Thanks again to beta Judy! All mistakes that remain in this chapter are mine.
Well, hmm. I'm admittedly feeling a lot better than I have since those few hours with Gus and Brian this morning—those wonderful few hours that were sandwiched between my dawn-hour freak-out and the unreal drama at the diner. Even after that desperate fuck in the shower when I yelled out my love for Brian and practically threw up, I was so mortified: Things are actually okay. Well, okay-ish. Brian had paused mid-thrust when I made my not-so-little announcement but then snorted and kept going. Maybe he really doesn't believe in love like he says but I truly think he just doesn't feel lovable; which is stupid and untrue and did I say "stupid"? But in this situation, it was my "get out of jail free" card. I'll work on convincing him how totally wrong he is about being lovable later, once a little time has passed after my "declaration".
Brian seems good, too, considering the shit still hanging in the air after my queen-out first thing and what happened with Deb and Michael. As I knew earlier, the fuck frenzy was about release. For both of us. When we finally got through Brian's "am I hurting you?" crap, we clawed, bit, scratched and came HARD (albeit quietly because Gus was asleep in bed twenty yards away behind the locked bathroom door). Again, I can't believe I arrived here last night a shy virgin and am now going at it like a rutting animal. I bet once Brian really thinks about it, he'll be quietly proud of me. Chuckle.
We're slowly and lazily rousing from our brief nap. Earlier, I called James's friend's house where my boy has spent the day and I agreed to pick him up at about seven o'clock. Knowing what poor Gus has suffered after experiencing what he did at the diner, I'm truly grateful James wasn't there to see it. I feel so terrible for Brian's little boy.
"Hey, I've got to get going," I finally whisper reluctantly, tracing small circles on Brian's chest as we lay in bed (both wearing our boxers in case Gus wakes and comes in - sigh).
"Why don't you, Gus, James and I go to dinner somewhere tonight? I have practically no food and my poor child does have to eat."
Slightly surprised, I lift my head to see his expression. His eyes are closed and his face is calm. "Like a date?"
He gets a sour look and opens his eyes to glare at me, frowning. "God no! I don't date! You know that! This is just going to a restaurant out of necessity!" he insists.
"Sounds a little like a date," I say, biting my lower lip so I don't giggle.
"Did you hear me? Not a date! If you have to think of this as some kind of perverse date, think of it as a play date for the boys! Jesus!"
"Brian Kinney asked me out on a date!" I tease in a sing-song voice.
"Oh, shut up, twat. It's not a date," he grumbles, swinging his legs off the bed and standing up for a stretch. "Get dressed. I'll go wake Gus up to get ready." He throws a grimace over his shoulder just so I know he doesn't appreciate my teasing. "For Chrissakes," he mutters to himself before stalking off.
Within forty-five minutes, I've picked up James and am driving home to drop off my car; we find Brian's already there with Gus when we arrive, ready to drive us out to eat. James is tired after his long day at Billy's but is ridiculously excited to see 'The Pretty Man' and his son Gus. Brian's tried to get James to at least call him 'handsome' but James stubbornly continues to call him 'The Pretty Man'. While it was mildly exasperating for us both at first, we laugh about it now. "After all, I can safely say that I've been called a lot worse than 'pretty'," Brian has commented.
"So. Where to?" Brian asks with a grin, lifting my boy over his head after James has run up to him to hug his quadriceps, the highest part of Brian's body the boy can reach in a comfortable hug.
"McDonalds Playland!" James squeals and Gus starts loudly agreeing, giggling like a banshee. I guess the events of this afternoon at the diner have dimmed in his memory for the time being—thank God.
Brian groans a little. "McDonald's huh? You just want the toy that comes with the Happy Meal, dontcha?"
"I want the toy; a cheeseburger; lots of French Fries; and to play in the room with all the balls; and to slide down the slide; and to play on the swings; and—"
"James, calm down. Breathe!" I finally interrupt with a laugh as Brian lowers him to the ground.
"Well, then McDonald's it is," Brian says agreeably. "Do you have a car seat for him?" he asks me. "I honestly can't remember when Gus stopped needing one—he shot up pretty fast and got tall enough not to need one some time ago. I can't remember the height kids have to be when it's not required anymore but it seems James isn't there yet…"
"Well, James is definitely pretty short."
"Am not!" James protests, crossing his arms across his chest. Pfft.
"You're growing fast but you have a ways to go before you won't need your car seat anymore, Mister," I tell him, bending down and tweaking his nose playfully. That he'll probably always be a little short because of his genes is something he can figure out and resent me for in about ten years. Sigh.
"It's funny. My folks never made me sit in a car seat when I was a short four-year-old but times have changed, haven't they?" I say to Brian, smiling. "I'll go get it."
"Hell, I never sat in one. Jack even thought that seatbelts were for sissies," Brian mumbles and while I only barely hear him as I'm walking over to my car to get the seat, my smile vanishes. I've had small glimpses into Brian's childhood over the many weeks I've known him, all inadvertent on his part, kind of like the comment he just made that he obviously didn't intend anyone to hear. From what little I know, it's obvious to me that Brian had a pretty miserable childhood which makes his comment last night about doubting his abilities as a father much more understandable. That's one reason I tried to assuage those fears because he's the best father I've ever met, hands-down. Well, he shares the title with me, of course.
His crappy childhood has a lot to do with how unlovable he feels as well, I'm certain of it. It all adds up to quite the unhappy challenge for me to convince him at least in part that he's a fantastic father and is not only lovable, but very loved. Luckily, as stubborn as he is, I can be even more so.
CHAPTER 10, PART 2
Frankly, I'm exhausted within an hour after playing with the boys in the waist-high "room of balls"; playing on the monkey bars; chasing all three of them around the gagglingly-colorful Playland room; and somehow being cornered into being "it" in a game of Tag. At least we'll all get some sleep tonight - I hope. It's all been a good distraction after the Day O'Drama Justin, Gus and I have endured; I'm not even including Justin's little "I love you" quip in the shower, but I find that fairly easy to brush off as I've been known to say stupid shit when I'm close to cumming, myself.
I actually eat a burger even though it's after seven and it goes against my "no carbs after seven" rule; I figure I'm breaking my rules right and left and just one more makes no difference. Not today. "Okay, you little fiends—you've played your asses off, worn Justin and I out, eaten enough crap to potentially start you on the road to early heart disease and we've all had a looooong day despite having naps this afternoon—"
"Mrs. Harris said I didn't have to so I didn't!" James interrupts with a self-satisfied grin, sounding oddly proud.
"Well, you should have," Justin grumbles.
I bite back a chuckle. "Anyway, it's 8:15, which is close to or after your bedtimes—well, for two of you. Let's blow this pop stand."
James looks confused. "Daddy talks silly sometimes," Gus explains from behind his hand, his voice in a semi-secretive whisper. "He means we should go home." Oh, good grief; I roll my eyes and Justin lets out a short, huffed laugh.
We're finally all piled in my car and I make our way to Justin's to drop him and his son off. "Daddy?" James says from his car seat in the back.
"Hmm?" Justin answers absently; he's as exhausted as I am.
"Can we go see Father Charles?"
We're stopped at a light and both Justin and I turn sharply to look at him, not expecting that request.
"James. What on earth? Why? It's past your bedtime and it's dark out. Father Charles is probably home getting ready for bed himself! What brought on such a weird question?"
Amen, I think—perhaps appropriately, given the request.
"I dunno. I was talkin' to Gus on the swings at Playland when you guys were at the table talkin', and he said he was kinda… kinda sad. Father Charles always makes Gus feel better when he's been at his mommies and they argue in front of him; that makes him feel sad… I just thought…"
Floored, I find myself pulling the Jeep to the curb for the second time in twelve hours to be able to deal with my son more directly. I look back at Gus and strangely, he won't make eye contact, like he's embarrassed. "Gus?" I prompt, concerned, because I've known he's been affected by his mothers arguing but I didn't think that happened at all anymore, not recently. He's really not with them enough. As I've thought many times before, I'm so pleased that Lindsay insisted Gus live mainly with me so he wouldn't be around that shit. However, I'm ninety-nine point nine percent sure his mothers' loud fighting isn't the problem right now… it's pretty obvious he's still grappling with the day's lovely diner experience. But I want my boy to talk to me voluntarily. "Gus honey, what's going on?"
"He hasn't been sad since he's been living with you, Mr. Kinney… not till today! Don’t be mad!" James defends, not wanting to get my son in trouble and remarkably, using my real name for once (ie, not 'Pretty Man'). Well, I'm somewhat relieved that James confirms Gus hasn't been unhappy since he's been with me. Sigh. This day has me so out of sorts, I'm now looking for silver linings; that is NOT my MO. I'm a fucking pessimist by nature. But… while I'm also glad that he turned to me during the time he was trapped in the middle of the battling lezzies-- that he turned to the Father too sort of surprises me. I don't mind it but the fact that I didn't know gives me pause.
"James, hush," I hear Justin admonish in a low whisper, obviously figuring this is between Sonny Boy and me.
Well. He's right, it is… but... "Gus, do you want to talk to me about this in private?" I ask gently, pretty positive that he'll say "no" but I want it to be his decision. Gus loves Justin like a safe, fun big brother and he trusts him. Sure enough, he shyly shakes his head "no". I turn to Justin. "It's okay Jus," I reassure him - inanely, I might add; I mean, the guy's right next to me in the passenger seat and isn't exactly blind. I sigh and return my gaze to my son who still looks slightly apprehensive. "Gus, you understand that I'm not mad or anything. I don't get why you seem so quiet all of a sudden. You can look at me too, you know, Goofy." He always smiles when I call him that-- it's apt just about all of the time; at least when he's with me. But it's not very apt right now, I note sadly.
Still, he does smile - a very small smile and he looks at me for a brief moment. "Sorry Daddy."
I'm baffled by that. "For what? I said I'm not mad, Goofy. You have no reason to be sorry." His smile gets a little wider before it fades again. Still, I'm beginning to truly abhor the word 'sorry'. "Is that what you want - to see Father Charles?"
He looks down once more and nods, barely. "Daddy," he goes on, seeming to suddenly need to get something off his chest. I quirk an eyebrow, waiting. "You know, Momma Mel always got mad when I wanted to call and talk to you." Guh. I know she has always despised me, but... "And I really wanted to after she and Mommy would fight but that made her even madder'n usual. Then once, Father Charles asked me why I was crying after choir practice; I talked to him about everything that day. Momma Mel hadn't been very happy with me that morning 'cause I had talked to you on the phone without asking her first. That's why I was cryin'." Honestly, I'm wondering where the fuck Lindsay was during this disgusting ongoing "mother/son" dynamic before stepping in and insisting I take Gus but I'll worry about that later.
I think back and remember one of the many times Gus had called me; this particular time was months ago and it struck me because it seemed he was keeping his voice down. Now I understand that in fact, he was and I see exactly why - and it ticks me off royally. We had talked about one of the munchers' spats and I think that was about the time Linds and I started considering that Gus stop living with her and Mel for a while and that he move in with me. Gus's voice snaps me back to the present; "Momma Mel doesn't know about me talking to Father about her getting so mad at me when I talk to you—or about my mommies yelling at each other all the time. I'm sorry Daddy… I wanted to talk to you so much more but I wasn't allowed…! I did anyway but Momma Mel always seemed to know when I had. It was kinda scary when she'd get all mad at me."
"Gus, she never hit you, did she?" I have to ask.
Thank God that he looks at me wide-eyed, appalled at the question. That would be a "no"—one more little bit of silver lining to cling to. "Uh-uh…"
"Well, I'm glad for that. I'm proud of you for talking to me even though Momma Mel would get mad. But please promise me that if anyone ever gets mad at you for talking to me that you'll tell me." He looks down again and nods. "And I'm also proud of you for finding someone you felt comfortable with to talk to when you didn't believe you should talk to me. I'm just sorry you believed that—"
"It's 'cause of Momma Mel!" Gus interrupts, as though he's pleading for me to understand. This is fucked up. What has Mel told my boy?
"I know. Jeez, it's okay, Gus! Chill out! You don't have to explain things to me, Goof, or have an excuse for talking to Father Charles! You don't have to talk just to me or talk to me at all if you don't want to, although I love it when you do. You know I'll always be here for you. I'll even just plain old listen if that's what you want." God, I feel like I'm dictating some sort of twisted 'Childcare - How To' book—"twisted" primarily because I'm flying blind and have no clue if I'm saying not just what he wants me to but also what is appropriate and healthy for him. I'm just operating on instinct here. Shit. "You know what, Gus? I really like the Father and in fact, he was just starting out as a "Father" when I was a boy about your age. I turned to him a lot myself. You're a fantastic judge of character, Sonny Boy—you picked a fine man to confide in. I mean, you turned to the same guy your dear old Daddy did and I have fabulous taste." He grins broadly at my mock-arrogance. Now okay, fine: I may not have impeccable taste in choosing the right people to like and trust (far from it), but Father Charles was one of the handful of good choices I've made in my life. Another couple of them are sitting in my car right now.
As Fathers go, he's tolerant, understanding and sort of like how I'd imagine a grandfather to be. Well, a good, kindly grandfather. He'd listen to me crying for hours about my home life... the only time I remember crying was with him, in fact. And he was quietly comforting and only offered advice if I seemed to want it. Later in my young life I'd also found Deb but she was never like that. Granted, she was great in her way but besides Vic sometimes, I only felt comfortable really confiding in Father Charles. I know now that he had tried hard to get me out of the Kinney house, unlike Deb who periodically provided a wonderful but temporary haven. Father somehow hit roadblocks at every turn though. He never told me about his efforts; I learned about them from Vic after I had come home from college. I think the Father didn't want me to get my hopes up at the time he was trying to get me safe just to have them dashed. So he'd simply listen and kept his determined but failed attempts at removing me from the abuse quiet and under wraps. Having someone to trust and confide in was so novel for me as a kid, it made home life more bearable anyway and I relished it. Guh.
He was even the first person I came "out" to; I was confused and to this day, I'm grateful he didn't go all "Catholic" on me and tell me I was going to hell for my feelings like Justin has obviously intuited from church doctrine and his family will happen to him. I should have told him this morning to talk to the Father about his fears. I get the strong feeling Justin believes the Father is one of the people he loves who will turn away from him if he learns he's gay. I'll have to mention my experience with the Father—his reaction wasn't to scare me about going to hell. He was concerned for my safety, supportive and quite sage for a new priest in an era (let alone a faith) not known for its tolerance of homosexuality - at ALL. A heart-to-heart with Father Charles may really help Justin see that his fears aren't shared by all the Catholic folks out there; indeed, not even all the ordained ones.
My thoughts come back to the current drama of this stellar day as I focus on my confused and hurting seven-year-old. "But you haven't seen your mommies for months outside of dinners over at their house and a couple of overnights. So it doesn't sound like it's their fighting that's bugging you now, is it?" As I said before, that would be a definite no, I'm sure of it. Mikey and Deb's behavior today is what brought on this little bout and probably my behavior too, unfortunately, despite his earlier assurances that it was just Michael and Debbie. Sonny Boy shakes his head. "Is it what happened at the diner?" He nods. "And you want to talk to Father Charles about it?" He nods again.
"He said to. When Uncle Mikey is weird around me, he said he'd listen…"
"I told you... Uncle Michael doesn't really like it when I'm around… he only pays attention to you and he can be kinda mean sometimes. He doesn't seem to like it when you pay attention to me and not him and he was creepy at the diner today. Same with Grandma Debbie."
That had better fucking be the extent of what "weird" means. To be honest, while Michael is now on my permanent shit-list, I don't believe "weird" means what it could mean in the context of a child and an adult man. This is still enough to rekindle my anger which hasn't disappeared since this afternoon of course, but I've been able to put it on the back burner after getting a little sleep at the loft. "Well, that's true. He can be a pretty nasty sort. He was definitely mean today. You know you can talk to me about Michael too Gus, right?" Shitshitfuckshit… this is SO not my thing!!!
"Yeah. I do Daddy… An' I've talked to you 'bout him. But he's sorta like Momma Mel, Daddy. He told me once to "keep my mouth shut" and not tell you he made me cry when he babysat me… He kept saying you were his best friend and you'd get "pissed" at me. It was… I didn't want you mad at me.
"Unkie Ben's nice, though," he adds.
Well, huh, there's that at least. But Michael made Gus cry?? And practically threatened him not to tell me?? For whatever reason, on one hand, Gus trusts me more than anyone else; on the other, Gus is apparently terrified that I'll get mad at him. What's very disturbing and strange about that is I seem to be the only adult in his life who's never been angry with him! I've been stern if he's done something wrong but I've never been angry in my heart or even raised my voice to him. And from what I can gather, just about every other adult he's supposed to be able to trust has gotten angry at my son and yelled at him! Except the Father. It makes me wonder what these supposedly trustworthy, adult figures in Gus's life (my "friends") are telling him I'd do if I did get mad - like I'd disown him or something similarly ludicrous. I shudder at the thought and make a mental note to have a long talk with Gus about this after we've gotten past this current crisis. Ugh. I'd swear it's like they're fucking jealous of my relationship with my son but that can't be. There's no way, right? That would be just too bizarre. I shake my head to clear my thoughts a little.
Jesus, overall this whole situation just keeps getting better and better! I want to rip Michael limb from limb and throw his various body parts on Mel's and even Deb's carcasses. I take a deep breath. "Well, hun. No matter what other grown-ups tell you about me or my reaction, don't ever think twice about talking to me about ANYthing. Even if it's about my supposed "best friend" and he told you I'd get mad. Jeez, Goofy, you know that you are waaaay more important to me than anyone else. If I get mad, my love for you doesn't go away or lessen. And I will most definitely not get mad if anyone's been mean or yelled or scared you; not at all. I'll help you with your problems, okay?" My heart aches as I realize how much I have to repeat myself before anything seems to sink in. With Justin too, come to think of it. What with his thinking that one, he's going to hell for being an active gay man and two, believing he caused today's diner fiasco. Christ! I can't seem to fix anyone's "wrong" feelings about themselves. Truthfully, it's kinda laughable that I find myself in that position.
"And by the way, don't worry about me either, if you are." He hasn't said as much but I know he worries about me sometimes. I hate that. "Folks can be mean to me or yell and try to be all scary but I can take it. I get it all the time!" I smile. "I'm a tough nut." Gus and James both laugh. "I'm glad you have Father Charles. Just remember you always have me too." I look at Justin with a small grin and then at James. "You too, Goofy number two," I tell him.
"T'anks, Pretty Man!" Oh lord, we're back to that now.
Gus is still giggling quietly. "Okay, Daddy. I love you."
Pfft. Sigh. "Me too, honey. Now, you realize that I've called you "love", "honey", "hun" and God knows what else ad nauseam today. One of these days you'll be my little man, my Sonny Boy again. I don't wantcha to start getting used to your old man being a softie, y'know…" I grin broadly at him, conveying the fact that I'm teasing and that he can count on being called all those schmaltzy terms for as long as he needs to hear them.
"Daaaaaddy! I like Sonny Boy the best anyway! I like being your Sonny Boy!"
Allllllrighty then… blinking a lot, I lean over the seat back and give him a sloppy kiss—in part so he (and more so, James and Justin) can't see how his words affect me.
James and Justin have been as silent as you could expect a four-year-old and a drama queen to be during these not-so-little revelations but Gus seems not to mind them hearing his angst. Indeed, it would appear that little James knows more about all this shit on Gus's plate than any of us adults. He certainly better knows the deeper extent of it while I've been largely ignorant till now. What does that say about me as a fucking father? Well regardless, I can beat myself up over that later; Gus needs help now. "Let's go to St. Mary's and see if the Father is there. We can drop Justin and James off on the way…" Fuck Gus's bedtime. This eclipses that mundane rule and I'm all for breaking my rules lately anyway, right?
"I wanna go too!" James pipes up and I look to Justin who appears as stunned as I feel by all he's heard in the past ten minutes.
"Maybe a visit with Father Charles will do us all some good," he says in a hushed, shocked voice.
I exhale, tilt my head down to start the car and pull the Jeep away from the curb, heading across town to St. Mary's. This mood has become waaaay too fucking heavy for my tastes. "I swear, I think Gus and I may move to Maine after today. Hardly any people, no munchers we know and no Novotnys," I grumble. And I'm more than half serious.
"I wanna go too!" James says again, just in a new context. His Daddy and I laugh a little.
"Sweetie. It's full of barnacles, crabs and rocks… and the water's really cold," Justin chuckles.
"But there are lumberjacks…" I remind him. "They're a plus. After all, they aren't all flannel-wearing bears, I hear…"
Justin continues chuckling. "Maybe not… but Gus doesn't care about that sort of thing…"
"Brian, he may never, y'know!"
"I know. I think he actually does take after Linds in his love of the ladies. Oh well."
"Shut up! That's not bad! And you realize that in Maine, there are real bears too… no flannel either - except what's stuck in their teeth."
"Hmm. You have a point… Maybe we can all go to Paris. The shopping's good, the men and women are hot and as far as I know, there aren't any barnacles, crabs, rocks, flannel or big furry bears of any species." I check in the rearview mirror to see how Gus is doing and am pleased to see his face has relaxed into a small smile as he watches the scenery go by. Good.
We pull into St. Mary's parking lot which is deserted except for two or three cars. I guess the evening Prayer Services are long over, but what do I know? Maybe this is their typical turn-out and the services are still ongoing in the church. I doubt it though. It's 9 pm and there's no Midnight Mass listed on the little placard out front so I assume this Sunday is a fairly quiet one for Father Charles.
"So, do you think he's in the church?" I ask Justin.
He shakes his head. "Nah. He lives in that little cottage," he points to a humble little house behind some trees close to the church. "The lights are on. I bet he's home."
"Do you think he'll be pissed?" I haven't really talked in earnest with the Father in years so I'm not sure. Plus, even as a boy I never went to see him in his home; only in the church. The last thing we need now is a pissed-off priest to add to the mix of freaks we've encountered today. Gus couldn't take it. Hell, I couldn't take it. I'd snap. After all, I already have once, just hours ago.
Justin snickers. "This sort of shit is part of his job description, Brian. He won't be pissed."
"Okay then. C'mon boys. We're going in." Justin gets James out his car seat and we go up to the cottage. I tentatively knock on the door. As much as I love the Father for all he's done for me when I was younger, and now for my son - this feels very weird. Seriously… Paris… We're going. Soon the door opens and Father Charles stands there, wiping his hands on a dish towel. He looks so… normal wearing jeans and a sweater. I've only ever seen him in his frock or whatever those damned things are called. Huh.
"Why, Justin! Gus! James! Brian, is that you? Brian Kinney? On my doorstep?" he exclaims with a wide incredulous smile. Maybe this seems like a sign of the Apocalypse to the poor guy.
Uncomfortable, I nod and hold out my hand. "Sorry to bother you so late, Father," I mumble hesitantly, causing both Justin and the Father to laugh.
"We aren't in church, lad, and you're no longer the little boy who'd come to the little church kitchen after choir practice to talk and pig out on my homemade oatmeal cookies." Shit. I find that my immediate impulse is to shuffle my feet like an embarrassed schoolboy. Thankfully, I'm able to resist the urge. I also work to ignore the look of shock Justin is giving me upon hearing this little tidbit of information. "Brian, stop all this pretense." He lowers his voice a little. "You would never call me by my name when you were a boy no matter how many times I tried to get you to, but you're a grown man now, son. Please call me Charles or Charlie if you like," he continues, shaking my hand.
I smile. I don't know whether my brain will be able to wrap around that but it's like I'm a kid again and no time has passed at all since my boyhood days when the only person in my life who I trusted was the Father. Er, Charles. Charlie?
I must admit that I thank God he doesn't comment on the fact he only sees me at church these days if my son is singing. He looks at the small crowd. "Come in, come in! To what do I owe this quadruple pleasure?" he asks genuinely, beckoning us into the quaint living room. Just as the Father reminds me of a kindly grandfather, inside his house is just like I imagine a grandfather's to look—not mine or Gus's, but a… good grandfather. I look around at the small, sparse room and note that amazingly, not one cross is hanging on the walls. Joanie would be appalled given that he was our priest for years until she turned to Father Tom at St. Paul's (a church closer to her house) and also given the numerous crucifixes that clutter the walls of her house. It's almost comical if it weren't so bizarre.
He invites us to sit down, throws the dish towel on the rickety dining-room table and sits down as well. It's honestly uncanny because his focus immediately turns to Gus and he gives my boy a kind smile, like he knows the child is the reason we're all here so late on a Sunday night. "Gus, how are you?" A glance at Justin shows me that he's surprised by this, as well.