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Fortunately for me, Gaia seemed to sense what had happened and didn’t grace us with another load of snow. That meant that there wasn’t really anything for the boys to do on Saturday. But, since it was my habit to come up with little chores they could do on these types of days, the boys showed up at their usual time. It was my way of always making sure they had a little change in their pockets.
This Saturday, Hazy and I were waiting on the front porch. The minute we caught the distant sound of snowmobiles, my miniature golden collie began running back and forth on the porch, occasionally jumping into my lap…in case I wasn’t aware of what she knew, I imagine. I’d been a little worried that she might run off in the direction of the sound, but she simply carried on there on our porch until the boys appeared through the nearby trees. Only then did she take off.
Hazy was so excited this morning that Billy finally had to resort to picking up the dog and holding her tightly so that they could finish their approach. It was the funniest thing to watch the boy try to maneuver his snowmobile with one hand, all the time trying to fend off her joy as she continually licked at his face, squirming to try and get free.
I was in stitches by the time the boys finally arrived at the foot of the steps. And that only got worse as they hopped off and began seriously entertaining her. Now it only remained to be seen how the boys would feel about the chores I’d chosen for today.
The boys had apparently made some decisions, now that all the little secrets were out in the open finally. Once they’d finished with their play session with Hazy they made their way onto the porch and each gave me a huge hug.
No, I did not go all emotional on them. Actually, I didn’t feel all the wracking emotions this time. I simply enjoyed the affection and moved our day forward.
“Well boys, I was thinking that since there isn’t anything to do out here today, maybe you’d lend me a hand with a project I’ve come up with inside; a warm day for a change.”
“Sure, Mister Adam,” they said in unison.
I began by leading them into the kitchen after they hung their coats and lost the boots. I started the morning by bribing them with hot chocolate and a small piece of pie around the breakfast bar. Once the cups and plates were in the sink, I led the boys into the formal dining room where they discovered I’d filled the room with boxes I’d spent all day Friday pulling down from the attic.
“What’s all this, Mister Adam?” asked Eric.
“This, my dear boys, is Christmas.”
That got me smiles and slightly perplexed looks.
“I’ve decided that this year I’m going to renew an old tradition. Jason and I used to be the toast of the town during the holidays.” That got the boys to glance over at the portrait. “I’ve decided it’s time to share that tradition with my new friends. These boxes contain all the decorations Jason and I collected over our long life together. But there’s a lot of work involved in checking the lights and deciding where everything should go. I haven’t used this stuff since I moved in here.”
“Really?” said Billy. “You’re really going to let us help?”
“I gather from your response that you don’t normally get to help decorate for the holidays?”
The boys shook their heads in unison. “We only get to help decorate the tree.”
“So, you want to give this a go?”
“Yes, sir!” they responded, bouncing slightly in their excitement.
“Great. But I’m going to have to ask you to calm down. A lot of what’s in these boxes is expensive. Some of it is even antiques.”
“Brad and Jack would love this,” said Archie.
That got a huge smile from Billy. “They sure would.” He then looked at me, a world of question in his eyes.
“Well, boys, if you’d like to include them in our fun, then you certainly have my permission. You think they have the time free?”
“Brad told me last night that they were just going to sit around together.”
“Well, go call him then.” And with that the boy pulled a cell phone from his pocket, something I hadn’t realized that any of them had. That got a raised eyebrow from me, one that caused Archie and Eric to laugh at.
“You didn’t know, eh?” said Archie.
“We can only use them to call each other and home,” said Eric. “Our parents got them for us this last summer so they could keep tabs on where we were.”
“Ah, come on Brad,” I heard Billy say, “You two have to come over. You can’t believe the number of boxes Mister Adam has.”
“Billy, let me talk to him a moment.” He handed me the phone. “Hi, Brad.”
“Hi, Adam. I thought you didn’t want us over there on Saturdays.”
“This wasn’t my idea. The boys came up with this. Now, do you really want to disappoint them? It’s something they really seem to want to share with the both of you. Now, if you don’t have anything planned, get off your asses and get over here.”
There was a moment of silence and I thought I heard a bit of a sniffle from the other end. A new voice continued our conversation.
“This is Jack, sir. What did you just say? Brad usually doesn’t get this emotional about things.” I explained what was in the offing. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he continued after a moment of his own silence. “Those three are becoming unpredictable. Uh, are you sure this is okay?”
“I think the boys would be really disappointed if you didn’t come join the fun.”
“We’ll be there in ten,” he responded with some excitement and then hung up.
I closed the phone and handed it back to Billy. “They’re on the way.” I then looked at each of the boys. “You know, you’re confusing them.”
All three boys hung their heads a moment.
“We haven’t always been real nice to them,” said Eric. “It was all so confusing.”
“I can imagine. But you’ve learned a valuable lesson and now you’re making a real effort to understand…or so Brad has told me. Instead of simply accepting the prejudice of your friends and society, you’re trying to understand. I’m awful proud of you three.” I then smiled. “So, who is Jack?”
“My cousin,” said Archie. “He’s lived with us since he was sixteen. He’s twenty-one now. His family couldn’t accept him being gay. My dad is the one that offered him the opportunity to come live with us instead. He was having a real hard time of it with his family. Dad hasn’t talked to his brother since Jack came to live with us.”
“That’s sad, but an all too familiar story to me. It’s nice that your dad stepped in like that.”
“Well, we all knew about Brad by then.”
I simply smiled. “All right, why don’t I show you what I had in mind while we wait for the two of them.” I led the boys around the main floor pointing out the tables I’d cleared in each room. “When we decide where something should go, one of you will bring the item in and set it on the table. Nothing will go up until we’ve emptied the boxes.”
“Are you going to have a tree too?” asked Eric.
“It’s being delivered about lunch time. I talked to Mister Franks yesterday about what I needed. He promised he had just the thing. He’s going to help us set it up.”
“Oh, I hope he doesn’t bring Vince with him.” said Billy.
“Vince a problem?” I asked.
“He always tries to start a fight with Brad,” he answered. “He’s a real asshole.” He immediately got a shocked look on his face. “Oh, I’m sorry, Mister Adam! I shouldn’t have cussed.”
“Don’t worry about it, Billy. We’ll let it slide this time, okay? Every once in a while you just have to say it like it is. Maybe I should call Mister Franks.”
“I’ll do it,” said Billy. “He knows about Vince and Brad. He’s really nice and always wants to be told when Brad will be around so that he can leave Vince behind.”
I sent him to the kitchen to make the call while the rest of us settled in the living room and waited for the boys to arrive. Billy was just returning to join us when we heard the arrival of Brad’s SUV. The boys raced out to welcome them, and I followed along to watch. Somehow, something told me that this might be interesting. I was not disappointed.
My musketeers ran down the steps and tackled the older boys as they got out of the truck. Every one of them hugged each of the boys and I could see the stunned surprise on the two young men’s faces. I simply smiled and shrugged as they glanced at me. But they accepted the affection.
Eric and Billy pulled Brad up onto the porch, but Archie held Jack back and began speaking to him softly. It wasn’t hard to see what was being said even though Archie’s back was to us. The four of us simply stood there and smiled as we watched Jack fight real hard to hold back his emotions as he stared wide eyed at his cousin. The poor guy finally lost it, though, when Archie pulled him into a fierce hug and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Okay, that had to be intense,” chuckled Brad, with just a slight catch in his voice. “Jack is always able to hold in his emotions.”
When they separated, Archie gently took his cousin’s hand and slowly led him up the steps. “Mister Adam, this is my cousin Jack. Jack, this is Adam Richards, the author.”
I allowed a moment for Jack to decide how he wished to be greeted. Needless to say I was pleased when he chose a heartfelt hug.
“Welcome to my home, boys,” I said when he finally released me.
The two older boys got raised eyebrows when they entered and were having their coats taken by the boys, as they got their first look at what I’d done with the interior. I was very proud of what I’d accomplished. My home was a testament to quiet elegance. Neither Jason nor I had been the over the top sort of gay men. We were not the least bit interested in flaunting our sexual identity. We never enjoyed all that in your face decorating that some of our New York friends seemed to think was required. Ours was the style of quiet elegance. Masculine, but soft. A difficult thing to achieve.
“Gees, Adam,” said Brad, “This is beautiful.”
“Thank you. So, I was just thinking that I’ll have us pair up. Brad, why don’t you and Billy work together? Archie, you take your cousin in hand.” I then put my arm on Eric’s shoulders. “I’ll pair up with Eric.” No one seemed the least bit disappointed as I watched Brad and Jack put their arm on their working partner’s shoulder.
We spent the next three hours opening boxes and moving materials to their designated room. I particularly enjoyed the ooh’s and ah’s I got from all of them as we pulled items from the boxes. What was most fun for me, and something that surprised me, was explaining where Jason and I had picked up the unique items. The boys seemed fascinated by it all. It didn’t take Jack and Brad long to relax and simply begin to enjoy this unique opportunity to simply let their enthusiasm express itself. I was sure they hadn’t had much opportunity to simply let go the constant attention they paid to the image they projected to the rest of their families.
I particularly enjoyed watching the younger boys as they smiled at some of the expressions of their older relatives. And then had begun the gentle, and at first tentative, teasings.
The first of it had begun with Billy, when Brad had actually squealed at something that he’d pulled from a box. Everyone in the room came to an abrupt standstill when Billy had said, “That is just so gay.”
I thought the boy had lost his mind and was about to say something when he busted up into laughter and hugged his brother. “Come on, Brad, can’t you take a joke?”
Brad had taken his brother’s head into his hands and pushed him slightly away and I thought for a moment that he was going to kiss the boy’s forehead. Instead he smiled and slapped the side of Billy’s head lightly. “Brat.”
Everyone dissolved into fits of laughter. That was the event that melted all the ice of uncertainty. The older boys stopped worrying about their actions and simply acted naturally…and the younger boys encouraged them.
After the first half hour, the older boys suggested switching partners, so that by the time we’d emptied the last box everyone had partnered with everyone else. I was sure that there had been little conversations between all of them during the course of their partnerings. I had no idea what they’d shared, but it was quite clear that the older boys were much more comfortable with the younger ones by the end of it all.
It was particularly warming for me to watch them all finally having an opportunity to express themselves to one another. Yes, this was just the thing to get me over my hesitation at resuming my holiday celebrations.
We were standing in the den when I declared that I needed to set about putting together some lunch for us.
“Can I help?” asked Archie.
Well, I was not one to miss an opportunity to teach. “May I help,” I said in that tone the boys knew I used when I was correcting them.
The boy frowned, not understanding my distinction.
“When you say ‘can’ you are asking if you are capable of doing something. When you say ‘may’ you are asking permission. Can I help, means you are asking me if I think you have the skills to do the job. May I help, means that you are requesting permission.”
Brad and Jack simply smiled at my method of teaching the boys.
“Oh,” said Archie, getting the point. “May I help you?”
“If you’d really like to then yes you may.” We all laughed.
“Uh, Mister Adam,” asked Billy tentatively. “Uh, would you allow the rest of us to decorate the den for you?”
Well now, that was not something I’d considered when we’d begun this project. Jason and I had always done that ourselves. But looking into the four boys’ eyes I saw a desire to do something they’d never been allowed to do before.
Well why not? It was apparently something they felt they wanted to do for me, and it might be nice to have a room that wasn’t strictly about my touches. Besides, if this was a holiday I wanted to share with them, they should have more of a hand in it.
“All right, boys.”
Billy jumped in place and clapped his hands in his excitement. I saw a wicked little twinkle in Brad’s eyes at the gesture. I was afraid he was going to embarrass the boy. Instead, he leaned forward and whispered into this brother’s ear, making sure no one could hear what he said. Billy blushed at what was said. But he smiled realizing how his brother had done it and then he turned around.
“Brat,” he said.
Brad smiled. “I learned it from my little brother.”
Archie followed me into the kitchen.
“Wouldn’t you rather help the others?” I asked.
“No sir. I really like working in the kitchen with my Gran. She’s teaching me.”
“All right then. So, what do you think of open face turkey sandwiches?”
“I don’t know. What’s that?”
“One slice of bread covered with turkey and then topped off with warm turkey gravy.” No it wasn’t fancy. But I did not want to spend a large portion of the day fussing in the kitchen. This would be simple yet filling. And with all the other items available to heat up, there would be more than enough for the crowd.
“That sounds wonderful,” he smiled.
When we opened my industrial fridge, the boy frowned.
“Uh, Mister Adam, my Gran says it’s not a good idea to leave the cooked turkey on the bone too long. She always carves if off and throws the bones away.”
“Well, I suppose I need to take care of that then. I could have you work on the gravy.”
Archie shook his head. “That wouldn’t be a good idea. My Gran says I still have a lot to learn before I can make decent gravy. But I know how to carve a bird. She lets me do the left over chickens all the time.”
“Well, sir,” I said as I lifted the foil wrapped platter from the fridge, “If you promise not to cut yourself, I’ll let you have at it.”
“Where are your knives?”
I pointed out the drawer. He went over and spent only a second making his decision. He returned to the counter with the correct boning knife in hand, along with the meat fork that had also been in there. Well, the boy obviously wasn’t lying about his experience. Those are precisely the tools I’d have chosen.
I admit I kept a close eye on him as I began pulling the bean casserole, stuffing, and two kinds of potatoes from the fridge and set about warming them in the oven. I determined right away that the boy hadn’t exaggerated his experience. He was very careful and very methodical about his task. I simply left him to it after that while I proceeded to warm the left over gravy and add to the pot so that there’d be plenty for all of us…hopefully with some left over. It was always easier to create a gravy if you had a quality starter.
I was checking the items in the oven twenty minutes later when I heard Archie wrap the carcass in the used foil. Before I could suggest it, he was already heading for the back door with the waste to put in the trash bin. I glanced at the cutting board and was quite impressed by the mounds of meat. He’d even separated it into dark and white meat.
“Very nice job, Archie,” I said as he returned and I was just setting the warmed dishes on the counter.
“I always do it for Gran. Her hands shake so much these days that I’m worried she’ll cut herself.” He chuckled. “She always complains that I don’t trust her. But she always gives me a kiss afterward.” I couldn’t resist. I gave him a quick peck on the cheek. He got a momentary look of surprise on his face that immediately turned into a smile.
There was no doubt that Archie thought the world of his Gran and enjoyed the time they spent in the kitchen together.
“So, is this something you want to do for a living?”
“No, sir. But I would like to do it for the family. Mom is okay, but even she admits that she doesn’t have the touch of Gran. Gran even let me help with her canning this year.”
And there it was, yet another insight into the boys. What was it with these three? Twelve years old and yet so complicated already. Certainly, they were still boys and all that implied. But they were also so much more mature than any other twelve year olds I’d ever met. Look at the way they were going out of their way to finally bond with their gay siblings.
“Okay, kiddo, how about you set the kitchen table while I get all this stuff into serving bowls.”
We were just seated when the doorbell rang. Unfortunately, I’d positioned myself in the corner.
“Would you like me to get it?” asked Brad. I nodded. It was only a few moments later. “Mister Franks! What a surprise. What did you do to the truck? You can normally hear that thing coming a mile away.”
A deep, hearty laugh followed that. “I finally decided to save my hearing. How are you, Bradley?”
“I’m fine, sir. Come in, come in. We were just sitting down to lunch.”
“Brad, invite Mister Franks to join us!” I called out.
“I don’t want to impose.”
Brad laughed. “You haven’t seen the spread, sir. There’s more than enough. Come on, join us.”
After the requisite stomping on the porch and a few moments to remove boots and coat, the two of them entered, Franks in his stocking feet. By that time, Archie had already set another place at the table.
“Good morning, boys,” he smiled as he took in the crowd. “And to you, Mister Richards.”
“Adam, please. It’s nice to meet you too.”
“Charlie, Adam.” He smiled as he looked at the spread. “Ah, more leftovers.”
We all laughed. “The ladies got just a little carried away when they prepared the feast for the boys and me.”
He took the indicated seat between Jack and Archie. “I heard something about that.” He then looked around at each of the younger boys and smiled. “That was a mighty fine thing you did boys.” Then he sighed. “Wish my boy could be so accepting.”
We had a fun lunch with plenty of laughter and stories all around. Charlie didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with the company. When we’d finished, the four boys insisted that everyone come and see their decorating job.
I was amazed by how quickly they’d gotten it done. And I was very pleased with the result. No, it was nothing liked I’d pictured the room when I’d chosen the components, but there was nothing at all childish about the outcome. It was really very well done, especially for a group of boys that didn’t have much experience. I could see several things that I might have done differently, but I wasn’t going to tell them that, and I certainly had no intention of changing any of it. This was their room and anyone who visited would know that.
I was very fortunate that Billy had invited the two older boys because there was no way I’d have been able to help Charlie with the twelve foot tree he’d brought. The other major change I’d made to the house when I’d bought it was to have the rooms above the formal living room removed completely so that the living room now had a nearly twenty foot ceiling. The loft condo in New York had come with high ceilings and I loved the tall trees on the holidays.
“I know you asked for something just a bit taller, Adam, but when I saw this one I just knew it’d be perfect. I think you’ll be pleased.”
It was a good thing it was securely bound together, because it would never have fit through the doors. Fortunately, the front entry was a set of double doors and the arched entry to the living room was just as wide. It took Charlie and the boys a full hour to haul it in and get it into the stand. Finally I stood back with the boys as Charlie began cutting the wrapping twine.
As the first of half a dozen pieces of twine fluttered to the floor I was encouraged. The top of the tree could only be described as perfect. The top branch looked plenty sturdy to be able to handle the tree capping ornament that was always Jason’s favorite. As Charlie worked his way down the tree I saw what he meant about his choice. I couldn’t see a single thing about the tree that wasn’t perfect. The shape was a perfect triangle. I couldn’t see a single bare spot.
When the lowest branches finally snapped out Charlie simply stood there and smiled. “Did I do good?”
I laughed. “Charlie, I’ve always believed you had to buy artificial to get something this perfect.”
“It’ll look even better when the branches relax back into their natural place,” he said to me.”
Well, I was not at all familiar with caring for a cut tree. Jason and I always used artificial in the city. So I asked Charlie for advice in getting this thing to last all through the season. When he asked for a hundred for the tree, I handed him a hundred and fifty, I was that pleased.
The boys and I spent the remainder of the day decorating the living room, dining room and a bit of the front porch. I had plans for the yard that I intended to keep secret. I’d already made a call to a friend in Jersey, along with pictures and basic dimensions. He’d promised he had what was needed and he’d bring a crew up in a week’s time to put it together.
Brad brought the decorating crew over after church the following day so that we could decorate the tree. It had relaxed just as Charlie had said. As impossible as I thought it was, the tree did indeed look even better when I descended the stairs on Sunday morning.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, I haven’t mentioned Hazy. Well, my best friend was completely content with all the activity, despite that she’d never encountered the like before. There were suddenly six people in the house that were quite happy to pet and love her, just as I always did. She’d simply wander from room to room as everyone went about their tasks. There was always someone with empty hands that was more than willing to give her the attention she craved.
So anyway, the boys and I managed to get most of the job done before they were required to go home for family supper. What was left after they departed was easy enough for me to complete. It’d been fun when the boys arrived because I started by unwrapping the top ornament. It only made sense to start at the top when I had help with the ladder.
I’d made a big show of unwrapping the very delicate blown glass ornament. The creator had been a true artist. I have no idea how she’d managed it. The hollow interior had another star in silver inside, perfectly suspended in the center.
I spent the first part of the week online. Monday was all about candles. Nearly a hundred of them from a chandler in the Village that is the only place that carried the holiday scent I preferred. I paid for overnight shipping on that one. Tuesday was about Christmas dinner. That would be overnighted too, but not until two days before my planned party. All the major ingredients for a seafood feast for an army. It remained to be seen if I’d be able to arrange the party I’d envisioned for the week before Christmas.
My friend from Jersey surprised me by arriving on Wednesday at noon. Three vans pulled into my drive right after lunch.
“Dickie, you old queen!” I yelled as I ran down the steps to properly greet him. “How in the hell did you pull this together so quickly?!” I continued to yell as we embraced like the old friends we were.
“Ah, you know me, Adam. I’m a sucker for a gushy story. You had me in tears with your description of what those boys did. I just had to make this happen for you. I know how lonely you’ve been the last few years.”
I laughed remembering what a pushover he was. “Well, it’s gotten even better since I called you. It turns out two of the older brothers are gay and we’ve had the chance to get to know each other.”
I smiled, knowing what he was hoping. “Twenty-two and twenty-one. But you’re hoping in vane, missy. They’re already a couple. Besides, I’m not looking for a companion, you know that. But it’s sure going to be nice to have some ‘family’ friends.”
He gave me another hug. “Well that’s great. So, you ready to get started?”
“Don’t you want to settle in somewhere?”
“We arrived in the wee hours and got rooms in that town down the road. We’d have been here first thing this morning, but we ran into some construction on the way here. Slowed us down.”
“Well, in answer to your question, of course you can start. How long will it take do you think?”
“We should be ready for the big reveal by Friday night.” He then looked around the yard. “Damn, Adam, this is even better in person.” Then he looked up into the surrounding countryside. “It’s like a picture postcard.”
Fortune smiled on me because none of the boys needed to come by for help with school work. I called each of their homes right after Dickie had gotten his men started and talked with one parent or another and arranged for them to bring their entire families by at precisely eight on Friday night. Of course, I didn’t tell them exactly why, just that I had a surprise to share with all of them.
Dickie, I could tell by all his questions during the installation, really wanted to be present for the reveal. But he wanted to get his men headed toward home as soon as they verified that everything was operational just before noon on Friday. So I offered to pay for plane fare for him. After putting this together so quickly for me, it was the least I could do.
Once his men were on their way, Dickie lent a hand and helped me with the snacks I was making for the big reveal. He was as much into the season as I was.
Dickie and I took my golf cart to the gate at the bottom of the hill, a half hour early, to meet everyone as they arrived. I have to admit that I can’t remember the last time I’d been this excited. I was actually shaking and it had absolutely nothing to do with the freezing temperatures. I was really pleased that we were in a waning moon phase and it hadn’t risen yet. That meant that the entire yard was pitch black. The only light in the area was that being cast by the headlights of my small golf cart.
There were slightly more than two dozen people gathered by the time the last truck disgorged its occupants. I was particularly delighted to see that the Grandparents had all chosen to come.
“Good evening, everyone. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve felt the desire to really celebrate the holidays. You all know why that is. But that all changed last week. And again you all know the reason. This week has been…well, a joy just doesn’t do justice to the renewed feelings I’ve had. I’ve asked you all here this evening to share what your sons have helped me create inside my home. But you’re also here to see what my friend from New Jersey has created for our enjoyment. This is Richard Price. The company he founded has been responsible for many spectacular lighting displays in the last twenty years. But I believe, that for my money, this one will certainly be the best.”
I nodded at Dickie who lifted the remote control in his hand.
From the speakers he’d placed throughout the yard came the drum cadence of my favorite holiday song, The Little Drummer Boy. The cadence went on for a couple of bars before the show truly began. The minute the voices entered, lights began illuminating in various parts of the yard and on the house. The dance of the lights as the song progressed was ingenious and spectacular. The rousing near finale of the song produced what could only be described as a land bound fireworks display in light. And then it quieted at the final bars with just the drum and the repeated perum, perum, perum of the voices.
The song finally ended, leaving only a single star shining on the roof of the house, pulsing gently to some unheard beat. Yes, Dickie had certainly outdone himself this time.
It took several moments for everyone to realize that the spectacle was over. But it took Archie’s Grandmother to finally break the silence. She stepped forward and pulled my head down and planted a gentle kiss upon my cheek.
“That was the most beautiful display I’ve ever seen, young man.” Just as she finished her statement, the lights began to slowly turn up to illuminate all the trees and figures in the yard, as well as the house. It was a display that I’m sure would be seen for miles.
Her action finally awoke everyone to the moment and they burst into applause as they began stepping forward and thanking me, then moving over to Dickie and praising him for his spectacular work.
It took several minutes for everyone to calm down so that I could move on to the next step. “If you’ll all get in your vehicles and come up to the house, I’d like to also share what has been done inside. I’ve got drinks and cookies for everyone. I’d like to give your five sons the opportunity to show off what they’ve had a part in creating.”
My Three Musketeers smiled at that. But what I particularly enjoyed seeing was Brad and Jack standing in the midst of this huge gathering…holding hands. Yes indeed, these were some remarkable families.
The Three Musketeers helped get coats to the second story closet at the top of the stairs, pitching in even before I could request their help. Dickie had hopped out as soon as we arrived and ran around turning on the lights in all the first floor rooms and porch. I managed a few words to each boy, suggesting that they let their families wander, but to be available to answer questions. It wasn’t long before each of them had stationed themselves permanently at one room or another, just like tour guides.
It was a great pleasure watching the adults walking about in a sort of stunned daze at all the holiday elegance we’d achieved. The smaller children were a joy because there was no disguising the fact that they were all convinced they’d been granted access to a Christmas wonderland.
During the hour and a half that everyone stayed, I was able to talk with each of the parents and my party invitations had been accepted. I was also very pleased to see that parents, grand parents, and older siblings were very careful to enforce a strict look but do not touch policy with the youngest children.
Jeremiah managed to corner me in the kitchen at one point during the night. “The adults have been talking and we were wondering if you’ve given any thought to how you’re going to show off that spectacle of yours? Because it’s not going to remain a secret for very long once the kids get to school on Monday.”
“Uh, no, I hadn’t.” And it was nothing but the truth. My thoughts had been centered on producing something unique for these families. I hadn’t given a moment’s consideration to what this might mean for the rest of the parish.
He smiled at my obvious chagrin. “Adam, there’s never been anything like this around here. Once the kids get through spreading the word people are going to become curious. You might want to sit down with your friend Richard and put a plan together. Maybe run the show once an hour. If you put a sign on your fence explaining, then people would know when to be present to see the entire show.”
I went to bed that night with the old feelings of happiness and enjoyment of the season. I particularly enjoyed the farewells. The Three Musketeers had made a particular point of hugging me several times through the night in front of everyone. I don’t know if it was some scheme of theirs, but the effect is that all the women had hugged me as they prepared to leave. But best of all had been when every single one of the smaller children had stepped up and hugged and thanked me for inviting them and for the wonderful cookies.
As I lay there running the night through my mind, I determined that this had turned out so much better than I could have hoped. There’d never been children present during the holiday affairs that Jason and I held. To see the wonder in all those young faces, and even some of the not so young, had made the expense of all this more than worthwhile.
Saturday morning arrived in the usual fashion. The only difficulty I had was in getting Hazy to come to the back door instead of the front. I finally had to resort to picking her up and carrying her. I’d told the boys the night before that their play session with Hazy would need to happen in the back yard during the holidays. I wasn’t about to chance any damage to the light display that I was unqualified to fix.
The earliest reservation we could obtain for Dickie wasn’t until Sunday morning, so he was around all day and was able to add a couple of things to the sound and lighting. The boys had arrived with a large roll of butcher paper and we spent our morning making a sign for the fence explaining that there would be a unique light show at the top of each hour between seven and ten each evening. It also explained that the lights in the yard would flash several times just before the show would begin and that they needed to turn off their vehicles and lights so that everyone would better enjoy it.
The boys remained until suppertime, but surprised me by returning a couple of hours later on their snowmobiles. They’d brought Jack and Brad with them too. I’d hustled them inside the back door before asking any questions. It was a particularly brisk night out.
“What’s up, boys?”
They all laughed, but it was Jack who piped in. “Have you looked out your front windows lately?”
Dickie immediately ran to the front of the house while I helped the boys with their coats.
“Oh glory, Adam!” yelled Dickie. “You’ve got to come see this!” Okay, this had to be something. The poor man had actually squealed. Of course, that got the boys to smiling and chuckling.
We all marched to the den where only the candles were burning and I was absolutely stunned as I finally looked out the window. There at the bottom of the hill and across the road was a stationary sea of orange fireflies. It took a moment for it to register with me that what I was seeing were parking lights.
“Oh my god,” I whispered.
“Your guests last night have spent almost the entire day calling friends to tell them about this,” said Brad.
I quickly glanced at my watch and saw that it was five minutes to seven. “Is everything set to go, Dickie?” This was definitely not the time for something to go amiss.
“All up and running.”
“Adam,” said Jack, “How about we go sit on the porch and watch their reaction?”
I smiled at the suggestion. “All right, that might be fun at that. But let’s wait to step out until the lights go out.” Dickie and I ran and closed the heavy drapes in the two front rooms so that the front of the house would be nearly as dark as it’d been the night before, while the boys went and retrieved their coats and boots.
We were all standing in the entry with the light out, watching through the sidelights. First came the three flashes of the lights as the program began. That was followed one minute later by all the lights dimming slowly to total darkness. Only then did we open the door and quickly step out.
We watched as the parking lights quickly went out across the street. I’d been a bit worried that the music might be a little too loud up here at the house. But I was pleased and surprised that it wasn’t any louder than we’d experienced the night before.
It wasn’t as good a show this close up and from behind, but still, I enjoyed the music. The area was draped in silence for several moments after the last perum. Then the lights began to slowly come up. What happened next truly surprised me. First there was the distant sound of cheering. And then, horns began honking, with headlights being flashed on and off. The honking continued for quite some time as the vehicles began pulling away.
The boys went home shortly after that and Dickie and I watched the response to the next three shows. There were only three cars for the final show and I mentioned that maybe I’d cut back to only three showings each night.
“Oh, I’d give it a couple of days before you drop a show. I think attendance will go up once the word really starts to spread. I mean think about it, Adam. Tonight has been the result of only three families spreading the word. Imagine what’s going to happen now that all these people have seen it.”
Dickie and I had to get up early the following morning to get him to the airport on time, but I was home by ten. Hazy and I were lounging in front of the Christmas tree at one when we were surprised by the doorbell.
When we arrived at the entry, I could see through the sidelights that there was an unfamiliar vehicle sitting at the foot of the porch, a middle aged woman standing next to it. When I opened the door, there stood this precious little girl, still in her church dress. She was also carrying a tin box in her small hands.
I immediately knelt down so as not to tower over the small thing.
“He…hello, sir.” She then glanced back at her mother.
“Go on, sweetie, he won’t bite,” her mother chuckled.
She turned back to me and held out the tin. “Thank you for the beautiful lights, sir. Mommy and me made you some cookies.”
“Ah sweetheart, you’re quite welcome. I’m really glad you enjoyed them.”
That finally got a small smile from her. “I’ve never seen anything so pretty.” And then she surprised me yet again by jumping forward and hugging my neck and kissing my cheek.
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”
“Merry Christmas, sir.” Then she turned and bounced down the stairs, her mother smiling and waving up at me.
The rest of the day was like that as time and time again, Hazy and I had to answer the door and accept some small token of appreciation from our neighbors. Once, during it all, I’d heard a vehicle pull up, but several minutes passed without a ringing bell. So I went to see what was going on. When I opened the door, I witnessed something truly touching. There was a young boy slowly helping his elderly grandmother up the steps. The boy looked to be about the same age as my musketeers.
He smiled up at me as I stepped out onto the porch. “She insisted on coming herself,” he said softly. “Good afternoon, Mister Ada…I mean, Mister Richards.” That got raised eyebrows from me. He laughed. “Eric and I are friends at school, sir. I’ve heard all about you.”
“In that case,” I smiled in return, “You may certainly call me Mister Adam.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m Allen Miller, and this is my grandmother, Francis Baker.”
I shook Allen’s hand and then turned my attention to his Grandmother.
“Whew,” she sighed, “That was more of a climb than I thought it’d be.”
“Miss Francis, you should have let Allen come up here.”
She chuckled softly. “I couldn’t do that, boy.” She then looked me in the eye. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful as what I witnessed last night. Amanda called and said we had to see what you’d done.” I knew that Amanda was Archie’s grandmother’s name. “I’ve known that woman since we were mere girls in grade school. I haven’t heard her so excited about anything in many years.” Her eyes softened and there was just a touch of moisture there. “That song has always been my favorite. But I’ve never seen it presented so spectacularly.”
Allen laughed as he gave his grandmother a gentle hug. “Gran and I cried as we watched it, Mister Adam.”
That got a chuckle from Francis. “We’re both a couple of softies. Anyway, I wanted to thank you in person, Adam. There’s never been anything like this in these parts. It’s going to make everyone’s holidays very special.” She then handed over a beautifully wrapped rectangle. “I thought you might enjoy a loaf of my fruitcake.”
Well, you can imagine what I thought at that moment. Fruitcakes did not have a great reputation.
Allen obviously had heard more than enough about them. “You’re going to love it, Mister Adam. Gran even brought you one of the first batch. It’s been aging for three months.”
“Well then, you can’t get a better recommendation than that.” I then leaned forward and lightly kissed her cheek. “I promise I’ll give it a good tasting.”
“You’ll never look at fruitcake the same way if you do, boy,” she laughed. “Now all I have to do is get down from here in one piece.”
Well, it took a moment or two of discussion, but she finally agreed to let me carry her back to the car. The woman was light as a feather, and her daughter was very appreciative when I set Francis in the passenger seat.
I stood there at the bottom of the steps and watched them drive toward the gate. I was suddenly beginning to really feel like part of the community…a participant in the lives around me, not just the boys. And as I had that revelation, I sighed, feeling a great warmth suffuse my body. This is what had truly been missing from my life.
Jason and I had always been popular. A lot of that had been our celebrity. I was, after all, an award winning author. But Jason was very much sought after for his jewelry creations as well. But that had been mostly about the celebrity, the glitz and glamour. Here it was about simple truths, friendship, and community.
I was starting to draw nearer to something completely new and delightful. And I was, in many ways, a bit overwhelmed by it. You read stories about the uncommon generosity and closeness of country communities. But until you experience it for yourself, you can’t truly understand the impact it can have.
Being close in the city had always been about a cup of coffee shared, maybe a lunch. It was certainly always about the restaurants and clubs. And then, of course, there were the parties and events, the shows and parades, the shopping…oh yes, let us not forget the shopping. A lot of it was about the people you knew and how one might benefit from the association.
Yes, I know, I’m sounding a bit cynical. But I have to tell you that it was true. In the circles that Jason and I ran, it was all about getting invited to the best parties, being seen with the right people. Rarely was there anything done for simple friendship. Being a celebrity came with expectations from others.
But here I stood, freezing my feet off I might add, watching yet another neighbor departing, feeling warm and toasty inside. In the city when friends departed it was a relief most of the time. But in this moment I felt a tug of regret. We’d met only this one time, and may never meet again, and yet I missed their presence. These gifts had been presented simply and in person. These people had gone out of their way to make a special trip for this single purpose; to present something handmade with open-handed appreciation.
Then, of course, there’d been Allen. A boy of twelve who, instead of being off playing with his friends, stood at his grandmother’s side. There was nothing in the boy’s demeanor that suggested for one moment that he regretted being where he was. If this had been a situation in the city, the child would have felt very put upon to have to deal with an elderly relative. And it would have clearly shown on their face.
In Allen’s face I’d seen only respect and love for his Gran. To him, it was a joy to be allowed to help her in any way. He’d gone out of his way to share the moment with his Gran by admitting to the shed tears the night before. And I’d seen in his eyes the concern for the woman at insisting on making the relatively short, but for her arduous climb up the steps.
Then had come the moment, just after I’d set his Gran in her seat and his mother was fussing with the seatbelt. I’d reached out to shake his hand and he’d surprised me by taking my one hand in his two and he’d said very quietly, ‘Thank you, Mister Adam’, glancing briefly in his Gran’s direction.
I know that the citizens of New York considered themselves to be the heart of the nation. It was, after all, the center of finance and theater. But…they were wrong. Here, in this wide open country, where concrete was scarce lay the true heart.
Most of the inhabitants of the city thought of the country life as simple and uncomplicated. But I knew better. These people dealt with many of the same issues that their distant cousins in the city had to deal with. Yet they seemed, for the most part, to deal with them better. Look at the acceptance that Jack and Brad had found. Was it easy? No, it was not. There were certainly plenty of people, even here, that preferred to be judgmental. The name Vince came to mind in this moment.
I had no doubt that the people that had been stopping by this day had been perfectly aware of my background. And yet they’d taken the time to come and show their support and appreciation, many of them even sending their children up the steps with the gift. That was not something I ever encountered in the city.
The warmth of their acceptance enfolded me as I climbed the steps and entered the house. And yes, I could have gotten emotional at this point. I could have become overwhelmed with emotion. Instead, I let go. I released my stranglehold on the loss of Jason. I tossed off the carefully choreographed image I presented to people. I cast off the hesitation. No, I did not succumb to weeping. Instead I stood in the middle of the entry and I smiled. This is the way life was meant to be lived.
I knew now why this spot had spoken so loudly to me when I’d first seen it. It had to have been Jason’s doing. He led me here. I thought I’d chosen it for the solitude I believed I needed for my long mourning. Instead, it turned out that I’d chosen it, with his help and blessing, so that I could learn to live again. And not just live, but thrive.
And it had all begun with three young boys coming to my doorstep.
I was brought out of my introspection by yet another ring of the doorbell. Yes indeed, this was the way to live life. I opened the door and was surprised and very pleased to find Brad and Jack standing there with their hands loaded down with boxes and tins.
“Adam, you’re going to have to start checking your gate more frequently,” laughed Jack.
“We found all this stacked by your mailbox,” said Brad.
I laughed as I motioned them in and then led them to the kitchen. “Those must be from the bashful ones,” I said as I motioned to the kitchen table that contained almost a dozen gifts I’d already received.
The boys deposited the half dozen packages and then began removing their coats.
“Did I see one of Gran Baker’s fruitcakes on the table?” asked Brad.
“Yes. But how did you know?”
“She uses the same paper every year. I notice you haven’t tried any yet. You scared?”
“I’ve always disliked fruitcake. Dry and tasting more like rubber than fruit.”
“Oh but you have got to try Gran Baker’s. I’ll gladly throw out any fruitcake I receive…except hers.”
“Well, in that case, how would you boys like to christen the loaf with me?”
“You don’t have it cut yet?” said Jack. That set them both to laughing as they returned to the entry to hang their coats.
By the time they returned, I’d unwrapped the loaf and set it on the cutting board. I was just looking for the knife.
“So, what would a visit from your gay friends in the city be like?” asked Jack.
“Oh gods, boys, you do not want to encounter that crowd. It was a mix of the quietly closeted that overcompensated for their normal heterosexual image, and the screaming queens that just could not live without that in-your-face shock treatment.”
“Eww,” cringed Brad. “Were all your gay friends like that?”
I laughed. “No, not really, but the vast majority were. Jason and I knew about half a dozen that were just plain folks. None of the extravagance, but none of the hesitation about themselves either.”
“Like you,” said Jack. “You know, Adam, Brad and I are really happy that you’ve moved in here and we’ve finally met.”
“Not nearly as much as I am to have finally met the two of you. So, boys, I hope you’re not going to be disappointed, but I don’t drink beer, so there’s none to go with your fruitcake.”
“Eww, fruitcake and beer? Even the thought is revolting.”
“All right, how about a small glass of brandy instead?”
“Well, that’s an improvement over Gran Baker’s yearly suggestion of moonshine,” laughed Jack. “She swears it’s why she’s lived so long. She says it burns off anything that might be trying to kill her.”
I didn’t know anything about moonshine, but I had to agree with Allen and these two, the fruitcake was an absolute delight. Miss Francis had been right…I’d never look at fruitcake quite the same. I should know better than to judge something by its label.
We spent the next hour in the living room simply being three gay friends getting to know one another. We shared our stories of personal discovery, coming out, and meeting that first love. The boys weren’t quite ready to admit that theirs was the one great love for them, but they enjoyed hearing about my life with Jason. But best of all was that I loved sharing what Jason and I had. I could see in their eyes the dawning realization that life as a gay man could indeed include profound love and success.
When I invited them to stay for supper, they eagerly cleared the idea with their families. It was, after all, Sunday, and that normally meant family supper. We spent the next hour or so in the kitchen as I demonstrated my love of cooking for friends as we continued our discovery of one another.
Was it a fun evening? Not one bit. It…was…glorious. For three years since Jason’s death I had been avoiding the gay community. I was now ready to embrace it once again and here were these two marvelous young men wanting the same.
The other thing we did, besides get acquainted, was discuss what I had planned for the Christmas dinner I was going to host. The boys helped immensely with suggestions of gifts I could buy for the children. They even offered to take me into town the next day and help with the grocery shopping. That was an offer I readily accepted. Shopping with friends was always more fun, as well as being much more efficient.
As I watched them drive away just before the first show of the evening I could only marvel at how quickly we’d bonded. For despite our considerable age difference, we were fast becoming good friends.
I was somewhat surprised at how well attended the four light shows were. It was, after all, a Sunday night and the kids still had one more week of school before the break.
Monday was a bit overcast, but I’d rested well and felt more than ready to take on the tasks of the day. The boys arrived ten sharp and we headed straight for the large grocery store I preferred. It was a bit more expensive than the outlets, but I was damn near guaranteed to find everything I needed. It was unlikely that we’d have to make more than the one stop.
We’d just picked up the last item on my list and the cart was nearly overflowing as we headed for the checkout area. We’d just taken our place in line at one of the checkouts when our day took a decidedly rotten turn.
“Hey look, guys. It’s Jaqueline and Brad.”
Brad and Jack simply froze in place, while I glanced back in the direction of the voice. I was pretty sure of what I’d find. Sure enough, there was a group of four young men about Brad’s age and one of them bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Franks. Oh hell.
“Well, Brad,” I said, “Seems your old friend Vince has gathered his courage finally. He’s brought three of his cheering section along.”
“Who the hell are you, old man, and what do you know about me?”
“Oh, I’ve heard a few things.”
“Yeah, from the faggot twins.”
“No, actually, from your father.”
His eyes squinted at me for a couple of moments and I could almost hear the gears spinning in that empty little head of his. And then I saw the light of understanding illuminate behind those eyes. “You’re that faggot author, aren’t you?” He then stepped forward and made the fatal error. “Get out of my way you fucking faggot.” He touched my arm, trying to push me out of the way.
For a split second I felt a wave of pity for the boy. But only for a second. After that, there was no thought. It wasn’t until someone grabbed my wrist as I was making another swing that I came back to myself.
You see, I’d learned about bullies and protection on the streets of New Jersey. I’d spent many a night nursing bruises and cuts through my early teens. Then the day had come when I was sixteen and was being attacked just like dozens of times before. I’d suddenly blacked out and awoke again to find my attacker on the ground bleeding and battered. My best friend had spent several hours trying to convince me that I was the one responsible for all the damage.
After that I just accepted the fact. It wasn’t until Jason and I had become a couple that anyone was finally able to make any sense of it. One time and one time only after we’d met, I had to defend us. Afterwards, Jason had calmly taken me home and nursed my knuckles and knees. It was his description of the phenomenon that finally made sense of it all.
“You’re a throwback, Adam.”
“Throwback…to the age of Vikings probably, since you have Norse ancestry. Adam, you’re a berserker.”
Well hell, I was a writer of fantasy novels and I knew exactly what he was referring to. A berserker was the one thing a fighter never wanted to encounter on a battlefield. The reason is because they could count on the fact that a berserker had no style they could fight. A berserker was the ultimate brawler. The other thing you could always count on is that the berserker would be fast and much stronger than normal. The best explanation I’d ever read was that it was probably the result of a tremendous surge of adrenaline, many times the norm. A berserker was always described as having the strength of ten men and the speed of a lightning strike.
So here I was, in the middle of the grocery, my hand poised to strike my opponent, when my wrist was grabbed and there was real strength in the grip. My head spun back as I gathered myself to strike this new threat when I was suddenly looking into Charlie’s eyes. That simple fact drained the fight out of me. I then slowly turned and looked down, knowing full well what I’d find. The body that lay beneath me bore little resemblance to the cocky, angry young man that he’d once been.
“He’s had enough, Adam. I think he gets your message.” The words were spoken so calmly…and sadly…that I wasn’t sure I could trust my ears. I looked back once again. Charlie sighed deeply as we made eye contact. “He’s been spoiling for something like this for a long time, Adam. I’d always figured the boy would eventually bite off more than he could chew. Certainly nothing his mother or I have said has made any impression. I’m just sorry it had to be you.” He then pulled gently on my arm. “Come on, Adam, get up. The paramedics have just arrived and they’re going to need room to work.”
Just as I reached my feet he released me and quickly moved to block Vince’s three accomplices. “What is the matter with you three?” he said angrily. “You just watched that man tear your leader into tiny shreds. Do you really want to try and take him on? That’s assuming, of course, that you could get through me. What d’ya say, boys, want to go a couple of rounds with me?” There was a significant pause and some mumbling. “Well that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve decided in quite some time. Now go sit over there until the Sheriff arrives. I’m sure they’re going to have more than a few questions for you. You might also think about what you’re going to say to your parents, because when they find out about this there’s going to be a reckoning.”
I looked up in time to see the three of them blanch at that statement and then move off to the spot Charlie had pointed to. Charlie then turned back to me.
“How are you doing, Adam? I’ll be blunt, you don’t look all that well.”
“It’s always like this. Having all that adrenaline suddenly dropping out of my system is going to make me pretty worthless for the rest of the day.”
The rest of the morning was primarily a big blur. I remember giving Jack my wallet and telling him which card to use. Then there were some questions from the sheriff’s deputy. Charlie assured me later that I’d given intelligent answers, even if they were a bit sluggish. Beyond that, I remember nothing. I woke up some indeterminate time later in my own bed.
The very first thing that registered in my mind was the hushed whispering nearby. I smiled slightly recognizing it as my musketeers. But I was also saddened because I could tell they were worried and anxious. I got all their attention even before I opened my eyes.
“Boys, I really am all right.”
I heard and felt the rush as they ran to my bedside. I opened my eyes and smiled slightly. “Boys, please, I’m just exhausted.” I lifted one hand, knowing full well what I’d find. My knuckles had obviously been carefully tended and bandaged. “This is all the damage I ever have after something like this. The rest of me is simply tired…and a bit sore.”
That brought out a flood of tears from all three boys; tears of relief, I figured. And then they surprised me by climbing onto the bed and hugging me. Billy and Archie lay on either side of me, hugging my chest and each other, which left Eric to hug my stomach.
“Shh, shh, boys. Tomorrow you won’t know that anything happened, except for the bandages. I’ve been through this before.” It took several minutes before they were able to calm themselves and sit up.
“So, what time is it?”
Billy glanced at the bedside clock. “Five-thirty.”
Yes, that sounded about right. It usually took five or six hours for my body to get my chemistry adjusted enough for me to begin functioning properly.
“Well, boys, I’m going to need you to find someone to lend me a hand. I need to soak my body in a hot tub for a bit.”
“We know,” said Archie. “Doc Martin came out and looked you over. He said you’d need a long soak in a hot bath with Epson Salts. Mom already measured out what we’d need.”
“Yes, sir. We’re going to help you into the tub, draw the water and then sit with you to make sure you don’t fall asleep. Doc Martin said that might happen.”
“And your parents are okay with that?”
“Of course!” they answered together, as if they couldn’t believe I’d question it.
Well, I needed the soak more than I needed to worry about my modesty or their presence so I threw back the sheet and blanket to find that I was only wearing my underwear. Archie and Billy helped me sit up and then stand up, while Eric ran to the master bathroom and started the water running.
I was definitely shakier than I remembered being after one of these episodes, but then I wasn’t thirty anymore. My fifty-five year old body was taking longer to recover. It wasn’t until I was settled in the tub and Eric had begun reducing the flow of cold water, slowly adding the salts under the stream, that Archie left and announced from the top of the stairs that I was awake. If I’d had the energy for it, I think I would have blushed when Eric reached up and pulled my briefs off.
All in all, they were good nurses; very solicitous, if still a bit anxious. They explained that they’d be spending the night with one of them sitting in my bedroom awake for two hours while the others slept. Brad and Jack were scheduled to come in the morning. Jack would take over while Brad drove them to school.
It seemed that all the important decisions had been made and it was my task to simply sit back and enjoy the ride. Since I knew that Jason had done much the same thing that time, I chose not to argue.
Since I was much steadier on my feet after the water cooled, the boys only helped me to dry and then allowed me a bit of privacy to dress…in clothes that they’d already chosen and laid out for me. When I exited my room, Brad and Jack were leaning against the wall, obviously waiting.
“What happened to my nurses?”
They both laughed as they stepped up and gave me a gentle hug.
“Well, sir, as capable and willing as they’ve proven themselves to be, they all agreed that they were probably still a bit undersized to stop a full grown man if he decided to take a tumble down the stairs.”
We laughed together at the truth of that as I gathered first one and then the other into a more robust hug, just to prove that I really was on my way to full recovery. Supper was waiting for us when I finally reached the first floor, courtesy of Eric’s mother.
I could go into a long discussion of who did what and when, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that everything went precisely as it had been choreographed. I awoke early the following morning to the sound of quiet activity in the hall, feeling much more myself. I threw back the covers and grabbed my robe. It’d been less than twenty-four hours, but I was definitely back to normal, except for the slight stiffness of my hands.
I spent a few moments being affectionate to my furry companion, as was our tradition, then rose to take her down so she could go do her morning business. But when I opened the front door she simply sat down in the middle of the entry and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. I smiled as I closed the door. Someone had obviously seen to it that she’d been properly taken care of. Instead, I lifted her into my arms and we walked into the kitchen to find the musketeers just picking up their packs.
“Mister Adam,” they said as one. Then they stepped up one at a time and simultaneously hugged me and petted Hazy. Then they were out the door, a bit of a spring in their step.
I was glad that I’d awakened in time to relieve their worries. What a marvelous way to begin a day.
Jack poured me a cup of coffee and we sat at the kitchen table.
“So,” he began, “What’s on the agenda for the day?”
“Well, you can start by telling me how bad it is.”
Jack set his coffee down slowly and sighed. Fortunately, I didn’t have to explain what I meant. “One shattered knee, a broken arm, three missing teeth, and enough bruises to look like he’d fallen into a blackberry barrel. At least that’s how Mister Franks described it.” That got raised eyebrows from me. “He stopped here after he left the hospital, to see how you were. He said…”
He was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. He returned shortly, Charlie by his side.
“Well, at least one of you is looking better,” said Charlie by way of greeting. Then he glanced over at the pot of coffee.
Jack chuckled. “Sit, sir, I’ll get you a cup.”
Silence reigned while Jack poured a bit of milk into his cup and stirred it.
“Look, Charlie, I…”
“Don’t you dare apologize,” he interrupted sternly. “The only person needing to apologize is Vincent. I already told you that he’s been walking toward a confrontation like this for some time.” He then looked at me and smiled slightly. “I did not expect it to be someone like you, though.”
I shrugged. “I don’t really know where it comes from. One day when I was sixteen my body just suddenly decided it was tired of all the beatings. Word got around and I was finally able to finish high school without having to be constantly looking over my shoulder.”
“Well, you needn’t worry about any legal consequences. There were more than enough witnesses. Besides, his group of cronies fessed up. It only remains to be seen what sort of charges you and the DA decide to press.”
Silence filled the room once again as I considered the options.
“Answer me this, Charlie,” I said finally, “Would it really serve any purpose to land the boys in an environment where their prejudices could be reinforced? Honestly, I’m inclined to just forget the entire incident ever happened.”
Charlie shook his head. “I don’t think we should let them get off that easy. They need to pay a price for their actions. But, having said that, I have to agree with you. I worry that sending them to prison won’t really help. Besides, the whole community is up in arms about what they tried to do.”
I considered that for several moments. “How about if I pressed charges, but asked for leniency and probation instead of jail?”
“I suppose that might work,” he said finally. “They certainly won’t be able to get into any trouble with the entire countryside keeping an eye on them.”
“Well, let’s see if we can’t make that happen then. If they refuse to change, they’ll eventually violate their probation and end up in jail. But we’ll have made the effort to keep them clear of that environment.”
He laid a hand gently on my arm. “Thank you, Adam.”
“You’re welcome. Now there’s just one more thing I’d like to do. Let me help with the medical bills.”
“You don’t have to do that, Adam,” he said, clearly stunned by my offer.
I sighed. “Truth time, Charlie. With all the injuries Jack told me he has, I bet Vince is slated for a prolonged stay in the hospital. Are you really doing well enough to afford it all?”
Several moments passed before he finally relaxed and shook his head. “No, not really.”
“Then let your neighbor lend a bit of a hand.” I sighed. “Look, Charlie, Vince may be your son, but you shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of all the expenses. I have a big part to play in his condition. If I were better able to control my reaction to such situations, he wouldn’t be so battered. So please, allow me to assuage some of my guilt in this by helping out. It’s not like I can’t afford it.”
“I’ve never been very good at accepting charity.”
“This isn’t charity, Charlie. This is your neighbor accepting his percentage of the responsibility.”
“All right, Adam. When you put it like that I suppose I can’t really refuse, now can I?”
“Nope.” I smiled and chuckled, and that finally got him to relax.
He turned to Jack. “Could you do me a favor and run out to the truck? There’re two loaves of pumpkin bread on the front seat.” He waited until Jack left before turning to me. “My wife told me that if you accepted our apology that I was to give them to you.”
I shook my head. “Well, you just tell her that I refused to accept any such thing… because it isn’t your place to apologize.”
“Gees, Mister Franks, these things are still warm,” said Jack as he returned.
“The kids ate cold cereal this morning because she wanted these baked before I came over here.”
I laughed. “I better go out and buy this book that everyone seems to be using on country etiquette.”
That finally got the man to laugh. “No book involved, Adam. It all comes from the heart. Just watch your musketeers. Sounds like they’ve got it down in spades.”
“I’ll do that. Now I was wondering if I could ask a bit of a delicate question.” He nodded. “Do you have any idea where Vince got this attitude? I can see it wasn’t from you or your wife.”
“It’s funny you should ask that, because it’s been the only thing I’ve been able to think about since this blew up. And surprisingly, I think I’ve begun to get a glimmer of a possible explanation.” He turned to Jack at that point.
Just then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned, Brad was standing so that the other two couldn’t see him. He was also indicating that I shouldn’t say anything just yet.
“Has Brad told you anything about his friendship with Vincent when they were younger?”
Jack didn’t answer immediately. He seemed to be carefully processing what would be the most appropriate response. “Yes, Mister Franks, he has,” he said slowly and softly, but maintaining eye contact. “But I can’t repeat what he’s told me, sir. I’d be breaking a confidence.”
Charlie smiled and patted the boy’s near hand. “That’s answer enough.” He then turned to me. “I started noticing his attitude about the time that Brad came out to his family. I thought it was simply that he couldn’t accept the fact that his former best friend was a homosexual. But I think I’ve been looking in the wrong direction.”
Well of course I understood what he was implying. “I’ve seen it time and again, Charlie. The inability to accept what they feel for another male has screwed up more boys than I care to contemplate. It’s all fine so long as everything is in the shadows. But if what you’re thinking is true, then the fact that Brad came out and they could no longer be friends because of the possibility of others figuring it out would lead to resentment and eventually hatred.”
I glanced up and saw tears falling down Brad’s cheeks. I reached out and tapped Charlie’s hand and nodded in Brad’s direction. When he saw the distressed boy, he jumped up and embraced him and began whispering in his ear. Shortly they walked off in the direction of the living room.
“Finally,” said Jack softly and his eyes were tear filled.
I moved around the table and put a compassionate arm across his shoulders, to which he leaned over and rested his head on mine.
“He’s wanted to talk to someone about it for a very long time,” he sighed.
“At least he had your sympathetic ear.”
“True, and I know it helped, but it wasn’t enough. He still felt responsible. But at sixteen he had that great epiphany that told him that he couldn’t continue living the lie… regardless of the consequences. In fact, it was his courage that finally prompted my own epiphany and declaration.”
“Do you think he’d still like to get back together with Vince?”
“No, that’s not what this is about. You know, you asked us the other night if this was our one true love. I have to admit that I’d love that to be the case. I’m never more complete than when I’m with Brad. But he’s got all this pain inside that he hasn’t been able to purge. It’s holding him back.”
“Sometimes all we can do is just be there to hold them until they figure it all out.” He nodded against my shoulder at the truth of that. “So, since Brad’s involved in something much more important, how would you like to help me with some internet searches? I want to find out which stores have the things I’m looking for before we go to make the purchases. I hate all that driving from store to store only to be disappointed.”
“Yes, sir, I think that’d be just the thing. I can’t just sit here and worry about what I have no control over.”
“Spoken like a true friend. So, let’s hit it then.”
The two of them spoke for over an hour while Jack and I searched and located everything I wanted. I was even able to purchase half of the toys for pickup later that day. All in all, it was a very satisfying morning. Especially when Brad and Charlie entered my office and it was immediately clear that Brad was feeling much better. His very first act was to walk over to a hesitant Jack and pull him into a fierce hug.
“I love you so much,” said Brad.
Charlie simply stood at the door and smiled affectionately at the display. Then he walked over and sat in the chair Jack had been using.
“Well, that certainly clears up the situation. Now all I have to figure out is how to use the information without letting on just how much I know. It’s going to have to be a delicate balance. The last thing I want is to do is let on where I got the information.”
“Well, I don’t how, but if you feel like I might help, just let me know.”
“Actually, I might need some advice. Bradley has given me permission to share with you.”
“When are you planning to begin confronting this?”
“After the holidays. Vincent is going to be heavily sedated for a couple of weeks according to his doctor. That will give me time to talk to you and work out a strategy. For now I want this information to stay in this room. If my son and I can work this out, it’ll be him who decides what is to be done.”
He got up and joined in the boys’ hug. “Remember, Bradley, he who hesitates…”
“Yes, sir, I won’t forget.” He then released Jack and just as fiercely hugged Charlie. “Thank you so much, sir.”
“You’re welcome, son. But I’m the one who’s most thankful. What you’ve told me gives me the chance to rectify some wrongs and maybe an opportunity to turn this whole situation around.” He pushed Brad gently away. “You’ve done all you can to help your friend, Bradley. Now I want you to get on with your life.”
After Charlie had gone, we gathered our outdoor gear and headed out the door.
“Adam, would you drive, please? I need to talk to Jack…right now.” He smiled. I could see there a hint of decisions made, but needing to be shared.
“One chauffeur coming up,” I answered with a chuckle. Obviously he intended to take Charlie’s advice to heart. No hesitation.
Fortunately, Brad’s SUV had three rows of seats. The boys were able to take the rear most so that they could have a bit of privacy. I simply deposited my purchases in the second row. And yes, I ended up making the first four stops solo. The situation was humorous and touching at the same time. There was a lot of potential here for a real love story, if you know what I mean. And after what happened yesterday, that’s what we really needed.
My next stop was Toys-R-Us. By then, the boys were laughing in the back. We made the rest of the stops together and then they helped with the wrapping when we got home.
There was definitely a new ease between the two of them. This was evident in all the little touches, quick smiles, and yes, loving looks. Damn, I was dying to be nosey. Instead, I simply basked in the glow. It took me back to what I’d felt during that first date with Jason.
I spent the next two days completing my gift shopping during the school hours. After school the musketeers would arrive, since none of their teachers was inclined to give out homework right before the holidays. They’d stay until suppertime at home. After supper the older boys would arrive for a bit of wine and fruitcake.
I woke Friday morning with a profound sense of anticipation. This would be my first party since Jason had died. And surprisingly, that thought was not accompanied by a sense of loss or sorrow. I was about to spend most of today and tomorrow with my new accomplices in party giving. First would come Brad and Jack, who’d arrive about noon today and we’d begin prepping ingredients for tomorrow’s massive cooking endeavor.
But then would come the musketeers as fast as their snowmobiles could get them here after school. All five of them would be bringing clothes for an overnight stay. As soon as the younger boys arrived we’d begin making hors d’oeuvres. Then we’d begin baking cookies of several types. And last of all would come the dessert course. I planned to make banana crème, coconut cream, and lemon meringue pies; three of each. There was no way I was going to try and match the pies we’d had over Thanksgiving. I did not want to give any impression that I was competing. This dinner was going to be completely unlike anything they were used to. Saturday would be all about the meal. Oh, and did I mention that all the ingredients I’d ordered over a week ago arrived exactly on time Thursday?
Friday went without a hitch as all the boys dove into the work. No one complained about how much work we were putting in.
Saturday morning was when I finally revealed what we’d be eating as our main course. I’d kept it a secret because I knew that the boys really enjoyed a surprise. And boy did I surprise them when I began pulling out bag after bag of lobster tail, gigantic shrimp, and enormous scallops.
“Oh my gosh,” said Eric as the last bag was deposited in the sink. “Mister Adam, this is incredible.”
“I’m just hoping that everyone will enjoy it,” I said. “I don’t imagine this sort of thing has ever graced your tables.”
“No, sir,” answered Archie. “But they’re popular when dad treats us to a dinner out.”
Well, all I can say is thank god for enormous industrial ovens…two of them…and my eight burner gas range. When we reached the point where the only thing left to cook was the seafood, I began sending the boys off two at a time to change for supper.
Our guests began arriving at two and we took turns going out to mingle with them and ensure that everyone was enjoying themselves.
It was four o’clock when I placed the last sprig of parsley on the lobster platters and all the guests had been hustled to their places in the dining room. I stood for just a moment and looked at each of the boys.
“Well, boys, it looks like we’ve done it.” That got smiles and sighs all around. “I think you understand that this would not have been possible without your willingness to pitch in. You’ve worked your butts off for two days to make this possible, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.”
“I didn’t think we’d get it all done,” said Eric, with Archie and Billy nodding at his side.
“It’s all in the timing, boys,” I laughed. “Now, I don’t want to keep everyone waiting, but I just want to make sure that you understand that this is not my party, this afternoon. This is our holiday celebration, shared with family and friends.”
I was about to say a bit more when Billy stepped up and wrapped me in one very serious hug. He was actually shaking ever so slightly with emotion. And then he leaned slightly back and looked me squarely in the eye. “Merry Christmas, Mister Adam.” Then he kissed me. I mean, really kissed me. I was so stunned. And then Archie and Eric repeated the gesture. They were kisses such as I’m sure they gave their parents. Nothing the least bit lingering or suggestive. Just appreciative and heart filled.
When Brad and Jack stepped up to express their feelings, their kisses were definitely more intense. But the younger boys didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed. They just continued to stand and smile.
I stood in stunned silence for just a moment. “Merry Christmas, boys.” Then I took a deep breath to calm my emotions and let it out slowly. Finally, I smiled. “Well, shall we get this show on the road?”
I stepped out into the dining room as the boys shuffled to retrieve the serving trays. We’d carefully choreographed this part of the afternoon. I stepped up next to the chair at the head of the table and the room grew silent.
“Good afternoon, friends. Normally, I’d have a long-winded speech for this moment. But really, what’s the point? Your presence alone is testament enough to our friendship. So I’ll simply say that my co-hosts and I bid you welcome and Merry Christmas.”
The boys stepped out confidently. Brad and Jack carried trays full of shrimp and crab cocktails. Eric carried one of salad bowls, with Archie following closely behind to serve the bowls. Billy entered with another tray of salad bowls and I followed him to serve.
As soon as everyone had their salad and cocktail we all rushed back to the kitchen for the platters of seafood. Brad and Jack carried the lobster platters, the musketeers each had one filled with the shrimp, and I carried two that had the scallops. The oohs and aahs as the platters were set on the table were very satisfying.
The meal lasted for a bit more than an hour and to try and relate all that took place would be ludicrous. But I will relate just a couple of points that were particularly noteworthy for me.
The first and foremost of all were the looks I shared with my co-hosts. We spent the entire meal seeking each others’ attention. But the thing that was certainly a close second were the reactions of the youngest children. Curiosity and surprise at the foods presented. And of course, all of their observations and questions were blurted out without any thought to discretion.
“I don’t like the big bug, Mommy. But the shimpes things are real good.”
As I knew would happen, the two intact lobsters had garnered the most attention from the youngsters. A couple were revolted, but most found them fascinating. One even asked his daddy if he could get one for a pet.
Toward the end of the feast Amanda, who’d sat to my left all evening, leaned over and patted my hand.
“Adam, this has been a truly marvelous meal,” she said softly.
I smiled as I looked down the table at all these people who were ignoring us and continuing their conversations. “Yes, ma’am, it has been,” I answered as I finally turned to look at her.
She smiled…a knowing little smile. “I was referring to the food, young man,” she chuckled. “But I can see that you mean something entirely different.” She took my near hand in hers. “Didn’t you and your partner have friends with children?”
“No ma’am. There’s one thing you can count on in the city. If you’re a gay man, everyone will be suspicious of your intentions if you pay any attention to a child. There are too many men that have made things difficult for the rest of us.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that in these parts. I know that most people around here won’t go assuming anything.”
When I looked at her closely, I could tell that she was saying much more than what the simple words implied.
“Is this something I have the musketeers to thank for?”
“Mostly. But their families have begun playing a large part in it too. Look, Adam, I read the paper and watch the news. I know the troubles that gay men and women are facing out there. I’m old, not senile. And I worry about Jack and Brad. They have many battles ahead of them. I’ve worried that we couldn’t help them understand how they could deal with the issues.”
“They’re fine young men, Gran.” She smiled at my use of her family title.
“I can see that they’re coming to admire you. And I don’t think it has anything to do with your celebrity. In you they’ve found a role model and mentor.”
I sighed as I glanced at the two of them down there at the other end of the table, talking with their relatives…a set of clasped hands on the table. “I’m certainly trying. I never had a mentor when I needed one most.”
“Well, whatever you’re doing, I like the results,” she said as she followed my gaze. “I’ve never seen them this comfortable before. You know, this is the first time I’ve seen them hold hands so openly with us. I think it’s the sweetest thing. They may be two males, but who can deny that love.” She laughed. “But we were talking about the younger ones. They’re awfully proud of the friendship you all share, Adam. When their teachers began questioning them about their improved grades, they proudly gave all the credit to you. Their friends have learned never to invite them to anything on a Saturday. They’ve made it absolutely clear to anyone who asks that Saturday is for being here.”
“It’s been the highlight of my week for a long time now. I just wish there were a way to bottle all that energy.”
She laughed at that one. “It wears me out just watching them sometimes.” She then patted my hand. “But now it’s time for us to clear the table.”
“Oh, Gran, I’m just going to leave it for now.”
She simply smiled at me and stood. “All right, gentlemen,” she announced, “time for you to go off and smoke your cigars. Children, I want you to take your brothers and Mister Adam with you. They’ve worked hard to create this spectacular meal and it’s time they got an opportunity to relax. Ladies…if you will?”
She then turned to me and smiled at my stunned expression. “You can’t deny us, young man. This is what we women call our gossip hour.” She then leaned over and whispered in my ear. “We’re just going to rinse the dishes and store the food. Go on, it really is something we enjoy.”
“Well, I suppose it won’t do me any good to protest. Archie has told me that the real head of his home is his Gran.”
“And don’t you forget it, sonny. Now go.”
I laughed as I got up and accepted the hands of the two children that had arrived to escort me.
The next hour wasn’t anything like a vintage painting of old men sitting around a pickle barrel, smoking and charrin’ tabakee, a checker board poised on the barrel. And not one of the men seemed to have any desire to go smoking a cigar. Jeremiah is the one that explained it as an old family joke that dated back to his grandfather’s time when that is precisely what the men would do while the women folk toiled in the kitchen.
At one point I noticed five of the youngest children gathered around a diorama carved in wood that Jason had picked up at a little shop in Venice. It depicted a turn of the century shopping district with many shops decorated for the holidays. There were a dozen shoppers, obviously rushing to complete their errands. But what had captured the attention of the children were the two boys. One was obviously very poor, sitting at the end of an alley, looking very forlorn. Over him stood another boy, well dressed, obviously not wanting for anything. The well-dressed boy had his hand extended toward the poor one.
I got up from my chair and walked over to join the children. I still hadn’t sorted out which children belonged to which family. So I don’t know who she was, but a girl of about six looked up as my shadow fell over them.
“We weren’t touching, Mister Adam.”
I knelt down and patter her back. “I know you weren’t, sweetheart. I just came to see if you had any questions. You’ve all been standing here for quite a while.”
“We were wondering if it means something,” she said boldly.
Nothing on the diorama was moveable, so I lifted the whole thing off the table and sat on the floor, setting it there before me. The children all gathered close and sat down obviously hoping for a story. I sat there for probably ten minutes spinning them a tale of the hard life the poor boy had. Then I shifted to the well-dressed boy and how easy his life was. And I wrapped it all together with a warm message of caring and charity and love.
Before you ask, no, I wasn’t reciting from memory. I made it up as I went along. I am an author, after all, and spinning tales is what I do for a living. I admit, however, that I’d never had an opportunity to tell a story in this fashion. The children hung on my every word. It wasn’t until I’d finished the story that I realized that the entire room was silent. When I glanced around, I found the women all standing at the living room entrance and all the other occupants simply turned around, watching this little scene.
I admit it, I blushed slightly at having been caught out. I lifted the diorama back onto the table. When I turned I was very gratified when the five children tackled me in a huge group hug and thanked me for the story.
“Well now, children, I see that your moms and grandmas have finished their work in the kitchen, so how would you like to do presents now?”
“Presents?! Really?!” It was funny because the five little ones screamed that nearly in unison. That immediately got everyone laughing as the mothers hustled up and got control of their children, settling them near the tree. I gathered my Three Musketeers and I began handing the gifts to them and they, in turn, delivered the package to the designated recipient.
There was an awful lot of ‘wow, that’s just what I wanted’ as wrapping paper was ripped from the gifts. I’d expected each child to immediately find a spot to begin playing with their new toy, so I was greatly surprised when, with no prompting from any of the adults, the little ones came over one at a time to hug and thank me. Then they ran off to find a spot for their play.
I walked over to stand in front of Brad and Jack at that point.
“Well, boys, I had a bit of quandary when it came to the two of you. We’re only just getting to know one another. But even in this short time I’ve begun to feel a growing bond as family, in a spiritual and emotional sense.” They smiled and nodded. They also squeezed each other’s hand and leaned against one another.
“I’ve been at this a very long time, boys. I’ve watched a lot of men grow close, only to fall away later on. But once in a great while I’ve had the privilege of watching men grow close and then simply continue to grow closer. It’s always a miraculous thing when it happens in a heterosexual couple. But for me, it’s profound when it happens between two gay men. To witness two men decide that their love is so perfect that they are willing to ignore the prejudices of the society around them and simply be true to themselves…well, what can I say, I’m a sucker for a love story.”
I took just a moment to glance at the adults and witnessed a marvelous thing. Every husband and wife were cuddled together with clasped hands, smiling. I returned my attention to the boys.
“Like I said, I’ve been at this game of love for a long time. Jason and I shared something unique in this world. Many people frowned on it, but we didn’t care. We loved each other completely. And we did so for a very long time.” I sighed. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the two of you.” We chuckled together at that. “What I’ve been seeing in the last few days is a lot like what I saw when I looked at Jason and me. Someone recently told me that they had never seen you as comfortable with your relationship. You seem willing to allow people to witness what you have between you. Well, heck, look at you this minute.”
I walked over to the tree and pulled two small boxes from where I’d set them on branches. When I returned to stand before them, I held the boxes close to my chest.
“If I’m not mistaken, the two of you have decided to take your relationship to a new level of commitment.” They nodded. And there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in their response. I handed each of them a box. “Well then, boys, as a man who just can not resist the opportunity to encourage a love story, I’ve gotten you these so that you may have a physical acknowledgement of that new commitment.”
I think they did it on purpose. They opened their gifts with agonizingly slow precision. But then again, maybe they were just a bit overwhelmed. If they were, they were controlling their outward expression of it.
What they pulled from the boxes were two necklaces. Each one was a heart encrusted with diamonds. What made them different was that one had the diamonds set in gold, the other in silver. They looked at them for just moment and then reached up to put them on.
“Huh uh, boys,” I said. I then indicated that they were to swap the necklaces.
Okay, that finally did it. They understood what I was really trying to convey here. The realization brought tears to their eyes as they slowly reached toward each other and put the necklace in their hands over the head of the other.
Now, I could have chosen rings for them, and I’d considered just that. But I’d remembered all the added pressure Jason and I got when we began wearing our rings. We’d regretted it for a time, wishing we’d gone for something a little less public. So I’d chosen the necklaces for the boys. It was something that did not have to be exposed for the world to see, but it would keep the heart of their partner right next to their own. It wasn’t that they needed a symbol for others to see. They only needed some physical expression of their love that would always be there, whether they were physically together or not.
In that moment, Gran’s words came back to me about being a mentor for the boys. This was surely an expression of that. I was saving them from the mistake that Jason and I felt we’d made. After all, a commitment like theirs usually required the exchange of rings. I’d take the time later to explain why I’d chosen this.
The fact that I could see they understood what I was implying and the fact that they didn’t hesitate for a moment in completing the gesture told me that I’d been exactly right. They had, in fact, committed their hearts to one another. The looks I got from the two of them as they lowered their hands was all the thanks I needed.
I smiled briefly. Then I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before I turned to face the Three Musketeers where they sat on the floor next to my chair.
“Now I come to the three of you.” I held up my hand as Billy opened his mouth to say something. “Oh please, don’t say anything right now, and please, please, stay right where you are. I have some things to say and if you do or say anything I won’t get through it.”
I had to close my eyes and take another deep breath as I saw the slight glistening in all their eyes. When I finally felt in control again I opened them back up before continuing.
“I moved here two years ago so that I could bury myself in my grief over the loss of the only person I believed could make me happy. And being a gay man, and one with a certain celebrity, I was certain that once the truth about my life became known I’d have little chance of being accepted in this community; which, at the time, was exactly what I was willing to accept.”
It only registered peripherally that the entire room was silent. Even the children had stopped their play to listen.
“And then came the day that three boys came knocking at my door, hoping that they’d be able to convince the old guy that was new to the area that he needed help caring for his large yard. To them it was simply a wish for a bit of pocket money for the summer.
“Well, the old guy had not been enjoying all the work that was being required of him. He’d lived his whole life in a large city and hadn’t realized all that was entailed in having a home in the country. I knew concrete and potted, artificial plants. Grass and flowering beds were a mystery to me. Oh yeah, and raking leaves. Gees, I thought the trees would never become bare.”
The four of us laughed at that. For me it was a brief moment to clamp down on my emotions.
“So, here were these three rascals offering to lend me a hand…for a few dollars in their pocket, of course. What I never told you is that I’d been trying to figure out where I could hire someone to help take care of the place as she deserved. Boys, you were like an answer to a prayer.”
I smiled down at them. “Do you remember that I turned away for a moment?” They nodded. “Well, I damn near started crying right then. I had to turn away to get some control. I’d been looking out at the yard starting to get green that morning. The flower beds were staring at me as I sat in my library window, and I could almost hear them asking what I planned to do with them this year.”
I smiled and chuckled. “It took all my control not to blurt out my acceptance. And then we got into a lengthy negotiation.” I laughed outright. “You bargained hard too, as I remember. I realized right away that I was going to have to keep a close eye on you three. I knew if I didn’t, I might find my wallet far lighter than I cared for.”
At just that moment, Hazy padded over and sat at my feet. I knelt down and petted her as I continued.
“Well, I was amazed at all that you said you were willing to do. And I really had to agree that your price was quite fair. But do you know what really sealed the deal?”
They shook their heads, now fascinated by my speech.
I looked down at Hazy, just as she looked up at me. “Hazy is the one that really gets the credit for you getting hired. You see, boys,” I continued as I looked back at them, “Shelties, by and large, are a skittish breed. They don’t take to strangers. It takes quite a bit to get past their skepticism. So when she walked out of the house when she’d awakened from her nap I was shocked and more than just a bit confused when she ran out and immediately began jumping on you and encouraging you to play with her.”
Hazy chose that moment to pad over and lay in Eric’s lap. That got a chuckle from the adults.
“Well, that was all I needed. It was like a sign from on high. But I have to admit that I wasn’t really expecting a lot of enthusiasm from you three. Doing the chores you were offering to do would take up a large portion of your Saturdays. I just knew in my heart that your willingness to work would probably wane as the summer moved along.”
I stood up and walked to the tree and began pulling the last three boxes from there as I continued. It was just a way for me to finish this without losing my limited control.
“But that never happened. You worked hard and never complained. And then we slowly got to know one another. The only time in my life I’d had any prolonged contact with children was during that short spate as a teacher in New Jersey. It was not a terribly positive experience. The kids at the school were, for the most part, selfish and cruel. So I didn’t really know what to expect from you.”
I set a box in front of each boy, but none of them made any move to open them.
“Life was suddenly fun with you three around. Saturdays rapidly became my favorite day of the week. And then you went and did something that shocked me to my core. I’ve met very few adults that had such heart as you demonstrated when you invited yourselves to Thanksgiving supper. And then I learn that you’d done it knowing what my sexual preferences were, despite the fact that we’d never discussed it. I’d been very careful to hide the fact, just knowing that I’d lose your friendship if you were to learn.”
I turned my head slightly toward the rest of the room. “Brad, did you tell the boys about coming out to my car that night?”
I focused on the boys before me. “He came out that night because he’d seen me stop on the side of the road after I’d dropped Billy off. What he found when he arrived was an old gay man crying…in supreme happiness. Until that day I could never really make myself believe that I’d have any sort of love or truly close friends in my life.”
I lifted an arm and swept it around the room. “All of this is your fault. All of this would have remained in my attic for another year if you hadn’t come along and shown me that there was love and friendship out there in the world for me. To have had the revelation come in such young packages simply added to the marvel. So, what you have before you is a very small token to demonstrate my appreciation, my pride in who and what you are, and yes, my dear boys, my love.”
They didn’t move, even though I was obviously done. They simply continued to look at me, with tears streaming down their cheeks. So I crept forward, on my knees, and set the box in front of Archie into his lap, lifted his hands and set them on top of it. Then I leaned forward, took his head in my hands and kissed his forehead. “Merry Christmas, Archibald.” His only reaction to my use of his full name, which he’d never told me, was to smile.
I then did exactly the same thing to Eric and finally William. Of course, it took a moment to convince Hazy that she had to move.
The moment of silence stretched out as the boys all sniffed back their happiness and wiped at their eyes. But finally they each looked down and slowly tore the paper off the front of their box. All three of them froze when that first rip revealed what was inside. That first look finally got the boys to relax and react like children. They frantically ripped at the paper until everyone could clearly see the image of the boys’ new laptop computers.
“Oh my god, Adam,” said Marsha breathlessly.
I raised my hand to stop their immediate reaction of jumping up to thank me.
“Not yet, boys. There’s more.” I smiled, thoroughly enjoying their stunned happiness. “I believe I’ve made it clear over our growing friendship that I have many unique friends back where I came from. One of them is a real character with a very unique combination of talents. Besides being a complete computer geek, he is an accomplished artist as well.”
I chuckled. “Of course, I should probably mention that so is his wife. She’s the artist that created the ornament at the top of our tree.”
I waited for just a moment, knowing that everyone had glanced up at the thing.
“Anyway, when I ordered these computers, I asked him to give them a special treatment. Open your boxes, boys, and pull out your computers.”
Fortunately for them, I’d already had each of the computers out of their box to ensure that everything I’d asked for had been done. I’d also taken considerable care in setting up parental controls on them. Anyway, what this meant is that they didn’t have to fight the yards of tape that had previously sealed their boxes.
All three of them froze as the computer lid came into view. What I’d asked from my friend was a custom cover for each computer. They simply stared in awe at the picture of the Three Musketeers on each cover. They had no doubt that these were custom pieces, because the faces of the musketeers were their faces. I’d sent my friend copies of the pictures we’d taken that summer with my Hollywood friend.
I’d given Christian a general idea of what I wanted. I’d left the specifics to him. What he’d given me was far more than I’d expected. The painted Musketeers were identical on each computer. What made them totally personal is that Christian had placed each boy in the center position on his own computer. Below them was written Three Musketeers in Old English calligraphy. Below that was each boy’s name under his figure…the owner’s name under the center figure being slightly larger.
I laughed at their stunned looks. “Well, go ahead and pull them out and show everyone.”
When the expected sounds of amazement ended I finished my presentation. “I’ve had those computers loaded with all sorts of programs, boys, and if you can come over tomorrow after church I’ll give you all the details. For now, I’ll only mention one program. Each of you has a program that will help you with the one subject that you struggle with most at school. The program is comprehensive enough that it will last you all the way through graduation from high school.”
I smiled and looked first at Billy. “Which subject do you think you got?”
I nodded and turned to Archie.
“It has to be English.”
I smiled and then turned to Eric. I could see that the poor boy was struggling to make a decision. After all, the boy didn’t really have a subject that caused him any problems.
“I’ll save you the effort, Eric. We all know that you really don’t have any problems at school. What you do seem to have is one subject that completely captivates your attention.”
“Yes, sir. Your program is one specifically tailored to someone that seems to be heading toward a career in veterinary medicine.”
They all stood at that point and gave me a brief hug before they stepped over to their parents and handed over the computers for them to admire. Then they returned to me empty handed and did what I never expected them to do in front of their families. I got a much more serious hug and then they’d each kissed me, just as they’d done in the kitchen earlier.
I know you’re not going to believe me, but I didn’t cry. And honestly, it sort of surprised me too. I simply basked in it all. I hadn’t felt this warm and fuzzy since before Jason’s illness.
I spent the rest of the evening with the parents telling them what I’d ordered in these computers. I first explained the parental controls I’d set up. They were very appreciative of that forethought. Marsha, at least, understood some of the potential with the programs I’d had included. Everything I’d put in there would help the boys excel in their school work. But what really surprised them is when I told them about the GPS tracing devices I’d had installed so that there was little chance of theft. I also explained about the plate that was cemented somewhere inside the housing that contained all of the boys’ personal information.
I was pleased, but not surprised, when they all agreed with my wish that the computers never be allowed anywhere but at home or my house. I was pretty sure the boys wouldn’t have a problem with that restriction. I didn’t intend to tell the boys about the GPS or identification plate, however. It might turn into a point of pride that they shared with their friends and that was something that couldn’t be allowed to happen.
Everyone finally departed at nine, but I was still far too keyed up to seek my own bed. So I spent an hour in the kitchen loading the dishwasher with pots and pans, and washing the china and silver by hand. I decided to leave off putting it all back into the china cabinet until the next morning, mainly because by the time I was done I was starting to fade.
Fortunately, Brad and Jack had taken it upon themselves to collect all the debris and cart it off to the trash bin. My Musketeers had reverted to pure boys as they sat together in a corner and began exploring their new bits of technology. So it was that I only had to walk around and extinguish candles and turn out lights before I gathered up my little collie and took us to our beds.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hmm, I’ve just taken a moment to review what I’ve written. I don’t think I’ve done the best job at keeping my point of view consistent. Most of the time I seem to be writing as if I were living the experiences at that moment. At others, it’s obvious that I’m writing from a future perspective, reliving what happened.
Well, in all honesty, I should probably say that I am, in fact, looking back on events. The reason for the confusion, I suppose, is that I’ve been reading through the diaries I began when it became clear that the boys and I were growing close.
That would be the first two diaries. I’ve got dozens more of them on my shelves now, all carefully labeled, standing proudly in my office. They are, after all, a sort of shrine to my second life.
You might ask why diaries, in the old manner, instead of on the computer. It’s simple. These events were so important at the time that I had no intention of losing the thoughts during those days because of some failure of my electronics. And after so many years it’s simply a habit that I truly enjoy.
Oh yes, years. Thought you might catch that. It’s now dusk on an early June day and I’ve just returned from witnessing the graduation of my Three Musketeers from high school. I was particularly proud of the fact that all three of them had been high on the honor rolls.
Let’s see if I can’t summarize this last six years so that I don’t bore you.
All right, you’ve already seen the biggest news of my boys. I’ll only add that they worked on my yard faithfully until the beginning of their sophomore year. The previous summer they’d scoured the countryside to find more boys to take their place. None of them have been as dedicated as my musketeers, but there always seems to be someone to take the vacated space.
I’ve become a respected member of the community. I’m frequently called upon to come and speak to students about gay issues.
Let’s see, Brad and Jack are still a strong couple. The summer after that first Christmas, they moved into the cottage Brad’s grandmother had insisted they have; the one she and her husband had lived in during the early days of their lives. It had stood unused for many years, but maintained just enough so that it didn’t disintegrate.
You see, the boys wanted to continue working the dairy, with an eye to eventually controlling it all. Allowing them to move into an apartment in town seemed ludicrous to everyone. But the boys desperately wanted to have their own place.
On a warm summer’s day, a dozen families had gathered at the cottage with enough materials to nearly rebuild the entire structure. It was a three day barn raising, or at least that’s what we called it. In fact, it was just an updating and fortifying of the existing structure. New windows and appliances appeared as if by magic; along with insulation, drywall, and paint, not to mention all the lumber. The thing that made it possible is that one of the family friends was a local contractor. He’d sent us a small crew of experienced men that directed our efforts.
When it was all said and done, the boys had a modern, weather-tight home. But the two of them had insisted that if it was at all possible, they wanted the exterior to be a faithful restoration of the original structure, to honor the grandparents that had started it all. They got their wish.
Let’s see, what else? Oh yes, there is one sad note in all those years. Vincent Franks was never able to reconcile himself to his feelings. A year after that incident, he took his life. The other three boys got a year’s probation and turned their lives around.
In all these years, I’ve never had an opportunity to become lonely or depressed. My musketeers have been faithful friends and companions, even after they gave up the task of keeping my yard. I became amused when they started dating because every new girl friend since they turned fourteen has been brought by to visit. My approval of their choices was always very important to the boys. Only once in all those years did I feel the need to advise dropping the girl in question.
As you might imagine, Brad and Jack are frequent guests. In fact, I seem to visit them at their small home as much as they come here. A week never goes by without us getting together once or twice. It’s been amusing to watch them as they’ve experimented with décor, trying to determine precisely what their style was. What they’ve finally settled on is a nice combination of contemporary and vintage. It’s a clear statement that they are modern boys that wish to acknowledge the debt they owe to their past.
I’m waiting for them now, in fact. They are going to take me to the big family celebration. I only came here to bring home my gifts from the graduation ceremony. I plan to build a shadow box to put them in so that they’ll always be protected, and always present. You see, the boys each signed their mortar boards and gave them to me in gratitude for all my help, support, and love. I know that’s what they intended, because that’s precisely what they’ve written on the boards.
So, I suppose that leaves only Hazy. She’s hanging in there with me. She’s ten years old now and not nearly as frisky as she used to be. Of course, at sixty-three, neither am I. We don’t ‘walk’ as much as we used to. And when we do, they are strolls instead of the cat and mouse games we used to play. Oh yes, and our naps afterwards are certainly longer.
My point in all of this is that I’m trying to speak to those of you who have been thrown a curve ball in life. Just because the perfection of your life has been disrupted, is no reason to stop looking for the opportunities for something new. And please, don’t overlook an opportunity because the source seems so outlandish.
I mean look at me. I got an opportunity at a second supremely happy life. And what was the source of that happiness? It was three young boys stopping by to try and make a buck. And I’m convinced that both my lives have occurred because of Jason; the first one by his presence, the second by his intercession on my behalf.
Don’t automatically reject the unexpected or unusual. Go ahead and embrace it…at least for a time. Give it a chance to develop. I won’t say that you will get the same stellar results that I’ve had, but who can say.
I suppose the only way to really close this is to send out a heartfelt thank you to my one true love. I believe with all my heart that you brought this opportunity to my doorstep, you rascal. You never were one to let me wallow when life took a nasty turn.
I just hope you’re patient, Jason. I know the day will come when we will be reunited and be able to renew our commitment. In the mean time, I’m having far too much fun in this new life you devised for me to give it up quite yet.
So, until that day arrives, I’ll simply continue to end my day as I’ve always done.
Good night my love, and thank you.