DARK ROOTS

Summary of Part 5:  The Tomato Man: Initially reluctant to discover the identity of his real father, Brian is finally convinced by Justin to talk to his mother in the hospital.  Brian wonders if his father might be someone important, but he's appalled to learn that instead, he was sired by Gerald, The Tomato Man.  He loses interest, but Justin plays detective and finds the truth: Gerald attended Carnegie Mellon University, and it may now be possible to locate him.


Part Six:   Maybe, Maybe Not


Brian

“I did not ask you to do this.”

“I know you didn’t,” Justin acknowledges, holding out his hand toward me with a yellow sticky note stuck to the ends of his fingers.  “But aren’t you glad that he was so easy to find?”

“Who said I wanted to find him?” 

“You said - “

“I said I might.  I said, sometime I might.  Not now.  Not right this minute.”

“Well,” he’s keeping it reasonable, too fucking reasonable, “I already did it.  I found him.  I googled for Dr. Gerald Shaughnessy in Boston and there he was.  This is his address and phone number. Take the note, Brian.”

Justin left his own computer and has cornered me at my desk.  Glaring up at him, I say, “You don’t know that this is the guy.  It’s just a name, a common name.  Even if this is the right one, you still don’t know if – if he’s - ”

“It’s not that common.  Maybe this is the right guy, maybe it’s not.  But how many Dr. Gerald Shaughnessy’s can there be?  And anyway, there’s one way to find out.”

“Stop waving that thing in my face.  And back off.  Mind your own fucking business.”

“Brian - ”

“Back the fuck off,” I repeat, squinting my eyes, an angry scowl tugging down the corners of my mouth. 

“Back off?”  Justin’s voice goes up an octave.  “I was just trying to help.  You told me - ”

“I know what I told you.  But you had no right to go behind my back like this.”

“Behind your back?  Behind your fucking back?”  Justin’s eyebrows have climbed up his forehead.

I draw a deep breath to give further vent to my anger when suddenly he gives up.  Exhaling an explosive sigh and shaking his head, Justin lowers his voice and says soothingly,  “Okay, Brian – I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Who said you upset me?  I am not fucking upset.  I just said, mind your own business and back the fuck off.”

“Okay,” Justin nods.  “It’s cool, I’m backing off.”  And with that he drops the note on my desk.  Ostentatiously I crumple it up and throw it in the wastebasket.

Justin turns and walks away.  I watch him sit down at his computer and I feel the anger still building inside my head, my nerves are sizzling with fury.  And I realize that I don’t want him to give up so easily; I want the argument to fucking escalate.  I realize that I want to yell at him some more.

Which for some reason makes me feel amazingly stupid.



Justin

Brian is so fucking predictable.  Well, I should have predicted his response this time but I was excited to have found Gerald Shaughnessy so easily.  He’s panicking, that’s all; the best thing I can do right now is just back off, as he asked me to do.  I return to my desk and focus on the computer monitor.  

When the situation was hypothetical – before he had an actual identification of the man who is probably his real father – Brian was able to be rational about the benefits of contacting him.  Brian loves Gus and would do anything for him, so the idea that Gus’ biological grandfather might have information that could be relevant to Gus’ health made him willing to consider finding the man.  Yet now that actually meeting the guy has become totally feasible, Brian balks.

Which is putting it mildly.

He told me to back off and I decided not to argue.  I know Brian, and I’ve had four years to develop a thick skin where he’s concerned.  He wanted to piss me off.  So instead of getting angry, I merely shrugged and dropped the note on his desk.  When he crumpled it up and tossed it in his wastebasket, I kept my face impassive, turned around and walked away. 

We sat in silence for a while then, for a few minutes, each of us pretending to work.  Finally Brian pushed back his chair and stomped up the steps to the bedroom; changed into tricking clothes, grabbed his wallet and keys and stomped out the door, all without a single word to me.  No doubt he’s on his way to Babylon to get his dick sucked a few dozen times.  So predictable.

When I’m sure that he’s gone, I move over to his desk and sift through the trash.  Of course the note is missing, as I was sure it would be.  I know that Brian has taken the note with the doctor’s phone number, and so now I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.  The absolute worst thing I can do is pressure him about it.

Anyway I have problems of my own to worry about.  Deadline for the Techno/Vision internship application is approaching and I still haven’t asked Professor Grant to give me a recommendation.  The man’s an asshole but he’s highly respected in the field and I know that a word from him will carry more weight than a dozen recommendations from my other teachers.  I’ve managed, barely, to keep up with his class requirements, earning As on everything I’ve turned in – at the cost of letting some assignments in my other classes slide.  But I can’t keep up that pace all term, so it’s even more vital to get a note from Grant now, while I’m doing well. 

I’ve been wanting to talk to Brian about my predicament.  He not only gives great practical advice, but I also want him to know ahead of time that I’m going for this job.  After all, he did finally share with me about his mother, or bits of the story anyway – he’s never told me much of his family history and he’s got a barbed-wire fence around the rest.  But the time has not been right to broach the subject of this job opportunity with Brian during the past week, we’ve both been killer busy, seeing each other only briefly at night, and it always seemed like fucking was more urgent than conversation. 

Okay, so I’ll admit that I’m worried about his reaction.  He's going to ask if I intend to use this internship as a springboard to a real job with Techno/Vision.  And the thing is, that's the way Mr. Martin presented it to me.  He emphasized that this is more of an entry-level job than a real internship, and that if the person they hire does a great job, they'll considering hiring him full-time. 

I have no intention of taking yet another break from school for this or any other job, for lots of reasons.  But I'm not sure that Brian will buy it – not without harassing me to death.  He's been such a freak about the importance of finishing school, I just don't want to listen to any more of his nagging, he's worse than a dad about it.  Not that I'd say that to him of course, then he really would freak out! 

So I've put off telling Brian about this job, and after tonight's argument, I don't know when the time will be right to discuss Techno/Vision with him.



Brian

When did all the tricks in Babylon start to look the same? 

It’s not easy to fuck new guys all the time in the small gay ghetto of the Pitts, not without crossing the line into loser territory.  Of course I know that the more drugs I ingest, the better-looking the tricks will become – but running my own business is so demanding that I can’t get totally wasted every night of the week like I used to do. 

Tonight I’m sober, or nearly sober, and twice I’ve made my way around the dance floor and checked out every corner of the backroom maze without finding a single mouth that I want to stick my cock into.  I could go back to the dance floor again but that would make me look desperate.  Worse, it would make me feel desperate.  Fuck it, guess I’ll go hang outside for a while, see if anything interesting turns up. 

I make my way to the exit and move quickly down the steps and across the alley to where I’ve parked the ‘vette, lean against the door and pull out my smokes.  Immediately a shadowy figure that was leaning on a brick wall crosses the street and stops in front of me.  Young, buzzed brown hair, softly rounded chin and full red lips.  My cock stirs inside my jeans; I haven’t had this one before.

“Hey,” he croons, narrowing his eyes – and then, before I can respond, his eyes widen in surprise.  “Oh!” he exclaims.  “You’re – aren’t you – Justin Taylor’s partner?”

“No,” I deny it.  Then I clarify, “Justin Taylor is MY partner.”

“You’re Brian, right?  I saw you at the IFA art show a couple weeks ago.  Somebody pointed you out to me.”

“Is that so?”  I exhale a cloud of smoke and just as I decide to tell him to fuck off, he asks, “You’re not – you’re not cruising, are you?”

“I’m smoking a cigarette; what does it look like I’m doing?  And what’s it to you?”

“Oh, sorry!” he’s abashed.  “Of course you’re not cruising, not when you’ve got the real JT for your boyfriend, haha.  Is it true that he was King of Babylon a couple years ago?”

“I don’t remember.”

My annoyance has finally penetrated the brat’s thick skull.  He backs away a step or two and says, “Well, I gotta go.  Tell Justin that Bailey said hello!”

“Hmm.”

Bailey turns and ambles away, back across the street to lean against the wall again, waiting to suck off someone else.  He’s probably seventeen or eighteen – too young to get into Babylon.  Justin was around the same age when he was hanging around this alley.  The night we met.

Christ, I am NOT getting nostalgic.  Flicking away the cigarette, I unlock the door and get in, gun the engine and drive away with a grinding of gears.  After turning the corner I slow down; no point taking out my irritation on my fabulous old car.  A glance at the dashboard clock shows that I’ve been gone about an hour.  That’s long enough.  I’ll just go on home now; might as well make it an early night. 

Justin’s still up, but he’s moved from his computer and is curled up on the sofa, munching chips and watching the eleven o’clock news.  The face he turns toward me shows nothing, he’s learned from me how to be stoic.  I’m not fooled, I know he’s still annoyed with me, but all he says is, “Hey.  Lindsay called.  She said Gus kissed a girl in his preschool today and made her cry.”

“Gus kissed a girl?”  I pull off my jacket and stroll into the living room.  “Christ, my kid is going to be straight.”

“Not necessarily.  I remember kissing girls when I was a little kid.”  He uncurls his feet and moves over a few inches, it’s an invitation to sit beside him.

Tossing my jacket toward a chair, I drop down next to Justin, raise my arm and settle it on the back of the sofa behind him.  Immediately he leans against me and slides a hand into my lap, rubbing his fingers on the inside of my thigh.  It’s affection not foreplay, and I feel my shoulders relax.  He’s not going to revive our earlier conversation about Gerald Shaughnessy. 

Since he’s letting the subject drop, and since he doesn’t appear to be angry that I slammed out of the loft tonight to go tricking, I’m almost tempted to tell him that I didn’t find anybody I wanted to fuck.  That in the end I decided I’d rather come home and fuck Justin instead. 

What’s funny is that I feel myself wanting to say it.  Wanting to tell Justin that just sitting here on the sofa with him, watching tv, touching each other, feels better than hanging out in the back room watching some hot new trick go down on me. 

I don’t say it, of course.  Just because I feel that way right now, doesn’t mean that five minutes from now I won’t change my mind.  Besides, Debbie – in her own inimitable way – has always said, “leopards don’t change their stripes.”  I’m not going to change my stripes either.  Not now, not ever.

At least, I don’t think so.  

Later, when we’re curled together in bed, pleasantly exhausted from a slow and easy fuck, again I wait for Justin to bring up the subject of Gerald Shaughnessy.  Often he digs at me about things when I’m relaxed after a good fuck, I assume he imagines that he’s softened me up.  But he doesn’t do it tonight, instead I hear him exhale a long humming sigh as he slides into sleep.  I close my eyes and prepare to follow him, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be one of those nights.  One of those raging-insomnia nights.

I’ve been plagued – or blessed – with insomnia most of my life.  Often I’ve done my best thinking when I’m pacing the floor at three in the morning, so it’s not always a curse.  Unless there’s something I absolutely do not want to think about, and which I can keep at bay during the busy daylight hours but not in the silent darkness.  Something like, say, the shadowy figure of a man who might be my real father.

Justin said biology’s not the only thing that makes a dad and I acknowledge the truth of it.  Biologically I’m Gus’ father, but in the traditional sense, I don’t play a large part in his life.  I’ve spent more time with him the past few months and I do want to be there whenever he needs me, yet for the routine day to day stuff, I’m not around.  I wonder if someday he’ll blame me for that?  Will he think I failed him as a father?  When he hits the teen years, will he decide that he’s ashamed of me?

Alternatively, would some stranger, some man I’ve never met and who doesn’t even know of my existence, would that man be ashamed to learn that I’m his son?  Would he turn his back to me as Pop did so often?

Even before he knew that I was gay, Pop didn’t have much use for me.  He mostly ignored me when I was a kid – and made me wish he’d ignore me the rest of the time, especially when he’d been drinking.  After I was grown, the only time I heard from Pop was when he needed money. 

So why should I want to find some stranger, some man whose careless seed created me, only to experience rejection by yet another dad?  Who needs that kind of bullshit?  Not me.



Justin

“Professor Grant - ”  I hesitate in the open doorway of his office.

Glancing at me over the top of his black-framed half-glasses and leaning back in his chair, which creaks ominously, the teacher almost barks, “Mr. Taylor, is this another request to use a computer for your assignments?” 

“No,” I hastily assure him, moving a few inches inside the office, which is crammed floor to ceiling with stacks of books and papers, the top of his desk isn’t visible and there’s even a stack of books on the only other chair in the room.  “No,” I repeat, “I’d like to ask you for a recommendation.”

“For what?” he demands sharply, “The Chadbourne Fellowship?  That’s for seniors.”

“Not the Chadbourne,” I shake my head.  “There’s a job – actually a paid internship – becoming available at Techno/Vision that I’d like to apply for.  I know that you’re on their Advisory Council, so a recommendation from you would mean a lot.”

“A job at T/V?  Doing what?”

I open my mouth to answer but he interrupts, waving his hand.  “Move those books to the floor, sit down, why don’t you?”  He sounds cranky, as if it’s my fault there’s no place to sit in his office. 

Quickly I drop my backpack and shift the books to the floor, perch on the edge of the chair and take a deep breath.  I wasn’t really sure he’d even listen to me, and now I have to fight not to get too excited, he still might say no.  “It’s part-time,” I explain, “It’s called Assistant Technical Editor, but Mr. Martin – the Editor – told me it’ll mostly be research, it’s for the Canterbury Tales project T/V is producing for public television.”

“Research,” Grant harrumphs, “What does that mean exactly?  Anybody can dig through old library vaults, or surf the internet for information.  Why is T/V hiring an artist for something like that?  And why would you be qualified?”

“Canterbury is an animated feature, and Martin wants somebody who can reproduce old illuminated manuscript bits by hand, or at least advise the creative artists who’re working on the project – for historical accuracy.  And I worked on another animated feature, in Hollywood, this past spring, so I have some experience with that kind of project.”

“Oh yes,” Grant leans back again, crossing his legs and folding his hands on his knee.  “I remember now, you’re the IFA’s golden boy, aren’t you?  Going to be famous before you’re twenty-one, is that it?”

That makes me laugh.  “I’d have to hurry, I’ll be twenty-one in a few months.  And anyway,” I add, “I was such a nobody in LA.  I was only hired because I helped create the comic that inspired the film.”

At least the money I made on Rage: The Movie is enough to cover tuition this year and next, so I have no regrets.

“As it turned out,” I sigh then, remembering my frustration, “Nothing I did made any real impact, somebody always overrode all my recommendations.” 

Grant takes off his glasses and tosses them onto the desk.  “Welcome to the real world.  So, knowing that, why do you want this Techno/Vision job?”

“I want to get more experience in the field.  And,” I admit, “The pay’s better than my other part-time job.  Mr. Martin said they’re willing to work around the class schedule of whichever student gets the job, so it won’t interfere with school.”

“You can barely keep up with my class assignments as it is.”

It’s a statement, not a question, so I don’t answer, just look back at the professor and try not to let my face fall.  I didn’t know he was aware how hard the past few weeks have been for me.  Finally I just shrug and say, “I’ll manage.”

“Hmm.  Well.”  Grant uncrosses his legs and sits forward in his chair.  “I’ll think about the recommendation.  Come back on Thursday and you’ll have my answer.”

That’s my cue to stand up.  “Thank you, professor.”  Grabbing the strap of my backpack, I turn for the door.

I feel pretty good as I move down the hall and out of the teachers’ office building.  Maybe I’ll get his recommendation, maybe I won’t.  But I can’t help feeling like it’s in the bag.  I also feel confident that Techno/Vision will hire me.  And now I’m glad that I didn’t tell Brian about it.  I’d rather wait and surprise him.  I know that if I get this job on my own merits, he’s going to be proud of me. 



Brian

Justin has been pouting for a week now, ever since he searched the internet and found a doctor in Boston named Gerald Shaughnessy.  He wanted me to call the man and find out if old Gerald had ever fucked a bored housewife in Pittsburgh in the 1970s.  I smacked him down – more harshly than I’ve done for a long time.  Told him to keep his nose out of it, told him to mind his own fucking business, and he’s been pouting ever since.

To be fair – though I don’t give a fuck about being fair of course – Justin does not exactly pout.  Gus pouts.  Lindsay pouts.  Michael sure as fuck pouts, he’s better at it than Gus.  No, what Justin does is somehow worse, because he’s mastered this façade of mature, sympathetic understanding.  I don’t want sympathy, I sure as fuck don’t want understanding, and it pisses me off that someone a dozen years younger than me acts more maturely than I do myself sometimes.  Christ almighty, that’s annoying. 

And because Justin has dropped the subject as I told him to do, and because he hasn’t said another word about it or leaned on me to do something, contrarily I’ve had a hard time thinking about anything else.  So when a potential client in Boston puts out feelers to Kinnetik and Ted volunteers to go see the guy, which has become standard practice for such queries, I surprise Ted by announcing that I’ll go to Boston myself to meet with the client.

Ted’s not as surprised as I am.

For most of the afternoon, I assure myself that taking on the Boston client has fuck-all to do with Gerald Shaughnessy.  A coincidence, nothing more.  Eventually, after I’ve dicked around with Cynthia, not letting her call the client to schedule an appointment as she offers to do, I’m forced to admit to myself the real reason I’m willing to travel to Boston.  Opening my briefcase, I dig into the side pocket where I’ve surreptitiously stashed the sticky-note Justin gave me with Shaughnessy’s office phone number.  I sit at my desk staring at the note for about five minutes, before picking up the phone and calling for an appointment.

As it happens, the doctor’s an oncologist, which means that (a) I’ve got a legitimate built-in excuse for seeing him – I can say that I’m seeking a second opinion about my surgery and follow-up treatment.  However it also means that (b) the doctor’s very busy, his schedule is full and I’m told I’ll have to wait three weeks or more for an appointment.  The receptionist puts me on hold and I almost hang up then – maybe I’m getting cold feet – but a moment later she comes back on line to tell me there’s been a cancellation and they can fit me in on Friday afternoon.

After hanging up and deciding that vomiting is not a rational reaction to making a doctor appointment, I pick up the phone again and get Cynthia on the intercom.  “Call the Boston client,” I tell her.  “I’ll see him Friday morning.”  Then I stick the whole Daddy Dearest scenario into a “think about this later” compartment in my brain and move on.



Justin

Professor Grant has another student in his office so I move a few steps away from his open door and pull a paperback out of my bag, lean against the wall and pretend to read.  I recognize the student, it’s Jim Cooley, he’s in Grant’s class too.  I hold the book in front of my face, though I’m too nervous to focus attention on it, but I don’t want to look like I’m eavesdropping.  Cooley leaves a few minutes later, thanking the teacher and giving me a nod as he shoulders his backpack and moves away down the hall.

Tapping on the professor’s doorframe, I greet him and he waves me into his office and points at the chair by his desk.  I sit down and take a deep breath, anxious to hear what he’ll say about the recommendation for Techno/Vision.

“Mr. Taylor,” he begins without ceremony, “I’ve made a decision about T/V.”

“Yes?”  I’m perched on the edge of the chair, I lean forward slightly and realize that I’m holding my breath.

“Yes,” he nods, lowering his head and looking at me over the top of his glasses.  “Mr. Taylor, I’ve decided NOT to give you the recommendation.  And – “

“What?”  I shake my head, I can’t have heard him right.  “You’ve decided what?”

“I am not going to recommend you, and - “

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you why,” he continues.  “Mr. Taylor, you’re a very skilled artist, and I’m sure you could fulfill the internship at T/V with your eyes closed.  But,” he concludes, shrugging his shoulders and leaning back in his chair, “But I think that that would be a very bad thing, all the way around.”

“What?  Why?”

“That job’s beneath you.  I’ve spoken to Ed Martin at T/V and I’ve concluded that the internship job there is too easy for you.”  

“Wait a minute,” I interrupt him, “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” he raises his eyebrows and shrugs again, “That you’re capable of very much more than being a glorified student intern on an insignificant endeavor like the Canterbury Tales project.”

“Okay,” I stand up abruptly; I’m angry but I’m hanging onto my temper.  “All right, Mr. Grant – so you won’t give me a recommendation.   I’m sorry that I’ve wasted your time – but I can get the job without your help.”  I bend down to grab the strap of my bag and when I straighten up, I see that the teacher is shaking his head.

“No,” he informs me, “You can’t.  I told Ed Martin not to hire you.”

I can’t believe my ears.  Who does this guy think he is?  “You can’t do that,” I insist, “It’s not your decision.”

Grant shrugs his shoulders again.  “I can, and I did; Martin’s decided to hire a classmate of yours.”

“Jim Cooley?” I hazard a guess.

“That doesn’t matter,” Grant informs me, leaning forward and waving at the empty chair.  “Sit down again, I want to tell you - “

“No,” I feel myself losing control of my temper now.  “I am NOT going to sit down.  Who do you think you are, cheating me out of my job?” 

For nearly a week now, I’ve been walking around thinking I had this job in the bag, and I didn’t realize how much I was counting on it – and counting on bragging about it to Brian.

“It was never ‘your’ job,” Grant reminds me tersely, “And if you’ll just sit down again, I will tell  you - “

Shaking my head, I murmur, “Fuck you,” under my breath; I back up a step or two and glare at the self-righteous son of a bitch.  Then more loudly I repeat, “Fuck you, and fuck your class, too – I’m dropping it tomorrow.” 

I turn my back to the teacher and march out the open door, ignoring him as he calls after me, “Come back here, Mr. Taylor!” 

I pick up speed and in a moment I’m out of earshot, turning a corner and pounding down the stairs to the ground floor.  Flinging open the exit door, I burst outside, still cursing out loud.  “Asshole!”  I shout into the wind, “Motherfucking asshole piece of shit bastard!”

Adrenalin keeps me going as I move quickly across campus, out the driveway by the entrance gates, throw my bag on the ground and myself on the grass next to it.  I’m steaming mad, and I want to keep venting my anger and shout out loud some more, I’m so pissed at the paternalistic, self-righteous fucking college professor who thinks he can control my life in this way.

But I’ve got to cool down.  Brian’s picking me up here in a few minutes.  Ten minutes, I realize, as I glance at my watch.  Rubbing both hands hard over my face, I think again about the conversation with Professor Grant, and about the job he cost me, and about Brian’s reaction when I tell him.  If I tell him.

Do I want to tell him?  Maybe, maybe not.  There’s nothing he can do about it, no advice he can give me to help me secure this internship job at T/V.  All he can do now is help me calm down, maybe put the job in perspective.  Yet I know, I’ve known all along, that Brian wouldn’t like me taking this job anyway, so do I really want to tell him about it now, after the fact?  Do I really need to listen to him harass me about a job I didn’t even get?

Puffing out my cheeks and exhaling a big burst of hot air, I shake my head, as if I’m arguing with myself.  No.  No, I’m not going to tell him about it.  One thing Brian’s taught me is that some things are better kept to yourself.  Maybe this stupid fucking failure is one of them.



Brian

The morning meeting with the management team of the Boston Harbor Tea Company was a snap, they were ready to sign Kinnetik on the spot, and it’s good to know that my reputation – my business reputation – has reached the northeast.  My other reputation may have reached here too – one of the team gave me the eye during the meeting and he was hot.  I considered a quick fuck in the men’s room, then decided against it.  I realized that my nerves were zinging enough already in anticipation of my appointment with Dr. Gerald Shaughnessy this afternoon.

Now, after filling out some medical history forms, I’ve been escorted to an exam room, where I sit on a tweedy cushioned chair and clasp my hands tight together in my lap.  Fortunately I’m fully dressed for what is supposed to be a first-time consultation with the doctor.  I’m relieved that I won’t meet the man who could possibly be my real father wearing nothing but a paper gown with my ass hanging out the back.  I realize that I’m swallowing convulsively and I bite the inside of my cheek hard to calm the ridiculous shaky feeling deep in my gut.  When there’s a brief knock and the door is pushed open, I take a deep breath and make sure that my face reveals none of the anxiety that I’m feeling.

The man in the white coat who enters is about average height and a bit overweight.  He nods at me and says, “Hello, Mr. Kinney,” and automatically I return his greeting, murmuring, “Hello,” but I’m staring at his thinning red hair and the sprinkling of freckles over the bridge of his nose.  Suddenly I realize that he must be in his mid-thirties, too young to be my father.

Christ almighty, Justin fucked this up big time!  Immediately I’m angry at him for sending me on this wild goose chase.  The fact that Justin doesn’t know I’m here is irrelevant, I’m still blaming him for the embarrassment I’m feeling.  Not only have I wasted my time coming to Boston, but now I’ve got to talk my way out of this appointment for an alleged “second opinion” of my cancer treatment.

Anger at Justin is warring inside me with some other un-named emotion.  It must be relief.  Of course that’s it – I’m relieved that I won’t have to tell some stranger he’s my long-lost daddy.

My shoulders sag slightly and I sigh.  And then I’m forced to acknowledge that maybe it’s not relief that I’m feeling.  Maybe it’s disappointment.  Fuck me.

Making a conscious effort to straighten my shoulders, I sit up tall in the chair and look back at the red-haired stranger standing in front of me.  The doctor glances down at the chart in his hand, and I take a deep breath.  “Dr. Shaughnessy,” I say, preparing to talk my way out of this awkward situation, “I - “
 
The man lifts his head quickly.  “I’m not the doctor,” he corrects me.  “He’ll be with you shortly.  I’m Philip, his MA.”

“What?”

“I’m the doctor’s medical assistant.  Now, Mr. Kinney,” he gestures at the patient chart, “There’s a couple of questions you didn’t complete on your medical history form.”

I stare at him blankly.

“You’ve noted,” he goes on, “That your father is deceased, but you didn’t put the date or cause of death.”

“Cancer.”  I clear my throat and repeat, “Pop had lung cancer.”  While Philip jots down this information I have to think for a moment to remember the date he died and when I tell him, he writes it down on the form.

“I think that’s all,” Philip announces, pocketing his pen and giving me a perfunctory smile.  Tucking the chart under his arm, he pulls open the door and promises, “The doctor will be with you shortly.”

I stare at his retreating back and continue to stare at the closed door for a moment.  And now I realize that I’m getting anxious all over again.  In fact, part of me wants to jump up and rush out the door, just get the fuck out of here, get away from this awkward situation.  I really wish I hadn’t come.  But the exact moment I make the decision to get to my feet and flee, the door is pushed open once again.

The man who enters the room is tall, with a shock of thick brown hair peppered with gray.  He’s wearing tortoiseshell glasses.  “Hello,” he says, “I’m Dr. Shaughnessy.”  Glancing at the chart in his hand, he adds, “How do you do, Mr. Kinney?”  

In spite of my mother’s disclosure, I’m shocked to immediately recognize a resemblance to myself in the man’s strong nose, round chin and arching eyebrows.  His professional smile reveals full lips, and when he looks up from the paper, I see that his eyes are green.  I’m almost breathless with recognition.  Yet, if I weren’t looking for a resemblance, if I’d met the man before my mother’s revelation, probably my only thought would have been, “What a looker, for an older guy.”

“Hello,” I manage to croak.

The doctor extends his hand and we shake.  He nods at the paper he’s holding.  “This says you’re a new patient, but surely we’ve met before?”  He tilts his head to one side as he studies me.

“No.”

Releasing my hand, he says, “Hmm.”

“Maybe you recognize my name.  Kinney.  I’m from Pittsburgh.”  I keep my voice flat; I can’t stop staring at the man’s face.

“I grew up in Pittsburgh,” he acknowledges.  “Maybe I know your family?”  He hooks his foot around the leg of a wheeled stool, pulls it close and sits down.

“Maybe,” I agree.  I have to stop staring at his face.  Instead I move my eyes to his hands:  long slim fingers, one hand curled around the patient chart.  When I raise my eyes to his face again, he’s staring back at me. 

Then Shaughnessy gives his head a small shake and gets down to business.  Looking at the chart again, he says, “So, Mr. Kinney, you’ve been treated for testicular cancer – at Johns Hopkins. You probably couldn’t get better treatment anywhere else.  And you’ve noted here that your latest exam gave you a clean bill of health.  Yet you want a second opinion?” 

When he glances at me I just look back at him.  “Are you,” he asks, “Having more problems?  Were you not happy with your oncologist – Dr. Chaudry?”

“He’s the best,” I admit.  “And I’m not having any problems now.”

“Then. . .”  The doctor tilts his head to one side and quirks his right eyebrow. 

I could be looking in the mirror, that gesture is my own.  Swallowing to dislodge the lump in my throat, I ask, “Doctor, when you lived in Pittsburgh, did you know a woman named Joan Kinney?”

Taken aback, the doctor’s other eyebrow goes up.  “Joan Kinney?” he repeats; his brow furrows, he’s thinking.  “Why, yes, I think so.”  He falls silent, he looks over my shoulder for a moment, then his brow clears and he looks back at me.  “Yes.  Yes, I did.  Is she a relative of yours?”

“My mother.”

“Yes, I remember her now.  How is she – is she well?”

“Not really.  She’s having some medical problems.”

“Sorry to hear that.” 

It’s my turn to speak but the lump has returned to my throat, silencing me.  We just stare at each other for a moment, then the doctor asks, “Mr. Kinney – “

“Brian.”

“So, Brian, what can I do for you?”

Clearing my throat, I open my mouth to speak but no sound comes out.  Abruptly getting to my feet, I stammer, “Dr. – Dr. Shaughnessy, I don’t think I need a second opinion after all.  About the cancer.  I’m fine, and I’m sorry that I’ve wasted your time.”

Coward, I’m already calling myself a fucking coward, but suddenly all I want to do is get out of this office, I need to turn around and walk away from this man, from this ridiculously overblown, melodramatic situation.  I wish I’d never come here today.

“Mr. Kinney - “ the doctor stands up too and puts a hand on my arm, but I brush it off and move quickly to the door.  Pulling it open, I’m brought to an abrupt halt when the doctor shoulders past me, shoots out his hand and roughly pushes the door closed.  “Mr. Kinney – Brian.  Wait a minute.”

“Sorry – I can’t.  I’ve got a flight to catch.”

We’re standing close together, staring, face to face.  After a moment’s hesitation, he says quietly, “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”  I shrug carelessly, keeping my hand on the doorknob.

“Brian.  Tell me what your mother said.  About me.”

I shrug again but it’s hard to resist that piercing gaze.  “My mother said nothing about you.  Or rather,” I correct myself and force a laugh, “She said that you saved your best tomatoes for her.  At the market.”

“Did she tell you. . .”  Shaughnessy pauses, then raises his chin and flares his nostrils.  “Did she tell you that we had an affair?  Joan Kinney and I?”

“That’s none of my business.”  God, I hate emotional scenes, why the fuck did I get myself into this?  I pull on the doorknob but the doctor moves slightly so that his shoulders are leaning against the door panels.  I let go and take a step backward.

“She was unhappy,” he’s saying now, speaking slowly, his eyes soften as if he’s looking back in time.  “She was a beautiful woman.  And I was - “

“Young and horny?” I finish his sentence.  “Look,” I say, “I really don’t want to hear this.  I have - “

“A plane to catch.”  Now it’s his turn to finish my sentence.  “Brian,” he says, “Why don’t you tell me the truth – about why you came to see me.”

“All right.”  I’m beginning to get angry, the son of a bitch won’t let me out of the room without a struggle.  “Okay, I will,” I snarl.  “Mom said that she had an affair with you, and that you got her pregnant.”

“What?”

I can’t repeat myself, I just shrug, and I feel my neck and face flushing red.

“That’s. . .”

“Ridiculous?” I shrug.  “I agree.” 

It is ridiculous.  So my mother fucked some guy and got knocked up.  So what?

The doctor goes on, “If she was pregnant, she didn’t tell me.  And that was a lifetime ago.  Twenty-five, thirty years ago.”

“Thirty-one.”

“Brian – are you saying. . .are you trying to say that – “

“That you’re my father?”  I shrug again.  “That’s my mother’s story.  I have no idea if it’s true or not.” 

Which is a lie, a lie; all I have to do is look at this man to know the truth.

I think he knows the truth too.  He’s staring hard at my face and his brow is furrowed.  I think he recognizes the physical similarities between us.  How could he not?

“I’m – I’m stunned,” he says at last, still shaking his head in disbelief even as I see him begin to believe it.  “She never said a word to me.  Joanie.  Joan.”

“You left Pittsburgh before she knew that she was pregnant.”

“It was so long ago.  And it was just a – “

“A meaningless fuck?”

Now it’s Shaughnessy’s turn to flush red.  “I didn’t say that.”

“Hey,” I shrug carelessly, “I understand; I’ve had a few of those myself.  I’m not here to condemn you.”

”Then why are you here?” 

He doesn’t actually say that, but the question hangs in the air between us anyway.

Finally I admit, “I don’t think I really believed her.  My mother.  Now – I’m not so sure.”  

“Christ.”  He shakes his head.  “I don’t know what to say.”

“There’s nothing to say,” I assure him.  “I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity, and since I’ve done that, I’ll be going now.”

“Look,” he says, “I’m sorry if I’m not reacting appropriately.  Whatever ‘appropriately’ might be, in this situation.”  Moving a few inches away from the door, the doctor adds, “I’m just – frankly, I’m shocked, flabbergasted.  I need some time to process this information, before I can. . .before I can do anything about it.”

His voice trails off and we stand awkwardly, staring at each other.  Finally I say, “You don’t need to do anything about it.  I told you, I was just curious.  That’s all.”  I turn away and reach for the doorknob again when he stretches out his hand and touches my arm.

“Brian – wait.”  Another awkward silence, then Shaughnessy says, “Can you – can we talk about this later?  Maybe tomorrow?  I’ve got a tight schedule today, and I’m committed to a fund-raising dinner tonight.  Are you staying in town for a while?”

“No,” I shake my head.  “I’m flying back to Pittsburgh tonight.”

“You came to Boston just to get a look at me?”

“No,” I deny it, though of course that’s nearly the truth.  “I had a client meeting this morning.  I just thought, while I was in town. . .”

“A client?  You’re a businessman?”  Now he’s taking in my Prada suit and his eyebrows go up; perhaps he appreciates good tailoring.

“Advertising.”

“You appear to be doing well?”

It’s a question and I recognize the pride I can’t keep from my voice when I answer, “Yes.  I have my own agency; it’s doing well enough.”

“So you’re not - ”

“Looking for a handout?” I finish his sentence, tasting bitter bile rise suddenly in my throat.  “No.”  My voice is harsh and a flush quickly warms my cheeks once again.

Shaughnessy apologizes.  “I didn’t mean it that way.  Or,” he qualifies, “Maybe I did, but it was a knee-jerk reaction.  I just need some time to process all this, it’s – to be honest, it’s really knocked me for a loop.”

“Yeah,” I agree.  “If it’s true.”  There’s a pause while we stare at each other, then I can’t resist growling, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to sue you for retroactive child support.”

There’s a knock on the door and it’s pushed open to reveal a slim blonde in a blue smock.  “Excuse me, doctor, the lab is on line three.”  He nods at her and she closes the door. 

The doctor grimaces.  “I have to take this call, and I’ve got a dozen patients scheduled this afternoon.  Give me time to digest all this.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”

As if I give a fuck if he calls me.  “Whatever,” I say, pulling open the door.  “Goodbye, Dr. Shaughnessy.”

“Shaughn.  My friends call me Shaughn.”

I turn and walk out of the office, through the hall, and down four flights of stairs.  Exiting the medical building, the automatic door closes behind me with a clunk, and I reach into my pocket for my cigarettes.  I almost laugh when I realize that my hands are shaking so bad, I can’t light up.  I lean back against the brick wall and close my eyes.  I’m not an emotional man, never have been, so my reaction surprises me.  Who would have thought that I’d react so strongly to meeting my real father? 

Maybe Gerald Shaughnessy is my real father, maybe he’s not.  Maybe he’ll call me, maybe he won’t.  I remind myself to expect nothing.  

Finally I get my cigarette lit.  I take a deep drag and exhale an explosive cloud of smoke that quickly dissipates in the cool breeze from the harbor a few blocks away.  The jolt of nicotine and the fresh air help to clear my head.  I tell myself that I don’t care if the doctor calls me or not.  I know from experience that having low expectations is the safe thing to do.  And expecting nothing has always been easy for me.

At least, it used to be easy – before Justin Taylor came into my life.






3/1/05   Revised 3/15/05