“You just did, Todd.” My brother had answered my distress call. I needed to talk to someone my own age, who I could trust to keep a secret and he was the only one who fit the bill. He was there when I got back from dropping Jon at the game. “But he’s not gay.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“He thinks he is.”
“And you think he’s making it up?”
“No, he isn’t. I mean he’s just confused. You know what I mean?” I waved my arms in frustration. The hangover was still affecting my ability to think straight.
“Jeff, I haven’t got a clue.”
“What I’m trying to say is I think I would’ve noticed that by now, don’t you? If he was gay, I mean.”
“How would you have noticed?”
“I dunno, his clothes, his friends. He doesn’t talk like one of them.”
Todd didn’t seem amused. “Jeff, get real. You know what you're saying doesn’t make any sense. How many gay people do you actually know?”
“I don’t know any. Why would I? They hang around with their own. They don’t mix with people like us. And if they did, they would want to keep it quiet. I know I would.”
My brother shook his head at me. I didn’t like being judged by him all the time. He was only five years younger than me but he often made it seem like much more with his new age thinking.
“You make it sound like some kind of disease,” he said. “This is the problem with you.”
“HE’S THE FUCKING PROBLEM! NOT ME!”
“Okay, I’ve heard enough.” Todd stood up and started for the door.
Shit. “Todd, no. Wait a minute. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I… I’m not myself lately. Please stay? I need you here.”
Todd let out a deep breath and slowly turned to face me. I didn’t like his politics but I wasn’t sure what I would have done without him.
“Thanks. Do you wanna drink?” I did my best to smile. “Maybe a beer or something?”
“No, I’ll make myself some coffee,” he said and I followed him into the kitchen. “But I don’t mind if you have a beer… I’m guessing that’s why you keep asking me?”
He was on to me; I knew it. He rarely missed a thing.
“I think I will have a beer. To hell with it, it’s not everyday your son tells you he’s a fag.” I was joking but I did need a drink. Lately, it was the only way I was able to string a sentence together.
“So where is he now?”
“Upstairs in his room, he won’t come out.”
“I’ll see if he’ll talk to me. I might be able to repair some of the damage you’ve done.”
Todd was probably the only person who David would have allowed into his room that day and if he was going to talk to anyone then it would be him. They had always been close. My brother was good with kids; he would have made an excellent father.
I thought David had met a girl but it turned out to be his best friend. I shuddered when I thought about how I was fooled into thinking he had a girlfriend. The day I came home early and he wouldn’t open the door, was Simon in there? What were they doing? Was Simon responsible for the hickey on his neck? I tried not to think about it but I couldn’t get rid of those thoughts.
I switched on the television to take my mind off it and noticed a car parked outside the front. A black Sedan with two men in it watching our house.
“Who the fuck are these clowns?” I was about to go and find out but they must have seen me and by the time I opened the door they were driving away. I ran to the road to try and get the licence plate but the light was fading.
I stared down the street and scratched my head before turning and nearly tripping over the next door’s cat. It hissed at me and ran away before I could connect my boot to its ass.
My appearance outside the front of the house brought out my other, much friendlier neighbor, Fred. This time I wanted to talk to him.
“Did you see the car that was parked out here a minute ago? A black Sedan with two guys in it?”
“That was the same car that was here yesterday. It must be those church people again.”
“What the hell do they want? Simon’s not here anymore?”
“I know. I heard all the shouting last night and saw him leave. Kinda late for a kid to be walking around town, don’t you think?”
I wasn’t listening to Fred. I was concerned about the car. If they were still looking for Simon, he couldn’t have gone home last night. I decided not to pass on this information to David just yet.
When I walked in the house Suzanne was in the kitchen preparing dinner.
“You shouldn’t have asked Simon to go last night.”
“He can’t stay here. Not now that we know what’s going on.”
“But we don’t know what’s been going on.”
“Oh come on, Suzanne. I’m not stupid. He was staying in David’s room. They weren’t playing board games up there.”
“You could have made them sleep in separate rooms or maybe he could have swapped rooms with Jon.” I couldn’t see Jon ever agreeing to that but I guess she had a point.
“Maybe I did overreact a little.”
“Do you think Simon went home?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It has to be safer for him at home, surely.”
Todd spent the best part of an hour upstairs talking to David before coming down to brief me.
“He’s really upset, Jeff. He told me you’ve grounded him forever and he thinks that you hate him. I’m worried. I’ve never seen him like this before.”
“I was probably a bit hard on him.”
“A bit?” said Suzanne.
“He knows how to get to me. He’ll be fine in a while.” Todd wasn’t buying into it and neither was Suzanne. She was the next person to try her luck in the dragon’s den but David refused to talk to her.
“You don’t think he’ll do anything stupid, do you?” My daughter looked concerned but if I was hearing her correct then she was being ridiculous.
“Hurt himself,” she replied.
“No, of course not. Why would he do that?”
Todd was concerned though. I knew he would be. “I’d say he’s pretty high risk at the moment. It would be a good idea to take precautions.”
“High risk? Come on Todd. Why would he do something like that?”
“For God’s sake, Jeff. Your son is upstairs distraught. In fucking pieces because of what you’ve said to him. He told me you think he’s some kinds freak who’s gonna poison the rest of the family. He told me what you said to Simon before throwing him out. Now he thinks he’s never gonna be allowed to see him again. Jeff, what are you doing? Where did all this fucking hate come from?”
“I don’t hate my children.”
“Well, David thinks you do. HE’S FUCKING CONVINCED!”
Todd rarely swore and he never shouted. So for him to do both in the same sentence was a big deal. His voice wasn’t as loud as mine but it was just as effective and that day, he scored a direct hit.
“I’m frightened,” said Suzanne. “I’m scared in case he….”
I put my arm around her. “He’s not that stupid.”
Todd rolled his eyes at me. “I don’t think he’ll do that either, Jeff. But he’s your son. Are you really willing to take that chance?”
I wasn’t and Todd knew it.
* * *
“I remember Dad catching you in your room with Cindy Bindon,” said Todd as he topped up his glass of wine.
That made me laugh. Cindy Bindon was a name from the past. I had forgotten all about her.
“Yeah, you're right. I was on third base that day. Damn, he grounded me for a week and then I found out she was seeing Stevie behind my back. She was hot though. Wasn’t she?”
“You're asking the wrong person bro. I was too young to be thinking about girls.”
“Yeah, Stevie was in the Marines, you know? He was killed in Hue, after I was there. I wonder what happened to Cindy.”
“How old were you, Jeff?”
I had to think about it for a while. “Sixteen, I think?” It seemed like only yesterday.
Todd nodded and sipped his wine. “Same age as David.”
“Wait a minute. I know what you're doing but it doesn’t work that way. This is different… Completely different.”
“Because Cindy was a girl? Is that what you mean?”
“YES, that’s exactly what I mean. And that’s how it should be! What David’s doing is unnatural. Disgusting.”
“But you don’t know what he was doing?”
“He told me he was gay?”
“So why are you saying he isn’t?”
I tipped the last of the bourbon down my neck and tried to focus on him. “Because he’s not a queer! Anyone can see that.”
“Oh, come on, Jeff. Listen to yourself. You mean he’s not gay because he doesn’t talk with a lisp, or wear make-up?”
“Simon’s behind it. I know he is. David was vulnerable.” I slumped across the kitchen table with my head on my arms. It made sense to me but Todd was wearing me down. He had only had a couple of glasses and seemed okay but I had been drinking all day and was as drunk as a skunk.
“You haven’t slept much, have you,” he said. “Your eyes are red and you look tired.” He stood up and walked around the room. “Look, maybe you are right. Maybe he isn’t gay. Maybe they were just…experimenting.”
“Experimenting? You’re beginning to sound like one of them useless fucking liberals.”
“But is that really so bad? I mean a lot of boys do that. It doesn’t mean he’s homosexual.”
I lifted my head just enough to growl at him. “I don’t know anyone who did that.”
“Maybe you do but they just haven’t told you?”
I stared at him long and hard as he went in and out of focus. Todd had a way with words; he could tie me in knots sometimes. “So you think what he did was acceptable?”
“We don’t know what he did and you won't listen to what he has to say. Don’t you think you're being a little unreasonable?”
“No, I’m not being unreasonable. He was… He was doing things with another boy… In my house. That’s un-fucking-reasonable.”
I was frustrated, confused and drunk but I knew I was right. David had abused my trust and tested our relationship bringing problems to my door.
“So it was all Simon’s fault then?”
“He probably tricked David or drugged him or something. Maybe you should call the cops and press charges. Except you don’t actually know what they were doing or if they were even doing anything at all.”
I was certain that sometimes my brother wasn’t living in the real world. I always put it down to the fact he hadn’t married and had no kids to balance his life, but lately he was beginning to annoy me. I would have thrown him out had it been anyone else. But I needed him and he knew it.
“Very funny, Todd. I don’t hate Simon.”
“That’s what it sounds like to me.”
“Do you think that Simon went home?”
“I hope so,” said Todd. “I wouldn’t want to think he’s out there on the streets.”
I had a funny feeling though, that he was.
* * *
After what was probably the worst weekend of my life, I was desperate to get back to work on Monday for some much needed rest. My alcohol-ravaged body didn’t agree though and Suzanne had to call my workplace to tell them I was ill. She wasn’t lying; Todd and I had stayed up until two o’clock drinking and talking and I spent most of the morning crouched over the toilet bowl.
Todd and David had Mondays off and were chatting with Suzanne when I finally made it downstairs just before midday. As I walked in. David stood up and walked out.
“You were hammered last night,” said Todd. “No wonder you're ill.”
“I wasn’t drunk,” I protested but my hand shook when I lifted my coffee cup.
“How long’s that been going on for?”
“Come on, Jeff, the shaking. How long have you been like that?”
“It’s nothing,” I insisted. But I noticed him sharing a worried glance with Suzanne. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fit and healthy.”
Todd didn’t look all that convinced and neither did Suzanne who could have called my bluff. My health, which had been steadily declining for years, had gone into rapid freefall following Kate’s death. It was hardly surprising. I rarely exercised, ate all the wrong foods, smoked like a trooper, and drank like a fish.
“Maybe you should see a doctor,” said Todd. “And cut down on the booze a little.” It was the kind of advice I didn’t care to listen to, let alone act upon and he knew it. My strategy was simple. I needed to steady the ship first, before concentrating on my own health. David had proved there was still a long way to go.
Bobby was hovering around me. He wanted me to take him swimming but it wasn’t likely with a hangover. “Can you get dressed, please?”
“I don’t know what to wear,” he said but as I dragged myself from my seat, Jon walked in from the kitchen and led his brother towards the stairs.
“I’ll see to him,” he said. That was a relief.
“Thanks, Jon. Oh, and how did it go yesterday?”
He stopped in the doorway watching me for a few seconds as if he didn’t understand the question.
“We won, Dad. I told you last night, remember?”
Todd was staring at me but his blank expression gave me no answers and Suzanne was the same.
“I hit a walk off home run in the tenth. I told you when I got home last night. You don’t remember, do you?”
“Yes, of course I remember. I remember… something.”
“It doesn’t matter.” He looked upset when he turned away.
I shook my head. I couldn’t remember anything from the previous evening. Not a thing. I didn’t even remember him coming home.
“You honestly don’t remember anything?” asked Todd and I shook my head. “And you're trying to tell you weren’t drunk? Come on, Jeff. Get real here. I’m not stupid. Your kids aren’t stupid. Don’t do this!”
I pushed back my chair and stormed into the garden, fumbling for a smoke. The alternative would have been to strike out.
Fuck you, Todd. Why can’t you get off my case?
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a physical fight with my brother. It was probably when we were kids and it almost certainly would have ended badly for him. Five years is a big difference when you're a kid and I could remember being punished for hurting him more than a few times.
How is it that I can remember those times but I can’t remember something my son told me last night?
When I came in, Todd was upstairs talking to Jon. I smiled at Suzanne and she gave me a hug. “I’ve made you some more coffee.”
“Am I that bad, Suzy?”
“You don’t mean to be.”
“That means you think I am. You think I’ve got it wrong about David, don’t you?”
“Yes, you are wrong. You can’t punish him because he’s gay. That doesn’t make sense. He hasn’t done anything wrong, Dad. No matter what you say, it’s not a choice. It’s like punishing me because I’m a girl or Todd because he has red hair. It’s basic common sense, you must be able to understand that.”
“I just don’t want him to have to go through life like that. I want him to be happy.”
“You have a funny way of showing it, because at the moment.” We were interrupted by Todd.
“He’s okay. I think he feels a bit left out lately. I know you haven’t got any time, but that’s exactly what he needs, some of your time.”
I wasn’t going to deny something so obviously true, but I didn’t have a solution either. Time was a precious commodity that couldn’t be divided equally. Work took up too much of it and the bar probably as well; both were necessary in their own way. Although I doubt if anyone would have agreed.
We all knew alcohol was the reason I couldn’t remember anything from the night before. I had managed to leave the bourbon alone, but I had gone through the case of beer that I bought and still needed more before going to bed.
It was a pattern that was becoming increasingly difficult to break but the only person I was fooling was myself. I was the only one willing to believe I was in full control of what I was doing. I told myself I could stop when the time was right and I believed I could. Because I wanted to believe it.
I had to believe it!
“A walk off home run,” I said patting Todd on the back. “How about that from my boy.”
“It was Jon who did it, Jeff. Not me. He’s the one who you need to congratulate. Show some interest. It’ll go a long way.”
“I know that. But he’s good isn’t he? I knew he was.”
“Yes, he’s good. Why don’t you go and watch him on Thursday? It’s a big game for them and he would love to see you there.” Todd’s eyes were pinning me down like enemy gunfire, following me wherever I turned. He was ruthless when he needed to be; it must run in the family.
“I’ll try. It’s just work that’s all. It might be difficult.”
“Okay, I promise. Wednesday night.”
“No, Jeff, Thursday.”
“Thursday, right. I heard you.”
* * *
As I headed for a shower, David was just coming out with a towel wrapped around his waist. He ducked his head when he saw me and walked to his room. He was different. His usual confidence had been replaced with a look of resigned defeat. I wanted to say something but I didn’t know what.
He stopped but wouldn’t turn around to look at me. “What?”
“I’m just trying to help you.” I wanted to let him know I could feel his pain and I could, but I probably would have been better off keeping my mouth shut.
“I don’t want your help.” He went into his room and shut the door.
A shower and a change of clothes made me feel better but I couldn’t get Simon out of my head.
“He’s probably back at his dad’s house,” said Todd but I was convinced otherwise. The look of fear on his face whenever anyone mentioned his dad, was enough to make me think he was more likely to be on the streets somewhere sleeping rough. It was a scary prospect and one I didn’t want to think about. A fresh-faced gay boy like him could probably make a lot of money in the Combat Zone but it was a dangerous place to be. If something happened to him, David would never forgive me.
To put my mind at rest, I decided to call his dad. He needed to know his son wasn’t at my house anymore and there were easier ways of doing it than getting people to watch us.
“Mr Morrison, it’s Jeff here, David’s father.”
“What do you want?” His telephone manner fitted his character, hard-nosed and dour.
“I wanted to speak to your son, actually.” There was a long silence.
“Why do you want to talk to him?”
“I’m worried about him, Mr Morrison. He left my house on Saturday evening and I wanted to be sure he got home okay.”
“Simon’s not here.” I could have done with a little more information but it confirmed what I already suspected.
“Do you know where he is?”
There was a long silence as he thought about what I said and then he seemed to drop his guard a little. “You can call me Darcy,” he said. “I haven’t seen my son in over a week. I thought he was at your house… But I want him to come home. I’ve been worried.”
“He’s been staying with us but he left on Saturday. If he didn’t go home, then do you know where else he might have gone?”
“I told him to stay away from your son. He wasn’t to have anymore contact with him. It’s good that he’s left your house as long as David isn’t with him.”
“David’s here, with us.”
“Good, then please keep him there and away from my son!”
“Wait a minute. David isn’t responsible for this. It wasn’t him who….”
“You don’t know anything. Your son has caused a great deal of harm and will continue to do so if you don’t teach him. It’s wrong for a man to lie with another man. It’s your job to make him understand that.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my kids.”
“I can show you the scriptures if you want. I can prove it to you.”
“I don’t care about your scriptures. I think you should be more worried about finding Simon. It wouldn’t hurt to call the police.”
“That’s won’t be necessary. We’ll find him. Thank you for letting me know, Jeff. You must understand I only want to get my son back. He needs my help.” There was something almost human in the way he said that. A certain desperation in his voice, which almost made me feel sorry for him but it was a difficult conversation with an uncompromising and distrusting man.
* * *
With Todd acting as a self-appointed Samaritan, David wasn’t able to take a shit without his uncle watching him. He was concerned for his safety, worried he would try to hurt himself but I never considered David to be the type to do something like that. If anything, Todd was probably shadowing the wrong person. My problems were likely much worse; I was just better at hiding them than David.
I had built a network of secret stashes located around the house, at work, and even in the car. A fail safe hoard of liquor designed to keep my tonsils lubricated and my mind inebriated. It was a simple case of supply and demand; lately demand had been going through the roof and I was starting to have problems with the supply. My credit card was over its limit and the liquor store wouldn’t accept it as payment. I had two bottles of bourbon in the basket but no way of paying for them so they were put back on the shelf.
There were two weeks to go before my next paycheck and with less than ten bucks to my name, it felt as if the whole world was caving on me. Without the fuel my body needed, I would be unable to function, to think straight, to go to work. To exist even. This was more important to me than food. It was my lifeblood. The only sustenance I needed. I couldn’t even consider the possibility of living without it.
I was forced to swallow my pride and ask Todd for a loan. He was able to give me twenty dollars which was enough for what I needed but it raised the alarm and opened a can of worms.
“You're broke,” said Todd.
“Yes, you are. Jeff, you have a stack of bills to pay and no money in your account.”
“You found the bills, huh?” I smiled as I walked into the study and opened one of the new bottles. The game was up and I no longer felt the need to hide it from him. He had more or less guessed anyway; this was just confirmation.
“You need help, Jeff. I’m serious, you have a problem.” He wiped his brow and shook his head as Suzanne looked on. “I knew you had a problem but I didn’t imagine it was anything like this. You could lose your house.”
“I’ll manage. Don’t worry.”
“No, you won’t. Not unless you get yourself together, Jeff. I mean it.”
“Dad, listen to him.” Suzanne sounded scared.
“I SAID I’LL MANAGE.” I snatched the pile of bills he was holding, walked across the room and threw them out the front door. “See? Now they’re gone!” I was laughing but I was the only one. When I looked behind me, David was standing in the doorway.
I spent the next hour watching as the wind blew my gas bills and mortgage statements around the front garden. Jon managed to retrieve a few of them and some disappeared down the street. I even saw one being carried off by the next door’s cat. He looked at me through the window before running off with my electricity bill between its jaws.
“FINE, I HOPE YOU CHOKE ON IT.”
Thanks to Timothy and Carlos
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