Brian stood at the closet door, squinted his eyes and peered down at this son. Neil had taken a winter coat, covered his body and curled up in a corner. Brian sighed deeply, toed off his shoes and sat down beside his distraught son. When their bodies touched, Neil grumbled and scooted away from his father.
Brian reached up and closed the closet door. Again, they sat in the darkness listening to their heavy breathing. After about ten minutes of silence, Brian finally decided to speak. “Son,” he whispered softly, “Are you all right?”
Neil sniffled and mumbled, “No.”
Brian apologized, “I’m sorry you had to find out the way you did.” When Neil didn’t respond, he continued. “There have been so many times I wanted to tell you.”
Neil pulled the coat tighter to his body, sniffled again and mumbled, “Then why didn’t you?” Brian took a chance and adjusted his position so that his body slightly brushed against Neil. “I never had a chance,” he explained. “Your mother and I thought it would be best if we told you when you got older.”
“I’m sixteen,” muttered Neil angrily.
Brian pressed his body harder against Neil. “I know,” he replied. “But every time I wanted to talk, Brett and Emily were around. Emily is probably old enough to understand, but Brett may be too young.”
Neil mumbled under the coat, “He knows about gay people.”
“I’m sure he does,” responded Brian. “But knowing about gay people and realizing your father is gay is different.” He chuckled nervously and added, “Look how you just reacted. You hate me now.”
Neil sniffled, wiped his nose and replied, “I don’t hate you. I’m mad because you didn’t tell me.”
Brian took a chance and put his arm around Neil. He was relieved when Neil didn’t object. “Okay,” he admitted. “Your mother and I didn’t handle this very well. We thought we were protecting you.”
In the darkness, Brian could feel that Neil removed the coat from his face. “Protecting us?” he asked angrily. “You didn’t think I could handle it?”
Brian pulled Neil toward him. He smiled when Neil rested his head against his chest. “I didn’t think I could handle it,” he confessed. “It was difficult on your mother and me when I left. A lot of harsh words were said. It took your mother a couple of years to be able to look me in the face again.”
Neil sniffled and asked, “Because you were gay?”
Brian replied sorrowfully, “Because I deceived her.”
Neil pressed his head deeper into this father’s chest. “Then why did you get married?”
Brian sighed and said, “Because everyone expected it.” He wrapped his arm tighter around Neil’s waist. “I wish I had a chance to come out like you have. My life would have been a lot better.”
Neil muttered, “It’s not all that good.”
“Probably not,” replied Brian, “but at least I wouldn’t have put your mother through what I did.”
“Then I wouldn’t be here,” mumbled Neil.
Brian pulled Neil into a strong embrace and kissed his forehead. “That’s the one regret I don’t have. I love you, Emily and Brett. You’re the best things that have ever happened to me.”
Neil sniffled and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
They sat quietly for several moments. Brian was giving Neil time to let the revelation that he had a gay father sink in. He regretted that he and Brenda had made a wrong decision. They should have confronted the situation earlier. However, it took time for Brenda to adjust. If it was difficult for her, then they feared how the children would react to the real reason why their father had left.
Neil burrowed his head into Brian’s shoulder and whispered softly, “Dad?”
“Yeah, Son?” Brian pulled his son into a tight embrace.
“How did you handle it?” Neil turned and wiped his tears on his father’s sleeve. “Everyone seems to be against me. I don’t think I can deal with it.”
“I’m not exactly an expert,” sighed Brian. “It took me a couple of years.”
Neil looked up at his father and said, “But you did. You seem happy now.”
“I wasn’t always,” responded Brian. He pulled Neil tighter to him. “Each day became a struggle. There were mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed.”
“I know that feeling,” mumbled Neil.
Brian leaned over and gently kissed Neil on the forehead. “Then one morning when I thought I had reached rock bottom, I got up and looked into the mirror. And you know what?”
Neil shrugged his shoulder and asked, “What?”
“I liked the guy looking back,” he replied. “I decided that morning that I was going to pull myself together. I knew I had made mistakes, but I had to start living my life so that I could be happy again.”
Neil sat up and stared at his father in the dark. “How did you do that?”
“I tried smiling again,” he said, “Even when I didn’t feel like it. I would smile at strangers in the store. And you know what?”
Brian replied happily, “People returned my smile.”
“I don’t get it,” responded Neil. “How can smiling at strangers help you?”
“It’s not the smiling,” replied Brian. “It was my outlook on life. I was smiling because I liked me. After a while, I started living again. I faced all the demons inside me, and I slowly crawled my way back to sanity.”
Neil asked sadly, “Is being gay a demon?”
“No, Son,” replied Brian as he kissed Neil again on the forehead. “Being gay is not a demon. The demon emerges when you try to hide him deep inside you.”
“So,” asked Neil. “You’re happier now?”
“I’m happier,” assured Brian. “I have a great job, good friends and Dwight.”
Neil stirred slightly and asked his father, “Is Dwight like your boyfriend or something?”
“You could say that,” responded Brian. When Neil started giggling he asked, “What’s so funny?”
Neil giggled again and replied, “It seems weird asking you if you have a boyfriend.”
Brian laughed and pulled Neil into an embrace. “What’s so weird about it?”
“It just seems weird to be asking your dad if he has a boyfriend,” replied Neil.
Brian then asked, “What about you?”
“What about me what?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Nope,” sighed Neil. “I haven’t even thought about it.”
Brian nudged Neil slightly and said, “Yes, you have. Every gay boy has a secret crush. Now confess, who is yours?”
Neil shrugged his shoulder against his father’s chest. “I don’t have one.”
“Liar,” laughed Brian. “Who do you like? One of your friends?”
“No,” squealed Neil as he sat up. “They’re all a bunch of dorks.”
Brian elbowed Neil and asked again, “So who is your secret crush?”
“Honestly?” asked Neil. He couldn’t believe he was having such an open discussion with his father about boys. For the first time in his life, he didn’t feel embarrassed about his feelings.
Neil giggled and confessed, “There’s this really hot guy at school”
Brian laughed and asked, “Hot?”
“Okay,” giggled Neil, “but he is. He’s in my art class. I met him the first day of school.”
“Is he gay?”
Neil sighed and replied, “I don’t think so. He plays sports.”
Brian laughed and elbowed Neil. “I played sports in high school. We do come in all shapes and sizes, you know.”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied sadly, “But I think Alex is straight.”
“Oh!,” laughed Brian. “So your secret crush has a name.”
Neil giggled and elbowed his father in the side. “I shouldn’t have told you.”
Brian put his arm around Neil and pulled him into a hug. “I’m glad you did, Son.”
Neil buried his head into his father’s chest. “Me, too, Dad.” he muttered softly.
Father and son sat for a few minutes embracing each other. Years of separation were melding into a strong bond. Both were happy with their coming out to each other. Brian had always feared that his son would reject him when he discovered the truth. Ironically, his sexuality had a positive effect. He could prevent Neil from making the same mistakes in life that he had made.
He stirred slightly, and Neil sat up. He couldn’t see his son’s face in the dark, but he was sure the expression on his face was as happy as his. “Do you still want to spend a few days with me?”
“Yes, Dad,” replied Neil happily.
Brian patted Neil on the leg and tried to stand up. He grabbed his hips and moaned, “The next time you decide you need to hide, please make it somewhere less cramped.” He opened the door and hobbled out.
Neil laughed and said, “Sure, Dad.” Brian threw his arm around Neil’s shoulder as they headed out of the bedroom.
Brenda was pacing around the kitchen when they entered. She looked at the clock and remarked, “You guys have been in that room for over an hour.” She gave Neil a worried look and asked, “Is everything okay?”
Neil smiled, wrapped his arm around his father’s waist and replied happily, “Yeah, Mom. Dad and I had a nice talk.”
She attempted a smile, and then patted Neil on his butt. “Now, you go get the overnight bag you packed earlier.” Neil turned and hurried from the room.
Brenda sat down opposite Brian and asked, “Is he going to be okay? He seems more cheerful than I’ve seen him in a long time.”
Brian smiled and replied, “He’s a strong boy. You did a good job raising him.”
Brenda shook her head and responded, “It hasn’t been easy.”
“I know,” replied Brian sadly. “You know we made a big mistake by not being honest with the kids from the beginning?”
“I realize that now,” she said. “There just never seemed like a right time.”
“I know,” agreed Brian. “But when I bring Neil home in a few days, we’re going to sit down with Emily and Brett and have a family meeting. That is,” he responded, “If you think we should. It’s your call.”
Brenda patted Brian on the hand and said, “I’ll call you this week. We’ll discuss how to go about it.” Just then, Neil entered the room with a large carrying case over his shoulder.
He looked at Brian and smiled. “I’m all ready.” He walked over and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Bye, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she responded as she returned his kiss. It surprised Brian when she kissed him quickly on the cheek.
* * * * * * * *
“Lucas!” hollered the frail woman from the kitchen. “Get your ass in her now!”
Lucas was sleeping on his unkempt bed in the tiny room. Besides a bed and a dresser, the room was used to store boxes his grandmother had collected over the years. He lifted his body from the bed and grumbled when he heard her shout out, “Now, Damnit!”
He yawned and stretched his large body as he ambled down the narrow hallway toward the kitchen. When he arrived, his grandmother was sitting at the table sipping coffee from her favorite mug. On it was a picture of a kitten hanging from a tree branch with the words, “Hang in there, Baby.” She was still dressed in her blue tattered nightgown and pink fluffy slippers. Without looking up, she pointed to a chair.
Lucas walked over, plopped down in it, and asked, “What?”
She looked up angrily and shouted, “What? That’s what I’d like to know.” She took an envelope sitting on the table in front of her and tossed it at Lucas.
“What’s this?” he asked as he picked it up and examined it.
She spat angrily, “It says you got yourself suspended from school again.”
He responded dismissively, “It wasn’t none of my fault.”
The small woman shouted, “It’s never your fault! You git yourself kicked out of school, but it’s the same old shit. It’s never your fault.”
Lucas sat back defiantly, crossed his arms and replied, “Well, this time it wasn’t.”
His grandmother rose, walked over to the coffeepot and poured more coffee into the blue mug. “I’ve had it with you,” she mumbled. Since her back was turned so she couldn’t see him, Lucas began mimicking the speech she gave after each time he got into trouble.
He stopped and jumped from his seat when she said, “I can’t take it anymore. Go pack your things. You’re going to go stay with Raymond for a while.”
“What!” protested Lucas. “I ain’t going to go stay with him!”
She had threatened him before with sending him to live with his uncle. However, if he protested loudly enough, the old woman would change her mind. This time, though, he was afraid she wouldn’t change her mind.
“It’s already done,” she replied defiantly as she sat down and took a sip of coffee. “I called Raymond, and he’s coming to get you.” She looked over and added angrily, “Maybe he can knock some sense into that damn thick skull of yours. I’ve done all I can. You need a man to show you how to act.”
Lucas picked her mug off the table and threw it across the kitchen. It hit a wall above the sink, and coffee splattered everywhere. “I ain’t going to go live with Raymond!” he shouted.
The woman rose from her chair and slapped the tall boy across the face. Lucas balled his fist, but he didn’t dare strike her. “You done did it this time,” she hollered as she slapped him again. When she raised her hand again, the back door opened and Raymond came barging in.
He asked angrily, “What the hell is going on?” He looked at his mother as she stood before the towering boy before her with her hand raised.
Fire seemed to fill her eyes as she shouted, “Git this boy out of here before I kill him!”
Raymond rushed over and slammed Lucas against the refrigerator. Items on top of it tumbled to the ground as he wrestled to keep Lucas pinned against it. “What the hell you doing to my mama?”
Lucas tried to break free from his grasp. He looked down and shouted, “I ain’t doing nothing!”
His grandmother shouted from the other side of the kitchen, “Git him out of her!” She opened a drawer and pulled out a large knife. She approached swinging it violently. “I’m going to kill that sorry bastard!”
Raymond pushed Lucas toward the door. “Git out of here,” he hollered. “Go git in my truck!” Lucas didn’t hesitate as he attempted to dodge his angry grandmother. She poked the knife at him, but she made no attempt to really harm him.
Raymond again screamed, “Git!” Lucas hurried from the kitched and bolted down the sidewalk.
* * * * * * * *
Brian was nervous when he opened the door to the condominium he shared with Dwight. Brenda had insisted that his visits with the children be somewhere other than his home. She had met Dwight on several occasions and liked him. However, she didn’t want to have to explain his living arrangement to a questioning child.
Neil knew for a couple of years that his father lived with another man. One day he overheard his mother talking on the phone to his father. They were discussing a fever that a man named Dwight was experiencing. He had gone into the kitchen to get a snack when his mother was on the phone. She quickly changed the subject when he entered. After she hung up, he innocently asked who Dwight was. She explained that he was his father’s roommate, and that he was temporarily staying with him until he could find his own place. Neil thought nothing about it until his conversation with his father in the closet. Now, he knew Dwight was more than just a ‘roommate.’
Neil could smell fried chicken as soon as his father opened the door. When he stepped inside, he looked around at the spacious living quarters. He had always assumed that condominiums were small. However, the one his father lived in was larger than his own home.
“Well,” his father smiled as he looked over at his astonished son, “This is home.”
Neil walked around and stared at his surroundings. Contemporary furniture filled the room, and large deco paintings adorned the walls. “Wow,” exclaimed Neil as he paced around the room, “this is awesome!”
“I’m glad you approve,” laughed his father. “Dwight does the decorating. If I did it, there would be a lazy boy recliner in here.”
Just then, a tall, handsome man entered the room. He was drying his hands on a dishcloth. “That’s because you have no class,” he joked as he walked over and kissed Brian on the cheek. He turned and faced Neil. “You must be Neil,” he smiled as he extended his hand.
Neil reluctantly held out his hand. “I am,” he replied as he looked into the blue eyes of the stranger before him. Dwight appeared to be a few years younger than his father. He was tall with a ruggedly chiseled face. His face was smooth and shaven, and his hair was short and tapered at the sides. Neil looked quickly at his father and then back at Dwight. He instantly thought they made a handsome couple.
Neil quickly turned when he heard a sudden noise behind him. He jumped when a large golden retriever came romping at him. Dwight reached out and grabbed his collar. “Hold on there, Midas,” he laughed. “Not everyone who comes in is here to see you.”
Neil knelt down as Dwight released the dog. He instantly approached and started licking Neil’s face. “He’s beautiful,” he said admiringly as he stroked the dog’s yellow coat. The dog lay down, rolled on his back, wagged his tail and waited for Neil to rub his stomach.
Neil giggled and started scratching the dog’s belly. He was rewarded with several quick licks on his hand. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you?” The dog’s back swayed as he continued to wag his tail. When Neil stood, the dog rolled over, sat on his haunches against Neil’s leg and waited for him to pat his head.
Dwight laughed and remarked, “He’s such an attention hound. He’ll sit there all day and let you pet him.” He looked at Neil and smiled. “You two are going to be good friends.”
Brian cleared his throat, and Midas immediately lay down. “Good boy,” he said as he walked over and stood beside Dwight and put his arm around him. “This is my husband, Dwight.”
Neil’s eyes widened. “Husband?” he asked with surprise. “You’re married?”
“Yes,” responded Dwight as he held up his hand to show Neil a gold wedding band on his left hand. “We were married last year.”
They laughed when Neil looked astonished and said again, “You’re married?” He looked at his father and asked, “Does Mom know?”
“Yes,” smiled his father. “She was the first person I told.” He walked over and put his arm around his surprised son. “Are you okay with that, Son?”
Neil nodded his head and replied hesitantly, “Yeah, I think so.”
Brian laughed and assured him, “You’ll get used to it. Just think of it as having two Dads.” He smiled at Dwight and winked.
Dwight shook his head and said, “I don’t know. I’m a little too young to have a son in his teens.”
Brian laughed and replied, “You’re only a year younger than me.”
Neil giggled when Dwight posed and said, “But I don’t look as old as you.”
“Bitch,” hissed Brian as he acted insulted. He put his arm around Neil and began to lead him from the room. “Forget him,” he said. “Let me show you where you’ll be sleeping.” Neil reached down, picked up his bag and followed his father from the room.
As they left, Dwight hollered out, “Dinner in ten minutes!”
Neil trailed his father down a long hallway until they stopped before a door. “I hope you like it,” remarked his father as he slowly opened the door.
“Wow!” exclaimed Neil as he walked into the room. He immediately noticed a large window with a sliding door that lead outside to a small-inground pool. “This is my room?” He walked around and stared at the fine furnishings. A mahogany queen-size bed, mirrored dresser and tall bureau filled the room. Ornate pictures of mountain scenes were on the walls. He walked over to the sliding door and looked out.
He asked, “You have your own pool?”
His father stepped beside him and put his arm around Neil’s waist. “It’s small, but I think you’ll like it.”
Neil looked at this father and said, “I didn’t bring a swimming suit.”
Brian laughed and remarked, “I didn’t think you would.” He walked over and pulled open a dresser drawer. “I bought one for you.” He held up a blue pair of swimming trunks and tossed them at Neil. “You can go swimming after dinner.”
He turned and headed for the door. “Why don’t you freshen up before we eat?” He looked at his watch and said, “Dinner in ten minutes.”
Neil laughed and replied, “That’s what Dwight said five minutes ago.”
His father smiled and said, “Then, dinner in five minutes.” He winked at Neil and said with a smile, “I’m glad you’re here, Son.”