"So, did you have a good time?" Matt said, temporarily avoiding the subject at hand. Brian and Matt were trying to tackle the dilemma of how they were going to present Tim to Brians friend from school, Jake. They had to find a solution that was mutually acceptable, and fit into their policy of not revealing the sexuality of others.
"Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The DJ was dope." Matt winced at his descriptive adjective. "So what are we going to do about Tim?"
"I think its best to call Tim a roommate."
"Will he buy it? What if he sees you going into the same bedroom?"
"Thats pretty easy to solve. You guys are going to sleep in the basement."
"Its cold down there."
"But you can talk all night without keeping us awake. You can bring a TV down there. Jake probably wont even notice that were sleeping together." Matt was getting into the idea. "We can even make the third bedroom look like Tim is sleeping in it, just in case he wanders upstairs."
"Good idea," Brian sighed with relief. "You are so smart, dad."
"And we can make up some kind of code, if you think were dropping too many hairpins?"
"If youre what?"
Matt chuckled. Its an old fashioned term for acting gay."
"You are brilliant."
"Maybe not so brilliant Ive just been in these situations before."
Matt had to work, as usual, that Saturday. Brian and Tim were left to deal with most of the preparations. Brian vacuumed and cleaned both bathrooms. Tim mopped the kitchen, cut vegetables, and dusted. The weather cooperated by producing warm and dry weather. Although nights in late September could be chilly, this day promised to a warm Indian summer day.
Together they added accessories to the third bedroom to make it looked lived in. They added an alarm clock, a plant, put some pens and coins on the desktop and threw a pair of Tims jeans across the back of the chair.
Leah, Marty and Bill had been invited early for a brief meeting and explanation. Tim had invited Patrick, but hadnt been able to get in touch with him all week, so he wasnt sure if he was coming.
Matt drove like a bat out of hell to get home from Oak Ridge Mall. When he arrived, Bill and Leah were already there. He changed clothes quickly, and met them in the dining room. They waited a few more minutes for Marty to appear, but they couldnt wait too long, since Jake was arriving at 7.
Brian stood with his back to Matt, while Bill, Leah and Tim sat at the dining room table. Matt affectionately wrapped his arms around Brians waist.
"We wanted to explain what we were doing and why. Our family rule I like the sound of family rule is that you can inform anyone else about your own sexuality, but not about anyone elses sexuality. Brian isnt ready to tell Jake about his sexuality, so were arranging this slight masquerade. Tim is my roommate. He sleeps in the third bedroom. We have devised a code if anyone is acting out a bit. Its a tug on the ear."
Leah laughed. "Im sorry, but its so Carol Burnett."
Matt smiled, "Yeah, I guess it is."
"I have issues with this, Matt," Bill spoke up. "Isnt this playing a game? And what kind of message is Brian learning from this?"
"Gay people have had to conceal their preferences for ages. Its all an act. I look at this as teaching Brian to get along in a straight world. He may be putting on a fašade, but dont we all at times?"
Just then, a car pulled up behind Matts townhome, and Jake got out carrying a gym bag. Brian ran to open the back door.
"Hi, Brian." Brian whispered something to Jake, who followed Brian into the dining room. "Let me introduce you to everyone here. Of course, you met my dad. This is his roommate, Tim."
"Jake," Matt said, "I dont even know your last name."
"Oh, sorry. Its Wagner."
"Is you moms name Megan?"
"Yeah, how do you know?"
"And you dads name Al?"
"I went to school with your dad. Junior high and high school."
Tim slapped his forehead. "Thats where I heard the name before." He shook Jakes hand. His eyes were full of admiration for his strapping physique, but no knowing looks or any hint he knew what was going on.
"Were sleeping downstairs," Brian said after Jake was introduced to Bill and Leah. "Come on, Ill show you. Then, Ill show you the rest of the house."
While Brian was giving Jake the grand tour, Matt put the chicken on the grill. "I wonder where Marty is?" He commented to Tim.
"Maybe hes not coming."
Rick was meeting him at his house in Blue Island. Rick was leaving his car there, and Marty would drive to Park Forest. He was already fifteen minutes late.
Marty greeted him at the door with a kiss. It was a Rick-style kiss, which meant that it was no more than a tiny peck. Rick said he was not a kisser. But Marty would wait. Perhaps he would come around.
Rick did hug Marty, however, and the hug communicated real affection for the homely man. Marty was fun to be around, and he relieved his loneliness. Marty was his tour guide to the gay world with all its codes, unique language, and behavioral rules. Marty was the only one, woman or man, who could deep throat him.
Marty had kept their destination a secret. They drove east on 127th Street to I 57, and started their journey.
"Where are we going?" Rick asked again, in an attempt to get the destination out of Marty.
"To my best friends house. Theyre having a cookout. My friend and his lover."
They exited on Lincoln Highway and headed east. The traffic was unusually heavy for a Saturday night, and the numerous traffic lights caused them to be even later.
"Im a little nervous," Rick confessed.
"Dont be. Theyre both great guys. My friend said he was looking forward to meeting you."
Marty turned south on Western, then east on 26th street.
"I think Ive been here before."
"To Park Forest? Of course...."
"No," Patrick interrupted, "I helped remodel this townhouse. If were going where I think were going."
They pulled in back of Matts house.
Marty knocked twice briefly, and let himself in, as he always did. Patrick followed.
"Dad?" Tim said, astonished. "What the hell are you doing here?" He wanted to add with Marty but stopped himself.
A very awkward moment of silence followed. Matt looked at Tim, who was flabbergasted beyond words. Tim looked from his father to Marty. Brian looked anxiously at all the adults. Bill and Jake simply looked confused.
"Well, I had no idea it was going to be a surprise party," Marty quipped.
Instantly, Matt and Brian tugged on their ears, forgetting Marty had no idea what the code meant.
Matt took control of the situation. His plan was to divide and conquer. Since the food was ready, Matt had the boys prepare themselves plates and requested they take their food down to the basement. Then he directed Tim, Patrick and Marty to his bedroom.
As they filed upstairs, Leah asked Matt, "Do you need my help?"
"Thanks, Leah. I think I can handle this."
Marty and Patrick sat on the end of the bed without touching or even looking at each other. Matt paced for a few seconds and gathered his thoughts before speaking.
"OK. The situation here is tense. Im just as surprised to see Patrick here as anyone. And you all know me. I dont hide the fact that Im gay from many people. I got tired of doing it as a teacher. I am no longer a teacher, in part, because I am gay. At the time I was teaching, the educational system wasnt ready to accept a gay teacher. Theyre not much further along now. Not that its any of your business Marty and Patrick, but I wouldnt let Tim meet Brian at first, and it caused quite a bit of friction between us. We almost broke up over it. I wouldnt compromise even for the man I love."
He swallowed. His mouth was dry. "But Ill do anything for that boy downstairs, including putting on a little show. If it means I have to act straight for an evening, then that is what Im going to do. This means a lot to Brian, and he needs to make friends his own age at school. So Im going to tell you right here and now, if you fuck this up for Brian, I will never speak to you again. And I mean it. Its an awkward situation, I know, but this is not the time or the place to work it out." He looked first at Tim, then Patrick. "And this is not going to be Drama Night for the Dugans. If you feel the urge to talk this out right now, go somewhere else right now. Because its not happening here tonight. Do I make myself clear?"
They mumbled agreement. Matt demonstrated the code for behavior that was perceived as being too gay. They returned to the dining room.
Brian and Jake had finished eating, for the moment, and were chatting with Leah and Bill at the table.
"What were you guys doing upstairs?" Brian asked.
Marty answered, "Matt was reading to us from the Book of Threats."
Matt raised his eyebrows at Marty and tugged at his ear vigorously.
The rest of the evening went unexpectedly well. They ate the barbecued chicken and potato salad. Matt brought out Trivial Pursuit. Bill and Leah were one team, Matt and Tim, Brian and Jake and Marty and Patrick.
"I hate the orange Sports and Leisure questions," Matt complained.
"Just remember if the question has to do with baseball, the answer is Joe Garagiola. If its boxing, its Mohammed Ali," Tim replied.
Leah turned out to be a wealth of knowledge in Geography, which complimented Bills virtuosity in History. Matt couldnt be beaten in Science and Nature and Marty was the expert in Arts & Literature. Brian and Jake did pretty well in Entertainment but their range was limited. The shock of the evening was Patrick, who knew all the Sports and Leisure questions. Together with Marty, they won the game.
What could have been a disastrous evening turned out exceptionally well. Bill left first, and heaped compliments on Matt before he left. Leah had enjoyed herself as well. The boys retreated to the basement by the time Marty and Patrick left. Tim put on his jacket as well.
"Where are you going?" Matt asked Tim.
"Were going out for a quick drink," Tim replied. "Probably to Chicago Dough Company."
"Just stay out of the bathroom," Matt told him.
"Never mind. Ill explain later." Matt had never told Tim about the incident in the bathroom with Patrick.
Downstairs, the boys were preparing for bed. Brian slipped into a pair of gym shorts from St. Lukes and left his T-shirt on. Jake did a long, slow striptease in front of Brian. Off came a shoe.
"Are we sleeping on the bunks or in the sleeping bags?"
Off came the other shoe.
Brian had to clear his throat. "I thought we could sleep on the floor."
He pulled off his socks, and flexed his toes. "What do you want to watch tonight?"
"I dont care." But he thought, I want to watch you.
Jake pulled his shirt off. "Does your dad have any porn?"
Matts eyes widened just a bit at the sight of the other boys smooth, well-developed chest.
"I dont know where its hidden. I think its in his room somewhere."
Brian sat on one of the sleeping bags and watched the other boy undress in front of him. He slid into the bag to hide his developing erection. Jake was being so casual about it, too, as if he did this all the time. He seemed almost proud of displaying his body, and he wanted Brian to see it.
"I usually sleep naked," he said as he slid off his jeans. Oh, please, oh please God, yes please. "But its a little cold down here tonight." Shit. Underneath his jeans, he was wearing a pair of white boxer briefs. Jake looked so sexy in them, and they complimented his athletic bubble butt. Brian made a mental note to ask Matt to buy him some boxer briefs. Jake slipped into the sleeping bag. They watched Saturday Night Live. In the past couple years, it had been undergoing sort of a revival and again adding lines to American pop culture.
Both boys lay on their stomachs, with bunched-up pillows supporting their chins. After the first musical number, Brian glanced over to see that Jake had fallen asleep. Brian slipped out of his sleeping bag and crept upstairs.
Matt was sitting alone in the living room. He had lit a trio of candles on the coffee table. Otherwise, the room was dark. Matt had the receiver on. It was tuned so low; Brian could only hear it when he approached Matt on the couch. It was tuned to WTMX The Mix, an adult contemporary station, which Brian hated. Music was a minor source of friction between them. Matt was open to most forms of music. When the mood struck, he could listen to jazz or classical. But basically, he was a rock listener. He liked 80s new wave, and enjoyed alternative rock that had emerged. He had long ago discarded Top 40 and detested Rap and Hip-Hop. Brian, of course, liked these although Matt questioned whether he really liked them or if it was a result of peer pressure. Technology had solved some of their problems. Personal stereos allowed Brian to listen to what he wanted to listen to. The car remained a musical battleground. Their compromise was that Matt listened to his choice on the way to their destination, and Brian made the musical selection on the way back.
"Whats up?" Matt asked him. "Is everything OK?"
"I just came upstairs for a goodnight hug."
"Come here, sweetie." He embraced his son.
Brian sat on the couch next to Matt. "I wanted to thank you."
"For what, hon?" Matt said into Brians shoulder.
"For today. How you handled everything."
"Not a problem, kiddo." Piano chords announced the next song on the radio. It was The End of the Innocence. Matt held Brian and hummed the tune as he rocked the boy gently. As Don Henleys clear tenor voice washed over them, Matt thought about how fitting the song was. Brian was about to discover how it felt to love someone when they didnt feel the same way about him.
Music had always been a part of Matts life, although he had little talent for making it himself. There were other songs that brought back instant memories for Matt. Jesses Girl and Drive always reminded him of camp. Hey, Jealousy reminded him of Tim and their first sexual encounter in the basement shower. Anything by The Cars or The Police reminded him of college. This music formed the soundtrack of his life.
Now, The End of the Innocence would always remind him of Brian and this evening on the couch, with the candles lit and the radio playing softly.
"Still out with his father your grandfather. Is Jake asleep?"
"Yeah." They both heard the back door open, and Tim entered alone. He crossed the living room and without a word, kissed Matt. Tim inserted his tongue into Matts mouth, and was so into the embrace, he almost forgot about Brians presence.
"Hey, you guys. What about me?"
"Sorry, Brian," Tim broke the lip-lock, and hugged the boy.
"How did it go?" Matt directed the question to Tim.
"Pretty good. Well talk about it later."
"Oh, I get it. Not for my ears, right?" Brian was slightly perturbed.
"You got it. Youd better go back downstairs," Matt suggested. "Your guest might wake up and worry if youre not there."
"Hey, wait. Bill told me that I was added to Mikes Visitor List."
"Oh." Brians face was inscrutable.
"You dont sound too excited."
He shrugged. Brian wasnt going to admit to anything about Mike.
"I think, Brian, the kind thing to do would be to at least invite him over for a day. I know you dont want to encourage him, but he was a good friend to you when you first ended up at St. Lukes, and its the least you can do for him."
"OK, Dad, Ill think about it." He turned and left, but before he went back to the basement, he stopped upstairs in his room to get his Walkman and a tape.
He slipped the headphones over his ears and slid into the sleeping bag. He fumbled with the buttons on the Walkman until he found the song he was looking for. He had recorded it from one of Matts tapes. As he snuggled down into the sleeping bag, he stared at the bare shoulders of the boy sleeping next to him on the floor. The song began:See the storm set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
Ill wait for you........
He listened to With or Without You from U2s The Joshua Tree as he imagined Jake holding him in his arms. The music perfectly fit his mood and emotions for the other boy. When Bono wailed toward the end of the song, it was Brian crying out his longing and loneliness and need for companionship.
Tears started to stream down his face, but he didnt care. Prints found his way to Brian and snuggled against his chest. Brian cried into his soft fur. He rewound the tape and listened to it again. During the third replay of the song, he closed his eyes. He was asleep before the song finished.
The tape continued playing until it reached the end, when the Walkman shut off automatically.
Mrs. Wesolowski waited for her next student in her tiny office at Southwest School in Evergreen Park. She knew from the attendance report that he was in school today, so he was probably just running a bit late. She glanced at her watch again and decided she would wait a few more minutes before strolling down the hall to his fourth-grade classroom to fetch him.
She was one of two speech therapists for the Evergreen Park Public School District #124. She was part-time this year because she recently had a baby. Her job took her to one other elementary school, the junior high and Queen of Martyrs Catholic school, all in the same town.
Her office was near the main office where one of the school secretaries played a radio softly. The secretarys radio had been the subject of a discussion at a teachers meeting. She said he liked the music as she worked, while the speech therapist claimed it was a distraction. They had compromised, and if she requested the secretary to turn it off, she would comply. Otherwise, she could play it at low volume.
She liked her next student immensely. She glanced through his file as she waited. There were notes from the district social worker describing his home life. His single mother was a drug user who neglected her son. He recently had returned from St. Lukes where he had been living for almost a year. She was going to mention the fact that he came from St. Lukes to another family member who would be interested, but she kept forgetting to do so.
While Tommy was at St. Lukes, his mother had been in a court-mandated drug rehabilitation program. Tommy often came to school tired and dirty, but he invariably had a cheerful disposition and he was eager to learn. Tommys attendance was also problematic, which was why she checked the daily attendance report to see if he was in school today. He was always hungry, so although it was against the rules, she gave him a piece of fruit or a cereal bar that he could eat before he returned to his regular classroom. It was the least she could do, and Tommy was grateful. With a wink and a charming grin he always said that the food would be their little secret. Mrs. Wesolowski worried about his welfare, but apparently the social worker and the school district were aware of his home situation. There wasnt much else she could do; besides, she had her hands full with her job and her own family.
Mrs. Wesolowski had diagnosed Tommys problem pronouncing his "R" sounds, and had proscribed an Individual Educational Plan to tackle the problem. Academically, he was close to grade level in everything else except reading. He received special help in reading from Mrs. Burris, the district reading specialist.
She glanced at the clock. It was time to get Tommy. Either he or his regular classroom teacher had forgotten about the appointment. She walked down the hushed hall to his classroom. Students were toiling at education in every classroom she passed. In one, they appeared to be taking a test, in another; they were playing a game.
She knocked on the door of Miss Michaels, Tommys regular classroom teacher. She smiled at the speech therapist and met her at the door. Miss Michaels spoke in low tones so that the students couldnt overhear their conversation.
"Im sorry, Karen, I forgot about Tommys appointment."
"No problem," Mrs. Wesolowski answered, anxious to get on with the lesson.
Tommy held her hand as they walked down the hall to her office. He was such a cute kid, with his red hair and green eyes, she thought. I sure hope his mother gets her act together. A bright, friendly child like this deserves a good home.
When they were seated in the office, Tommy said to her with a smile, "I heard Miss Michaels call you Karen. Is that your first name?"
She smiled back at him. "Yes it is. But its Mrs. Wesolowski to you. Otherwise I wont bring you any more of the strawberry Nutragrain bars you like so much." She smiled as well, knowing he would never be so impertinent as to call her by her first name.
He had discovered that her first name was Karen. He knew her last name was Wesolowski. What he didnt know was that her maiden name was Rosato. She was Matts sister.
"Lets get started. Can you read this to me, please?" Tommy began reading in his childish voice.
As he started to read, Karen Wesolowski closed the door to the tiny office to shut out the music from the secretarys radio. Just before she shut the door completely, she paused long enough to identify the song that was playing.
It was The End of the Innocence.