Summary of Part 10: Starting Gate: Brian has a close encounter of the Zander kind when the famous artist suggests a hook-up. Brian and Justin are invited to meet the Shaughnessys in Boston where they’re welcomed and settled into the guest cottage
Part Eleven: Run
Brian got weird after we arrived at the Shaughnessys’ house and they took us to the guest cottage in their backyard. He went into the bathroom and he’s been in there for ten minutes, and now when he comes out, he blinks when he sees me standing right outside the door.
“Waiting for a turn?” he frowns, then waves at the door and says, “Knock yourself out.”
“Brian, are you - ?”
“Am I what?”
“I don’t know. Nervous, or something. You’re acting kind of freaky.”
“What do you mean, I’m acting freaky?” he demands with that condescending, lip-curling sneer he uses to intimidate. “Just because I closed the fucking bathroom door? Do you need to accompany me EVERY time I take a piss? Is this something else on your comprehensive list of things that partners do?”
“Never mind,” I shake my head and back away, waving my hands in the air to erase my suggestion that he’s acting weird. Which of course he is. Changing the subject, I ask, “Do you think we’re dressed okay for lunch?”
I’m trying to distract him and it works. Totally predictably, he says, “What’s wrong with what we’re wearing? Other than the fact that you’re almost twenty-one and you still look like your mommy dresses you?”
I laugh then and mutter lovingly, “Fuck you,” and move in on him, sliding my arms around his waist and grinding my cock against his thigh. “You like the way I look.”
“Correction: I like the way you look – naked.” He exhales a long sigh and visibly calms down. He returns the pressure of my cock but, lowering his head and tilting it to one side, he demands, “Do you really want to start this right now?”
“No,” I agree reluctantly, “Better not.” And I pull away from him, grab my suitcase and lift it up onto the bed. “I’m going to hang up my clothes.”
“That will delay a fast getaway.” But Brian grabs his own suitcase and settles it on the other side of the bed. In silence we unpack our clothes and hang them in the closet.
When we leave the cottage, we see Barbara setting plates on the umbrella-topped table by the pool. I hurry forward and offer to help and she says thanks and hands me a tote filled with silverware, so I busy myself laying it out. The table’s set for five. Barbara must notice that I’m hesitating over the fifth plate.
“That’s for our daughter. She’s at practice but she’ll be joining us for lunch.”
“Oh,” I’m surprised. “I didn’t know you have kids.”
“Just one, Carolyn.” Barbara glances at Brian and adds, “I should warn you: She’s fourteen.”
“Warn me?” Brian asks. He’s standing back, hands in his pockets. “Meaning – you don’t want her to know that I’m gay?”
“No, meaning that she’s fourteen. She’s armed and dangerous.” When Brian looks confused, Barbara clarifies, “She’s armed with a bad attitude and an inflated sense of entitlement. In other words, she’s a normal bratty teenager. Have you had any experience dealing with teenagers?”
“Some,” Brian answers dryly, slanting his eyes at me. When I frown, he adds, “But not recently.”
Shaughn has come out of the house and he stands next to Brian. “Carolyn’s really an exceptional girl,” he rushes to her defense. “Intelligent, intuitive, and she’s an accomplished musician.”
”He’s right, of course,” Barbara agrees. “And I’m sure that we’re all going to get along famously, in another few years. Meanwhile, it’s a struggle. Forewarned is forearmed.”
Shaughn chuckles. “She is a bit of a handful right now. We don’t want to crush her spirit, so we’re trying to let her test her boundaries, within reason. To express her individuality. But sometimes,” he admits with a sigh, “It’s a trial!”
“Sit down, everyone,” Barbara invites us. “We can have a glass of wine while we wait for Carolyn.”
We all take a seat and Shaughn uncorks a bottle of white wine and pours some for each of us. He raises his glass and holds it out toward Brian. “Welcome to the family,” he says sincerely, then turns to point the glass at me too. Barbara raises her glass and echoes, “Welcome.”
“Thanks,” Brian mumbles. Only someone who knows him like I do could tell that Brian’s disconcerted. “Thank you.”
We each take a sip, and then suddenly the back door of the house is flung open, smacking against the brick wall with a loud bang. “Our daughter makes her entrance,” Barbara whispers, then she turns in her chair and calls out, “Carolyn, honey, come say hello to your brother Brian.”
I can see that Brian’s shocked, I think he’s surprised that he’s being introduced so casually as Carolyn’s brother. I have to admit that I’m surprised too; the Shaughnessys really seem to have accepted Brian into their family. Maybe that’s why he’s so uneasy – I don’t think Brian has a very high opinion of families.
The girl who approaches the table might be pretty but it’s hard to tell since her long brown hair is streaked with blue, her skin is impossibly white, her eyes outlined in heavy black shadow. She’s wearing a long black dress that drags on the ground behind her, and she stomps toward the table in clunky thick-soled Doc Martens. As she comes closer, she casts her eyes over Brian and narrows them. She even flares her nostrils. She's the picture of snooty teenage disapproval.
“So," she declares, "This is the ‘Protestant Son Returns’ guy, huh?” She looks down her nose at Brian. “He doesn’t look like Dad.”
“That’s ‘Prodigal Son,’ and look again,” Barbara urges. “Brian’s very much like a younger version of your father.”
“Hmmph. If you say so.”
I glance at Brian and I can see that he’s amused.
Ignoring him, Carolyn turns to Shaughn and asks, “How do you know that he’s really your son? Maybe he’s an imposter.”
Brian says genially, “Hello, Carolyn. How amazing it is to be related to a teenager.”
Carolyn just throws him a disdainful glance. There’s a brief silence and then Barbara asks, “Brian, what were you like at fourteen?”
“I was a smart-ass,” he answers immediately.
“See, Carolyn?” Barbara turns to her daughter and exclaims, “There’s more proof that you and Brian are related.”
Sniffing, Carolyn tosses her head and drops down into a chair. She glances across the table and sees me. “Who’s that?” she demands, “Another long-lost brother?”
“No,” Brian answers quickly, “He’s not your brother. But he is Protestant.”
“This is Justin,” Barbara says, adding easily, “He’s more like a brother-in-law.”
“Brother-in-law?” Carolyn sits upright in her chair suddenly.
A glance at Brian shows that he’s nearly as shocked as Carolyn. He sits immobile, looking like a wax museum version of himself.
“You guys are MARRIED?”
I jump in then, before Brian’s head explodes. “No, we’re not married.”
“Brian and Justin are partners,” Shaughn informs his daughter. “And if you’ve finished the inquisition, we’d like to eat lunch. Would you like some chicken salad?” He picks up the platter near him and holds it out to Carolyn.
“Da-ad,” she sighs dramatically, rolling her eyes. “You know that I’m a vegetarian.”
“You are?” Shaughn’s obviously surprised. “Since when?”
“Since Wednesday,” Barbara explains nonchalantly, then adds, “Carolyn, I made you some pea salad, it’s in the blue Tupperware bowl in the refrigerator. Go and get it, please, and bring a soda for yourself.”
“Why can’t I have wine like everybody else?”
“Carolyn,” Shaughn leans forward, “You know you’re not old enough to drink.”
“That boy’s drinking wine,” she gestures toward me. “He doesn’t look old enough either.”
“I’m twenty-one,” I speak up, “Or anyway, I will be in a few months.” Immediately I’m embarrassed about revealing my age. Brian never seems to mind that people know I’m a lot younger than him, but maybe he feels differently about these people. Yet when I glance at him, I see that he’s smiling slightly, so I guess he’s not angry.
No one else says anything and we all sit silently watching as Carolyn jumps up and marches off into the house.
“Brian,” Barbara asks when she’s gone, “Do you have other siblings? You don’t seem too thrown by our little drama princess.”
“I have a sister, but she’s older than I am.”
“Is she married? Does she have children?”
“She’s divorced. She has two sons, I don’t know their ages.”
“Ten and thirteen,” I answer without thinking. Brian and the others look at me and I shrug. “Debbie told me.”
"Debbie's your sister?" Barbara asks.
"No," Brian answers. "Clare is my sister."
The Shaughnessys nod and I feel them waiting. They're not pushing, but it's obvious that Brian is holding back. In a moment I think he realizes how close-mouthed he's being and, with a sigh, he explains, "Debbie's the mother of my best friend. She was like a mother to me, too, when I was a kid. And she took Justin under her wing, when he – had some problems."
They look at me now and I hesitate, I'm not sure how much Brian wants me to reveal. But he gives me a nod, so I explain, "Debbie let me stay with her when my dad kicked me out. I was seventeen."
"Oh, that's terrible," Barbara's instantly sympathetic. "About your dad, I mean. Debbie sounds wonderful."
"She is," I agree.
"And is that," Barbara asks, "How you met Brian?"
"Um, not exactly."
I'm saved from having to deal with that question by the return of Carolyn to the table. She flounces over and plops down in her chair again, then wordlessly peels the lid off the Tupperware and spoons a large glob of pea salad onto her plate.
“How was practice?” Shaughn asks.
“Okay,” Carolyn mumbles through a squishy green mouthful. She swallows and adds, “Josie Morten is soooooooo jealous that I got Boston Pops this year and she didn’t.”
Barbara explains, “Carolyn performed at a Boston Pops concert this spring, it was a great honor for a young musician.”
“It’s not an HONOR,” Carolyn contradicts, “It’s recognition of my TALENT.”
Ignoring the interruption, Barbara goes on, “And she’ll be performing at Tanglewood in a couple weeks. Brian, maybe you and Justin would like to be our guests at the concert? Do you like classical music?”
“Some,” Brian murmurs, and then without looking at me he adds, “Justin’s more of a classical music fan than I am.”
“Do you play an instrument?” Shaughn asks, and when I just shake my head, no, he adds, “Carolyn’s been playing the violin since she was seven. She’s really very good. What composers do you like?”
“Uh. . .”
I realize that I’ve put Justin on the spot, and I also recognize that it was done out of spite. I thought I’d put all that fiddler nonsense behind me but apparently there’s still a shred of animosity banging around inside my head. I’m annoyed at myself, so I lean sideways and press my shoulder against Justin’s. “Tchaikovsky?” I suggest, softening my voice so he knows that I’ve stopped tormenting him. “Debussy?”
Justin’s saved from answering by a rude raspberry noise from Carolyn. “Yuck,” she proclaims loudly, “Nobody likes that boring old crap any more.”
“Carolyn!” Shaughn says, “That kind of rudeness is over the top.”
I feel my shoulders stiffen and slowly I sit up straight in my chair. I can feel the façade of fake happy-family-itis begin to crumble; now we’re going to see a real battle of wills, maybe an explosion; now the shouting will begin.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, Carolyn merely blushes; she lays down her spoon and looks at me from under lowered lashes and murmurs, “I – I’m sorry, Brian, I didn’t mean it.”
I don’t know what to say so I just shrug.
“I’ve always liked Tchaikovsky myself,” Barbara notes. “What’s your favorite concerto, Justin?”
While Justin considers the question, I glance at the other end of the table. Shaughn has leaned forward and slipped his arm around Carolyn’s shoulders. He squeezes and gives her a little kiss on her cheek. She smiles up at him and then picks up her spoon and begins to eat again. Conversation resumes around the table and I realize that I’m surprised.
Maybe they’re for real after all.
Why does Carolyn Shaughnessy have to be a violinist? Couldn’t she play the piano or the flute or something? It feels to me like tiptoeing through a dangerous minefield, as conversation during lunch centers around classical music for a while; mostly I keep quiet, murmuring “yes” and “no” from time to time.
We eat chicken salad and delicious sliced beefsteak tomatoes that Barbara grows in her garden; there’s a pile of crusty mini-croissants in a basket lined with a blue-check cloth. When everyone’s full (except me, but I don’t want to embarrass Brian by eating like a pig), Barbara brings out a big glass bowl filled with trifle, which she explains is sponge cake and pudding and fresh fruit all mixed together. It’s so good, I can’t help wishing for seconds, though I shake my head no when it’s offered. Luckily Brian whispers to me that he can’t finish his (I’m amazed he even accepted any, he always turns down dessert, and he only took one or two bites), and then he switches dishes with me so that I’ll clean his bowl for him. When eagerly I dig in my spoon, he leans close and murmurs, “Thanks.”
When we’ve finished eating, everyone gets up to help carry dishes into the house. Even Brian carries an armful of plates, then he excuses himself to go back outside for a cigarette and Shaughn accompanies him, though he says he quit smoking many years ago. Carolyn puts things in the fridge while I help rinse dishes and Barbara loads the dishwasher.
I halfway expect a third degree about Brian so I’m sort of prepared, but Barbara’s tactful and her questions don’t feel intrusive. Even so, I’m a little wary to talk about Brian since he doesn’t like sharing personal things with other people.
“How long have you and Brian been partners?” is the first question, and I answer honestly, “About a year.” I consider our official committed relationship began right after the Stockwell campaign, not when he asked me to move in with him.
“Shaughn told me he has his own advertising agency? What’s that like?”
“Yes, it’s called Kinnetik. K-i-n-n-e-t-i-k. I named it. It’s incredibly successful, Brian works his – ahh, butt off.”
“He’s ambitious, hmm?” Barbara straightens up and closes the dishwasher and hands me a towel to dry my hands. “Shaughn’s the same. Do you work at Kinnetik, Justin?”
“No, I’m in school, the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts.” I fold the towel and loop it through a cupboard door handle. “And I work part time. I was waiting tables for a while, but I just got a job assisting Alexander DuPont with a special project he’s doing in Pittsburgh. He’s a famous artist,” I add, in case Barbara hasn’t heard of him. And maybe I’m bragging a little too, but it’s the truth after all.
“Alexander DuPont!” Barbara exclaims, “Of course I know his work. The Boston Modern Art Museum has two of his paintings.” Then she crosses her arms and leans back against the counter. “So, you’re studying to be an artist too, Justin?”
“He’s been an artist all his life.”
We turn to see that Brian has returned to the kitchen, with Shaughn right behind. Brian goes on, “Justin’s already a better artist than Alexander DuPont.”
That makes me laugh and I move close to Brian and fake-punch him. “I am not!”
“Don’t be modest,” he tells me seriously, then he turns to Barbara and adds, “Justin and a friend created an amazing comic book.”
“A comic?” That’s Carolyn, she’s perched on a stool by an island in the middle of the kitchen. “Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” She makes a face, it’s what I’m starting to recognize is her normal superior sneer. It doesn’t bother me, in fact it’s kind of funny, she seems determined to prove that she’s really not interested in Brian and me.
“It’s about gay superheroes,” I explain. Carolyn shrugs but the others seem interested.
“That’s wonderful,” Shaughn enthuses, “I’d like to see your comic.”
“It’s good,” Brian continues. “So good in fact that a Hollywood studio bought the rights to it, and Justin spent six months this winter and spring in California working on the movie version.”
That gets Carolyn’s attention. “You were in Hollywood?” she gasps. When I nod, she leans forward eagerly, her aloofness forgotten, and she demands, “Did you see any movie stars? Did you see Ashton Kutcher or Jamie MacLean?”
“Yeah, I saw Jamie MacLean,” I agree, though I decide not to add that I saw him getting blown at one of Brett’s parties.
“He’s delicious,” she sighs dreamily.
“Yeah.” The guy sucking him off seemed to think so, too.
“Well,” Shaughn rubs his hands together. “What shall we do this afternoon?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, but goes on, “Can we take you boys on a driving tour of Boston? We thought you might like to see some of the famous sights. Or have you done the tourist thing before?”
“No, we haven’t,” Brian answers. Of course he never does “the tourist thing,” but he’s keeping his face noncommittal. I’d really like to go but I don’t want to say so; this is Brian’s first visit to his new family after all; I don’t need to be entertained.
There’s a pause, then Brian says, “Justin loves sight-seeing,” and I think he’s going to suggest we go along without him, but quickly he adds, “So let’s do that.”
I can’t help smiling at him then, partly in relief because I’d rather be with Brian and partly because I know that he’s doing it to make me happy. Surprisingly, he smiles back at me, and then wonder of wonders, he slides his arm around my shoulders and gives me a one-armed hug. Away from Liberty Avenue, Brian doesn’t do PDA’s. The fact that he’s doing it in front of his new dad is just amazing.
While the boys are freshening up in the guest house and Barbara and I are doing the same in our bedroom, we have a few minutes alone to talk about how the visit is going. She says she thinks Brian is difficult to get to know, but actually I was expecting him to be even more reserved than this, after the few hours we spent at dinner the other night, and considering the hard time he’s given me on the phone. We both admit that we’re surprised to discover a man of Brian’s age and sophistication in a serious relationship with a boy so much younger than himself.
“It’s obvious how much Brian admires him, though,” I say. “He’s very proud of Justin’s success.”
“And he adores him; his eyes are on Justin all the time,” Barbara agrees. That’s a female thing to notice, I wasn’t aware of it but I trust Barbara’s judgment. “They’ve been partners for a year,” she tells me, “So Justin can't have been more than nineteen when they met. It’s not a May-December relationship, but even so, that’s quite a difference - especially at that age.”
"Hmm," I agree, keeping to myself the observation that men are often sexually attracted to girls - or in this case, boys - much younger than themselves. And of course that cuts both ways - I haven't forgotten that Brian's mother was a dozen or so years older than myself, when we had our brief affair.
I'd told Brian the truth - it was an affair, not merely an assignation in the backseat of a car, during the several months I was involved with Joan Kinney. Not that a few hours spent in cheap motel rooms is so much grander. It’s also true that I believed Joan was getting a divorce. I like to think that, if I'd known she was not divorcing, I'd not have continued to sleep with her. But I'm not sure that that's true. She was a beautiful woman, quite sensual in fact. And she'd confided to me that her husband had never given her an orgasm. That had been heady stuff for me, as I recall.
“You’re lost in thought,” Barbara observes.
“Planning our route. Shall we visit the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum? Or is that too cornball for Brian?”
“Justin would probably like that. And making him happy seems to be a priority for Brian.”
When we climb into bed in the cottage, Justin giggles as we roll together in the middle. The mattress is thick and soft, and the bed’s a double so it’s only about half the size we’re used to. The close proximity would make fucking inevitable – if there was ever any doubt that we’d be having sex tonight. I’m glad that we’re separate from the house, nobody will hear us fucking. Not that that would matter of course.
Justin’s in a happy mood, he enjoyed the afternoon tour of Boston. I didn’t have such a bad time myself, though driving around looking at tourist crap isn’t my idea of entertainment. Still, we couldn’t very well ask the Shaughnessys to drop us off in the local gay ghetto, and I’d resigned myself to spending a few boring hours in Straight World USA. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel all that bored, and I even kind of enjoyed watching Justin charm the pants off Shaughn and Barbara.
We had an excellent dinner at Hamersley’s Bistro though I’d practically come to blows with Shaughn when he was adamant about paying the check. Christ almighty, I hate people always picking up the tab, it’s fucking annoying, and I loathe that feeling of being indebted to anybody. But Shaughn had shut me up pretty quickly when he’d insisted, “Brian, you can take us to dinner when we visit you in Pittsburgh.” I’d sat stunned then, clutching my wallet, just staring at him. He took advantage of my inattention to wrestle the bill out of my nerveless hand.
Returning the wallet to my pocket, I realized that, all along, I’d assumed this long-lost-son rigmarole was a one-time deal. Shaughn wanted to see what his errant seed had sprouted into, and he’d invited my partner to come along in deference to some bullshit notion of good manners. The Shaughnessys like Justin, that’s real enough, but so what? It honestly never occurred to me that they’d want to take this any further. That they’d want to continue getting together after this weekend.
Now Justin’s asleep, his wonderfully warm round ass pushed back against me, my arms wrapped around his shoulders, his soft hair tickling my nose. And I lay awake in the darkness, fighting down a feeling of – of something. Not panic, why would I be feeling panicky?
But the prospect of Shaughn invading the boundaries of my well-organized world in Pittsburgh is daunting. There’s no place in my life for another father. Pop is dead, he’s buried in the ground. I’ve told no one about this new daddy bullshit. I only told Michael that Jack wasn’t my real father but nothing about Shaughn, and Justin promised to keep his mouth shut about our visit. My mother would probably have a seizure if she found out that I’m hob-knobbing with a fuckbuddy from her past.
Of course for that reason alone, you’d think I’d welcome Shaughn with open arms. But since Mom’s been sick, I somehow don’t feel like spitting in her eye any more. Maybe it’s an absurd kind of consideration – not something I’m famous for – but I have no burning desire to expose what Mom considers her gravest sin to the world at large. And there’s no way to explain a long-lost dad without revealing the truth. That would probably kill Mom faster than fucking liver failure.
I’ve never needed or wanted a dad before and I don’t need one now. So maybe I’ll just thank Shaughn and Barbara for this weekend visit, but explain that I don’t have time for more socializing. Probably inviting us here was ninety-nine percent curiosity on their part anyway, so it won’t be a big deal to just let it all end here and now.
Christ, why can’t I go to sleep? I cuddle closer to Justin, the warmth of his body soothing the taut muscles of my arms. I rub my cheek against his silky-soft hair and listen to the little sighs and quiet murmurs he makes in his sleep. All my life I’ve been a loner, thinking that Michael and Deb were the only family I’d ever need. Who could have known that someday I’d not only enjoy sharing my bed with another man, but that I’d find him almost as fucking necessary to my life as breathing?
Brian surprises me by being an early riser like myself. For some reason I’d not expected him to make an appearance before breakfast. Especially since even a middle-aged, long-time-married heterosexual man like myself can feel the sexual tension between Brian and Justin. And I can easily imagine that sharing the pleasures of the bedroom would keep both men occupied until late morning on the weekend, without the interruption of an alarm clock.
I’m standing outside the kitchen door enjoying the chilly early-morning breeze as I do calf stretches in preparation for my morning run, when the cottage door opens and Brian emerges. He’s alone and he’s wearing sweats; he closes the door softly so I assume that Justin’s still asleep. Brian must see movement from the corner of his eye because his head comes up and he turns to peer across the deck and catches sight of me. We raise our hands in silent salute, then he moves around the pool and stops a few feet away.
“Hey,” he says quietly, “Good morning.” He takes in my attire – I’m also in sweats, and asks, “Going for a run?”
“Yes, want to come along?”
For a moment I think he’s going to decline, maybe he prefers solitary exercise; then he nods and begins his own stretching routine. In a few minutes we’re ready to go, and I lead the way out the side gate, down the sidewalk, across the street and through a passage that leads to the park. There’s a cinder path around the perimeter, partly open, partly shaded with leafy trees and in several places giving views of the city beyond the river. I enjoy tennis and cycling, swimming and racquetball, but there’s no exercise I like more than simply jogging in the clean morning air.
I’d intended to have a solitary run this morning, time alone to clear away the vaguely emotional debris corroding my brain. I’ve been over-thinking the Shaughn situation, that’s all. It’s really just a simple thing – I met the man whose accidental sperm-donation created me, acknowledged that he’s a decent guy, and now it’s time to move on. We met, we got to know each other, now it’s over. Short song, one verse, no choruses.
We begin running slowly, still warming up, and then we pick up the pace. We don’t speak except when Shaughn points out a view of the river, and later he points to a squirrel who appears to be noisily arguing with a bird over some crumb of food. Other than that, we run along in silence. Gradually I quicken the pace and as we run on, we both begin to break a sweat. I kick it up another notch, my legs are really pumping now, and Shaughn’s easily keeping up.
Usually I take it a little easy in the morning, enjoying the run more as a stretching exercise than a flat-out marathon. But I’m sweating profusely now and a glance at Shaughn shows that he’s sweating too. In a few minutes, I turn it up again and we tear up the trail. It’s a wicked pace and I’m starting to huff, my breathing’s getting ragged.
“Let’s crank it down a notch,” Shaughn suggests, but I shake my head.
“Stop – if –you – need – to.”
“I don’t need to,” he says, “But I think you do. I don’t want my son having a heart attack during our first jog together.”
Ignoring him, I continue to run, until gradually I can’t help but slow down, and finally I stop, almost doubling over, hands on my knees, gasping long ragged breaths.
Shaughn stops beside me and runs in place, which I should be doing too to prevent cramp but I’m too done in to move. Not surprisingly, almost immediately I get a cramp in my left calf and I drop to the ground, grabbing my leg. Shaughn kneels beside me and pushes my hands away, massaging the cramped muscle until it lets go.
Shaughn sits back on his haunches; he looks at me and something about the way I’m looking at him makes him ask, “What is it?”
“Why – aren’t – you – tired?” I demand. “You’re – almost – twice – my – age.”
“Not twice,” he disagrees sharply. “Have a heart, I’m only fifty-two!” When I say nothing, he adds, “And I’m not a smoker like you, cigarettes are a killer for anyone athletic. If you’ll take my advice, son, you’ll throw away your smokes.”
“I don’t need fatherly advice,” I growl, throwing back my head and glaring at him. “And I don’t need a fucking father, either!”
“Where is that coming from? I thought you were happy that we’re getting to know each other?”
“Not getting, got. Past tense.”
“What?” he’s confused.
“This weekend was a one-time deal, that’s all,” I tell him. I get to my feet and he does the same. Confronting him face to face, I jut out my chin and declare, “You were curious about me, I was curious about you. That’s all this was.”
“No,” he shakes his head. “Not for me, Brian. I’m thrilled to know that I have a grown-up son, and I’m proud that you’re such a success. In your career and in a relationship with someone you love.”
“You can’t be proud of me,” I insist, “You don’t know anything about me.”
“But I want to, Brian. Won’t you give us a chance to know each other better?”
And there it is, that same question I’ve asked him – asked myself – several times before.
“Is it so hard to understand,” Shaughn spreads his hands, “That I want to know my own son?” I just stare back at him, shaking my head, and he adds, “Brian, if you had a child of your own, maybe you’d understand.”
I have to glance away then. I had no intention of telling this man about Gus, but after a moment, I murmur, “I do. I do have a child, a son. He’s three – almost four years old.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Shaughn exclaims. “Oh, I’m so glad, Brian.”
Still not looking at him, I add, “I’m not much of a father.”
“Do you love him?” he asks, and I nod. “Does he know that you love him?”
“I don’t know.” I raise a hand to run through my hair. “It’s better he doesn’t get too attached to me.”
“Why is that?” Shaughn asks gently, then he suggests, “Afraid that you’ll let him down?”
I swivel my head around sharply and glare at him. “It’s what people do.”
Shaughn opens his mouth to speak again but roughly I interrupt. “So what are you,” I demand angrily, “Some kind of shrink? I don’t do this touchy-feely soul-searching bullshit.”
“Okay,” he nods, “Okay. But if I promise that I won’t let you down, will you let me be a part of your life?”
Christ almighty! “Give it up, Dr. Shaughnessy.”
“No,” he moves a step closer and stares into my eyes. “No, I won’t, Brian. So stop trying to run away from me, will you?”
I wasn’t running away, I was just fucking jogging. What bullshit. I’m not going to answer that; instead I say, “I’m going back now. I need a cigarette. And fuck the quit-smoking lecture.”
Side by side we jog slowly back toward the house. “I assume your oncologist already advised quitting,” he says mildly, adding, “Obviously to no avail. But does Justin get on you about it, too?”
“He knows better.”
We’re walking slowly by the time we reach the park entrance, and Shaughn puts a hand on my arm to stop me. “Will you at least let us be friends, Brian?”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a gusty sigh, I answer quietly, “It’s not that simple.”
Against my better judgment, I begin to explain. “My mother. . .is a miserable, unhappy old woman. She’s very religious – and her Christian moral superiority is all she’s got. Not that I give a shit,” I add hastily, before continuing. “But if her dirty little secret gets out, that she committed adultery, it will probably kill her. Not that I give a shit about THAT either.”
I brace myself for more armchair-psychology bullshit but it’s not forthcoming. Shaughn thinks for a moment, then he suggests, “How about if we keep our relationship under wraps for the time being? You can come see me in Boston whenever you can get away, and we’ll just take things slowly from there?” When I don’t answer right away, he presses, “How about that, Brian?
“I - “ Glancing away from his face, I stare back toward the green expanse of park. “I’ll think about it,” I murmur finally, then turn and lead the way across the street and around to the back of the house.
Breakfast was fantastic, Barbara made pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup and she told me I’d tied Shaughn’s world record for pancake consumption. He laughed and complained “no fair” because he said his middle-aged metabolism wouldn’t let him compete any longer.
We sat around the umbrella table for a long time, talking about art and music and movies, it was really comfortable and relaxing. Brian talked too but he was a little pulled back inside himself, I could tell that something was up, but of course I said nothing, nagging gets you nowhere with him.
He’d been out for a run in the morning and he woke me up with kisses when he got back, dragging me into the shower with him. He held me really tight and didn’t want to talk, so I kept my mouth shut and just washed him all over with a bar of lavender soap. We smelled so sweet, I told him I was afraid to go outside because bees would probably try to drink our nectar. Then Brian said he was going to drink MY nectar and he proved it, throwing me down on my back on the bed and slowly sucking me off.
Carolyn had joined us for breakfast but she ate quickly and excused herself to go practice, and we could hear violin music coming from inside the house while we sat around outside. I wondered if that would bother Brian but he didn’t seem to notice, so probably I was worrying for nothing.
Barbara wouldn’t let us help clear up. “Leave it, leave it,” she insisted, so we just sat and talked a little longer, until finally now it’s time to leave for the airport.
Brian and I return to the cottage to pack up our shit, we bring the bags out and both Shaughn and Barbara accompany us through the gate to the car, Brian throws our bags into the trunk and slams it shut.
“Thanks,” Brian says shortly then, nodding at Barbara and his dad, so I elaborate by gushing, “We had a wonderful time, thank you both so much!”
Shaughn shakes my hand and Barbara gives me a nice hug. Brian steps forward and Barbara hugs him too. Then he holds out his hand to Shaughn, but Shaughn doesn’t take it. Instead, he grabs Brian’s arm and pulls him hard against his chest. Hugging tight, Shaughn murmurs, “Come back soon, son. Come back real soon.”
Brian doesn’t answer, he just kind of nods, but I can see his Adam’s apple moving up and down, he coughs to clear his throat and moves quickly around the front of the car and pulls the door open.
“Goodbye, goodbye!” everyone calls, though Brian’s still saying nothing. He starts the car and backs down the driveway and into the street. He pauses and we wave out the window at Shaughn and Barbara, then Brian’s burning rubber down the street.
At the corner Brian stops at a stop sign. Sliding my hand over his on the gear shift, I squeeze his fingers. “I love you,” I say softly.
Brian swings his head around to look at me. He nods once and there’s a tiny smile turning up the corner of his mouth. “Do you know how I feel about you?” he asks.
“Yes. Yes, I do, Brian.”
“Good.” Then he puts the car into gear and we move smoothly down the street and take the highway to the airport.