Chapter 13
A Delicate Situation
“Would you stand still?” My mother admonished me as she attempted to straighten
my tie. We were in a room backstage waiting for my father to conclude his speech
before the convention. He had been speaking for twenty minutes before a packed
arena. He was frequently interrupted with standing ovations.

“My tie is fine,” I insisted as I walked over to a mirror and pulled it tighter to my neck.
I wanted to dress more casual, but Leo had insisted that it would look more
appropriate if I was dressed in a dark blue suit, pale blue shirt with a red tie. Looking
at my father on the big screen television, I was dressed almost exactly as he was.
Leo had mentioned that I perhaps should cut my long hair, but I refused. I told him I
wouldn’t attend the convention if I had to do that.

I don’t know why I let Seth, Sydney and Jade talk me into coming. I didn’t want to,
but they kept persisting until I finally relented. They knew that my father and I didn’t
get along, and they thought it might be a way for us to finally reconcile.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Jade had said. “He knows you’re gay, and he wants you
to be with him when he’s nominated.”

“It’s all political,” I replied. “He just doesn’t want to have to explain why his only child
wasn’t on stage with him.”

“Well,” insisted Sydney. “I think it’s a great idea. This could be a new beginning for
you. Besides,” she giggled as she stepped forward and brushed the hair from my
eyes, “the world will see how cute a son Senator Gale has.”

“More likely they’ll see he has a gay son,” I replied somberly.

“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Seth volunteered. “It is 2012, and things have changed.
It could be a step forward for gay rights.”

“Gay rights,” I said sarcastically. “They only bring up the issue during every election.
Afterwards, it will be put in mothballs for four years until they drag it back out again.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” added Jade, “that you’re having a coming out before the
whole nation.” She walked over and gripped my hand. “You’ll be a role model for a lot
of young men. Besides,” she grinned, “it could get you a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, right,” I replied as I pulled my hand away. “Leo has given me strict instructions
I’m not to mention my sexuality to anyone. If someone from the media asks, I’m
supposed to say ‘no comment.’”

“I called Adam,” Seth said cheerfully. “He’s going to be watching. He thinks I’m really
lucky to have you as a roommate.” He started grinning. “He wants to meet you
someday.”

“Oh, no,” I moaned as I looked over at Jade. “Not you too!”

“He has a boyfriend,” responded Seth. “He just wants to meet you.”

“Damn,” muttered Jade.

I was now backstage waiting for my father to finish his speech. I kept pacing around
the room while my mother sat watching my father on the television. She asked, “Isn’t
he wonderful?”

I looked over at the monitor. Wonderful wasn’t the adjective I’d use to describe him.
However, I had to admit he was doing a good job. The convention audience was
cheering wildly to almost every statement he made. I also felt a little remorse
because he was everything I was not. He was tall, handsome and self-assured. His
countenance demanded dignity and authority.

I glanced over at my mother. I didn’t even resemble her. She was taller than I was,
and her build was rather stocky. I think I inherited my grandmother’s looks. She was
small like me. She and my grandfather were seated in a dignitary section of the
convention hall. My grandfather was wealthy, but I don’t think he had the money my
father did. He had formed an import company after the Vietnam War, and he made
his money importing goods from Asia. In the mid 80’s, my father took over the
company and began importing and exporting goods to other parts of the world,
especially South America and the Middle East. He still owned the company; however,
when he became a member of Congress, he placed it in a blind trust. For a brief time,
I think my father and grandfather expected me to someday take over the family
business, but I never had a desire to do so. My dad’s youngest brother, Carl, who
was sitting in the audience beside my grandparents, was an executive vice president
of the company. He was being groomed to take over the business someday.

Suddenly, the door opened and a young woman peered in. “You have ten minutes
until you go onstage.” My mother politely thanked her, and she closed the door.

Mother rose from the sofa and walked over to me. I stepped back when she reached
up and pushed a strand of stray hair from my forehead. “You’ve grown up so fast,”
she said as tears misted her eyes. “It just seems like only yesterday you were
learning to walk.”

“I guess all children do,” I remarked sharply as I turned and looked at myself in the
mirror. I looked at her when she stepped up beside me and looked at my reflection.

“I know you’re not happy, Dorian,” she said tearfully. I started to agree, but a lump
suddenly formed in my throat and I had to choke back my own tears. “Perhaps, I
haven’t been the best mother in the world,” she started to cry, “but God knows I did
the best I could.” She reached out for me, but I stepped away. She looked up at my
father who was beginning to conclude his speech. The audience was cheering wildly.
“It wasn’t easy at times.” I fought back tears as she walked over to a box of tissue
on a table, took one out and wiped her eyes dry.

She turned to me and said sadly, “Maybe someday you’ll understand and forgive me.”

I was blinking away tears when she took another tissue from the box, walked over
and handed it to me. “I didn’t mean to upset you before we go onstage. Perhaps, we
can talk later.” I wiped my eyes dry and nodded. I wanted her to put her arms around
me and hold me, but she didn’t. She walked back over to the television and watched
as my father concluded his speech.

The door opened and the young woman announced, “It’s time for you to go on
stage. Follow me, please.” She led us down a narrow hallway until we were standing
just a few feet from where my father was extending his arms and waving to the
cheering crowd. When he turned to look for us, the young woman gently pushed on
my back and told us to go join him on the stage.

I squinted as I crossed the stage holding my mother’s hand. She had grabbed it just
as we went out. I think she knew that if she had done it backstage, I would have
pulled away. My father had probably suggested that she do it in order to show that
we were a happy family. He turned and smiled as we approached. He kissed my
mother on the cheek, and then he lightly embraced me. “Smile, Dorian,” he ordered
in my ear as he pulled away, grabbed my hand and enthusiastically extended it into
the air. The crowd roared their approval for the devoted family standing before them
on the stage.

I wasn’t quite sure how he’d react to seeing me. I had arrived the night before, but
he was on a different floor than the one my mother and I were assigned. We were
told his was more secure, and the secret service had it sealed off from visitors. My
mother said he was also up most of the night meeting party dignitaries and working
on his speech. We probably wouldn’t have gotten any sleep.

I looked out onto the crowd who were standing, shouting his name and waving signs
that read Gale for Vice President. It seemed so surreal to me. I despised him so
much; however, tens of thousands of people were cheering loudly for him. I looked
over and watched as he soaked in the adulation. It was obvious that our presence on
the stage had been scripted because he was aware of where everyone was. My
mother stood beside him with her arm around his waist. His father and mother were
standing beside her. My Uncle Carl was next in line, and I was delegated to a place at
the end. I guess he wanted me to be far away from him so that I wouldn’t appear in
any close-up shots.

As I stood motionless, I wondered if my friends back at school were watching me.
Seth had told me before I left to hold up two thumbs so he would know that gesture
was intended for him, Sydney and Jade. When I noticed a CNN camera pan towards
me, I did it. I could just imagine everyone laughing wildly back at my dorm room.

After about ten minutes, a loud roar erupted from the convention hall. I turned to
see Governor Caswell enter from the side of the stage. He approached me and
gripped my hand. “Thank you for being here tonight, Dorian,” he said as he moved
on to my uncle and began chatting briefly with him. It surprised me because I had
never met Caswell before, and I wasn’t aware that he knew who I was. But then I
remembered Leo’s conversation earlier in which he said I had been the subject of
much debate. So I assumed he knew I was Senator Gale’s gay son. It still surprised
me how genuinely glad he was to see me.

I watched as he approached my father and they embraced. He and my father then
joined hands and dramatically held them up to a roaring audience. It appeared that
the conventioneers had been prepared for his arrival, because soon red, white and
blue Caswell/Gale signs began to fill the convention hall. Shivers ran down my back,
and goose bumps appeared on my arms as I wondered if I was looking at the future
president and vice president of the United States. The crowd certainly seemed to
think they were. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased with the idea. My life had already been
miserable as a senator’s son. I could only imagine how unbearable it would be if he
did become vice president.

My father and Governor Caswell paraded across the stage, waving at members in the
audience. At one point, my mother and Mrs. Caswell were motioned forward to join
them. I expected my father to motion for me to join them, but he didn’t. In fact,
neither he nor my mother looked back at me. Even though I hated being in the
limelight, it still disappointed me. Disappointment was soon replaced by regret and
hatred. My father had used me to make it appear before the world that he was a
loving father. I was no more than a prop on the stage. He could have had a staff
member create a cardboard image of me and placed it on the stage. No one would
have known the difference.

When the cheering crowd began to die down, aides directed us off stage. Governor
Caswell and my father led the way toward the back. I was last, and no one seemed to
even notice that I was part of the group on the stage. Secret service surrounded the
governor, his wife and my parents. I was pushed further toward the back. Not once
did they turn to see if I was with them.

I stopped and watched them exit through a side door. I waited a few minutes until I
was sure their limousines had pulled away. I then exited the building, went outside
and hailed a cab. I had her take me to the airport. I then booked a flight back to
school.

It was after three in the morning when I finally arrived at my room. I couldn’t book a
direct flight, so I had a two-hour stopover in Atlanta. Then after arriving at the
airport, it took over a half hour before I could get a cab to bring me back to school. I
unlocked the door and dropped my luggage to the floor.

Seth emerged from the bedroom in his boxers as he wiped sleep from his eyes.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “I wasn’t expecting you until Sunday.”

“My plans changed,” I replied sharply as I took off my blue suit jacket and tossed it
across the arm of the sofa. I then kicked off my shoes, unbuckled my pants and let
them fall to the floor. I picked them up and folded them before laying them atop my
jacket.

Seth stepped toward me and asked concernedly, “What happened, Dorian?”

I pulled out the sofa bed, drew back the sheet and climbed wearily into bed. “Can we
talk about this in the morning?” Seth watched as I pulled the sheet over my head to
avoid him seeing me cry. A minute later, he turned out the light and went back to his
bedroom.

I might as well have stayed up because I got little sleep. My mind kept playing over
and over the image of my mother and father standing together on the podium while I
remained silently in the background. I always knew that I was just someone who lived
in the same house with them. I was a stranger that they avoided. However, reality hit
me on that stage. It didn’t matter what I did in my life, I’d never be anything more
than a stranger to them.

An intense feeling of hatred consumed me. I had always hated my father, even at a
young age I never felt any love for him. I had never been a part of his life. While
other boys played baseball with their fathers, my father was never at home. He was
either in Washington, or away on congressional junkets. The rare times he was at
home, he never showed any interest or compassion toward me.

However, backstage at the convention center alone with my mother, I began to
understand that she, too, was no different than my father. We had shared very few
words together. I’m sure she was aware of the trouble I was having at school. She
must have heard about the incident in the dorm. However, not once did she ask me if
I was all right. In fact, she seemed to avoid asking me anything at all about school.
Her apology to me for not being a good mother was more for her own absolution
than it was a means of trying to explain her actions. Before, I had always loved my
mother. Now she was no better than him. The tears I shed during the night were
tears of remorse. My love for her had been replaced with the same hatred I felt for
my father.

By morning, I was a changed person. I finally faced the reality. I had never been, nor
would ever be, a part of my parents’ life. Just as they had ignored me on the stage,
they had ignored me since I was a small child. If I had to make it through life, then I
would have to do it without them. I arose in the morning from my bed with a new
sense of freedom.

I left the room early before Seth got out of bed. It was Friday, but since I’d been
excused from attending my classes, I decided to take my first step toward my new
life. I made my way to a Panera Bread cafe located on the campus and ordered a cup
of coffee. When the girl behind the counter handed it to me, I asked her if I could
have a job application. She called over the manager, a small, older woman. She gave
me a scrutinizing look as she asked me if I had ever had experience working in a
restaurant. I told her I hadn’t, but I was a quick learner. She reached under the
counter and handed me an application and a pen. When I returned it to her fifteen
minutes later, she asked me to join her at a booth.

“Why do you want to work at Panera Bread?” she asked me as she sat staring across
the table at me.

I nervously replied, “I need the money.”

“Are you a student?” I nodded my head. She then asked, “Don’t you think working
here will affect your grades?”

“I’m a good student,” I assured her. “I’m willing to work any hours you can assign
me. If the job becomes a problem, then you can cut back my hours.” I looked
pleadingly at her.

She let a smile form in the corner of her mouth. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll give you a try.”

“Thank you,” I said excitedly. “You won’t regret it.”

“I hope not,” she replied. “Can you begin tonight? I need someone to work the night
shift.”

“Sure,” I said happily. “What time?”

She rose from her seat. “Be here at six sharp. Not a minute later.” I got up and
whistled a tune as I strolled back happily to my room.

“You did what?” shrieked Jade when I told her I had a job. She had called earlier to
ask me to join her, Seth and Sydney for lunch. “But why?”

“I need the money,” I insisted.

“You need the money!” she replied excitedly. “Your father is wealthier than some
countries. Why do you need money?”

“That’s just it, Jade,” I said. “It’s his wealth, not mine.”

“But still...” I interrupted her before she tried to convince me not to work.

“I cut up my credit card this morning,” I informed her. “Now I need a job.”

“What! Why did you do that?”

“I know you don’t understand,” I replied, “but I’ve got to make it on my own
someday. Now is as good a time as any.”

She sat back and stared at me. “What happened yesterday? Seth said you came in
about three o’clock last night and went straight to bed.”

I turned my head and muttered, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Dorian, please,” she begged as she grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “You’re doing
it again. You’re shutting people out.”

“Look,” I replied as I blinked tears from my eyes. “I’m not shutting you out. I just
think it’s time I started living my own life.”

“You’re supposed to do that after you graduate,” she said worriedly. “Are you sure
you can work and keep up your grades in school?”

“If I can’t,” I informed her, “then I’ll drop out of school.”

“And work at Panera Bread the rest of your life!”

“Shift managers make almost ten dollars an hour,” I replied.

“Jesus, Dorian,” she sighed. “Your father is a millionaire, and you’re going to work a
minimum wage job?”

“Yep,” I replied proudly as I sat back and smiled. “I am.”

Seth and Sydney soon joined us, and they spent the rest of lunch trying to talk me
out of my crazy idea, as Jade called it. However, I knew that if I ever wanted to start
living my own life, then I’d have to give up my former one. Weighing my options, that
seemed like a no brainer. I hated who I was, and I was looking forward to a new me-
no matter if I did have to work to achieve it.

After lunch, I decided to go back to the room and sleep while the others headed off
to class. If I was going to work all night, then I needed to get some rest. Seth came
in around four, and again tried to talk me out of working.

“Everyone has held a job except me,” I said. “Even you said you worked as a caddy
on the golf course before you came here.”

“My dad isn’t your dad,” he remarked.

“My dad isn’t your dad, either,” I replied sadly. “Besides, I don’t want his money. As
far as I’m concerned, he isn’t my father anymore.”

Seth asked, “What brought all this on? Last night you looked like the perfect family
on television.”

“Exactly what he wanted us to look like,” I snapped back. “When the cameras weren’t
on, he didn’t even know I existed. He never even spoke to me, except to tell me to
smile for the camera.”

“Maybe he had a lot on his mind,” suggested Seth. “He did have a speech to give.” He
started smiling. “And you looked really great up there.” He laughed when I rolled my
eyes. “I’m serious,” he insisted. “Me, Jade, Sydney and Amanda all said how cute you
were.” His face started to redden. “Well, they said cute. I didn’t.”

“I know,” I replied smilingly.

“Oh, yeah,” he added. “Adam thought you were cute, too.” Now it was my time to
blush.

“I better get ready,” I said as I headed for the bathroom to shower. “I’ll try not to
wake you when I come in tonight.”

“No,” he stated. “It’s okay. If you need someone to talk to, just wake me up. Okay?”
I nodded and headed to the bathroom. He was gone by the time I came back out. I
guess he had left to join the others for dinner. In a way, it was something I would
miss. However, I needed to work so I could be free. It was a sacrifice I was willing to
make.

As I was getting ready to walk out the door, my cell phone rang. It was my mother.   
I refused to answer it. A moment later, she called back, so I took the call. I didn’t
want her calling me at work and interrupting my first night on the job. “Hello,
Mother,” I said dryly into the phone.

She asked excitedly, “Where are you? I’ve been worried sick.”

I looked at my watch. It was a little past five. I had been gone for more than a day
and a half, and she was just now calling to find out where I was. “I’m in my room at
school.”

“Why on earth would you be there?” she asked. “You’re supposed to be with your
father and me. We’re getting ready to have dinner with the Governor and Janice.”

“And you just now wonder where I am?”

“Well, no,” she hesitated before continuing. “I did wonder why you never came back
to the room last night. Why did you leave?”

“Really, Mother?” I asked sarcastically. “You didn’t even know I was gone, and you
wonder why I came back here?”

“Dorian,” she began to apologize, “We really did have a busy schedule, and...” I hung
up, turned off the phone and placed it on the coffee table when I left the room.

My body was trembling when I opened the door to the restaurant and entered. Jill,
the manager who interviewed me, stepped around the counter and smiled. “There
you are,” she said warmly. “Most students who interview for a job have second
thoughts and never return. I figured you to be one of those.”

“No, Ma’am,” I replied nervously. “I’m ready to work.”

She smiled and said, “Excellent.” I followed her behind the counter as she introduced
me to some of the other workers. Most appeared to be students much older than
me. Two of the girls looked at each other and giggled when I was introduced to them.
I followed Jill to her office. “Here,” she said as she handed me a baseball cap with
Panera Bread embroidered on it, and an apron with the same emblem. “I’m not going
to have you doing too much for a couple of days. I just want you to watch the girls
prepare the sandwiches and learn. I’ll train you on a register next week.” She looked
at me and smiled. “Ready?”

I nodded and replied, “Ready.” I then followed her out into the kitchen area. She
informed me I’d be working with Anita for the first night. Anita was a tall girl, and she
appeared to be a junior or senior. She wasn’t friendly at first, but as the night wore
on, we began to talk more.

“You learn fast, Sweetie,” she said after I had helped her prepare a Cuban Chicken
Panini for an elderly woman. She looked like she might have been a professor.

“Thanks,” I replied proudly. Even though I was beginning to get tired, I was happy my
first night was going well. She then reached past me to get a slice of Swiss cheese.
When she did, her breast rubbed against my arm, and I immediately stepped back.

“Just what I thought,” she remarked as she continued to make an Italian combo.

“What?” I asked as I continued to watch her.

“All the cute ones are always gay.”

“What!”

“It’s okay, Sweetie,” she laughed as she handed me the sandwich to give to the boy
who was eagerly awaiting it. “We always make a bet when we get a new hire.” She
laughed and pointed to a red haired girl a few feet away scooping out a ladle of
broccoli cheddar soup. Her arm was adorned with various tattoos. “Scooter won ten
dollars.” She laughed again. “She always wins because she’s a dyke, and she claims
to have gaydar.”

I didn’t know what to say. Other than my friends at school, I had never openly
discussed my sexuality. Anita’s comments were making me feel uncomfortable.

She began preparing a chopped chicken cobb salad with avocado. She suddenly
stopped and we exchanged places. “You’re a smart guy, so you might as well learn,”
she remarked as she explained to me what to do. “Too much avocado,” she warned
me after I placed what I thought was a generous portion into the salad. She laughed
when I started to remove some. “Leave it,” she said. “but next time don’t add so
much.”

We continued to work together for several more hours. She didn’t question me about
being gay, but I felt a sense of freedom knowing that the staff was aware of it, and
no one seemed to mind. After all the years in high school I had fretted about
someone finding out I was gay, and now when they did, no one seemed to care. I
also didn’t feel I had to hide it when a couple of guys seemed to flirt with me when I
gave them their order. One really cute guy even gave me a quick wink when I handed
him his salad. I was so surprised, I didn’t react fast enough to wink back.

It was close to midnight, and the café was beginning to empty. I was told that we
usually stay open until one, but sometimes on the weekend we’d stay open longer if a
crowd appeared late. Anita had asked me to wipe the counter clean. Suddenly, a flash
appeared in front of me. I looked up and saw Jerry standing before me with his cell
phone pointed toward me. After another flash, he turned and fled the restaurant.


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