Matt stood in front of the adults gathered in St. Lukes gym. They were prospective foster parents. Bill had asked him to speak about his experiences as a foster parent.
Matt scanned over the assembled group. There were people of all races and sizes and ages. Most were couples, although there were a few single women and men. The high school boys finished taking down the tables and left the gym. Bill stepped to the podium and introduced Matt.
"Matt is one of our foster parents. He started with the program back in April, or was it May?" He looked to Matt for confirmation. Matt indicated May. "He took in a twelve-year-old boy, and I think its safe to say its been pretty successful."
Matt chuckled. "Thats pretty safe to say."
"Often, those boys who are placed successfully are adopted by their foster parents. Matt is looking toward that possibility."
"I think thats safe to say, too," he said with a small laugh.
"I should mention that Matt is a single parent. I know some of you here tonight are single, and you may have specific questions for him. If you have questions for me or about the fostering program at St. Lukes, Ill be glad to answer them later on. Now, if any of you have any questions."
A woman who was about Matts age raised her hand. She had shoulder-length brown hair and pretty blue eyes. She was wearing a nametag that said Janet. Next to her was a balding man in a Bauer Buick shirt with a name patch that identified him as Mario. "Did you have any experience with children before you got into the program?"
"Yes, I was a teacher and a camp counselor before I got into the program. In fact, I worked at St. Lukes camp in Wisconsin."
An African American woman in the first row asked, "Didnt you want a baby? Did you ever want an infant?"
"No, not at all. Its just personal preference. Dont get me wrong, I like babies. I was one, once." The group laughed. "But I prefer children who can feed and dress themselves. And who dont need diapers." They laughed again. "I enjoyed my niece when she was a baby, but I was relieved when she could start talking and tell me what she wanted. Shes much more interesting now."
"Does you foster son have any special needs?" A motherly looking woman with black hair and reading glasses asked this question.
"No, not really. He did continue counseling once he came to live with me full-time, but he has finished for the time being. Both his natural parents were killed in an auto accident. He does have some issues surrounding that, understandably. But he has no educational or physical disabilities."
Matt glanced at Leah, who smiled discreetly and nodded her approval.
Janet raised her hand again. "What about discipline?"
"The key is consistency. Brian tries to get away with all sorts of sh.." Matt almost said shit, but stopped himself in time, "...stuff. Hes a thirteen-year-old boy." The last sentence explained everything to those who had any experience. "Again, Brian is a pretty easy kid to get along with. Weve had some disagreements, and there are times Ive put my foot down, and told him what to do. The most recent example was to send him to Confirmation classes. I simply told him it was not negotiable. I do try to negotiate things as much as possible, however. If he has a stake in the outcome, hes more likely to follow through."
Several audience members nodded. They had heard similar things in the class they were taking.
A balding man who was sitting on the other side of Janet asked the next question. "Do you have any help? Do you have family or friends to help with child care?"
"I do have a sister, but she has young children of her own. I do have a roommate who helps with Brian." Matt held his breath for a split second. He had almost volunteered too much information. He scanned their faces; there were a few raised eyebrows. "Brian is a low-maintenance kid. Im sure there are boys who would need a two-parent home because they have so many needs. But my roommate is almost like a second parent to Brian," he added without thinking.
There was a moment of silence. The comment went over the heads of some of the listeners, but not all of them. Their minds were busy putting connections together.
Mario raised his hand. "Are you gay?"
Matt swung his head to look at Bill. Bill looked stunned and his mouth was agape. There was a very long, pregnant pause. His eyes sought out Leah in the audience. She encouraged him with a smile and a slight nod of her head.
Matt took a deep breath. "Yes, I am."
Instantly hands went up in the air, a few mumbled "Oh, no," or "Oh, my God."
Matt used a technique he had used as a teacher. "Put you hands down, please. Perhaps the comments I have will answer your questions." They complied; their arms returned to their sides like helium balloons with very slow leaks. "Yes, I am gay, and Brian is probably gay, too. But hes thirteen, and his sexuality is far from being defined. The most current research says that our sexuality is preprogrammed into our genes. They may have even found the gene that causes it."
Matt thought it best to avoid the topic of nature versus nurture. He wasnt a scientist, after all. "Let me say this clearly; we do not have sex, nor did I get into the fostering program with that goal in mind. He is my son, and I love him. This is not to say he is unattractive; in fact, hes very cute. But thats all that he is cute." He thoughtfully rubbed his chin. "Most gay men distance themselves from gay children precisely because of this. They want to avoid any possible hint of child abuse. But by doing this, the kids get shut out of the gay community, and possible role models."
An unidentified male voice shouted out, "What stops you from having sex with him?"
The question angered Matt, but he controlled it well. "What stops you, sir? If you have daughters, what stops you from having sex with them? I would be lying if I didnt say young men Brians age arent attractive. Were seeing more and more teenage boys being paraded around as sex objects. But its like violence. Weve all been so angry that we wanted to hurt someone. But theres a line the vast majority of us dont cross. Brian is going through puberty. But even though his plumbing is maturing and some of his sexual urges are very adult, he is still a child. And taking advantage of that innocence is one of the most heinous things an adult can do. Theres a vast difference between showing loving concern for your childs developing sexuality and taking advantage of their vulnerability and needs in order to satisfy your own urges. Even if he asked me to, I would say no. Its my responsibility as a parent and an adult."
"But what kind of life is he going to have?" Mario asked without raising his hand. "School has got to be a living hell for him."
"So far, we havent had any problems. Our plan is not to advertise the fact he may be gay. And if he is bullied or picked on or discriminated against because he is gay, he has me. I will defend him to the end, if need be. He was placed with me specifically because he identified himself as gay." Matt emphasized the last point. "He told someone that he might be gay. Someone else didnt place the label on him. He placed the label on himself. I dont know how many of you have teenagers now, but whats the worst name teenagers call each other?"
"Faggot," the dark-haired woman said.
"Exactly. So why would any kid want to call himself gay? No kid wants to be different. Conformity is the name of the game in junior and senior high."
"I still think he might be better off in a regular home," Mario muttered. It seemed he was playing Devils advocate in this discussion.
"For what?" Matt asked, a little more sharply than he had intended. "So a straight couple can tell him how wrong and sinful he is, or maybe send him to a psychologist to try to change him? Or better yet, perhaps he should be sent to one of those fundamentalist Christian groups who claim to change homosexuality? Brian had no alternatives. He has two natural brothers and a sister who werent interested in raising him."
"Just because were both gay doesnt mean we dont have values," he continued. "Thats another reason Im sending him to Confirmation classes. Im a little concerned about some attitudes toward his sexuality he might pick up there, but Im more concerned that he learns that there is a God."
Leah was beaming at him.
Someone else spoke up. "Im surprised St. Lukes, a Catholic institution, even took him in."
Now, Matt was really pissed. "And where would he go? The Audy Home, where he will be taunted and possibly raped? Or perhaps he should go live on the streets with no roof over his head, no education and no idea where his next meal is coming from. He would sell the only thing he has; his body. On the streets, he would learn how to use drugs and alcohol to deaden the pain, and risk contracting HIV. Maybe, just maybe, he would find an older gay man who would take him in and take care of him. But who knows how controlling that man is? He may demand that the boy service his friends. He could forbid the kid from going to school. He may even use drugs as a reward system or to keep the kid docile. Then what happens when the boy starts to age? He grows hair on his chest, gains a little weight. Hes no longer young and pretty. The chicken hawk will probably throw him out on his ass. And hes on the street again, this time older, and with no job skills, and most likely addicted to God-knows-what. Its an ugly scenario, and often the kid finds he has only one way out. That is to take his own life.
"Do you know what the statistics are for gay adolescent suicide? Some figures show that at least thirty percent of boys who take their lives under age seventeen had some sexuality issue involved. Some studies put the figure even higher as much as fifty percent."
Matt paused to take a breath. He wasnt sure where this tirade was coming from, or even if all these people deserved to hear it. But the words kept flowing out of him. "Im sorry some of you feel the way you do, and Im sure there are some of you that I will never convince. Rest assured I had to go through the same psychological tests you did, the same home evaluations, the same training. If St. Lukes had found me unfit to be a parent, I wouldnt be standing in front of you today. The fact that Im gay does not void my right to be a parent. There are thousands of men who are married today, even though they know deep in their hearts they are gay, and they have children." He paused again. "In some ways, being gay may even be an advantage."
"Im not perfect, I never claimed to be. But, I love him and he loves me. Im setting a good example for him. Im in a committed relationship," he held up his left hand to display the ring, "and Im stable and mature. There is a lack of positive role models for young gay people. Thats changing to some extent, but not enough to stem the tide of gay teenagers killing themselves."
"If I can take just one boy, and guide him into adulthood to make him a healthy, well-adjusted, confident, productive citizen, then Ive done my job as a parent. And Ive fulfilled my commitment to Brian, to St. Lukes, to the community and to God." He had now finished pouring his words onto the audience. Some of them looked stunned, some of them overwhelmed. Leahs eyes were glistening with pride and love. Bill looked proud, too.
Matt was concerned about the backlash, not only for himself and Brian, but for St. Lukes and Bill. The audience rose to its feet. To Matts and Bills shock, they started applauding!
Matt smiled wanly at them and nodded his thanks. Even Mario was clapping, although not enthusiastically. Most of the audience came up to the podium to shake Matts hand.
"I would have never guessed."
"You have a lot of guts, Matt. I admire you."
"Best of luck to you."
They began filing out. All the while, Leah grinned at him with the pride of a mother. When most of the audience had left, she hugged him. "Im so proud of you."
"Why are you here?" Matt asked her after she released him.
"When I was at your house for the cookout you had a few weeks ago, Bill and I had a talk. When you went upstairs to talk to Tim and his father, we were downstairs talking. He mentioned the foster parent program to me. I thought about it, and then talked to my sons. They thought it was a great idea."
Matt grinned at Bill. "You just never miss a beat, do you?" Matt had a grudging admiration for Bills persistence.
"Its part of my job," Bill smiled.
"And a part youre very good at," Leah said to him. "Hes very convincing," she said to Matt.
"Oh, I know."
"Im only teaching two classes at Governors State this year, so I have time to spare. And I know I can depend on you and Tim."
"Of course. Does Bill have someone in mind for you, like he did for me?"
"Yes, I met him on Halloween. Mike Rosen."
"Oh, Im so excited. Mike is such a nice boy, and very sharp. And Brian will be ecstatic," Matt turned his attention toward Bill. "I hope I didnt screw things up for you tonight."
"Well see. Some may drop out, but thats their problem. I made the decision to place him with you and ODonnell was in full agreement. And, ultimately, I was right. Brian is undoubtedly a success story."
As they walked to their cars, Matt asked Leah, "Im so pleased for you, but why didnt you tell us?"
"I wanted time to think about it. I also wanted time for my own sons to get used to the idea."
"You know, I think Mike is gay, too."
"It doesnt matter to me in the least," she declared. Matt knew she meant what she said. "He is a lovely boy with a lot of potential."
Tim kissed Matt as soon as he walked in the door.
"How did it go?" Tim asked.
Matt rolled his eyes. "Did you see that mushroom cloud over St. Lukes? That was me."
"That bad, huh?" He took Matt into his arms.
"This guy drew his own conclusions and guessed that Im gay."
Tim kissed his neck. "And I know you, Mr. Honesty. You told them the truth, didnt you?"
"Yes I did. Fucking bigots. And I told them a lot more, too. I told them about the suicide rate among gay teenagers and the chances of runaways surviving on the street and...."
"Shhh," Tim held an index finger to Matts lips. "You dont have to convince me. I know how strongly you feel about it."
"Brian is damn lucky to have me. Where is he, by the way?"
"Hes damn lucky to have us," Tim corrected. "He went to bed early, he said he was tired. It is almost ten." Tims dimples appeared and his eyes sparkled. "What about sharing our luck with another boy? I think Brians friend Mike is gay, too."
"Your gaydar is correct, Mr. Dugan. But hes already claimed."
"What do you mean? Someones going to adopt him?"
Matt gestured with his thumb in the direction of Leahs house. "Our next door neighbor. She was there tonight. It seems that Bill convinced her the day we had the cookout. And shes going to foster Mike."
"Come on, dad. Lets go say goodnight to our son." As they walked upstairs hand in hand, Matt told Tim, "Hell be so happy when I tell him."
Matt rapped gently on the door. He didnt want to interrupt Brian if he was masturbating.
"Yeah?" Brian called softly.
Matt opened the door, letting the dim light stream into his room. Without a word, Matt knelt on the floor beside the bed. He took Brian in his arms and held him tightly. "I love you so much, son," he whispered, although there was no reason to do so. He ran his fingers through the soft blond hair.
"I love you, too, Dad." He wrapped his arms around Matts neck. "But whats this all about?"
"Nothing, I just want to tell you again." Tim watched the scene with a mixture of love and jealousy. Parenting was Matts idea, after all, and Brian was technically his son. Until Brian had come along, Tim had never entertained the idea of being a father. Now, he couldnt imagine it any other way. With Leah becoming a foster parent, maybe it was time for him to consider doing the same. He had other plans that might delay that goal.
"Matthew, its my turn now." Matt released the boy and Tim knelt on one knee to hug Brian. "Did you know Mike is moving next door?"
"He is? Why didnt you tell me, Dad?"
"I just found out about it tonight. Mrs. Levin is joining the foster program." Matt ruffled his hair. "Sleep well."
It was almost a scene out of Norman Rockwell. In "Freedom From Fear" the parents are tucking their children into bed while the father holds a newspaper with a war headline. In the current tableau, the gender of the parents was different from the original painting and Matt would be holding a copy of The Advocate with a headline about a gay bashing that had taken place somewhere in America. But the scene had poignant similarities. Both sets of parents, in the painting and in Park Forest, sought to protect their children from the harsh realities of the world.
On November 12, most schools in the State of Illinois were closed for Veterans Day. Matt often thought it was a conspiracy to give teachers more time off. Veterans Day was an optional holiday. Each school district could decide when to celebrate the holiday, if they did at all. Most schools pushed it from the traditional November 11th, which fell on a Thursday that year to Friday the 12th so they could have a three-day weekend.
Matt tried, without success, to switch his day off from Thursday to Friday. Anna, his assistant manager, needed Friday off as well. Leah was picking up Mike at St. Lukes on Thursday night to spend the weekend with her, and undoubtedly the two boys wanted to spend the weekend together. Tim had to work on Friday and Leah was teaching a class in the morning. Brian had proposed the idea of spending the morning at Lincoln Mall, but Matt quickly rejected the idea. He had worked in malls long enough to know he didnt want his son to become a mall rat.
On Thursday night, Matt attended Parent-Teacher Conferences at the Junior High. Brian had earned all As with the exception of Algebra. He had struggled in Algebra, but with Tim's coaching, had brought his grade up to a respectable B-. All the teachers were full of praise for Brian, and they commented on how intelligent and mannered, creative and a natural leader. Matt was particularly interested in meeting his Reading and Art teacher, Mr. Groves.
Brian asked Matt to confirm his suspicion that Mr. Groves was gay. The minute Matt walked into the room, he knew. He could tell by the overwhelming scent of Halston Z-14. He must have taken a bath in the stuff, Matt thought.
"Its a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Rosato," the teacher shook his hand firmly. Thats two points in his favor, Matt thought. He called me by my correct name and he has a firm handshake.
"I understand you used to be a teacher," Mr. Groves said. Another point in his favor.
"Yes, I taught junior high science in Bloomington." It seemed so long ago. "Reading and Art is sort of an unusual combination, isnt it?"
"Well, all the teachers have one class of reading to teach, except for some of the vocational teachers, and of course, the PE teachers. My class is the advanced reading class. Its almost more of a humanities class."
"Ive really appreciated your attention to Brian. He loves your class. You have really ignited his imagination." Groves ran the class around a theme, such as love, parents or death. He then found books and stories that fit the theme and incorporated art as a means of expressing themselves, as well as creative writing assignments. Brian lived for the creative writing assignments, and had actually shown some to Matt.
"Thank you, thats very kind to say. He shows quite a lot of talent in writing."
"I think so, too. He has a nice grasp of dialog."
Matt glanced around the room. It was filled with all sorts of artwork. Groves had strung them across the ceiling as well. Their last unit was on Government. They read Animal Farm and then had to design a government for a fictional country. The results were published in illustrated magazine form, done with Apple computers Groves had in his classroom. They took up a horizontal bulletin board over a chalkboard. Matt was impressed.
"Thanks for your time, Mr. Groves. Please feel free to call if you need anything, or if you have any problems."
"I dont anticipate any. Your son is remarkable."
"Would you like to come to our house for dinner some night?"
"Thank you, thats very kind, but Im really swamped this semester. Im taking a grad class at Governors State. And theres my family."
"Oh, youre married?" Matt tried to make the question as casual as possible.
"Yes, and I have two daughters."
"Ok, you two, behave yourselves."
"We will, Dad." Matt was the last to leave. Leah had already gone to Governors State to prepare for her class. Tim had left at about 6:15 for a construction site in Homewood. Mike and Brian had begged the adults to let Mike stay at Matts house or Brian at Leahs, but the three adults nixed the idea. They wanted Mike and Leah to spend a little time together so they could get to know each other better. Besides, Leah had planned to take Mike to the mall Thursday night.
But, as soon as Friday morning came around, Mike was at Matts doorstep. He intended on spending as much time as possible with Brian. He looked very handsome in a new pair of jeans and a green sweater.
Just before Matt walked out the door, Brian gave him a quick hug, as did Mike.
"Do not go anywhere. I mean it. Leah said she should be home about two this afternoon."
They stood at the back door watching him drive away. When he was out of sight, Brian turned to him and put his hands on the other boys shoulders.
"Did you get contacts?"
"Uh-huh. Leah bought them for me. Like them?"
"Are they tinted?"
Mike nodded. "Green."
"I love them."
"Im glad you approve," Mike smiled.
"I like your sweater, too. Green is a good color for you."
"And those jeans...."
"Brian?" Mike interrupted.
"Shut up and kiss me."
Brian smiled and followed directions. The sensation was electric. Mike parted his lips first, and cautiously pushed his tongue into Brians mouth. Brian opened his mouth wider to receive the other boys tongue. Brian moaned involuntarily deep in his throat. He put his hand on the back of Mikes head and pushed it forward. He wanted to consume Mike, to be one with him.
They kissed passionately for a few solid minutes. They parted and looked each other in the eyes. Both boys had painful erections pushing against their jeans.
"I love you, Brian."
"I love you, too."
Brian took his hand and tugged gently. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"To my bedroom."