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I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden

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Scotty probably should have seen it coming. Kevin is the one member of the Walker family who believes that sometimes, things are better left alone, and he still drove to Arizona the day before their wedding to convince his parents to attend the ceremony – Nora, on the other hand, is the one who actually bought a plane ticket for her late husband's illegitimate son, and delivered it personally without telling anybody about it first; and who, after Kevin's surgery, would have happily changed not only his sheets and bandages, but also his underwear, if Kevin hadn't said no.

So when his father calls him and says: "Son, I just got a phone call from a woman who said she was your mother-in-law", he knows that he shouldn't be as surprised as he is. He knows, however, that he definitely should be angry, and this, under the given circumstances, is really not that hard.

***

1967: Nora (born 1947)

William is not her first – that was Stanley, lanky and fumbling in the back seat of his car – but given how she feels about him, he might as well be.

Nora has spent the last two years in the company of boys with long hair and potted cannabis plants on their window seats; guys who talk about Karl Marx, who sleep with the girls they accidentally live with, and sometimes, when they are really high, make out with other boys.

And here is William, just a few years older than them, with his own company and his college degree, talking about global markets and the cultivation of citrus fruits; so grown-up and mature and sure of himself, and she knows that she never stood a chance.

She is twenty when she gets pregnant, and it's not exactly what she thought her life would be like: She wanted to go to college, do some writing, maybe paint; but she figures that this is what being married to a successful man means. And she buries her dreams in a hidden corner of her heart and tells herself that her children, at least, will be able to have all the things that she missed in life.

***

"What were you thinking?" Scotty yells, and if he wasn't so angry, maybe he'd wonder if he should be glad or worried that he obviously isn't excluded from the famous Walker shouting matches anymore.

"They are your parents", Nora shouts back, and Justin throws him a glance – half sympathetic, half better-you-than-me – and flees from the kitchen.

"I know that they are my parents", Scotty hisses. "I just think you might have forgotten that."

Nora slams her oven mitts onto the counter. "You are thinking about having a baby", she says angrily, "don't you think they should know about that? Don't you think they have a right to know?"

"I think I should have been the one to tell them", he snaps, and he clenches his hands into fists at his sides. "It's bad enough that we have to go through that at all, even without your .... meddling."

"I wasn't meddling", Nora protests. "I just asked them to write you a letter of reference for the agency."

"Nora, they are not going to write us any references." He realizes that there is a hint of despair creeping into his voice now, and Nora seems to notice as well, because most of the anger drains from her face, making room for confusion.

"You make it sound as if they don't want to have grandchildren."

"They would be thrilled to have grandchildren", he says brusquely, "if it wasn't Kevin I had them with."

She shakes her head in dismay. "But they've met Kevin, right? I thought they got along."

Scotty huffs a laughter, short and bitter, and wonders what Kevin and Kitty have told her about that day. "Yes, they've met. And they manage to be civil, as long as they don't think about the fact that we are actually having sex. Nora, what did you expect? They think our wedding was blasphemous. They think it's a bad idea for us to adopt. They think Tommy and Julia should never have asked Kevin to father their child."

"Should never ... but ... why?" she asks, looking at him with wide eyes. He can see that she doesn't get it, and why would she understand? She probably cannot imagine that any woman wouldn't feel blessed to carry Kevin's child. Maybe later, when he's calmed down, he will even feel bad for destroying her bubble.

"Because", he says flatly, and picks up his bag from the counter, "because they believe that if there's even a slight chance that homosexuality might be passed on, genetically or by socialization, it would be better not to take the risk."

***

1980: Bertha (born 1960)

Bertha is still nineteen when it happens. It figures – the first time she sleeps with a man, and she gets pregnant. She thinks it's probably a punishment, sort of – for being irresponsible enough to say yes – and she knows that she now has to face the consequences.

Of course she accepts Wally's proposal. She doesn't want her child to suffer because of her own stupidity, and her family would kick her to the curb without hesitation if she'd turn up at home with a bastard child. Also, Wally is nice enough, responsible and kind, and with a decent job, and she decides that, all in all, it could have been so much worse.

***

"You know", Kevin says, nervously playing with his expensive fountain pen, "she was just trying to help."

"Well, she didn't", Scotty says, arms crossed. "She didn't help at all. In fact, she made everything so much worse, because she just can't help sticking her nose in other people's business."

"We are not other people", Kevin protests, "she's our mother."

"No", Scotty shakes his head. "She's yours."

Kevin clenches his jaw. "Well, if your mother didn't hate me so much, we wouldn't even have to talk about this." He rubs a hand over his face and then looks at Scotty with some kind of sad curiosity. "And why are you trying so hard to please them, anyway? You don't owe them anything, you know. You've been working so hard, and they still treat you as if you were a disappointment."

"I am a disappointment, Kevin", Scotty says sharply.

"No. You are not. They just decided to act that way."

It's nothing that Scotty hasn't thought himself before, so it shouldn't bother him when Kevin says it out loud – but for some reason, hearing Kevin say it raises his hackles. "It's not that easy."

"Why not?" Kevin asks, and Scotty throws up his hands.

"Because they are still my parents."

"But that doesn't mean that they have to approve of everything you do." There's no challenge in Kevin's voice, but Scotty feels affronted nonetheless.

"You wouldn't understand," he bites out, and at some point, he must have gotten up from the couch. "You have no idea what it means. You don't know what it's like, to know that your family doesn't support you."

Kevin raises a brow. There's the first hint of annoyance in his eyes, and Scotty already knows what he's going to say.

He doesn't want to hear it, though. "So your father wasn't all that happy to find out that you were gay", he says, before Kevin can open his mouth. "So what? He must have gotten over it at some point – he made you the family lawyer, after all, didn't he?"

"You know it wasn't like that, Scotty", Kevin says sharply, but Scotty shakes his head.

"And yet here you are, with a mother and an uncle and four siblings who adore you – Justin was in the army, for God's sake, and Kitty is married to a Republican senator; shouldn't they disapprove? But no, they worship the ground you walk on, your whole tolerant, open, rainbow-flag-waving family."

Kevin stares at him, mouth slightly open, worry and shock drawing lines on his forehead, and for a moment, Scotty closes his eyes.

"I need to get out of here", he finally says, when he opens them again, just in time to see Kevin freeze.

"Out of here?", he asks, and Scotty can hear the panic in his voice. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know, Kevin", he says, and then he goes and starts packing.

 

***

1977: Kevin (born 1972)

Kevin Walker, at five years, is wary and suspicious of the rough and physical games his big brother Tommy likes to play. He reluctantly agrees to throw the baseball in the back garden, but only because he doesn't want to disappoint his brother; given the choice, he prefers to curl up in Sarah's lap and make her read to him aloud. They are halfway through the third volume of Anne of Green Gables and both cry bitter-sweet tears when Gilbert falls ill and almost dies.

More remarkable, though, is that he's afraid of his dad. It starts right after his fifth birthday, and he gets over it just before his sixth, but for almost a year, he hides behind his siblings when his father is in the room, and practically flinches away from his touch.

William is hurt and confused, and angry, even though he tries not to show it when the children are around.

"Something is wrong with that boy", he says, and Nora bites her lip, because she doesn't want to fight; but she knows that there's nothing wrong with her baby boy. He's just different, that's all.

***

Scotty throws a few clothes into a bag, and then he calls in sick and gets into his car. By the time he crosses the border to Arizona, he's sweaty and tired, and there's a headache building behind his forehead.

"Well", his father says, when they are sitting in the living room with sandwiches and beer. "At least now I know where Kevin got it from."

"Where he got what from?" Scotty asks suspiciously, and his father shrugs.

"The drama."

"What?", Scotty asks, and he suddenly feels inexplicably annoyed. "Did you think he is like that because he's gay?"

His father shifts, looking uncomfortable, and that alone is answer enough.

"So where is Mom?" Scotty asks, and his father takes a gulp from the bottle before he replies.

"Your mother will be home in a while". His father squirms in his seat. "But – you know that she – she's not ... happy."

"When has she ever been happy?" Scotty hisses, feeling anger rise in his chest with a sudden force that surprises himself. "Before she found out that she was pregnant?"

His father flinches. "That's not fair."

"Right", Scotty says, fingers clenching around the neck of his bottle. "Not fair. You know what's also not fair? That some people have parents who love them just like they are, and others don't."

Wally looks pale, and tired, and under any other circumstances, Scotty would worry. "We do love you, Scotty. You know that we do."

Scotty swallows. "You love the part of me that doesn't live with another man." He looks away, eyes wandering over the room, still so much like it was when he left. There are pictures of him on the wall next to the TV, and he doesn't need to get closer to know that Kevin isn't in any of them.

He doesn't know anymore why he ever thought coming here would be a good idea.

"You know what", he says, already standing. "I think I'm not going to wait for Mom, after all."

***

1985: Scotty (born 1980)

When Scotty Wandell is five years old, he discovers his babysitter's vanity bag. He puts sparkly clips in his hair, paints his mouth with bubblegum colored lipstick and smears rouge generously all over his cheeks.

The babysitter, when she comes to check on him, thinks it's adorable. She doesn't say anything about the ruined lipstick, redoes his smudged makeup, and finally agrees to polish his nails.

It's the first time someone smiles and tells him that he's pretty. It's also the last time the babysitter works for the Wandells; because when his parents come home, his mother yells at the poor girl for an hour while Wally watches, uncomfortable and quiet.

They sign him up for baseball practice right after that, and finally compromise on soccer after he comes home from baseball training crying the third time in a row.

The new babysitter doesn't wear make-up, and is smart enough not to tell anybody that she lets him watch Fred Astaire movies once in a while.

***

The front door has barely closed behind him when his phone buzzes in his pocket. For a second, he thinks about not picking up. He used to be able to do that before he met the Walkers.

"Justin", he says, taken aback, after checking the caller ID. "Hey, what – did something happen?"

"Listen, man", Justin's voice sounds awkward, even over the phone. "I know it's none of my business, but I just need to tell you ... Look, I know you think that Kevin has got a family that loves him, and ... well, okay, he does, obviously, but you don't know how it was when he first came out. Dad didn't even look at him, and Mom and Dad were always fighting, and Tommy told me not to spend time with Kevin – which, completely stupid, you know, and I'm sure he still feels bad about that, but ...."

"So you talked to Kevin", Scotty interrupts. It's not a question.

"Well, yeah. Listen, are you coming back? You are coming back, right? Because Kevin told us that you left him because we are too accepting, or something? And I thought if I told you that it wasn't always like this, maybe you'd decide to come home? You have to, really; because he's totally freaking out, and Mom blames herself and is driving us crazy."

Scotty laughs quietly, feeling slightly embarrassed, and a bit guilty, too. "Justin, don't worry, I'm on my way, okay? I'll be back tomorrow morning."

"Oh", Justin breathes, and the relief in his voice is clearly audible. "Oh, okay, that's ... that's good. I'm going to go back then and tell him, okay? I'll ... I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah", Scotty says, turning around to look at his parents' house a last time. "See you."

***

1989: Nora (born 1947)

When Kitty decides it would be a good idea to tell the whole family that Kevin is gay, the first thing Nora does – after she's emerged from the pantry – is call the constructor and talk to him about a pool.

The project keeps her busy for a few weeks: It turns out that digging over the whole back garden is even more time-consuming than she dared to hope.

In the evenings, when it's too dark outside to wander around the garden, and plan where to plant all the flowers she's going to buy, she sits down and reads: Books she borrowed from the library, brochures and newspaper clippings.

Some of the things she reads make her laugh, some make her sad; and some of them leave her wide-eyed and thinking that she might be more naive than she thought, after all.

What frightens her, though, is to discover just how many people out there are going to hate Kevin just because of the person he loves; are going to hurt him, when they can, just because he's not like them.

She remembers the promise she gave herself, to make sure that her children would be able to live the life she couldn't; remembers William's frown when he said "There's something wrong with that boy", and the way he looks at Kevin now, stony-faced, disappointed.

The next morning, she dials the number of the PFLAG hotline, and asks what she has to do to join.

***

His mother calls about two hours after he's left. He has just said goodbye to Sarah, who called him not long after Justin did, and he sighs, once more pulling over to the side of the road with one hand on the wheel, the other fumbling with his cell.

"Your father tells me you stopped by", his mother says, and she sounds so reproachful that Scotty finds it hard to breathe. "You drove all the way down from California and couldn't stay long enough to wait for me?"

"Yeah, well", he says. "I didn't think you'd be very happy to see me, anyway."

"What did you expect?" she replies. "This woman just called us, in the middle of the night, and we didn't even know what she was talking about."

"I know that Nora can be a bit ... overwhelming, sometimes. And I'm really sorry about that", he sighs. "I would have told you, I promise."

"Scotty", his mother says, and now her voice sounds almost imploring. "Look, I know that you want children, and a family. And that's – I mean, that's only natural. But there are other – do you really think this is the right way?"

"So", Scotty says, "how do you think we should do it?"

The silence drags on, and finally Scotty shakes his head. "You know", he says flatly, "I don't even want children so badly. It's Kevin who got all mixed up by that thing with Elizabeth and thinks we should do it before he feels like he's too old. Of course I want a child, but I'm also doing this because I love Kevin; so whatever you are thinking, I'm not going to get a divorce and marry a woman so that she can have my babies."

There's a choking sound over the line, and Scotty realizes that his mother is crying.

"I have to go", he says quietly, turning the key in the ignition. "Talk to you later, Mom."

***

1997: Bertha (born 1960)

Bertha learns that her son is gay when Scotty's soccer coach asks her, after a game, if she could please tell Scotty not to make out with his boyfriend in the locker rooms anymore, because young love notwithstanding, but that's against the rules.

Bertha calls him a liar and worse, barely restraining herself from slapping the man, right there in front of all those people.

Of course, after talking to Scotty's ex-girlfriend and his English teacher and the parents of Scotty's alleged boyfriend, it turns out that the rumor of Scotty's homosexuality is not, in fact, a rumor, nor is it a lie. It seems as if everyone already knew ("It's so obvious" a class mate says) – except for Scotty's parents; and when Bertha asks him later why he kept this from her, he looks at her, reddish print of her fingers still visible on his cheek, and says:

"Because I knew you'd react like that."

After that day, nothing is really like before.

***

Kevin is not home when Scotty comes back; it's a workday, after all – not that Robert McCallister cares about weekdays and -ends when it comes to keeping his employees busy.

There is a note, though, on the table, together with a vase full of lilac; and the apartment looks cleaner than it has in a very long time.

The brochures of the agency are scattered across Kevin's desk, and he gathers them, together with the old photo album that Kevin keeps in the bottom drawer.

There's an open bottle of red wine in the kitchen, and he pours himself a glass; then he settles on the couch, papers spread around him, and waits.

The phone rings, not ten minutes later.

"Hello Nora", Scotty says, and takes a sip from his wine.