Tom and then me.
Mom Elliot kissed me just a second later, “Surprise, Darling. How are you?”
“S-s-s-shocked…Tom, man, do I love you!”
Dad Elliot grabbed my hand and shook it. He was carrying little Stevie. I gave both of them a kiss.
I felt two arms and a face hug my thigh.
I looked down to see a shining mug, “Hi, Unka Pete.”
“Hey, Daniel, how’s my best little man?” He just smiled.
“I’m overwhelmed, Tom, I can’t believe you did this.”
“Well, you were just saying that you didn’t want it to be just the two of us. Anyway, I made the suggestion…this is really the Moms and Dads’ doing.”
“ ‘Cuse me, can I get in here to kiss these two galoots,” Fitz said grinning from ear to ear.
“Geez, you’re a happy girl, been to the bar a few times,” I said as I kissed her a few times.
“Just once, but the magic elixir is all of these doting godparents. I get to enjoy my kids without having to take care of them!”
I kissed Steve and gave him a big hug.
“Happy Anniversary, Pete…Tom. You guys are the best friends I could ever ask for.”
As Tom kissed Steve I saw my boss and his wife, “Hey, did you know about this for awhile?”
He gave me a tight lipped smile. I felt Tom’s fingers intertwine with mine.
He looked at me and then scanned the room, “Wait, where’s Dad?”
I started to point to the other Dads when I realized that he meant his father.
“Really, he’s comin’?”
“Yeah, he said he was gettin’ on the two o’clock train. I got him a hotel room and everything…Oh, shit, I hope he hasn’t fallen off the wagon…it’s been almost four months since the last time.”
“Hey, Dad, have you seen Mr. Petersen?” I asked Dad Elliot.
“No…he’s comin’? I’m gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do to him…Well, if he remembers that is.”
“Oh, crap, forgot about that…Maybe he won’t remember,” Tom said, “but he does deserve to be here.”
“Absolutely,” I said, “let’s ask up front.”
As Tom and I walked to the door of the dining room his dad appeared dressed in a beautiful dark blue pinstriped suit. He’d lost a good bit of weight and his face wasn’t puffy from alcohol anymore.
“DAD!” Tom ran up and hugged his father.
“Sorry I’m late, Tom. I didn’t think about what I was gunna wear today till last night. My sponsor in AA got me tinkin’ about it. You’se know my wardrobe. Had to buy this and get it altered this mornin’. Waddya think?”
“Good lookin’ suit, Mr. Petersen. Really good choice. You look great!”
“Thanks, Pete. I actually trusted the opinion of the salesman…That’s a new one for me.”
“Wow, Dad…you look fabulous.”
Tom hugged his dad again.
“Come on, ya gotta meet all of the in-laws.”
“What…Oh! I guess so. I’ll gets the hang of all dis someday,” he said shaking his head.
Tom guided his dad over to my parents and the Elliots.
“Dad, meet Marge and Jim Langer, Pete’s parents. This is my dad, Arne Petersen.”
They shook hands.
“And these are the Elliots, Tom and Thelma. Pete’s other parents. This is my Dad.”
“Huh? Tom? And sir, for some reason you look familiar.”
Tom Elliot started to laugh, “Well let me explain some things…I hear you have a great sense of humor… I hope you will please keep that in mind.”
Dad Elliot led Mr. Petersen off toward the bar, “I need a seltzer, how ‘bout you sir?”
“Let’s see…it all started when my son Dan told us he was gay….”
Mr. Petersen looked back at Tom and me and shrugged his shoulders.
Tom waved “bye” to him and then yelled, “It’s really a funny story, Dad.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of hands close over Tom’s eyes and then my eyesight vanished.
“Guess who?” asked an unrecognized voice, but I knew the hands over my eyes.
“Hi, Vroom. Hi, Jeremy and David too!”
“Bastard, how did you know,” John asked.
“Your touch is unmistakable…although I have to admit I didn’t know the voice…but by process of elimination…Anyway, how are you all? Been awhile.”
Tom and I gave hugs and kisses all around.
“School’s a bitch and life is hell…but we’re in love,” Jeremy said, “And it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.”
“Tell me about it,” Tom groaned.
The five of us chattered on for a few minutes until I spied the Maitre D’s hand guiding someone to the door.
“Excuse me all, will ya…Tom, I love you.”
I ran to the door and jumped into Tim’s arms.
“Hey, Love. How are you,” he said to me as he staggered under my weight.
I kissed him and said, “Better when you’re around.”
I dragged him back over to the group.
“Wow, I can’t believe you’re here. When are you going to move to New York? I miss you too damn much!”
“Oh, I don’t know…someday, though, someday. Hey, Tom, Happy Anniversary! Hi, John, Jeremy, David.”
Tim scanned around the room, “Geez, everybody’s here.”
“Almost,” said Steve, who wandered up with Katie to say hello to the gang.
I looked at Steve and then to Tom as my mind reeled trying to imagine who else could be invited. Steve nodded his head towards the door. I looked. I blinked. I saw that silly broad smile.
“Oh holy shit, amazing.”
It was Daf, David Frank, whom I hadn’t seen since leaving New Orleans. I strode over to the door and hugged him as hard as I could. I got tears in my eyes.
“Aww geeez, Pete, not in front of my little girl. She already thinks I’m a big softy,” he said with a grin.
I looked over his shoulder to see a sweet little girl with Dave’s wide grin. She wasn’t shy about missing a couple of teeth in her smile.
“That’s Elizabeth and you remember Debbie?”
“Sure do, Daf. Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. You’ll have to meet Daniel and Stevie…that is if you can get them away from their godparents.”
I stood back up.
“I can’t believe y’all are here. This is great. How did you know?”
“Steve called me a month or so ago and told me about the party. I had been stallin’ for the last couple of years about comin’ up here. So, we’re here today and then tomorrow we’re going to see Deb’s relatives in Boston.”
“I need for you to meet Tom. I’ve finally fallen in love again. He’s an amazin’ man who puts up with me and the ghosts of Dan and Jason.”
I led Daf and family over to the group with Tom.
I had barely finished the introductions when I looked back to the door. I made a face and made eyes at my watch.
“What! For me I’m early,” Egil yelled.
“Excuse me, all, one more time.” Egil and I met halfway.
“You crazy fuckin’ Norwegian.”
“You dumb ass German. How the hell are you?”
“Pretty damn good…and you? I sure do miss you.”
“Move to Philadelphia.”
“Just like you, make me move…maybe I should. Where’s your girlfriend?”
“Gone to see her parents. I’m not one to visit with them too much, so this is great.”
“I would like to meet her sometime.”
“Well at least come meet my boyfriend.”
“I know this is really great. When we had our last long walk I was worried that maybe you wouldn’t truly be happy again…that you would compromise, but from our conversations on the phone I think you’ve done it. The cycle has completed itself.”
“I sure as hell hope so…I don’t think that I can go through the cycle again.”
“Oh don’t give me that shit, you shithead. You’re all of twenty-eight.”
“Good point, Egil, I just don’t want to go through the wash again.”
“Now, you’re bein’ honest with yourself. I wish I was that honest with myself…I’m only honest to everyone else… sometimes… but never to myself.”
“Uh-oh, sounds like you need a walk, huh. Couple of laps around the park? Think anyone would notice?” I said laughing.
“Your old man would string you up by your balls if we did that now.”
“I know, but seriously, when are you goin’ back? I think it’s needed.”
“Tomorrow sometime, there are trains all day. I got a hotel room so I could soak up your old man’s liquor and stagger to bed.”
“Are you sure that you’re twenty-eight… wait…twenty-nine, in what, three weeks?”
“Yeah…and I know, twenty-eight goin’ on eighteen…my old man tells me all the time.”
“Drink a few for me, seriously. Now let’s go meet Tom and the gang.”
After an hour of cocktails and conversations the Maitre D’ called for dinner. Tom and I walked together to the men’s room before we sat down to eat.
As we stood at the urinals I said, “I’m never going to be able to thank you enough for this. You have brought together the entire family. I am in awe. There is no one else you could have gotten here that could make this any better.”
“No one,” he questioned.
“Well, besides the obvious.”
He smiled as he zipped himself up. I looked at him with a tilted head as I followed him over to the sinks. After he dried his hands he reached into his pocket and pulled out Dan and Jason’s rings and handed them to me.
“They deserve to be here too. If it wasn’t for them half of these people wouldn’t be here.”
I began to cry as I put the rings on and then hugged Tom so tight he began to cough.
“I love you!”
“Not to death, please,” he said with a huge grin, “Pete, I love you too. This is the family you’ve given me too…including my dad. I wouldn’t have what I do with him without you. So that’s why I worked so hard for this night for us… and all of us here too…and those who are not.”
Tom squeezed my left hand. He had a tear running down his face. I smiled, nodded and wiped the tear from his eye. He wiped mine. The door to the men’s room opened. It was Dad Elliot.
“Y’all better get out there. They’re servin’ a good dinner. Tom, your dad is even eyein’ your vegetarian meal.”
We started to laugh as we headed out the door.
“Oh, before you go Tom, your dad is OK…we worked things out. He’s still got some learnin’ about life…but then again, so do I. He’s an alright guy though…just not liquored up, that’s all.”
“Thanks, Dad. Thanks.”
The door swung shut.
When we walked into the dining room we ran into Paul Wilson.
“I was wondering if you were ever going to show up,” Tom stated to him.
“Sorry, Mom didn’t believe me, really, even when I got all dressed up in my new suit. She finally called here and asked if there was a Langer/Petersen party. Then she got all embarrassed and gave me money for a cab. I still think she’s a little weirded out by you guys’ relationship.”
I started to laugh, “Sorry, Paul…I forget sometimes about what it’s like to be a parent. I can see her point but….” I continued to laugh and they joined me.
“Hope you don’t mind,” Tom said to me.
“That I invited Paul.”
“Tom, this is our party for us, remember. I was thinking that maybe there would be more of your friends from school.”
“Well I thought about it, but I didn’t want to run up the Dads’ tab and…I don’t know…really Paul’s the only one I absolutely wanted.”
Paul got a cheeky, embarrassed grin.
“Tom, don’t ever worry about spendin’ the Dads’ money. They got it and if it begins to pinch they’ll tell ya, trust me. Now they might still rib ya a bit but…and as you said this is our party, so as long as you did what you felt was right than that’s it. Be happy.”
“Thanks, Love,” Tom kissed me and then kissed Paul on the cheek.
I did the same and said, “Glad you’re here, Paul.”
As we all sat at the banquet table I imagined that this would be as close to a wedding reception as we would ever have. I figured Tom and I might have a ceremony some day, but I couldn’t believe how lucky we were for this to happen. I scanned up and down the table. I squeezed Tom’s hand. Then it dawned on me about the one person who was missing.
I caught Steve’s attention and said, “Joe…Joe Larkin should be here and…wait, what about Wild Bill too?”
I had spoken with Joe at least a couple of times a year since I had moved from New Orleans. We kept promising the other we would make the trek to visit, but had never accomplished it. I hadn’t spoken to Bill since our last visit to Houston.
“Oh, Joe couldn’t make it this weekend, but he is coming up in a couple of weeks. Ooops, that was supposed to be a surpr…Owwww! Katie! And Bill never returned any of my phone calls. I got Dad Elliot to try to reach him too, but to no avail at first. Then he found out that Bill is in Asia for the next few months. He goes to Asia a lot on these engineering projects. Oh, and he’s bought a ring but has yet to ask his girlfriend to marry him.”
“Damn engineers,” I said with a smirk.
“I’ve met Bisexual Bill but who’s Joe?” Tom asked.
“Joe is a good friend of Steve’s who became our good friend. It was at his party that we reconnected with Jason…and a year later where I almost killed myself,” I stated as a matter of fact.
Tom’s eyes widened as far as they would go, “WHAT!…You’ve never told me about that!”
“It’s OK, I didn’t do it. See I’m still here. Can it wait till tomorrow?”
“Sure, but I’ll remind you. I want to know about it, OK?”
I squeezed Tom’s thigh and a broad grin crossed my face.
“You’ll like Joe when you meet him. He has always been an inspiration to me. He got tossed out of his home for his eighteenth birthday because he was gay. He’s built his whole life on his own, put himself through school, has his own computer programming business and has done it all in a fabulous way. You’re an inspiration to me too; you had to fight to get out of your house and came out a champ. And even worked things out with your dad. Joe has never been able to do that.”
“Hey, I had a lot of help, namely from you, remember.”
I shrugged and said, “You’re still an inspiration, darlin’.”
Through the various courses of the meal the conversation rambled through topics; from telling stories about Tom and me or just me, to politics, the parents’ European Adventure, (the Dads telling the story of my mom getting propositioned in Rome was absolutely hilarious), what everyone had been up to lately and everyone’s thoughts of the future. It was wonderful that the size of the group allowed all to participate in the conversation. As we waited for dessert to be served the toasts began. I was hesitant about them, but what was I to do? The first to rise were the Dads.
My dad began, “When young Tom brought this idea to my attention I immediately thought that it was the perfect thing to do and I called this Tom.”
“I couldn’t have agreed more with Jim, because not only is this a celebration of Pete and Tom it is also a celebration of what Tom has done for Pete.”
“And what Pete has done for Tom,” my dad added.
“Because it wasn’t until Tom came along that we got back the boy we thought was lost forever. It is because of Pete that Thelma and I have survived the tragedy of losing Dan. He showed us through his continued love and devotion to us that we can go on.”
“Although none of us knew how to return that gift to him no matter how hard we tried.”
“Except you Tom. And we, all of his parents and friends, will be eternally grateful.”
Tom swallowed hard and gripped my hand. The tears ran down my face. I could barely keep myself from completely losing it. My mind was flooded with the memories of the last six years.
“Yet it wouldn’t have happened without Pete’s unconditional devotion to you, Tom. When everyone else worried about where he came from, what he was and how old he was, Pete only cared about who Tom was. So, from your Mom and me and your other Mom and Dad, our best friends, tonight and all our love are for the two of you and your long life together.”
“Cheers,” the parents said in unison.
I could hardly lift my glass as the rest of the table responded. Tom dove into the crook of my neck with his head and began to sob. Katie leaned over to Tom to help comfort him.
Daniel ran up, flung his arms around me and said, “Don’t cry, Unka Pete!”
I cried even harder.
A few minutes later, once we had regained our composure, Arne Petersen stood up to speak.
“Oh, God, I hope I don’t regret what I’m a gonna say. I ain’t very good at dis.”
He cleared his throat and drew a small loop across the tablecloth with his finger. He looked at Tom and me.
“Not very long ago I wouldna been standin’ here. I woulda been barred at da door even if I did find out about it. I unnerstand why. I ain’t proud of it, but they tell me I’m not ‘spose to regret nor forget the past. I haven’t quite figgered out the regret part yet, ‘cuz I know I been such a jerk and…I’m havin’ trouble rememberin’ a lot of what happened the past many years…anaway, what I do know is dat because dese two guys came together…”
Tom, Steve, Katie, Tim, Jeremy, Vroom, David, Daf, Egil, the Dads and I stifled our laughs. The Moms glared at us all. My boss, his wife, Debbie and Paul were perfectly polite. The kids and Arne were oblivious.
“…I got the son I always wanted…Now mind ya, not the way I wanted. I still don’t get it. I don’t like it, but… but…anaway. Tom is a happy, handsome, strong, smart young man. He’s goin’ ta school and is gonna go ta college and do what he really always wanted ta do. Just like I wanted ta do, but…well he can, and it’s all because Pete stood up for him…he stood up to me for him too and then Tom just stood up for himself and became what I always thought he should be. His Momma would be proud, she was proud of him. So, tanks, Pete, and tanks, Tom for bein’ tougher than me. So guys, makes us all proud.”
Arne lifted his glass of juice. Everyone followed. Arne sat down, tugged on his shirt collar and wiped the sweat from his brow.
My boss leaned over to him and said, “Good job, nothin’ to regret about that. I’d be proud if my old man said somethin’ like that to me. Trust me.”
“Tanks. That got me sweatin’. That was tough.”
Tom walked around the table and hugged his dad from behind.
He whispered, “Love ya, Dad,” in his ear and then walked back.
I smiled and raised my water glass to him. He wiped his brow again and smiled.
Steve and then Tim got up to wish us well. I felt Tim’s words the most because of how much we had been through together although our own out of step rhythms had left us both in such a state of flux. I was honored by his strength and commitment to Tom and me.
It was almost eleven by the time we left Tavern. The five hours had passed too quickly. I felt as if I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone long enough, especially with Daf who was leaving with his wife and child for points north. I promised them that I would come down with Tom to New Orleans.
“How about at Mardi Gras or during the spring sometime? Come stay with us… let’s just not go to Grand Isle, OK,” he said to me with a twisted grin.
“Why not?” I said, “I’ve always had a great time there…. Now the road back can be hell, but that’s not your doin’.”
I put my arm around his shoulder, “Daf, let it go. It’s OK. See, they’ll always be with me.”
I wiggled my fingers on my left hand. He turned and hugged me as tight as he could. He kissed me on the cheek.
“Please, come down and see us. Tom here, I find out he’s never been. It would be great to show him around.”
Still clutched to Daf I said, “I know. Tom, figure some dates that work with school in the spring and we’ll go, OK?”
“Wow! Great! Will do. I can’t wait.”
I was excited that he was that excited to go to New Orleans. I guess I had felt that I had left only tragedy there and hadn’t thought about returning. He reminded me of the enthusiasm and love I had for that crazy place I once called home.
I promised Egil that we would have our walk in the morning, “Early!”
He gave me a wicked grin. John, Jeremy and David said they would come by in the early afternoon. Steve, Katie and the kids would meet us there about the same time. The Elliots were going to my parents’ house for the week and we would see them next weekend. My boss and his wife thanked us. I had to thank him because everything wouldn’t have been possible without him these last four years.
“Oh, you would have managed,” he said with dry sarcasm.
“Well, it wouldn’t have been as easy or as much fun.”
“OK, I’ll jump with you on that one,” he said laughing, “I’ll see you …and you and probably you on Monday.”
He ended up pointing at Paul.
“You’re always welcome in the office.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Pete, are you tellin’ everyone to call me ‘sir’? Thanks again, see ya.”
I walked up to Tim.
“Where’s your bag? Or is it already in my car?”
“Cheeky bastard, why are you such a smartass.”
“’Cuz I can and I love you and I know you better than you know you.”
“Yes, you do…and yes I do…and it’s in the coat closet around the corner, you…” He leaned over to me and kissed me. “I’m so damn lucky I can’t stand it,” he said, “Let’s go home. I want to talk to you two.”
“Just talk,” I said with a smirk.
He, and then Tom, smacked my ass in rapid succession.
“Owwww, let’s go!”
We got the parents to their car. They took Mr. Petersen with them to drop him off at his hotel. He was a very happy man.
After he shook Tom’s and my hands he said, “For the first time…I think ever, I feel like a real parent. This is great! Tom, ya callin’ me tamarrow?”
“No, ‘sir,’” he said softly… “Dad, please.”
He smiled and got in the car. They drove off down Central Park West. Egil waved and wandered off in Central Park, taking the scenic route to his hotel.
“Paul, come on, we got room for you…and your legs too! Climb in, let’s blow this clambake!” By twelve-thirty Sammy had been put to bed and the three of us were climbing into ours. Whatever was on Tim’s mind would have to wait till tomorrow. Within ten minutes of settling down he was snoring softly. Tom and I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea.