The phone woke me at seven.
“Get up ya lazy bastad! It’s the crack-a-dawn!”
“Oh shit, Egil. I just didn’t want it to be noon.”
All I heard was laughter. I had to move the phone away from my ear.
“Hey, I happened to get up to pee and I thought I’d harass you, but I’m awake now so I’m game. I just gotta jump in the shower.”
“Well, so do I…Alright, I’ll be there in less than an hour. Bye.”
I didn’t wait for an answer before I hung up.
“Sheesh. He’s still’s crazy.”
I shuffled into the bath. I cranked on the shower and began to brush my teeth. Tom poked his head sideways around the doorframe.
“Egil, It’s time for walkies. You don’t have to get up. Take it easy this morning. I’ll be back about noon. Maybe you can get some homework done this mornin’ before the crew comes over this afternoon.”
Tom smiled softly.
Tim puttered around Tom and into the bath to sit, “Mormum.”
He was still asleep.
I kissed Tom as I put my toothbrush down, “And take ‘Seepy’ here back to bed when he’s done.”
Tim got up and headed for the door, “I seepy.”
Tom covered his mouth trying not to burst out laughing. By the time I was dressed and in my coat the two of them were in dreamland. I kissed them both and headed for the N/R to take me to Times Square.
Egil was waiting out front of his hotel. I never said a word. I walked right by him. He laughed as he ran after me. We never said a word to each other until we hit the park twelve blocks later. For an hour we talked about everything but what Egil really needed to talk about. Neither of us minded because we both had missed our rolling thought dialogues.
I finally said, “Herr Doktor iz in. How may I help?”
I didn’t hear a thing he said for the next couple of minutes. I got lost in my mind. “Doktor” and the fact that we happen to be cutting through the Rambles took me back to that day with Jason and Dan. I finally was able to tune Egil in when I began to giggle about the blob of cum in my hair, and then I noticed I had a hard-on.
By the time we made it back to 59th Street Egil was feeling better about the relationship with his girlfriend. I think I learned more about long-term relationships from him than he got advice from me. He just needed to express his feelings out loud. At two hours it was one of our shortest walks.
At the hotel door he said, “Come to Philadelphia. Please, sometime…we’ve got the best collection of Marcel Duchamp in the world.”
“OK, I promise a road trip this summer. Bye, love you.”
We hugged and he gave me a demented salute. I shook my head, smiled, and headed for the subway steps. The Never and Rarely was pulling into the station. I would be home by ten thirty. Maybe the three of us would have time for some yoga, I thought.
I popped open the door and scanned the room. I looked around the corner into the bedroom. Tim was fucking Tom as hard as he could. I closed the front door with a bang. Their two heads turned to me. I stood there my mouth wide open. I could not figure out what to say.
I couldn’t say anything at all till Tom began to speak and then all I said was, “I’ll be in the Garden.”
I walked calmly out the back door and sat on the back steps. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t. I put my forehead into my hand and twisted my mouth around. All I could feel was betrayal. I could not even feel anger about being betrayed, or rage, or jealousy. I could hear Tom and Tim talking. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I heard the back door open and close slowly. Tom squeezed in next to me on the step. I didn’t try to make room for him. I didn’t look at him. Tom talked for twenty minutes without me saying a word. I hardly remember a thing he said although I listened as well as I could.
The first thing I said to him was, “Don’t ever say you’re sorry about this to me again.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then I said, “Go get Tim. We all need to talk this out. It’ll be OK.”
I could feel he was about to kiss me. I glared at him.
He thought better of it and said, “I’ll be right back.”
The back door flung open a minute later.
I fell backwards onto the porch, “OH FUCK!!! Goddamn you, Tim!”
I jumped to my feet.
“Stay here! Call Fitz and tell her what happened….No, don’t…Fuck! I’ll be back.”
I jumped from the back porch to the top of the fence and then down to the sidewalk. I took off running as fast as I could to get to Sammy.
I drove around looking for him. I drove to Newark Airport. I missed a flight for San Francisco by five minutes. They wouldn’t tell me if Tim had gotten on the plane. I slowly drove home. After putting Sammy away and covering him up I sat on the cold concrete floor of the garage meditating for half an hour. I was stiff when I tried to get up. So I spent fifteen minutes doing some poses to loosen me up and keep me calm, then walked slowly back to the apartment. Wondering if the rest of the gang was there or if Tom had sent them home, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to talk this through with everyone or keep it between Tom and me. It certainly did not need to be turned into some sort of tribunal on our relationship. “No Secrets” was haunting me. I couldn’t hear the voices of Dan and Jason to help me this time.
When I walked through the door Katie and Tom were sitting on the couch. I smiled with pursed lips. I walked to the phone and dialed Tim’s number. I waited for his machine to pick up.
“Tim, all is forgiven. Please call me. I love you.”
I gently put the receiver down then walked over to the couch and sat down between them. Katie put her arm across my back and her head on my shoulder.
I looked over at Tom, “Like I said to Tim, all is forgiven. I’m still pissed, mind you, but I do share in the blame. Putting Tim into our bed with our past history and my past history with Dan and Jason and expecting you…well, actually, I don’t know what I should have expected from you besides be up front and honest with me. Which you weren’t…I know, you would have told me after, but that’s fucked up too! All in all, I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. That was wrong. I should have climbed on in and we could have talked it all through, but I just made it worse. I just hope it’s not fucked up forever!”
I leaned over and put my head between my knees.
“I…I…can’t believe I let you down like this. I’m sor…shit, I certainly fucked up. I just pray that your…and our relationship with Tim isn’t shot to hell. I think that would be the worst aspect of this whole thing. I just didn’t think.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, “You’re right, you didn’t think…or were letting your dick think for you. That’s why I forgive you…crap, I would have forgiven you no matter what, I love you too much not to.”
Tom put his head on my back and his arms around me.
“I love you.”
I sighed and then said, “Katie, I am absolutely astounded that you haven’t said a word.”
“No need to. You two are doin’ alright by yourselves.”
“Now I know how you felt when you found out about Steve and me fuckin’ each other. I’m sorry.”
“Maybe my role today was just to keep the dishes safe.”
She tickled my side a bit. I began to giggle. I sat up and kissed her on the cheek.
“What about Vroom and the boys? Did they come by?” I asked.
“Yeah, they came by soon after I called Katie and told her what happened. I told them too. Vroom and Jeremy were really upset with me. Jeremy slugged David in the arm and said, ‘That’s to teach you to never do anything like that, OK!’ I had to laugh. Then David slugged me in the arm, the fucker packs a mean punch. I stopped laughing, hugged the three of them and thanked them. They said to call if they were needed…or call them anyway. They’re worried.”
“ I better call them and Steve too.”
“You haven’t eaten yet today have you,” Katie asked.
“No, Mom,” I said with a weak smile, “I’ll tell Steve to bring the kids and we all eat here, OK.”
“Go call ‘em and I’ll bring you a snack in a couple. Ask the boys if they want to come to, don’t cha think?”
I nodded my agreement.
“Tom, you’re in the kitchen with me.”
“Don’t ma’am me or you’ll get your butt slapped like Jason used to when he did that.”
Tom bounced his eyebrows at me. I shook my head and walked off to the bedroom with the phone. I sat on the side of the bed and pushed the speed dial for Steve. I looked at my nightstand at the pictures of Tom, Dan’s watch and the rings. At the base of the frame were Tim’s keys to the apartment.
“FUCK” I yelled as Steve picked up the phone.
It was a quiet afternoon. I wouldn’t say enjoyable, but necessary and absolutely nurturing to all of our souls. After everyone had left and Tom was doing his homework I tried Tim again. The phone rang and rang. He must have pulled the plug from the wall.
During the next week Tom and I slowly got back to being ourselves with each other. We both delved into our work, our work on the homes, his school and life in general. We put fun to the side. We blew off a Halloween party that we had been looking forward to, even after spending more than two weeks on our costumes. Tom had been inspired by the three masks that hang in a row above the mirror in the bedroom. We became serious about our lives, individually and as a couple.
Tim’s phone number was disconnected before the week was out and he wouldn’t return calls left with his secretary. I sent him a letter to his office. It was returned unopened. By mid November I flew out there to wait at his desk if I had to. He had left on a three week vacation. He knew me too well. I finally called his parents and asked them to have him call me. I didn’t explain the circumstances but his dad knew how Tim could be. He assured me that he would get Tim to call me. He never did.
Joe Larkin called me on the day before he was supposed to arrive as a “surprise.” He told me that his dad had died. Knowing the relationship he had with his parents I didn’t offer a response. I thought it was just information. He was calling to say that he was going home for the funeral. I was shocked.
“But…but…Joe, this is the man that you told you wouldn’t even piss on if he was on fire in the middle of St. Charles Avenue because of the way he treated you.”
“He’s dead now. I have to let my anger go. And besides, my mom asked me to come home. If I can salvage one parent out of this I got to try.”
“Absolutely…but I’m gonna miss huggin’ ya tomorrow.”
“What! Who told…only Big Mouth! Shit, I’m gonna kick his ass!”
“Glad you still have some piss and vinegar left in ya.”
“Man, no Christmas present for him!”
“Want me to beat him up for ya, huh?”
“No…just kiss ‘im…but I first got to call him up and rip him a new asshole! Man, I really wanted to surprise you!”
“I’m sorry about your dad. Come up here soon though, please. Tom and I are plannin’ on comin’ down in the spring. So we’ll finally get back together.”
“Thanks, Pete. Yeah, soon. It needs to be soon.”
I laughed after I put down the receiver. I waited an hour and then called Steve. All Steve said was that Joe wasn’t a happy camper, but they still love each other.
My dad had begun the initial clearing of the site in New Jersey and supervised the installation of the basic utilities onto the lot. I finally got my architectural license in New Jersey. The third week of November Tom and I delivered all of the drawings and documents to get the building permit. We had never worked so hard in all of our lives in the previous three weeks to get it all done. I thought Thesis was a breeze compared to this. We worked so closely and so well together that we were both surprised. Our interaction was far better than it had ever been before. Our relationship was blossoming in a new direction. We were both very happy; fun and comfort began to return. I accepted what had happened as one of life’s trials that must be overcome; I put it behind me. I felt that Tom had too. We had grown from the experience. By the time we went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving I didn’t think about it. I was only reminded of it when Mom asked me if I was going to wish Tim a Happy Thanksgiving.
I wrinkled my brow and then Tom whispered, “It worked once, try it again.”
I hadn’t told my parents of what had happened. I called Tim’s parents. He didn’t come home this year for Thanksgiving. I let it go.
This year Thanksgiving was also Dad’s birthday. Tom and I got him a winter jacket with a Gor-Tex shell. It had all the pockets he could ever want. I also got him a woolen hat to replace the one he had given me five years before. I spent the afternoon with my dad and Tom going over the plans. We were going to spend the next two days doing all of the final survey work staking out the houses and their foundations. Hopefully, we would get our permit soon so that Dad could dig and pour the foundations before the winter cold set in. We were set to receive the bids back from the contractors within the next two weeks.
The first of Tom’s letters of acceptance and rejection for college began to arrive toward Christmas. I congratulated him on acceptances and consoled him on rejections. I was going to let him determine his final choice without pressure from me.
On the first of December I asked Tom how he wanted to split Christmas between Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He looked at me funny and then started to speak, three times, without ever saying an entire word.
Finally he said, “I can’t believe I forgot about my dad. We’re goin’ to Houston, right?”
“I want to but like I said, it’s time to figure it out.”
“Well, let’s go to Houston and come back for Christmas with your family on New Year’s Day and….”
I started to laugh. He again made his funny face.
“Tom, we’re back at square one.”
He shook it off and looked up at the ceiling, “Shit, wait…no…oh hell, why not…”
“Don’t keep me hangin’, what?”
“Do ya think Mom and Dad Elliot would put him up for a couple of days? We stay our week but we fly him in for a couple, three days. He’s never been south, except for Florida once. It could be a present.”
“Houston…a present! And I’m on your list! Oh, I’m scared of that,” I said with a laugh, “Go get the phone. Let’s see if it flies with the Elliots.”
Within two hours we had the Elliots onboard, Tom’s Dad all excited and a plane ticket on its way to him by mail. For everyone involved, it was by far the best present that we gave that Christmas.
On New Year’s Eve we repeated our party of last year. Except for Tim’s self-imposed exile from this year’s celebration and all of our lives it had been a very good year. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but things were looking up, not just ahead. Tom survived his devastating tragedy with grace, I think buoyed by the real relationship it created with his father. For all of us, 1988 looked as if it could be a banner year. I couldn’t wait to begin, much less finish the houses. Tom would graduate from high school and head to architecture school, wherever it might be. Katie had set her sights on returning to work by the end of the summer now that both boys were old enough for preschool. She couldn’t wait. Her family was most important but her work helping others was a desire that fulfilled her soul. Steve was on track to make partner within the next couple of years. He admitted being a lawyer wasn’t the best job in the world but he did do it well. Jeremy would graduate from Princeton and start his ascent in the Sweeton Corporation, something he had come to accept as his choice, not destiny, of a career. I also planned to start my own practice before the year was out and none of us could wait to move into our new homes so that others could come celebrate the holidays with us. Our attempts at making it work that year didn’t pan out, but Katie did get her dining room table.
After the New Year’s fireworks Tom asked me not to have a party for his birthday. He asked if the two of us could spend the night at home, cook dinner and make love. He didn’t want any presents. I told him that was fine, but could I ask why. All he said was that was what he wanted as his present, because for the longest time in his life all that he had prayed for was a real home and someone who loved him for who he was. Now that he had it he wanted to acknowledge it. I kissed him and told him I would still bake a cake and asked him if it would be OK to give him the one present I had bought? He smiled and kissed me, “Sure.” We spent the afternoon and evening of his birthday putting away the Christmas decorations, having a quiet dinner of Saag Panir, salad and biscuits, watching TV, eating homemade strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream and having sex. I gave him a small, five by six inch, drawing he had done of me naked. I had it matted and framed. He was ecstatic about it. He hung it on the inside of his locker at school, until the principal sent him home with it two weeks later.
The winter was mild and work on the houses began in earnest by Valentine’s Day. Weekly site visits and contractor questions became part of our daily life. Jobs and school also moved into high gear. The more work we got and the thinner Tom and I were spread only intensified how well we worked together. Between work, school, trips to the site, getting the Garden ready for spring and our own life and love we acted as one. We achieved an incredible balance of it all and each other. The only thing we seemed to lack was sleep and that we would try to recover, somewhat, each Sunday morning that we would spend in bed. We read the paper, napped, snuggled, had sex and enjoyed a quiet time nurturing each other. Sunday evenings we cooked for most of the week, talked through the week ahead, and discussed any issue that needed a long dialogue.
By the third Sunday in March Tom finally had heard from all of his schools. He had been accepted at five of the twelve universities. I listened to him go on for more than an hour about his thoughts on each school as we prepared the week’s meals and did laundry.
Then he turned to me and said, “OK, which one?”
I looked at him with a twisted face, not wanting to be put on the spot like that with such a loaded question, “Your choice, darlin’, not mine.”
“But, Pete, I don’t know,” he whined.
That was not like him.
I softly said, “Sit down, make a list, pros and cons, and then rank them one to five…I’ll do the same, but in my head as I chop veggies. Then I’ll write my rankings too and we’ll compare. How ‘bout that?”
“Working,” he said in a mechanical voice.
“You’ve been watching Star Trek lately, huh?”
“Yeah, Paul has cable.”
“Ah, so you’ve been doin’ more than homework…you’ve been havin’ fun,” I said sarcastically.
“Sometimes,” he said with a smirk.
Ten minutes later he said he was done. I sat down and listed the schools out and passed the paper to him.
“That was easy,” he said after a second.
“I’m goin’ ta RISD!”
“Ya happy about it?”
“Yeah, I think it’s perfect. Don’t you, Pete?”
“Yes. Now I would have put Tulane first, but the bastards didn’t accept you! So then I ranked them by quality and ties went to the closer school…except for the one in California…sorry too far away for me. That’s how I ended up with Rhode Island School of Design.”
“Same here, Pete, same here. It was easy once you told me how to break it down into simple components. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Now why don’t you go get the phone and tell some people? I can think of a few who have been wonderin’ about this.”
He stopped on his way to the phone to give me a long hug. I could feel his relief in the tender hold he had on me. He spent the next two hours on the phone starting with his dad and ending with Paul, with the rest of our parents, Katie and Steve, Vroom, Jeremy and David in between. After we ate and cleaned up he fell asleep on the couch before nine-thirty exhausted after finally having the weight of that decision lifted from his shoulders. I carried him to bed at eleven and kissed him good night. I too was relieved of the worry over the decision. I was sorry that it couldn’t have worked out where I could be with him. Still he was only a reasonable train ride away. We could easily visit one another for weekends, although I was not excited about getting used to sleeping alone.
The next weekend we drove to Providence to visit the school as the last requirement before he sent in his acceptance letter. The realization of what was about to happen and how much his life was going to change hit him broadside. The excitement of when we arrived turned to fear on the ride home. I needed those hours on the highway to help shoo away the demons that had attacked him. He went on about how he would be moving into a new place, alone and that it would be tough on him.
I said, “Well you’re young and can handle it. What about an old fart like me, I’ll be doin’ the same thing?”
He looked at me dumbfounded. He hadn’t realized that.
“But wait, at least you’ll have Katie, Steve and the Kids next door…I could handle it if they were next door to me for support.”
I winked at him, “Touché!”
He smiled, “Thanks, though, I still needed to talk it out…I think I’ll be OK.”
“I know you will. You’re welcome to come home anytime. Matter of fact I sort of expect you home here and there so that I don’t feel so alone in that big house of ours…or else I’m gonna have to get a dog to sleep with!”
Tom thought for a moment.
“Let’s get a dog anyway?”
“Sure, I’d love too. I’ve been waiting for ten years to have my own dog. So now’s the time for our dog.”
“Cool…and you’re not an old fart!”
For my twenty-ninth birthday Tom and I traveled to New Orleans for five days for a visit with Joe and Daf. On the morning of the tenth I called my birthday mate to congratulate him on turning three. Daniel squealed with delight when he realized the phone was for him. After breakfast, I borrowed one of Daf’s pickups so I could show Tom the sights. I pointed out to him where so many of the stories we all told occurred. We stopped by the house on Upperline. I knocked on Ben and Janet’s door. Janet screamed at the top of her lungs when she saw me. Tom ran down the steps and was across the street before he realized it was OK. All we could do was laugh. The couple who had lived in our house next door had just moved out. It was empty. Janet still had the keys we gave her nearly ten years before. The back door lock was still the same. I stared at the backyard for a long time. The Garden was either completely overgrown or outright destroyed. The apartment was worse for wear from what I remembered. The paint colors had changed. It all seemed so small. I broke down and cried when I went into our bedroom. I was flooded with images and their voices. I could feel them and smell them like they were still there. I held onto Tom. As I left the room I could see where all the plaster had fallen from around the doorframe that day I came home from the hospital. The pain was still there. Wiping the tears from my eyes I circled around the living room, my mind began to fill with all of the fun that had happened in that house and then made one last walk through the whole apartment. I stood on the spot where Dan was when I first saw him and shook my head not believing that it had been more than seven years ago. I closed and locked the back door. I stopped in the kitchen and remembered the feel of Jason’s shoulder up against mine as we watched Dan shuffle up and down the counter with his butt sticking out from the back of the apron. I blew out a long sigh through my lips, then slowly walked up to the living room taking a last peek in the old bedroom. I bravely smiled at Tom and Janet and then opened the front door with a bang and walked into the sunshine. I ushered them out. I gave my old home a flip of a salute, bit my lip and said, “Goodbye.” I shut the door. I kissed Janet and said we would see her at the Milan before we left.
She hugged us both and told me, “He reminds me a bit of the ‘Little One.’”
“Maybe,” I said, smiling at Tom.
“He’s a cutie, don’t let him go.”
“Yes, he is and no, I won’t. Thanks for the nickel tour.”
“What’s da matter, ya move to New Yawk and ya ain’t polite no more? Don tell me ya turned inta a Damnyankee agin!”
I spun around to see Mrs. Robinson at her post on the corner of her porch.
“Sorry, Ma’am,” I said honestly.
A big smile crossed her face. I walked down the steps, around the hedge and up onto her porch.
“I miss you, Mrs. Robinson.”
I wrapped my arms around her and we rocked back and forth. This was the first time we had ever touched each other physically.
“I miss havin’ real men next door,” she whispered.
We both broke out laughing. I introduced her to Tom.
“She’s right, he is a cutie. Now, Tom, you treat this man nice ‘cuz he will always treat you right.”
Tom’s eyes widened and he nodded his head.
“Take care, Mrs. Robinson. I love you,” I said as I caressed her dark brown cheek.
“Stop by next time you come ta town Petey…not so long a-neither.”
She smiled and cupped my cheek with her hand.
“Yes, Ma’am.” I kissed her on the cheek.
We waved as Tom and I got into Daf’s truck and headed to see Joe.
Joe now owned the building he lived in. The top floor was still his apartment. The second floor had another apartment that he rented out to an artist and the first floor housed the office of his computer consulting and programming firm. His huge apartment wasn’t minimalist anymore, but it wasn’t cluttered by any means. It was a true home. He had expanded onto the roof too. He had to. He had two children that he adopted, a little girl from Korea and an HIV+ boy from one of the neighboring housing projects whose mother had already died of the disease and whose father was unknown. They were ten and six years old respectively. They had been with him for almost two years now.
“It sort of happened. I had thought about it before, but in a six-month span I went from not a care but my business and what was for dinner to…well…Oh God, I just can’t think of it all except in small segments or it gets daunting. Just the medication alone for Shawn-I have charts on the inside of my closet door so that I can keep it all straight. But I LOVE it. I live for my family.”
At that moment we heard a huge crash then laughter, followed by a trail of giggles as the two kids came racing down the spiral stairs and across the floor.
“HEY, slow down there, guys! Company’s here. Come, introductions.”
The two kids smiled and lined up facing us.
“This is Lin and this is Shawn. Guys, these are my good friends Pete and Tom. They live in New York City. Remember we were going to go up there a few months ago…and are soon going to make it there for real. I promise.”
They both said, “Hello,” and smiled some more.
They were both precious, I thought.
“Lin is the artist…the fabulous artist, and Shawn is the poet. He saw a clip of Mohammed Ali doin’ his ‘Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee…’ a year or so ago and has been non-stop ever since. He makes them up and stores them in his head, but it’s the greatest tool to teach him to read and write.”
Shawn started in on one of his poems but was soon overtaken by a coughing fit.
“This is something new this month, but it’s getting better,” Joe said from his knees as he caressed Shawn’s chest to help him calm down.
“How come you’ve never said anything about your kids to me?” I asked Joe as we sat on the couch having some lunch a while later.
Joe hung his head a little and said, “I didn’t know if I could really do it. And then I wanted it to be a surprise to you. It’s just takin’ longer than I thought to get around to the surprise”
“Well it was, but…oh… doesn’t matter. I think it’s the most amazing thing. You still inspire me. I’ve only just worked up to wanting a dog,” I said.
“But you have a relationship. You’ve had a few great relationships. I’ve never been able to do that no matter what. So you amaze me, and I aspire to have one some day.”
“It’s easy,” Tom said, “you just have to work really hard.”
Joe and I laughed.
I asked Joe how it went at his father’s funeral.
“Interesting to say the least. They didn’t know about the kids either so that was a shock when I told my mom I needed at least an extra bed for my two kids. Then when she met them she was shocked again. Lin’s sweetness just melted away any fear of the fact she was Asian, but she looked at me and said, ‘Shawn, he’s B-L-A-C-K!’ and Shawn says, ‘Yes, ma’am, I know I have black skin, but it’s pretty though. Isn’t it?’ I just smiled at my mom and at Shawn. She never said a word about me havin’ kids after that. My sisters are in love with these two. They spoiled them for the three days I was there. All things considered it was a good thing. I think my dad probably is still spinning in his grave, but….well, if ya don’t have anything nice to say…”
“…keep your mouth closed,” Shawn said with a smile.
As we got ready to leave I told Joe that we hoped we would be moving into our house around Labor Day and I hoped they would all come and stay with us then…or before, if they wanted to stay in the City.
“Anytime, the three of you are welcome…or make it four if you want to.”
“We’ll be there during the summer recess,” I promise.
I held onto Joe for a long time during our good-byes.
“I love you, Joe, and I’ll kiss Steve for you when we get home.”
“I love you too and I hope you don’t mind if I give your boyfriend a big kiss.”
I shook my head.
As Joe hugged Tom he said, “Take care of this guy. Please, for me. He deserves it.”
Tom smiled and nodded.
As we drove off from Joe’s I turned to Tom and asked, “Want to go see the world’s biggest puddle?”
He blankly said, “Uh-huh.”
I shrugged my shoulders and drove toward Lake Pontchartrain. He was quiet on the drive out there. I knew he was thinking. I let him be. As I pulled up along the lakefront and parked the pickup he turned to me. I tilted my head and waited.
“Wow, Joe is incredible.”
“Yes, he really is.”
“I’m sorry I was such a bump on a log at his place but I was overwhelmed thinking of what he has done; kids, business, home, college all by himself after getting kicked out of his house cause he was gay…and he’s sweet and kind, no hate and bitterness. Makes me feel like I’m a selfish little twit.”
“Hey! No gettin’ down on yourself!”
“He had a little bit of money from his grandparents to be able to go to Tulane, with the help of a lot of loans and grants. So it’s not like he dug himself out of the gutter, but what he did have was the right attitude about staying out of the crap. He’s also given up a lot too. And I don’t quite get that he’s never had a long-term relationship, but I’ve just been a friend, not a lover. It’s different.”
Tom looked at me with blinking eyes. He was lost in thought again. I waited.
“And another thing, everybody keeps saying for me to take care of you…You take care of me…and everyone else for that…Oooooh, just answered my own question. Huh…amazing.”
He looked me in the eyes wondering if I would comment. I just smiled.
A minute later he said, “Tell me more about this puddle.”
“Well it’s twenty-six miles wide and probably twice that long and doesn’t get much more than fifteen feet deep.”
We got out and walked along in the cool breeze off the lake for a half-hour before heading to Daf’s for dinner.
Tom enjoyed the day we spent with Daf at his building projects. He was working on a new house and a renovation in the Garden District, one a modern and sleek design, the other a restoration of an 1850’s Federal Style home. The only thing consistent between the two was the level of detail and care that Daf put into each. Tom was on a fascinating learning experience. At the end of the day Daf took us to two homes that he had recently completed. Only then did Tom fathom the full scope of what it took to have all the layers of construction clean up to make a presentable, livable home. For the rest of the evening Tom would rapid fire questions for twenty minutes and then sit silently for ten before he began again. What I thought would be a simple adventure to New Orleans to see people and places turned into an emotional and intellectual experience for Tom, and me too.
On the fourth and last night we were there I took him to Lafitte’s and then to the Bourbon Pub and Parade; the main two gay bars in New Orleans. He had a few beers and we danced till our clothes were soaked with sweat. We laughed with sheer joy at the exhilarating release of our spirits. He couldn’t believe it was four in the morning when we grabbed a cab for Daf’s. As we headed down the ramp and onto the plane later that morning he told me that we were coming back for Mardi Gras next year.
“No if, ands, or buts and to hell with school.”
I winked and said, “The place is magical, isn’t it.”
He bounced his eyebrows.
I had a hard time pulling the mail out of the crammed packed mailbox when we got home. As I surfed through the pile I came across a crumpled envelope with no return address, just a San Francisco postmark. I quickly opened it. Inside was a plain white card with a green border.
It read, “Pete, I’m sorry. Thanks for forgiving me. I will always love you too. I am just afraid of coming between you and Tom. I knew what I was doing and I allowed it to happen. When I know I can act like your friend we can begin again. This is the start. I’ll call next. I don’t know when. I don’t, really. Don’t get your hopes up that it will be tomorrow, please. This is the last card in a box of twenty-five that I bought to write this note. I hope I don’t throw it out like all the others. Tell Tom I’m sorry too. Love, Tim.”
I sighed because I had some hope that this could be resolved. I handed the card to Tom. He cried. I called Fitz and Steve and read the card to them. Then Tom and I stayed on the phone with them for an hour to tell them about our trip to New Orleans.
Two days later a large manila envelope filled the mailbox. It too did not have a return address, only a San Francisco postmark. I shook my head and said to myself, “Tim, what is goin’ on in that head of yours?” I opened it up and pulled out all of the forms and paperwork for the loan agreement between Steve and me. They only had to be signed and notarized.
There was a note attached, “Pete, I may be a jerk but I’m still responsible. Love, Tim.”
Steve had gone ahead and had his own firm draw up the papers but in the end we used Tim’s. They were better.
The first day in June saw the delivery of all of the metal-framed windows for the two homes. Many of them were floor to ceiling window walls. Once they were installed the houses would be enclosed and final interior work could begin in earnest. Less than a week before Tom’s graduation the houses were closed in. We held a party that Friday afternoon. It was Tom, the Thomases’, my parents, John, Jeremy, David and I in attendance. We celebrated the homes and our impending move-in date of Labor Day, Tom, Paul and David’s graduation from high school and Jeremy’s graduation from Princeton. So many hopes and dreams were coming true for many of us.
We were all together again the next day for graduation at Princeton and again three days later at Tom’s Academy. The cycle of graduations had begun once more. They were still just as boring but this time I was very proud of the people involved. When I had graduated I felt as if I had survived more than accomplished something. Now I felt joy of others’ success at attaining their goal.
The morning after Tom’s graduation as we lay in bed relaxing from the whirlwind of the last few months he turned to me with his “I’m waiting” face.
I gave him a disgruntled face and said, “Damn, you know me too well. And dammit, you could be patient.”
He gave me his big toothy grin and snuggled up next to me. I sat up and threw the covers to the side and pulled him over me so that he was sitting between my legs and we were facing each other. I leaned forward and kissed him, and then we hugged each other tight. I reached behind my pillow and grabbed the little leather wrapped box I had picked up in New Orleans.
I turned back to him and said quietly, “Thomas Nathaniel Petersen, will you marry me?”
I opened the box and took out the platinum band. I looked into his eyes.
“Yes,” he said.
He was completely choked up. I placed the ring on his finger. He smiled at me and then slid my ring off.
Hardly able to speak he said, “This will always be your one and only band, but may I place it on you to show my commitment of my love to you?”
He kissed the ring and then returned the ring to my finger. We both wept. We spent the rest of the day in bed. That night after dinner he refused to open the graduation gift I had gotten him.
“I got it already,” he said in all honesty.