AUTHOR’S NOTE: This short story was written in 2002 and as such, some of the references are dated.
I remember the internal debate. He’s stable. He loves me. He’d do anything for me.
It raged on for months, until one day it struck me – he couldn’t do anything for me. It wasn’t for lack of trying; the guy was sweeter than nearly anyone I’d ever met (or have since met for that matter). It was just one word, but that one word changed everything.
“I’d die for you, you know”
I did know, and that knowledge didn’t give me the security and comfort that you might expect from such a heartfelt sentiment. I had to tell him goodbye. I’m sure any outsider would think I was insane. He was a great catch, great job, great looking, just great. And my God…he’d die for you!
Therein lay the problem. His parents didn’t know. His boss and coworkers didn’t know. The neighbors didn’t know. Whenever someone came over, the house had to be “straightened”- that’s to say there could be no evidence that anything other than normal everyday heterosexuality ever took place within the walls of that apartment. He was so obsessed with this charade that he’d given up his office so as to create “my bedroom” when I moved in.
I never slept in that bed but he’d religiously change the sheets and mess up-then remake it so if anyone looked, they’d think I did. He hated beer and watched his weight like a champ, but there was always a half-gone six pack in the fridge and a bag of pork rinds on the counter. The photos of us together on our trips to Cozumel, Venice, Dublin…there weren’t any photos of us together on those or any of the other trips we’d taken since we met four years prior.
“What if they got out on the Internet?”
I loved him, don’t get me wrong. I just could no longer trust someone who was willing to die for someone he couldn’t even admit to loving. Dying for someone is easy. Living with them isn’t.
I sat in the coffee shop that day and my mind flashed morbidly but soberly forward. He’d been in a terrible accident and was barely holding on at the local hospital. In a panic, I’d run into the emergency room. His father was pacing and his mother was sobbing and the cords and tubes and beeps and hums were tethering him to that bed and those hideous cheap white sheets. Didn’t they know that he hated white sheets?
“Sir? I need to have you wait outside, please. Only immediate family is allowed in the room.”
I blinked and looked up.
“Sir? I said ‘would you like a refill?'”
I dropped some money on the table, pushed past the nurse-waitress and headed home.
“We need to talk.”
“You just don’t understand. It’s taken me years to get where I am, Dan. College, grad school…My colleagues…hell, my clients! Do you have any idea what they’d do, what they’d say if they found out?”
“That’s part of the problem, Brian. If there is anything they could say or do that would change the way you feel about me – about us – then there is no ‘us’ to change and it’s time to move on.” Dan couldn’t help but continue. “Babe, do you realize that if something happened to you right now, I’d have no right to be in the hospital with you? And, and even if I did, your parents wouldn’t understand why I’d want to be the one holding your hand. I want to be the one holding your hand, Brian.”
Dan stepped closer and took his hand. Brian looked away to hide his tears, but there was no turning back now. Dan touched his face and made him look into his eyes.
“I love you, but I can’t live like this anymore. I’ve got to go.”
He turned towards the door and began that long walk. The tears had so blurred his vision that it took a moment to focus.
“Oh please, say to me…you’ll let me be your man.”
Brian was behind him, singing as best he could through his own tears.
“And please, say to me…you’ll let me hold your hand.”
He rested his forehead against the back of Dan’s neck and sang/sobbed/whispered the last line of the song.
“I wanna hold your hand…I wanna hold your hand.”
His heart became a boulder lodged in his throat. He never remembered the front door being so heavy. He couldn’t look back at him as he pulled it closed. Brian’s sobs echoed in his ears as he waited for the elevator.
Dear Dan, It’s been 19 days and the only conclusion I can come up with is that I am miserable. I feel empty. Would you believe I even watched that Tom Cruise movie you like so much? I replayed the elevator scene a few times and now I spend most of my free time signing “you complete me” to your picture. I woke up this morning holding that damn body pillow of yours. It still smells like you. I’m a fucking homo cliché now and it’s all your fault. Please call me, Danny. I need you. I need us. Would you please sign the enclosed documents and return them to my office as soon as possible. I can change, but without you there’s no reason to. Forever Yours, Brian
Brian stuck the note in an envelope and tucked it in his briefcase, not knowing why he was bothering; he had already left six notes with the front desk. Truth be told, he did know why – he was desperate. He was so caught up in being the perfect son and the perfect lawyer that he never realized he’d been such an imperfect mate. He never realized he was making Dan so miserable until he walked out.
Brian had his paralegal draft a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney and he was going to Dan’s office before lunch to hopefully give them to him personally.
If he’ll just let me see him, that’s all I need, just to see him for a few minutes.
The phone had been ringing off the hook all morning, Dan’s secretary was on vacation and the day’s appointments had been mysteriously double-booked, leaving a lobby full of very irate clients and a phone bank suffering from nearly a week of being subjected to a 40 year old temp with a fresh manicure.
“Mr Freeman, there’s a Mr. Kennett here to see you. He says it’s an emergency”
Shit. Dan muttered to himself. This is exactly what I need right now.
“Tell Mr. Kennett that he’ll need to make an appoint…”
He was cut short by the door to his office opening and Brian closing it behind him.
“I know you’re busy but this will only take a minute. I just need to get you to read over something and…” Brian fumbled through the side pocket of his briefcase and pulled out a folder. “…and sign it.”
He stepped closer to Dan’s desk and held out the folder. Their eyes met and Dan could see the telltale signs that he hadn’t been sleeping either. He reached for the folder and quickly shifted his eyes down.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s my life in three short pages.” He choked and continued, “It’s something that I should have done a long time ago. Look, I know I’ve been nothing but a self-serving prick since, well shit, since I was born. What I’m trying to say is I’m ready to make it right. I want to name you as my attorney-in-fact in case something happens to me that leaves me medically unable to take care of myself.”
“Brian, you don’t have to…”
“Yes I do, Danny. I do have to. I have to do whatever it takes to convince you that you are my life. You told me you wanted to be the one to hold my hand if something happened to me, well something is fucking happening to me!” He lifted his head and looked at his lover with tear-stained eyes. “When you left I thought I was dying inside. Then I realized that I couldn’t be dying because I hadn’t learned to live yet.“
“I can’t do this right now. I’ve got people waiting, Brian.” Dan went for the door but was stopped.
“For Christ’s sake, what do I have do, Dan? Do I have to take out an ad in the Sunday fuckin’ Times telling the world that I am in love with Daniel Freeman and I can’t stand to see my bed without him in it for another night? Do I have to tell my parents that the real reason I’ve never gotten married is because the person I want to marry is a man? If that’s what it’s gonna take, then get your coat; it’s a long drive to Montgomery.”
Dan didn’t know what to say. He stood motionless, save for the heaving of his chest as he fought back the salty taste in the back of his throat.
“You’re…you’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I have never been more serious about anything in my life. Please come home.” Brian picked up his briefcase, paused briefly just inches away from Dan. “Just come home.”
Hearing the door latch click home, he knew how Brian must have felt when he left.
Dan pulled into a parking space and leaned his head on the steering wheel. Why did I agree to this? He’s just going to say what he thinks I want to hear. He got out of the car and walked slowly into the restaurant. His mind flashed back to the many times he and Brian had eaten here and how many times he had badgered Brian for ordering the same meal every single time. Granted, Lou did make the best Chicken Carbonara anywhere.
“Mr. Freeman! It’s great to see you!” Karla was the dictionary definition of “bubbly” in a way that would make Katie Couric look like a witch. “Your table is ready and Mr. Kennett is waiting” she said with a smile.
There was no need for Dan to be escorted; they’d eaten at the same table at least once a week for four years. From across the room he could see Brian nervously rearranging the silverware.
“Danny!” Brian, obviously startled, jumped up from his seat a little too quickly, nearly knocking his wine glass to the floor. He embraced Dan a little too tightly and for a little too long. “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me.”
“You said it was important.”
“It is!” Brian pulled out the chair. “Please, have a seat.”
The waiter brought a bottle of wine and offered Brian the first taste.
“Sorry but my boyfriend’s the wine connoisseur,” Pointing to Dan he added “I hope it’s as good as you remember.”
Dan stared at him not knowing what to say or think. Did he just….wow. He did.
“Oh! Sorry!” He took the glass, still looking at Brian. He sniffed, then tasted. It was his favorite from the trip they’d taken to the Napa Valley 2 years ago. How did he remember?
“1996 Araujo, sir, from Eisele.” Dan nodded and the waiter proceeded to fill their glasses and the others that had not yet been removed from the table. “Oh no, thanks. There‟s only two of us. You can take the other settings.”
“Didn’t I tell you, Danny? I have a little surprise for you.” Brian pointed over Dan’s shoulder. He turned and saw Brian’s parents walking in.
Dan looked back at Brian and mouthed, “What‟s this all about?” before he stood up to greet the new arrivals, “Mrs. Kennett! You look younger every time I see you! How are you, Mr. Kennett?”
Pleasantries and greetings can only last so long, of course. In his mind, Brian was going over his speech. THE speech. The one that will make Mom cry and Dad disown him. You‟d think a packed restaurant on a Friday night would be louder than this. Now everyone in Birmingham is going to know that I’m a flamer all because I picked the wrong restaurant.
“Brian?” Olivia touched his arm. “Son, are you feeling alright? I asked how your filet was.”
He chucked nervously, “I’m sorry! I was trying to remember if I locked my car.”
“You can‟t have a car thief planting his dirty keister on that that Corinthian leather.” Dan joked.
“Mom, Dad, I asked you to have dinner with us so I could…so we could…” Brian was wringing the napkin with his hands and looking nervously around the room as he spoke. He looked at Dan and remembered the last month without him. It was as if Mt St Helens had just erupted within him. He looked at his parents, took a deep breath and covered them with word-lava. “I am in love with Daniel Freeman and have been since the first time I saw him four years, three months and six days ago.”
Danny looked up in amazement. Brian’s mother was looking down at the table while his father had a puzzled angry look on his face. As he tried to speak, Brian stopped him short.
“I’ve spent 37 years being everything to everyone. I studied law at Duke because it’s where Dad went. I dated Marie Douglas in high school because her mother was in the Rotary with you, Mom. I bought my suits from the tailor downtown – even though he hasn’t sewn a cuff right in 40 years – because that’s the sign in this town that you’ve arrived. Then last month I lost everything. I still had the car, the apartment and the job, but I lost everything that mattered in my life and I didn’t even realize it until he walked out the door.”
He looked at Dan. “Danny, I am so in love with you that nothing else matters. I want to wake up next to you for the rest of my life and if that means telling the world, then consider it done. I am not myself without you. Will you please come home with me tonight?”
It wasn’t until he’d finished his speech that he looked at his parents again. Robert fixed a stunned, blank stare on his dessert menu. A teary-eyed Olivia looked at her son with a pained smile, her head
almost shaking from side-to-side with that you‟re still my baby but what I did wrong look that only mothers of gay sons can give. It was Danny’s turn to break the silence.
“Mr. and Mrs. Kennett, it‟s true. I do love your son more than anything. I know it goes against everything you know and believe, but it’s the truth. Brian‟s spent the last four years waking up fifteen minutes before the alarm goes off in the morning to turn on the coffee pot even though there’s a timer on the damned thing. That’s not just his OCD acting up, that’s love. Well, love mixed with some fear I think. I mean, I can be pretty scary before my first cup of coffee.” He chuckled nervously at his own joke and continued, “Anyway, I had that for four years without fail and for the last month I’ve been relying on the coffee shop next to my office because it had been so long, I forgot how to make coffee. It’s stupid and sounds really needy and codependent and about twenty other buzzwords that mean something negative, but it’s the truth. Your son is the most incredible human being God ever put on this earth and I somehow got lucky enough to have him in my life.”
Olivia and Robert sat silently looking across the small table that had suddenly become much larger, the seats further apart.
“Mom, Dad…Danny and I are going home. I’d really like it if you‟d come by and have some coffee before you head back.” Brian laughed out loud and winked at Dan as he stood up. “I promise I‟ll make it.”
“We’ve got a long drive and your mother’s got to help decorate the church in the morning.” It was all his father could muster as he pulled Olivia’s coat over her shoulders and started towards the door. “Don’t forget to go see your Granny. Her birthday’s in a few days and she‟ll be expecting you.”
Brian’s mother kissed his cheek, nodded a goodbye to Dan and quickly followed her husband out the door.
“That went well.” Dan stood and reached back for his coat when Brian stopped him. He held the coat open for Dan to pull it on.
“Yeah, it did.” He said as he put his arm around his boyfriend and walked out of the restaurant. “It really did. Let‟s go home.”
“You have got to be kidding me! Carrie wouldn’t have even made it to the top ten except she‟s 16 going on 22, with the boobs to prove it!”
Dan was pacing in front of the television like so many other men during the Super Bowl. He had been addicted to Idol since the first season and had all the numbers pre-programmed into both his cell and home phones.
“Obsess much?” Brian couldn’t resist throwing a verbal punch from the safety of the kitchen.
“You‟re just jealous because Darren is going to fly me to L.A. when he wins and let me be his sex slave and spend his fortune for the rest of my life.” Dan volleyed back.
“Don‟t forget you‟re 36 – the rest of your life might not be that long!”
Just then, a pillow from the sofa came hurling through the air hitting Brian in the back of the head.
Brian came out of the kitchen with the pillow in one hand and a spatula in the other. “Besides, at his age, he‟d probably just trade you in on two 18’s.”
He dropped the pillow and grabbed Dan around the waist, smearing chocolate icing all over his face.
“Oh no you didn’t! You asshole, I just took a shower!” Dan wrestled the spatula away and returned the favor by streaking chocolate across Brian’s neck and shirt. “There! That’ll teach you!”
He stood back and laughed, enjoying the moment while Mr. Poise & Control contemplated his next move. Brian closed his eyes and started moving seductively to the sound of the TV singer’s painful rendition of “Something to Talk About”. He unbuttoned his shirt slowly while gyrating closer and closer, then let the soiled cotton fall to the floor. He draped his arms over Dan’s shoulders pulling him closer, then moved in and licked the chocolate from his cheek. Dan tried to move in for a kiss but without a word Brian stopped him, pulling away just enough to cause the moment to linger. He seized the opportunity by planting his lips squarely on Brian’s neck and swirling his tongue so that not a trace of the intoxicating salty sweet flavor could escape. As if instinctively their bodies became a tangled knot of arms and legs from which neither wanted to be freed, at least not tonight.
“Is this…are we…dancing? Together?”
Brian nuzzled that little trigger spot just behind Danny’s ear. “I think so.”
“Who‟s leading?” Dan asked, still joking
“Who cares? They’re playing our song.”
“Since when did “Against All Odds‟ become our song? That’s not our song, you freak. I hate that song!”
“I wasn’t talking about the TV. I was talking about the big gay chorus up in the sky full of all the big gay angels up there cheering for us. Pretty sure Freddy Mercury is singing lead.”
Just then, Brian started spinning Dan around the room singing “Find…me…somebody to love…Find…me…somebody to love…Find…me…somebody to love…can anybody find me….” He spins once more then dips Dan low to the ground.
He leans in, looks into Dan’s eyes and whispers “love”. Dan closed his eyes and as they melted into a soul-baring kiss, he swore he could hear the chorus too.