Always and Forever
Copyright © 2004, revised 2015
by David Lee
by David Lee
"Uh, Mr. Hanson, I already knew about you being queer and all and I guess it don't matter. My old man hated people like that, but he's no better. I mean, he's a piece of shit, so maybe he don't know what he's talking about. Oh, you know what I mean."
"Yes, I think I do. But, Tom, I prefer the term 'gay' or even 'homosexual' to words like 'queer' or 'faggot'. Those are hurtful just like when kids called you 'pussy cat'."
"Sorry, you'll have to teach me what's okay to say. I don't know why you're doing this, but if you're willing to take me in, I'll do my best not to make you sorry."
"Tom, I know you won't make me sorry. Inside, you're a good kid, and you have talent. We're going to work on that this summer. I want you to make a good impression when you interview for art school next winter. Maybe you can be the son I'll never be able to have."
After Mr. Hanson left, Tom cried softly in his hospital room. This time his tears were not in anguish or frustration. For the first time he could remember, he cried for joy. His heart had really been touched.
In a small city like Cosgrove, an attempted suicide was rare and a forcible rape was even rarer. To have had two such earth-shaking events happen in a seven day period was beyond belief. On Monday the school rumor mill was grinding hot and heavy for the second week in a row. Some kids had heard that Brad was arrested for beating up Courtney because he got drunk and wanted to get laid and she refused. Others had heard that he and Alan had tried to rape her. Still others said that Brad had ditched Courtney at a bar in the next town and she'd tried to hitchhike home and had been molested by a trucker. Those were among the more credible of the multitude of stories making the rounds.
Having rested well and eaten a good breakfast, Alan and Brad were ready for what they hoped would be a normal day at school. But starting in 1st period, each had noticed that people stopped talking when they got near. Other kids seemed to be avoiding them, or kind of timidly say: "Hi" and walking on. Since there was no homeroom that day, their usual support group was scattered in various classes. At lunch, Dave, Jeri, and Amy sat at the table with the guys as usual.
"Well," observed Brad, "how come you guys aren't treating us like the disease of the month? Most of the school acts like we have AIDS or something."
"If you did, you'd still be our friends," was Amy's casual reply. "We don't put too much stock in the stories that circulate in this edifice of learning. We know you too well to believe any of them anyway."
Brad decided to tell his well rehearsed G-rated version of the story to clear the air. He didn't want them to know that Courtney had tried to get in his pants; and, worse for a guy's reputation, that he had held back. The others listened without interrupting. Afterwards, they asked a few questions to get the details straight. At the end of the lunch period, they assured him that they would spread the truth as quickly as possible.
After school on Monday, Don Hanson drove to the hospital to get Tom. Don had made arrangements with Tom's mother so that they could pick up his belongings. Alan had volunteered to help. Brad had an appointment and couldn't accompany them. Pastor Liz and the social worker were headed to Tom's house in separate cars; each thinking that her own presence might be a stabilizing force.
The scene at the unkempt Katz household was a grim one. Mrs. Katz let them in and hastily retreated to her room. Mr. Katz was out on bail, but was under a "no-contact" order and could not be in the house. It took less than an hour to pack Tom's meager earthly possessions into Don's car. Alan observed that Tom had less than he had had at his poorest. Besides, Alan had always felt loved. "Poor Tom; it must be awful to have lived like that" he thought. When they were ready to leave, Mr. Hanson looked at Tom and inclined his head toward the closed door of the room where Mrs. Katz was secluded. Tom bit his lower lip and looked back with a pleading expression. Mr. Hanson nodded his head almost imperceptibly. Tom knocked on his mother's door.
"Mom, I'm leaving. I wanted to say goodbye. And I don't hate you. Uh, I gotta go."
With those words, he turned his back and literally ran from the only home he had known.
Pastor Liz smiled slightly and said in a near whisper, "I think that's as close to saying he forgives her as he can get at this point in time."
The other adults nodded.
The desk sergeant pointed Brad toward Lieutenant Gorman's office. Brad knocked tentatively.
"Thanks for coming in, Brad. I called your home to tell you not to come, but you were already on the way and I couldn't get through on your cell. There've been breaking developments in the past hour and, while I cannot tell you all of it, I will say this much. You're definitely in the clear.
"Courtney Forbes regained consciousness this afternoon and told the whole story. I should probably fuss at you for leaving out a few details, but I commend you for being a gentleman. It must have been hard to resist an offer like she made you."
("I wonder if he'd say that if he knew the real reason I got out of there," Brad thought.)
"I have a godson who could have done it," Sam continued, "but he's a bit different if you know what I mean. Hmm, I wonder if that makes me a fairy godfather. Course I'm not the fairy; he is. Ha, ha. But you're a real guy - football and all."
("Well," Brad thought, "I have my answer.")
Susan was putting the finishing touches on her make-up and was appraising what she saw in the mirror. She was pleased with her reflection. She didn't know if it was because of the job or the renewed contact with her mother, Alan's happiness, their better financial situation, or all of the above; but she felt she looked years younger than she had a month or so ago. Her musing was interrupted by the sound of someone knocking. (The landlord never had gotten around to fixing the doorbell.). "Hmm, I guess Tony's early," she thought as she opened the door.
"Oh my God! Alan, is it really you?"
"Yeah, it's me, but I've gone by my middle name for the past 15 years, so I usually answer to 'Travis'. I had to talk to you after meeting our boy. I subbed for Don Hanson and when Alan came into the room, I knew he had to be my son. What I need to know from you is whether or not he should be told. I have no plans to try to come back into your life after all these years. I know that I could never live the straight life despite trying about 18 years ago. But, I would like to know my son, if you think it wouldn't mess him up. I don't want to embarrass him because of my orientation."
Susan smiled thoughtfully.
"Come on in Al-, uh, Travis. My date will be here soon to pick me up for dinner, but we can talk until then. To answer your most pressing question, I think Alan should know everything. He needs to know you. He has never complained, but I can sense that he has a hole in his heart about your size. You could be a positive influence on him. Let's figure out how to break this to him gently."
Travis hugged Susan and began to sob.
"Oh, thank you. You're a saint. How can you forgive me? I ran. I never helped."
"I don't blame you now, though I did for a while. It wasn't easy taking care of a baby with only ADC and no emotional support. I wanted to hate you, but I finally realized that if society didn't make gays feel like outcasts you wouldn't have needed to prove your manhood in the first place. Of course, if you hadn't, the world would be missing one heck of a great kid."
Ten minutes later, Tony Rossi pulled into the drive just as Travis was pulling away from the curb and Alan was arriving. It was a veritable traffic jam on Washington Street. Well, maybe not, but the quiet dead-end street was far busier than usual.
After a couple of words with her son, Susan got into Tony's car and went off to dinner with him. It was a pleasant meal in the Olive Garden restaurant which had recently opened. This was haute cuisine for the small Midwestern city, and Tony was good company. Susan had nearly put the reunion with Travis on the back burner, or so she thought.
"You seem a little distracted, was that good looking guy at your house an old boyfriend? Will I have to fight a duel for your attention?" Tony quipped as they were finishing.
"Uh, I'm sorry. An old boyfriend? Yes. A rival? No. We're friends, or at least, I hope we will be again. It's a long story and someday, if I get to know you better, I may tell it to you.
"Susan, I hope that you'll get to know me a lot better," Tony replied as he put his right hand over her left.
Alan sat in his room deep in thought. His mom's explanation of Mr. Naughton's presence at their house had been flimsy at best. A sub wouldn't have been that impressed by the work of a "B" level art student. Now if it had been Tom's work, maybe. No, there had to be another explanation and it must have to do with the uncanny resemblance between Travis Naughton and himself. He must be a relative. Grandma would know. "Should he call his newly discovered grandmother?" he wondered. He picked up the phone and put it down again. "Would she think he was being a nuisance?"
Alan heated up some leftovers in the microwave. He didn't mind eating alone. His mother had looked radiant as she left with Tony. Alan thought she was beautiful. To him, she had always looked good because she was his mom; but in the presence of a date, she looked special. "Maybe she's in love," he thought. "Yes, that would explain a lot of things."
After eating and putting his dishes in the dishwasher, Alan took a deep breath and punched in Judith Jenkins's phone number. His grandmother's warm greeting washed away any apprehension he had had.
"Grandma, there's a guy here that looks a lot like me. Can you tell me if I am related to someone named Travis Naughton?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. Alan wondered if the connection had been broken.
"Are you sure his name is 'Travis'?"
"Yeah, I think so. Well, that's what I saw on the board when he subbed."
"Alan, I think that may be his middle name. What is your middle name, by the way?"
"It's 'Travis' too. There IS a connection!"
"Alan, hang up and let me call you back. I don't want to run up your mother's bill and this is going to take awhile."
Brad was feeling both relief and frustration. He had tried to call Alan immediately to give him the good news, but Susan had said he wasn't home from helping Tom. Then Brad's family had gone out to eat to celebrate the fact that Brad had been exonerated. Actually, Fran had said it was because she didn't feel like cooking, but the family knew. No one wanted to admit that they were celebrating with Courtney still in the hospital and her assailants presumably still on the loose.
When the Jacobs' family got home, Brad tried to call again, but found the line busy. After a half hour of this, he decided to go to Alan's. He knocked and waited and knocked again. What was taking so long? He was about to give up and go home when he was met by a tearful Alan.
"Babe, what's wrong?"
"Just hold me, please."
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