The Salesman

By: Jess Mercer
( 2011 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

I'm standing in the kitchen dicing some chicken for salad when the doorbell rings. It's usually the phone that rings when my hands are involved in something that will require me to wash them thoroughly before I can touch anything else. I'm always irritated at such interruptions, so I'm not in the best of moods when I open the door. My mood improves rapidly when I see one of the most handsome young men I've ever seen in my life standing there with a beautiful smile.

"Good evening, sir," he begins. "My name is Tink and I'm working my way through college by representing Publishers Distribution. May I show you the list of magazines we offer?"

His deep well-modulated voice and polite manner barely register with me because he has a nice build, his muscled physique hardly disguised by the tight college logo T-shirt he's wearing. The touch of perfection is the aluminum crutch under his right arm, his stump not extending below the cargo shorts he has on. I look back up to see him grinning at me while my mind finally processes what he's said.

"I'm sorry, but I'm cutting back on magazines. I don't even read the ones I receive now, other than a two or three closed subscription journals."

He looks disappointed. "We have special offers that can save you some money, sir."

"Are you really a college student trying to make some money for next year, or is that part of the spiel?"

He looks surprised. "I'll be a senior this year, sir. Why?"

I shake my head sadly. "And some recruiter for the company convinced you, you could make a bundle and travel some, too."

"Yes, sir, but I haven't sold anything yet."

"Your first day in town?"

He nods and glances at his watch. "I gotta find someplace to stay, too." He looks me in the eyes. "Guy down the street told me you live alone and might be willing to rent a room for a week or so."

Damn! I know who it was and, while he thought it would be a good joke on me, it pisses me off to think he'd set up a guy this beautiful. Or maybe he thought I'd enjoy looking at this stud for a while, which I would. But I know these kids travel in teams and I don't want three or four college students around raising hell and disrupting my life as they would naturally be doing.

It's hot and I see the perspiration dampening Tink's shirt. "How many are there of you?"

"Three." He looks me in the eyes again. "I don't want to room with the other two, but doubling up is the only way we can afford to do it."

His appeal to my eyes lessens my usual good sense. "Come in and cool off if you'd like. I have some Pepsi I can offer you."

"Thanks, I sure would."

"I'm Nick. Come along."

He follows me to my den so smoothly it's hard to realize he's using a crutch. I wave him to a chair and get cans of Pepsi for us both.

"Is Tink your real name?"

He grins. "It's Timothy Martinson, but I was always tinkering with things when I was a kid so my dad started calling me Tink and it stuck."

"Nicknames often do. But I'm sorry to see a nice looking young man like you has fallen for one of the oldest scams in the business," I say.

He looks startled. "What do you mean?"

"A recruiter shows up on campus just before summer break and makes all sorts of vague promises about the kind of money you'll make. Once you've signed on, they ship you to some town you've never heard of before to hustle their magazines.

"They paid your transportation here and gave you enough for a couple of nights in a cheap motel and a little something to eat. That way they get a sales force for minimal outlay and, of course, you have to pay them back out of your first earnings, so unless you really sell a lot of subscriptions your commission won't be anything even by the end of summer, no matter what they promised you."

He looks amazed. "How do you know all that?"

"I teach marketing and sales and, despite my warning him, one of my former students fell for this too. He cleared only a couple of hundred for an entire summer's work."

Tink drops his head. "Oh, shit."

"How much are you into these guys for?"

"A hundred and fifty, but, hell, it might as well be a million for all I've got." He looks up with a resigned expression. "You don't think I'm gonna have any luck?"

"Sorry, but I grew up in this town and know a lot of people. Like me, they all subscribe to the magazines they want and automatically renew if they're interested. If it's something special, they usually pick up a copy at the newsstand. Don't take my word for gospel, Tink, but you could do far better in most any other type of summer work."

"Guess you think I'm really stupid, but that woman made it sound great."

"She pay you special attention during her spiel?"

"A lot. I wondered why."

"Because you're a natural."

"What do you mean?"

"You're young and very handsome which is a big plus, but even better from her point of view is your leg."

"Huh?"

"Oh, yes. She figured the older housewives would take one look at you standing there on your crutch and want to help the poor little cripple boy working his way through school so they'd buy things they didn't even want."

"She suckered me special because of my leg? That pisses me off." He shakes his head sadly. "How'm I gonna get out of this mess?"

"Any clause in your contract about quitting?"

He shakes his head again. "Only that I gotta pay back the advance and what they spent on me so far."

"Good. What's your major, or don't you have one yet?"

"Computer science. I'll graduate next spring if I can make enough to finish this year. I had an offer or two for the summer, but I like being out of doors so I turned them down." He looks at me again. "Big mistake, huh?"

"I'm afraid so. Any chance your parents will pay this off so you can find a decent job?"

"They're dead. It's just me, that's why I was hoping this would work out."

"I'm sorry but I doubt it will. Any chance those job offers you had will still be open?"

"None." He buries his face in his hands. "God, what do I do now?" He mutters in despair.

I can feel my attraction for this stud pushing aside my rational instincts. "Since you're here, would you be interested in working for the summer at a decent job?"

He looks up hopefully. "You know of one?"

"Possibly. The pay's not the greatest and you'd have to sign a twelve week contract, but the experience could possibly gain you some points back at your school if you do well and you'll almost certainly end up with more money than you will peddling magazine subscriptions."

"What kind of job is it?"

"The supervisor of the computer lab at the college where I teach left unexpectedly and they're not having any luck finding someone to replace her for the summer. Classes start Monday, so if you're interested I'll take you out to talk to the dean tomorrow morning. If he thinks you have enough experience for the job I expect he'll offer it to you."

"That's great of you, sir, but ..."

"But what?"

"If they take me, how soon will I get paid?"

"End of the month."

He shakes his head. "Guess that lets me out, then. I've only got fifty bucks in my pocket and I sure can't find a place to stay for that. Besides, I owe the guys ten for the room last night and I still got to pay Publishers a hundred and fifty before I can quit. I've got a little saved, but that's for tuition and I can't afford to spend it like this."

"Tink, I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to think very carefully before you give me an answer. I want that answer to be completely honest."

"What's that?"

"Have you ever run across a devotee since you lost your leg?"

He frowns slightly. "What kind of devotee?"

"I'm talking about someone who thinks you're beautiful because of your leg. They'd be staring at you and," I smile, "likely to be drooling a little."

"Oh, them."

"Yes."

He grins. "I didn't know there was a name for 'em, but, yeah, I've seen a few. Mostly last summer when I was at the pool."

"Bother you?"

He grins. "Naa, I've been working on my build. I thought that was what they were admiring, didn't know it was because of my leg."

"Are you sensitive about it?"

"Naa. It's gone and there isn't anything I can do about it 'cept move on. Why you ask?"

"Here's my proposition. I'll tell you up front that I'm a dev and I think you're drop-dead gorgeous. If you can live with that, and you can stay here tonight to find out I'll set up the job interview with the dean. If you're offered the job and decide to take it, I'll pay off your contract with Publishers and let you live here while you're working if we get along."

"What's your wife going to say?"

"I've never married."

"Oh. You'd do that when you don't even know me? What's it gonna cost me?"

"I'll expect you to repay me what I pay Publishers to get you out of your contract but nothing more than you're willing to give. I'm almost old enough to be your father, Tink, so if we get along I'll probably treat you like a son." I smile. "That might include yelling at you occasionally. If you think you can live with that I'll enjoy having you, especially since I'll have the pleasure of looking at your awesome bod."

He gives me a little smile. "My dad died when I was eight and I sure missed him. You remind me a lot of him, Nick, and I'd like to stay here. Let's go for it."

I suggest getting his things from the motel where they're staying, but he tells me there are only two keys which the other guys have and they won't be in until after dinner. When I say I'd better finish up the salad I was making, he follows me into the kitchen and starts making the potato salad. I happen to like a cold salad plate on hot days.

"Oh, man, that was good," he says as he pushed his plate away after we've eaten dinner. "Never ate yellow tomatoes before, but they're great."

"Glad you liked them. The potato salad was excellent. You'll have to teach me your secret," I tell him.

He smiles. "No secret. It's just the way you season it. I learned from mom, but hers still beat mine, she used a special brand of mayo. I'll get some if you want."

"I do, though I can't imagine it being any better. Thanks for fixing it."

"No big deal. I like to cook if I have someone to share with."

After we wash up the dishes, I take him to the town's poorest excuse for a motel to get his things. I wait in my car, but have a clear view of the room door. The kid who opens the door lets Tink in grudgingly. It's only a few moments before I see Tink come out with a suitcase and second crutch. He's a little awkward with the suitcase, so I go to help him. I get there just as the door is closing and distinctly hear one of the guys say, "We'll make it somehow. At least we're rid of the fag."

I put Tink's suitcase in the boot; he says nothing until I start the motor.

"You still want me at your place?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"You didn't hear what Jimmy said when he was shutting the door?"

"I heard. So what?"

"You'd be cool if it's true?"

"I really don't give a damn one way or the other."

"It's true, what he said, but I'm not out."

"Then how'd he know?"

"Got started on campus because I wouldn't date."

"Thanks for telling me, but it's no one's business but yours."

He says nothing else about it.

 

At breakfast I smile at him. "How do you feel?"

"Great. I really slept good last night."

"I'm glad, but I didn't mean that."

"Oh?"

"I was referring to how you feel about my admiring you."

He grins. "Like I said, I don't mind. Enjoy."

"Damn right I will, stud. Now we'd better go see if the dean is interested in hiring you."

The dean thanks me profusely when I tell him Tink is interested in the job and dismisses me after I ask him to direct Tink to my office when he's ready to leave.

An hour later a broadly smiling Tink comes into my office and drops a couple of books on my desk. "Got it, man! Thanks a lot."

"I'm glad."

"No more than me! I gotta get a backpack cause I didn't think I'd be carrying any books this summer. Wish I had my bike."

"You can ride a bike?"

"Sure. Got a strap on the pedal so it's easy. I'll try not to bother you, but I'll have to ask you to carry me places too far to walk."

"My pleasure. You don't really need your bike for transportation here. I'm teaching a couple of classes so I don't mind waiting until you finish your last lab session. It's only an hour after my classes are over and I can use the office time. I keep a coffee pot on in case you want a cup on your breaks."

He lays his hand on my arm. "How could I be so lucky?"

I smile at him. "Works both ways."

Tink settles in nicely and I enjoy his company. He's a good cook and insists on doing quite a bit of it as well as helping me with other things like my small yard. I quit staring at him so directly, knowing I can admire him most any time I wish. And admire him I do when we start swimming in the college's pool after classes each day. The exercise makes me feel better and I've never been happier in my life.

After dinner one evening he sits down next to me on the sofa. "Nick, would you give me a hug?"

"I'd love to. What's the occasion?" This is the first time he's mentioned physical contact.

He smiles. "I'm twenty-two today."

"Well, damn, guy! Why didn't you tell me? I'd have taken you out for a special dinner."

"Naa. I like being alone with you."

"Happy birthday, Timothy Martinson." I hug him tightly and begin to stroke his back.

"Nobody's hugged me like this since my dad," he mutters. "Feels so good."

"You're so beautiful, son." I continue to stroke him gently for a while then slip my hand inside his shorts leg and rub the five-inch nub of a leg I've admired when we're swimming.

Tink opens his eyes. "You really do like it, don't you?"

I smile at him. "Told you I was a dev. Does it bother you for me to rub it?"

"No way. It's the first time anybody's ever rubbed it like that."

"How'd you lose it?"

"Accident."

From his short answer I can tell he doesn't want to talk about it further. "I'm sorry, Tink."

"So was I. The guys didn't know how to treat me after that, so I wasn't part of the group any more." I see the pain in his eyes. "One of 'em was my best friend. He was always afraid we'd be outed so we didn't go out much without some of the others, but the first time he saw my stump he took off and wouldn't have anything to do with me after that."

"I'm sorry, Tink, I know that was hard for you."

He hugs me tightly. "I haven't been here very long, but you treat me like my dad used to and after mom died a couple of years ago I haven't had anybody. You were so great to get me a job and bail me out of that lousy situation." He pulls back enough to look into my eyes with a serious expression. "You make me feel I've got a dad again. I wish I could stay here, but we've only got three more weeks before school is out and then I'll be leaving. I'll always love you, Nick."

"Oh, hell, Tink, you've become such a part of my life I hadn't thought of that. I know there's no way you can finish your degree here, but can't you stay until you have to be back at school?"

"You want me to?"

"More than anything. We'll go somewhere for a vacation soon as classes are out."

"Can't afford it. I've got just about enough to get me through next year."

"I have a friend who has a cottage at the beach he'll let me have for a couple of weeks at no cost, if I'll clean it up and do a little maintenance. You could help with that."

He grins. "Natural for a tink."

"I love you, son. I hope you'll come home on your breaks at school."

He suddenly kisses me on the cheek. "Home. I never thought I'd have one again. You're so great to me, Nick. Do you mind if I call you dad?"

"That would make me the happiest man on earth, son." I mean it, too. I suddenly realize how empty my life has been.

He hugs me again. "Thanks for being such a caring man, Nick."

When I go down to turn in my grades, the dean's secretary stops me in the hall. "John would like to see you, Nick."

"Sure." I walk to his office with her.

"Come in and have a seat, Nick," John says closing the door. As soon as he's seated he says, "You don't know how much we appreciate your bringing in Martinson. I had my doubts at first, but Paul says he's the best with the students he's ever seen. He's had zero problems in the lab this summer. I understand he's been living with you."

"Yes."

"You've known him for some time then?"

"Only since he's been here. He has no family and was looking for a way to earn money for school. I asked him a few questions about his major and he seemed perfect for the job. I liked him immediately, so it went from there."

John shakes his head. "You're too trusting for your own good, Nick. I mean he could have been anything other than the fine young man he is. You took one hell of a risk."

"I suppose I was crazy to do it, but there was something about him I found very appealing."

"Shame about his leg, but it doesn't seem to bother him in the least. I don't suppose you can influence him to return here when he gets his degree? Alice has agreed to give us one more year, but then she's retiring."

"I don't mind asking him, but he can make far more at most any other job and with his specialty he'll certainly be in demand."

"I know. It's getting harder and harder to find competent computer teachers because of that." John stands and smiles. "Use whatever influence you have with him, Nick, and thanks again for helping us out of a tight spot."

"Any time."

Tink is waiting in my office when I get there. "Where ya been, dad?"

I can't resist teasing Tink a little. "The dean had me on the carpet."

"For what?"

"Because of you."

He looks alarmed. "What have I done? I've tried to do everything I was supposed to."

I hug him. "Exactly. You've done such an excellent job he wants you to consider returning here and teaching after you get your degree."

Tink wipes his forehead. "Whew! You had me going there for a minute."

I grin. "Just looking at you gets me going, babe. Let's get home and start packing. Graduation's tomorrow night and we'll be on the road Saturday morning."

"Yeah. I'm looking forward to that."

Our two weeks at the beach fly by. My friend has left a long list of little things he wants done, most simple. Tink cleans the drains to the kitchen sink and two of the bathroom basins, and repairs the dripping faucets while I'm replacing cords and sockets on several of the lamps. His wife says he's so mechanically inclined he can't screw in a light bulb without shorting out the entire electrical system, and she's right. But we get plenty of beach time, too. Tink develops a beautiful tan while I barely avoid burning. He never fails to turn heads anywhere we go, especially on the beach.

"I never knew there were so many devs," he says one afternoon after he's received more lingering looks than usual.

I grin. "Only spotted one other besides myself. It's your looks. I was beginning to think those two girls might rape you on the spot."

He grins back. "Yeah. They weren't bad looking, for girls that is."

Now I know for certain he's gay, because they were as beautiful as any I've ever seen.

 

Each day for the last week before school opens, Tink looks progressively more unhappy. "What's the matter, babe?" I finally ask.

"I've always looked forward to the opening of school before this, but this summer's been so great I don't want it to end." He sits next to me and puts his arm around my shoulders. "If I go, can I come back?"

I hug him. "Didn't I tell you this is your home? I love you, son."

"I thought you were joking."

"Not about that. I like your calling me dad, too. I know I can never replace your father, nor would I want to, but I'll always be here for you, Tink."

"Can I ask you something real personal, dad?"

"Of course."

"Are you gay? You know I am, but you've never made a move on me beyond showing me affection and," here he grins, "drooling occasionally when you rub my stump."

"I'll always drool over you, babe, but to answer your question, I don't know. I feel the attraction for young men, but the one experience I had left me so confused I never wanted to repeat it. Women I like as friends, but there's no sexual attraction there. It's been easier to remain celibate."

"I'm sorry, dad. A great guy like you should have someone to love."

"I do, son. You."

His arm tightens around me. "And I love you, but you know what I mean." He squeezes me again and says softly, "I'll let you, if you want."

This brings tears to my eyes as I hug him tightly. "No, Tink. I won't deny that the appeal is strong, but what we have for each other is a father/son relationship I cherish. I wouldn't destroy that for anything. You'll find the perfect someone who's about your age for romantic love. Save yourself for him and think of me as your dad."

Tink is crying softly now. "Remember my second day here? I told you I didn't know how I could be so lucky? I still don't know, especially now." He almost crushes me with his hug. "I love you, dad, and I always will."

For the first time, I kiss him on the forehead and wipe his tears. "I love you with all my heart, Tink. It was really sweet of you to offer me the most perfect thing you have, but save it for ?"

"I will, dad. That's a promise. If I find him, can I bring him home to meet you?"

"Any special friend of yours will always be welcome, son."

Over his protests, I drive the two hundred miles to take Tink back to school and spend the night so I can help him move his few things from storage into his new dorm room. I also take him shopping for a few things he'll need and see him settled in as any loving parent would. I'm not impressed with his roommate and I can tell that Tink isn't either.

"I'll make the best of it, dad," he says when I'm ready to leave.

"I know you will, but keep me posted. I put my e-mail address on your computer, so use it. I expect to hear from you at least once a week. You know our phone number at home, too. Don't hesitate to call collect if you need anything."

"Thanks for that, too, dad." He didn't have a computer, so I bought him a lap-top I heard him mention liking. We hug. "Love you. Have a safe trip home."

"And you study hard."

Tink cracks up. "I never thought I'd hear anyone say that to me, but I guess all dads say that."

"Especially teacher dads. Take care, son."

The next week I'm so busy setting up my heavy course load I don't have time to miss him except at night, but I begin to realize just how much he had done around the house now that I'm having to do those things for myself. I tell him so in an e-mail and receive an instant reply - 'Ha,ha!'

He's busy, too, because his e-mails to me are short and noncommittal. Not until the third week of school does he mention that his roommate moved out and he might be getting a new one. After he's settled into a routine, his e's to me become more open and detailed, describing a few of his professors with a dry wit that has me chuckling each time I read one. My replies are the mundane things of daily life and insider jokes about a few of the computer faculty he got to know slightly, but he says he enjoys them because they let him come to know me better.

The week before Thanksgiving he asks if he can bring his new roommate home with him for the holiday. If so, his roommate will bring them in his car. I'm pleased for there's no way with my Wednesday class schedule that I can drive up to get Tink. He ends the message by saying he's sure I'll find this guy very attractive. That leaves me wondering why I should, but I tell Tink I'm glad they're coming and we'll go out to dinner when they get here.

I jump up the moment I hear the front door open. Tink drops a backpack, swings over and grabs me in a hug. "God, it's good to be home, dad."

I return his hug and look behind him. The young man standing just inside the foyer is no taller than I, well short of Tink's six-foot four but with a 'jock' build matching Tink's. He has a tentative smile and would be handsome in a more conventional way were I not comparing him to Tink. He also looks no older than a high school student.

"Dad, this is Bryan Stuart." It's his left hand Bryan extends to me. I glance down to see nothing extending from his right sleeve then look at Tink to see him wink at me.

"Nice to meet you, Professor Martinson."

I smile. "It's Nicholas Wood. I'm Tink's foster dad."

"Sorry, sir."

"Don't be, Tink should have told you. I know you're tired from the drive, but you guys go freshen up and we'll go have dinner."

Bryan tucks Tink's backpack under his stump and picks up his small suitcase. I overhear Tink say, "It's cool, Bry, Dad'll enjoy seeing you use it," as they go down the hall to Tink's room.

When they return, a split hook extends from Bry's right sleeve. I say nothing about it knowing from experience how sensitive some college kids can be about their looks.

Our dinner is excellent and Bry uses his hook almost as naturally as Tink does his crutches. His face does flush once or twice when he catches me admiring him. It's my turn to blush when Tink punches me lightly on the shoulder and says, "Quit drooling, dad."

"I'll have you know I was not drooling, young man."

He grins. "Like hell." He looks at Bryan. "See? I told ya."

Bry smiles tentatively, not knowing what to say.

"If I've made you uncomfortable I apologize, Bry. You're most welcome in our home."

"That's okay, sir. Tink ? I mean ?" his face flushes again, "well he told me some things, but I thought he was joking."

"Enjoy your dinner, Bry, and we'll discuss this at home where we'll have some privacy. Tink, I'm surprised you'd make a guest uncomfortable."

Bry smiles. "It's okay, sir, he teases me a lot. I don't mind."

"Well, I do. Tink, behave yourself."

He grins.

As soon as we're back home both guys go to Tink's room and return shortly, Tink in a T-shirt and cargo shorts. Bry has taken off his hook and is wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I can see now that Bry's arm has been taken a couple of inches above the wrist, his stump very smooth and rounded. They sit down on the sofa, Tink's arm around Bry's shoulders.

"Bry, I apologize again for making you uncomfortable, but you're a very attractive young man and you may find me looking at you often."

He smiles. "That's okay, sir. Tink filled me in. This is the first time anybody's ever admitted they thought my stump is attractive though I've seen people staring at me a lot. I'm glad I got Tink for a roommate 'cause he's a great guy and he knows a lot of things about this I don't."

"Even with him teasing you a lot?"

Bry grins. "I get 'im back good as he gives."

Tink smiles at him and says, "Yeah," then his expression sobers and he looks at me. "Dad, you remember what you said just before I went back to school?"

"About what?"

"Love."

I see Bry shake his head and whisper, 'no,' but Tink squeezes him and continues. "You were right, dad. We really hit it off great with each other from the first day. I think I'm in love." Bry's face turns pink.

"If this is for real and not just an infatuation, I'm happy for you, Tink. What about you, Bry?"

"I ? I ?"

"This is the first time you've been outed to someone, isn't it?"

He nods.

"Tink told me he's gay the first night he was in this house and I'll tell you what I told him, I don't give a damn either way. I have a friend or two who are gay and it makes no difference at all to me. When you feel comfortable with me, I'd love to stroke your stump, but that's all. And I want you to feel free to express your feelings toward Tink. There are two beds in Tink's room, but if you guys want to sleep together, that's fine with me."

He looks relieved. "Tink told me you were a great guy, sir, but I didn't think you'd be so cool. I wish I knew how to tell my folks cause I want to take Tink home with me some weekend. I really love him."

"Good. Relax and enjoy yourself while you're here."

It's a good thing I know from experience that college seniors are not fully mature regardless of what they think, otherwise I'd class Tink and Bry as throw-backs because of their antics. While they're helping me prepare our Thanksgiving dinner they snipe constantly at each other. Bry notices the kitchen trash bin is full so he tells Tink to carry it out.

"I can't do that on crutches," Tink whines. I know damn well he can because he's done it many times.

"See what I have to put up with? Damned cripples always got an excuse," Bry says, winking at me.

"Open this can, then." Tink tosses a can of cranberry sauce at Bry who catches it, but he fumbles unsuccessfully with the can opener. "Damn, you can't even open a can. If it weren't for me you'd probably starve," Tink says.

"You know damn well I've only got one hand."

"Excuses, excuses," Tink fires back. "You're always braggin' you can do anything you want with one hand so I want it open by the time I get back." He pulls the trash bag out of the bin and goes out on one crutch as he's always done.

Bry grins at me and holds the can in place, using his stump on the lever with no trouble, then empties the sauce into the dish I hand him. When Tink returns, the little exchanges continue until I'm near hysterics from laughing at them.

"Tink, it's no wonder you guys get along. If you didn't you'd probably kill each other."

"That's why I love Bry, Dad. We have a lot of fun together."

"Yeah. Does sort of freak out some of the guys at school when they hear us, though," Bry adds.

"I'm not surprised."

When Tink goes to set the dining room table, I ask, "Don't you usually use your hook?"

"Not a lot other than for eating. I really can do most things I want with my hand and stump."

"I'm glad you've adapted so well. Tink is so natural on his crutches he would look peculiar to me if he had his leg."

"Wish my folks thought that. They still want to do things for me."

"I can tell from the muscles in your stump you must be a recent amputee."

"Got hurt two years ago on my summer job. Rooming with Tink's the best thing ever happened to me, cause all my other roommates made me feel self-conscious."

"I'm sorry if I've made you feel that way by admiring you. If I'd known you had lost it so recently I'd have been more circumspect."

"That's okay. Tink told me you are a devotee and showed me a couple of websites."

"What did you think of them?"

"Weird." He blushes. "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to imply ?"

Tink comes back in the kitchen and looks at us. I put my hand on Bry's shoulder. "It's okay, Bry. I guess to an amp it is weird finding out his misfortune makes him attractive to others. But with you and Tink it's the whole package. You're both very handsome and your stumps add to your perfection in a dev's mind. Weird, right?"

He grins. Tink laughs then grabs Bry's stump and kisses it on the end, looking at me mischievously. "Don't ya think it's beautiful, dad?"

Bry pulls it away and hits Tink on the head with it. "Liar."

"What?" Tink asks.

"You told me your dad was the dev. Hell, it's you, you pervert."

"Want me to tell dad what you like to kiss?" Tink winks at me.

Bry's face turns a deep red.

"Okay, guys, knock it off and get to work. I'd like to have dinner sometime soon."

"Yeah, we'll knock it off later," Bry says without thinking and blushes again at my laughter.

The kidding apparently broke through Bry's last inhibitions because for the rest of the weekend he and Tink are outrageous in their kidding of each other and me. I enjoy it as much as they seem to, a feeling confirmed when they are getting in Bry's car to leave.

Tink kisses me then Bry hugs me tightly. "I've never had so much fun anywhere else, Nick. I thought all professors were stuffy, but you're as laid back as Tink said you were. I hope you'll let me come back some time."

I return his hug. "You're always welcome any time, Bry. You guys have a safe trip. Tink, I want a call or e as soon as you're back."

"'Kay, Dad."

 

When Tink comes home for Christmas I can tell something is bothering him, but I don't push, only tell him that I'm ready to listen if he wants to talk about anything. He cheers up a little and I forget about it until Christmas night. We've enjoyed our Christmas together, pleased each other with our gifts, and are sitting by the fire, Tink's arm around me, mine around him.

He tightens his hold and says, "I love you so much, Dad, and you've given me way more than I ever deserved, but I've got to tell you something."

"Okay."

"Please don't hate me or throw me out. I couldn't take it."

I turn my head enough to see tears trickling down his cheeks. "I could never hate you, son. What's wrong?"

"I ? I lied to you, Nick."

"That's okay. None of us ever tell the truth all the time."

"But it's worse now. You ? you've given me so much, most of all a home and the love I never thought I'd have after my parents died. But I'm not broke like I told you. I ? I have money in a mutual fund, it's up to fifty thousand now."

"That's wonderful, son. I'm glad you have a nest egg to fall back on when you need it."

"That's just it, you bought me the lap-top, clothes, and a lot more I could've bought for myself." He grabs me in a crushing hug, his tears flowing now.

"Don't cry, Tink, I'm glad for you. Want to tell me about it?"

He wipes his eyes and nose on a tissue. "It was an accident four years ago. My dad was driving and had a heart attack, least ways that's what the doctor told me. Our car hit a tree and flipped over a couple of times. Mom was killed and I was thrown out, but the car rolled over on my leg and smashed it up so bad they cut it off.

"Dad had a hundred thousand in insurance, but by the time Dad's lawyer paid for their funerals and my hospital bills there wasn't much left. He sold our house and I've used that to pay for school and all. I took that job selling magazines so I could invest the rest to finish school on and get a leg." He hugs me again. "Forgive me for not telling you, Nick. I won't ever lie to you again."

I hug him as tightly as I can. "There's nothing to forgive, son. I'm proud of you for using your money so wisely, I know your father would be, too."

"But you've given me so much."

"Because I love you, son. The money is no big thing; I have some good investments myself."

"But I lied to you."

"Not really. You came here not knowing anything about me except that I found you attractive. I don't tell strangers my financial matters or friends either, for that matter, so I certainly wouldn't expect you to. You wisely didn't mention them, so it would have been a lie only if I'd asked you directly and you'd told me you had nothing."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely. I love you for trusting me enough to tell me, it relieves some of my worries about you. Now that you have, forget it." I reach down and stroke his stump. "Still love an old dev who loves your stump?"

He giggles just as I knew he would. "Yeah, but ya gotta share it with Bry."

I grin. "You'll be sharing his stump with me, too, if he ever lets me rub it."

Tink hits me over the head with one of the throw pillows and grins. "Dirty old man."

"I am not. I'll have you know I showered this morning."

"You know what I mean. Damn! I told Bry I'd call him tonight."

"Then go do it. Give him my love."

"Will do."

Tink comes back after making the call. "Would you get upset if I spent the rest of the break with Bry? He wants me to meet his parents and all."

I know he needs to be with friends his own age and though I'll miss him badly, I say, "Go ahead, I know you miss him. Has he come out to his parents?"

Tink shakes his head. "That's the only problem. I'm gonna hate sleeping in another room."

"Just be damn careful about what you guys do and when."

"I know."

"Where does he live?"

Tink names a small city some one-hundred fifty miles north. "I'll take you. Going tomorrow?"

"Yeah, but I can take a bus or something."

"Not from here you won't. There isn't one."

"Oh. Maybe Bry will come get me, I'm supposed to call him back."

"Nonsense. The weather's decent and I don't mind the drive. I would like to meet his parents anyway."

"Thanks, dad. I'll go call him."

He returns with a smile. "You're invited to lunch 'cause I told Bry we'd be there early."

 

Bry meets us at the door, hugs both Tink and me, takes Tink's bag from me and sets it down in the entry hall. "Come on in," he says with a wide smile.

I see Tink's eyes get big. "You got a hand."

Bry holds up a reasonably natural looking prosthesis. "My Christmas present. It's myoelectric. I'm still learning how to use it."

"Great! I know you wanted it," Tink says.

Bry smiles. "Yeah, but I'm not letting it spoil any of our fun."

"You'd better not." He looks at me. "Guess I'll have to get a leg now so I won't be the only crip in our room."

"No way. I only use this to please the folks."

Bry leads us into a beautifully decorated room. His parents are well dressed and cordial. "Mom, Dad, this is my roommate Tim and his Dad Professor Nick Wood."

After his parents get over their initial shock of seeing that Tink has one leg, we exchange the usual comments, then Bry's father says, "I thought Tim's name was Martinson."

"It is. I'm Tink's foster father."

"Tink?"

"Tim's nickname. His real father called him that."

"Unusual."

"Not at all. He loved to tinker with things when he was a kid." I smile. "He still does. He's repaired a number of small things around our home."

"I wish Bryan were more mechanically inclined, but of course now ?"

"You have a fine son, Mr. Stuart. It was a real pleasure to have him visit Tink and me for Thanksgiving. If I had been picking a roommate for Tink, I couldn't have found a finer one than Bryan."

"That's kind of you. Bryan has been far more satisfied in school this year and his grades reflect it. He's had problems with his roommates in the past."

"Not with Tink, Dad. He's great! I wish we'd been together all the time."

"I'm sure he understands you better than the others because of his handicap."

I see Tink start to bristle so I reach over and squeeze his arm.

"I'm not handicapped, sir. I cope very well," he says quietly.

"Oh?" Stuart says in surprise, then asks us to sit.

"And what do you teach, Professor Wood?" Bry's mother asks me to fill an awkward silence.

I tell her and our discussion turns to education in general with Bry's parents lamenting the life-style of students until the maid announces lunch. Lunch is delicious and goes well until Bry drops a dish he's passing to his father with his new hand.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Bryan, why didn't you use your hand?" His father says with an exasperated expression.

"I thought I had it. You know I'm supposed to practice."

"Not at the table with guests," his father snaps.

"It's all right, Bryan," his mother says, "but do be more careful."

I can tell Tink is furious and I'm embarrassed for Bry, his face is crimson.

"Bry, I can't remember your telling me what your major is," I say to cover the silence.

"Finance and Management, sir. My grades aren't good enough for law school."

"They would have been if you had applied yourself," his father snaps, then turns to me. "I suppose you see a lot of student indifference. I don't understand why young people can't see that education is all the more important these days."

"It is important as you say, but in general I find most students far more motivated to explore their personal interests without being forced into a career simply because of status. I find that refreshing. I changed my major three times before I found one that I enjoy."

I see a smile start to cross Bry's lips before he glances at his father and squelches it.

Stuart shakes his head slowly. "I can hardly believe a man in your profession would advocate an 'I've got to be myself' attitude."

"I don't approve of some of the things that students explore, but if a student finds a discipline he truly enjoys then he's far more likely to be a success in life. I love my foster son and I want his happiness above all, but the point is it's not what I want for Tink that'll make me happy, but what Tink wants for himself."

I feel Tink's hand find and squeeze mine under the table. I smile at him and mouth "I love you."

"Bryan's father and I want that for him also, but he needs to understand that's not always possible," his mother adds.

"No, it's not. I have days when I'd cheerfully strangle every student I have then one will suddenly display a flash of insight that makes my job worthwhile. That's when teaching is most rewarding. No, despite the occasional annoyances, I'd never be happy doing anything else."

"From your explanation I see we're not that far apart in our thoughts," Stuart says.

"I do believe young people need space in which to develop as individuals rather than being forced into a mold of conformity. Our generation expected that and I, for one, am delighted to see it disappear. Some of the impositions of our parent's generation were damaging to our personal development."

From Bry's expression I can see he's picked up immediately on my thoughts. He shakes his head slightly, so I say nothing more, but his father is on a roll.

"There are some restraints that should be imposed. I can't believe our bishop is actually asking our vestry to consider a gay for our new priest. I'll leave the church before I'll vote to accept a queer priest. Man of God, indeed!" He snorts.

I feel Tink cringe.

"Now, Malcolm, you know what the doctor said about your blood pressure," Mrs. Stuart says.

"Sorry, dear. But just the idea they permitted him to enter the seminary makes me so damned angry I'm not making another donation until they change the policy."

I finish my after-dinner coffee and rise when Mrs. Stuart does. "Thank you for a most enjoyable lunch. I don't wish to appear impolite, but I must start back home."

"We enjoyed having you. Thank you for bringing Tim, Bryan has been looking forward to his visit."

"Indeed. Perhaps having Tim here will help him settle down. He's been restless ever since he's been home," Stuart says. "I may not agree with you on everything, Wood, but it's a pleasure to meet a man who has convictions and defends them as eloquently as you."

"Thank you." I quash my amusing thoughts of his reactions if he really knew what I thought.

"You guys keep your asses covered," I tell Tink and Bry who have walked out to my car with me.

"Damn straight, Nick. You had the old man on a roll." Bry snickers. "Not often anybody who's not a lawyer gets that much past the old man. It was funny."

Tink hugs me. "Yeah! You really set him up, dad, and he fell for it. Remind me not to argue with you, no way I'd win."

I grin at him. "Oh? You've already lost one disagreement." He knows what I mean.

"Yeah. Damn glad I did, too. Thanks for bringing me up."

Every time I leave Tink somewhere it gets harder for me because I love the kid more and more. My drive is uneventful and I'm glad to get home and have a drink, because in the back of my mind is a premonition that has been present since I left the Stuarts. I hope the boys are damned careful.

The third day I'm taking down the Christmas tree when I hear a car stop in the driveway. I'm not expecting anyone so I go to the door and look out. Tink is helping a comatose Bry out of the passenger side of his car. He takes Bry by the hand and leads him toward the house.

I fling the door open and go to help him. Bry is so unresponsive I have to lead him in by the hand as Tink was doing. I'm about to speak when Tink shakes his head. I watch Tink lead him down the hall toward their bedroom then I go start a fresh pot of coffee. I have a feeling they'll need a jolt of caffeine.

Tink comes into the kitchen alone and grabs a mug filling it with what coffee has filtered into the pot.

"What happened, Tink?"

He drains the mug before answering. "Bry's old man threw us out."

"Why? Weren't you guys careful?"

"Yeah, but apparently he decided for some reason to check on us before we woke up this morning. We were sleeping together and he went into orbit. He gave us ten minutes to get out."

"Oh, damn! I've had a nagging sense something like this would happen since I left you there."

"Would you fix me something to eat? We didn't get any breakfast."

"Shall I fix something for Bry, too?"

Tink shakes his head. "Let 'im sleep; it's the best thing for him now. I'll fix him something when he wakes up."

It takes only a few moments to fix eggs, bacon, and a toasted English muffin for Tink.

"I'm glad you brought Bry home, Tink, but what's going to happen now?"

"I wish I knew. I know Bry's got some money of his own that his grandmother left him, so he's okay for school, but he just kept mumbling 'I don't believe it' all the way here."

"Tink, I know you love him and so he's welcome to stay here as long as he wishes, but I can't imagine it happening after his father realizes what he's done. If he's stupid enough to disown Bry, I'll try to be the father to him that I am to you."

Tears start to trickle down Tink's cheeks; he stands and grabs me in a tight hug. "Thanks, Dad. I'm so damn lucky to have you."

"And I'm lucky to have a son like you."

"Can you really love Bry like you do me? He needs a lot of it now."

"If he'll accept it, I'm willing to try my best."

Tink gives me a little smile. "Another stupid question, I guess. It'll take time, but I hope Bry will understand."

"You've only got five more days before you have to be back at school, so don't feel I'm neglecting you if I pay more attention to Bry than you."

"I won't. I know how much you love me."

"Good. Get some rest while I finish taking down the tree and other stuff."

He shakes his head. "Don't need it. I'll check on Bry then help you."

It's late afternoon and I'm putting away the last of the Christmas decorations with Tink's help when we hear a wail, "Tiiiink?"

Tink hops down the hall faster than I've ever seen him move before. A few minutes later I hear the water running in the bath. I start another pot of coffee and both guys come into the kitchen a bit later. Bry looks pale and shaken, but he now responds when spoken to. I pour him a cup of strong coffee.

"I know you must be hungry, Bry. We'll eat as soon as I can fix something."

He shakes his head. "Don't think I can eat."

"You need to, babe. It'll make you feel better."

"I'm so fucked up," he mumbles, something I'll hear him repeat often over the next few days. Tink sits down next to him and puts his arm around Bry's shoulders. It seems to comfort him, but he flinches when I put my hand on his shoulder to reassure him, so I don't try that again.

The morning they're to leave for school Bry looks a little better, but I tell Tink to drive. Bry makes no protest and doesn't flinch when I hug him.

"Bry, this is your home as long as you want. I want you guys here next weekend."

"Home?" He mumbles.

"Yes, son, home. It's as much yours as it is Tink's."

Tears start to trickle as Tink opens the car door for him. "We'll see you next Friday, Dad," Tink says as he gets in the driver's seat.

"Let me know if there's anything. You know."

He nods and starts the engine. I watch them drive off while trying to think of a psychologist I can call if Tink tells me Bry isn't improving. I've had courses in counseling, but this is beyond my ability and I know it.

My phone rings while I'm preparing for the new semester that opens tomorrow.

"Is Bryan there with your faggot son?" A voice I recognize as Bry's father asks.

"He is not, and I resent a bigot like you calling my son a faggot. He's a human being I love."

"Not surprising given your liberal views. Since your faggot son corrupted Bryan you can expect Bryan's things to be delivered tomorrow. He is not welcome in this house until he comes to his senses, and you can be damned grateful I'm not suing you for everything you've got."

I've studied enough law to know his threat is idle. "Fine. If that's the way you want it, I'll be delighted to have him here."

I hear a small snort. "Thought you would, fag lover," then there's a click and the line goes dead.

"Fucking shit head!" I yell and slam the phone down. Useless, but it makes me feel better. I pick the phone back up and dial Tink's number.

"What?" I hear him snarl.

"It's me, Tink."

"Sorry, Dad. I thought it might be ? you know."

"He called me. Do what you can for Bry and come home as soon as you're through classes on Friday."

"'Kay, Dad. Bry's sleeping, thank God."

"Let me know how things are going tomorrow night."

"I will. It may be late when I call, depending."

"I understand. You get some rest, too. Love ya."

Tink tells me the next evening that Bry managed to go through the motions of getting to his classes, though he doubts he was really aware of what went on. He also had to make Bry eat, thinking at one point he might have to feed him. I suggest that he make an appointment with the university's psychological counselor and go with Bry.

He does and, keeping his promise, calls me each evening, pleased that Bry seems to be making progress, though he cuddles against Tink in bed every night, often crying softly. I'm hoping Bry will recover before his course work begins in earnest.

Friday afternoon I'm home early to be there when they come in. Bry is calm, but his heretofore cheerful smile is absent. He goes to their room and comes back quickly.

"What's all my stuff doing here?" He asks me. I put it in Tink's room as soon as it arrived without opening the two large boxes.

"It's here because this is your home, Bry."

"The old man's thrown me out for good, hasn't he?"

I cut my eyes at Tink and he nods. "For the moment. But I'm here for you and so is Tink." I hug him. "I'm glad you're home, Bry."

"Home?" He mumbles and seems to withdraw.

Tink gently eases him from my arms to his. "Our home, Bry. I love you and now we're starting our life together."

Bry tries to smile at Tink. "I guess. I didn't know it would be so hard."

"I know, babe. It was hard for me, too, but Dad made it right and he's our Dad now."

As well as I can, I hug them both. "And you're my sons. I love you both."

The End

Posted: 02/25/11