I nervously climbed into the backseat of the car. Leo got in and sat down beside me. I wasn’t afraid of Leo. Actually, he had been like an uncle to me since I was a little boy. He was Dad’s campaign manager when he first ran for the Senate. Leo was a regular visitor to our house, and he and his wife often ate dinner with us. When I was little, I ate at the dining table with them. As I grew older, I ate alone in the kitchen with the cook.
As soon as the car pulled off, he asked me, “How is school going?” He smiled and said, “It just seems like yesterday you were starting first grade.”
I frowned, “It’s not going very well, but I guess you know that. Is that why you’re here? Did he send you to make me come home?”
Leo studied me for a minute, and then he rested his head back and said, “No, Dorian. I’m not here to take you home.”
I asked surprisingly, “You’re not?”
He sat up and looked over. “Let’s not talk about this here. Are you hungry? I’m starving. I’ve been in meetings all day and all I’ve eaten is a bag of chips.”
I shook my head. “I’m not hungry.”
“Well, I am,” he said. “Do you know a good Italian restaurant?” I gave the driver instructions to the restaurant where I had eaten the night before. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I would just drink a cola as Leo ate.
I watched as he handed the maitre de a twenty-dollar bill and asked if we could have a private table. We were led to a closed room away from other diners. He scanned the menu and asked me if I was going to order anything. I told him I wasn’t hungry, but he could order a soda for me. It was obvious Leo hadn’t had a decent meal in days. Besides a large salad, he ordered lasagna and bread sticks.
When the waiter asked if we would like drinks, Leo ordered two bloody marys. The waiter eyed me suspiciously. I thought he was going to ask me for identification, but he didn’t.
“Now tell me how school is going,” Leo asked when the waiter walked away. “How are your classes?”
“Sir?” he laughed. “What is this sir crap? You’ve known me since you were a baby. Hell,” he laughed again, “I used to change your diapers.” He laughed harder when my face reddened.
“My classes are going well,” I replied. “I can’t say that about the rest of it, though.”
“Yes, well,” he started to speak, but the waiter brought the drinks to our table. He placed them both in front of Leo. After the waiter walked away, Leo pushed one in front of me and stated, “If anyone asks, just tell them you’re twenty-one.”
“I don’t drink,” I informed him.
He laughed and said, “That’s not what I heard.” I blushed again when I realized someone must have told him about Seth and me drinking on the school lawn.
I looked at Leo and asked, “So why are you here?” I picked up the drink and took a sip as I stared into his face. I was surprised that I actually enjoyed the taste. Leo laughed when I remarked, “This is good,” and took another sip.
He asked, “Do you trust me?” I nodded my head. I had always considered Leo to be like an uncle. He was one of the few advisors Dad had who would talk to me. In fact, he would often visit my room just to say hello.
“You’ve been the center of much discussion the past few days,” he began. “You’ve become quite a problem for your father.”
“But I didn’t mean to be,” I insisted. “I tried to stay out of trouble.”
“I know,” he assured me. “However, you’ve gotten yourself into a rather big mess.”
“Tell me about it,” I laughed nervously as I took another sip of my drink. Since we were alone, I didn’t have to worry about being seen. Besides, if Leo was providing it for me, then he surely wouldn’t mention it to Dad.
“Are you happy with your new room?”
“Yes,” I replied, “Did you have something to do with that?”
“We had to pull a few strings,” he said. “That wasn’t easy. And Seth?”
I started to smile. “He’s a great roommate. Did you do that, too?”
“No,” he replied. “That was his idea. From what I’ve heard, he can be very persuasive.”
“Yeah,” I giggled, “He can be.”
The waiter brought Leo’s meal, so I sat quietly and sipped my drink as he ate. We continued to make small talk. He asked me about my classes, and if I liked my professors. He then asked about Jade and Sydney. As we talked, I realized that there was very little he hadn’t found out about me. I guess Dr. Avery was right when he said people knew when I last took a shit. One thing he didn’t mention was Jerry. I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t heard about the incident in the theater, or if he was too embarrassed to bring it up.
“How about one of those wonderful cannoli you told me about?” He asked after the waiter took away his plate.
“Sure, I guess,” I replied as I took a final sip from my drink. I held up the glass and asked, “Can I have another one of these.”
Leo sat back and laughed. “If you tell the Senator I’m turning you into an alcoholic, I’ll deny it.” He ordered three cannoli and two more bloody marys.
After the waiter left, I looked at Leo and said, “Now tell me why you’re here. You said I don’t have to go home.”
He drummed his fingers nervously on the table. I had seen him do it several times when he was attempting to make a point with my father. “Okay,” he sighed. “You being gay has become a problem for the campaign.”
I became embarrassed because it was the first time my sexuality had been mentioned. I wasn’t ashamed of being gay. It was just the fact that my parents knew, and we had never discussed it. And since he said that I had been the center of many discussions, then it was something that must have been discussed among a number of Dad’s advisors.
I asked nervously, “So what is Dad going to do?”
He threw up his hands. “We don’t know.” I eyed him questioningly. “The Senator suspected you were gay several years ago, and we discussed it then how we could best handle it.”
“Several years ago!” I shouted. Leo looked around and then asked me to speak more softly. “He knew I was gay years ago, and all he could think about was how to handle it so it wouldn’t affect his public image?”
“Dorian,” Leo remarked softly, “Your father is a complex man.”
“Complex man?” I laughed. “He’s an asshole.”
“Okay,” replied Leo. “He’s an asshole sometimes. But he’s not that bad a guy.”
“He’s a terrible father.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “He’s a terrible father. I’ve tried to talk to him over the years, but it didn’t do any good.”
“So he hates me?”
“Hate is kind of a strong word,” he replied. “Let’s say he’s terribly disappointed.”
I don’t know why, but tears formed in my eyes when Leo said that. I always knew I had never lived up to my father’s expectations, but to hear someone like Leo confirm my suspicions hurt me deeply. I muttered softly, “I’m sorry,” and then began to cry.
Leo scooted closer to me. “It’s not your fault who you are, Dorian. You can’t change the fact you’re gay. I’ve been trying to make your father understand that.”
“But he doesn’t,” I cried.
“He’s slowly coming around,” he said. “For the past year he’s removed talking about his opposition to gay rights and gay marriage from his stump speeches. He only addresses it if he’s asked a question about it.”
“But he still is against them?”
Leo replied, “He’s coming around. It’s hard to change an opinion you’ve had for so long.”
“What about Mom?”
He gently touched my arm. “She loves you very much.” He took me in his arms and held me when I once again started to cry. The waiter approached the table, but quickly turned when he saw us. After a minute, I sat back up.
“Why did they make my life so hard for me?” I asked as I wiped tears from my eyes. “I can understand Dad not caring, but why Mom?”
“I don’t have an answer for that, Dorian,” he replied. “Sometimes people just aren’t cut out to be parents. They did the best they could.”
“Locking me away in my room while I was growing up?” I responded sarcastically. “I was all alone.” Tears filled my eyes, but I refrained from crying.
Leo smiled warmly. “That’s why they let you come here.”
“I don’t understand,” I said as I gave him a puzzled look.
“Your father wanted you to go to a private university,” he explained. “After several months, your mother and I convinced him to let you attend this school.”
“You needed to grow,” he explained. “Hiding you in private institutions would never let you become a man.”
I laughed nervously. “That hasn’t exactly helped me. Look at the messes I’ve gotten into.”
“But none were your fault,” he insisted. “You’ve just led a sheltered life. You didn’t learn how to fight back.”
“So what’s going to happen now?” I asked worriedly. “Dad’s not pleased with me, especially since he’s running for vice president.”
A look of worry appeared on his face. “No, he’s not happy,” he replied. “He has wanted to remove you, put I’ve convinced him to let you stay.”
“Pulling you out now can harm his campaign more than letting you stay.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The campaign strategy team has been debating this all week,” he explained. “We’ve even involved Caswell’s team. You’ve put everyone in a delicate situation.”
He continued, “I don’t know what your intentions were when you joined Campus Pride, but you may have actually helped your cause.”
“That’s been the discussion,” he said. “You’ve got us between a rock and a hard place. If your father pulls you out of school, we’ll have every gay rights group in the country screaming down our backs when they find out he did it because you became the treasurer of a gay campus organization.” I sat back and smiled. It had never occurred to me that joining Campus Pride might have kept me in school.
“If he lets you stay, though,” he continued, “then the media is going to pick up on this story and have a field day showing his hypocrisy. He has a gay son while condemning gay rights. Again, gay rights groups will crucify him.”
“Don’t you think he should be? Look what he’s put me through.”
Leo shook his head and sat back. “This is serious, Dorian. Your father is running for the second most powerful position in the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars is involved. Something like this can ruin a campaign.”
“I really don’t care,” I responded angrily.
He scooted his chair closer to me. “I know you don’t.” He put his hand on my knee. “But I’ve come here to plead with you to help us.”
“Did Dad send you?”
“No,” he insisted. “I’ve come here because I believe that your father is the best person for the job. Sometimes his personal ambitions overshadow the fact that deep down he truly is a dedicated servant of the people. I’ve worked closely beside him for over twenty years. I’ve seen the good deeds he has done.”
I started to say something, but Leo stopped me. “I know what you’re thinking. If he’s such a good person, then why did he treat you like a junk yard dog?”
I started laughing. “I was going to say like a piece of shit.”
He laughed. “Whatever simile you want to use is fine. The point is, Dorian, this is his big chance to make a difference in America. Deep down, I believe he’s the right man for the job. You’ve got to trust me.
“Even Caswell is having second thoughts about nominating him. He and your father disagree over this whole gay issue. Caswell has a gay brother, and he’s opposed to a lot of your father’s views.”
“So, what does he want me to do?”
“He isn’t asking you to do anything,” explained Leo. “I am. Your father doesn’t even know about this visit. He’d probably fire me if he knew.”
“Then what do you want me to do?”
“Not sure,” he replied worriedly. “We’re still strategizing. I just want to know I can trust you.”
“To do what?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. Do what you’re doing now. Attend classes and keep your grades up. Keep as low a profile as you can. You’re in a safe room with a reliable friend. From what I’ve heard about Seth, he’d kill someone if they messed with you.”
“Yeah,” I grinned. “He’s almost done that a couple of times.”
“We know,” he said. “I was on the phone this afternoon for an hour with Dr. Avery trying to figure out how to clean this mess up.”
“But what about Dr. Avery?” I asked. “He’s been watching every move I’ve made. He’s even made some threats.”
Leo laughed. “Don’t worry about Avery. He’s been taken care of. He’s loyal to your father, almost too loyal. He thought he was doing the right thing.”
“And what about Campus Pride? Do I have to drop out of it?”
“God, no!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Just participate quietly without drawing any attention to yourself. We don’t need the Human Rights organization protesting at every campaign stop.”
“So that’s it?” I asked skeptically. Everything seemed too easy. My father was going to let me stay in school and even permit me to continue in Campus Pride.
Leo took a final bit of his cannoli. “You can’t say no to this, Dorian. I know you will want to, but you can’t. If I have to get down on my knees and beg you, I will.”
I gave him a puzzled look. “What?”
I laughed when he got out of his seat and kneeled. My laughter stopped suddenly when he said, “The convention is next week. Your father will deliver his acceptance speech after he’s been formally nominated the vice presidential candidate.” He took a deep breath. “I want you standing on the stage with him and your mother.”
“What?” I shrieked. “I can’t do that!”
“You’ve got to, Dorian,” he pleaded. “People know he has a son. They’ll wonder why you aren’t on stage supporting him.”
“Because I don’t support him!”
“Will you at least think about it?” he begged. “He took one of his business cards out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Call me if you change your mind. I’m not going to pressure you into doing it. I understand why you don’t want to. We’ll just say you’re away at college if anyone questions it. But personally, I’d like to see you join him as he’s introduced to the world.”
I shook my head. “You know I can’t, Leo.”
“I know,” he remarked sadly. “Just give it some thought, okay? Discuss it with your friends.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“One last thing before we go.” I nodded my head. “You’re not to have any involvement with...” I waited while he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small notepad. “With a Jerry Cohen.”
“Jerry!” I exclaimed. “How do you know about him?”
“He tried to contact your father,” explained Leo, “and basically attempted to blackmail him.”
“He told your father about your involvement with Campus Pride. He promised he wouldn’t go to the press with what he knew if your father wanted to keep it quiet. Of course, he didn’t come out and ask for money, but it was obvious what he was implying.”
I asked, “Did Dad pay him?”
“Of course not,” laughed Leo. “Unfortunately, Mr. Cohen wasn’t aware that all your father’s phone calls are recorded. After a visit from the secret service, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him anymore. That is, unless he wants to spend the next ten years in a federal prison.”
“Poor Jerry,” I responded sarcastically.
Leo stood and said, “Let’s get you back to the dorm. You need to study for that upcoming sociology test.” He put his arm around my back as we walked out of the restaurant.
“Is there anything you don’t know?” I laughed.
“Nope,” he replied jokingly. “We know when you last took a shit.” He looked at his watch. “I’d say about two hours ago.”
“Hey,” I laughed. “No fair. I had to go.” He laughed louder as he pulled me into his body and squeezed me tightly.
Seth was stretched out across the sofa watching a football game when I entered the room. He sat up as I walked across the room and sat down beside him.
“Are you all right?” he asked worriedly.
“Yeah,” I smiled. I rubbed my belly. “I’m full of cannoli and Bloody Marys.”
“Bloody Mary’s?” he asked excitedly. “You’ve been drinking?”
I giggled and replied, “Yeah. You and Leo are turning me into an alcoholic.”
He turned and faced me. “So what’s going on? Is everything cool?”
“More than cool,” I replied. I then told him about my discussion with Leo in the restaurant. He listened attentively and only interrupted a couple of times to clarify something he didn’t understand.
“So let me get this straight,” he responded when I’d finished. “You get to stay in school, keep your position as treasurer of Campus Pride, and your father’s campaign manager thinks I’m the best thing since sliced bread?”
“He didn’t say that,” I laughed. “He just thought you were a good roommate for me.”
“Sliced bread, good roommate,” he said jokingly. “Same thing.” He leaned forward. “So that’s it?”
I sat back and sighed. “Well,” I replied, “There is one other thing he wants me to do.”
“He wants me to be at the convention next week when Dad delivers his acceptance speech.”
“Damn!” Seth exclaimed. “I’ve seen that shit on television before. They yell and wave signs and shit.”
“It’s not as much fun as it looks,” I informed him. “Most of it is kind of boring. They only do that when the cameras are focused on them.”
Seth sat back and smiled. “My boy is going to be on national television. I’m going to call everyone I know and tell them to watch my roomie.” He smiled broadly. “This is cool.”
“I’m not doing it,” I insisted.
“But you have to!” he said excitedly.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno,” he replied. “It would just be cool.”
I reminded him, “You know I hate my father.”
“Maybe this will help get you two back together,” he suggested. “You’re going to have to do it someday.”
“Yeah,” I replied sadly, “I know.”