When we got to our place, we went upstairs and all flopped down in the den. As soon as we were settled, Josh asked, "How did Wes Bushyhead get involved in Jonathan's rescue? Did you guys know him or did he know Jonathan?"
We told Josh about Stone and Tim getting him involved and that, in fact, there would have been no rescue without him.
"Never met either Stone or Tim," Josh said, "but I do remember, couple years ago, there was a rumor about Tim running for office. Dad got real pissed when their--well, I guess our--preacher tried to get a group of men to work against him because he was gay. Don't know what happened, but he didn't run. Guess he got scared off."
"Not worth the trouble, he says," Wesley said. "He and Stone are a couple and think most everyone knows it but, so long as there's not an election involved, seems no-one cares."
I told Josh about Stone being so "stoned" with pain killers, he couldn't hold the phone and what he had said about Tim. "Guess they are just an old settled couple, regardless of what anyone says about gay marriage."
"Hello, anyone home?" It was Granddad's voice calling from downstairs.
We all hopped up and started downstairs, the three McElrath boys practically stumbling over each other.
When we got downstairs, two young men were walking in the door, carrying luggage, with Grandmom behind them.
As soon as Josh got to the bottom of the stairs he said, "What the he... heck! Why are you guys here?"
"Better question, why are you here?"
"You guys know Josh?" Granddad asked.
"Know him? I have lived with him for two years," one of the fellows said. "Josh Dennison is my college roommate."
"Guess there's no need to introduce you then," Granddad said. "Wesley, Jason, Douglas, this is Brad and Jeremy, newlyweds."
I'm sure at least three of us were standing with our mouths open--well, make it four, because Josh was as well.
"I'm Brad, Josh's roommate," one of the fellows said, extending his hand.
"And I'm Jeremy, Brad's husband," the other fellow said as he shook hands with us.
After we had shaken hands, Brad and Jeremy hugged Josh, who still had a surprised look on his face. "Ok, what's this 'newlywed' and 'husband' bit, and how did you two get up with the McElraths? Didn't you recognize where you were before you got here?"
"Good questions," I thought to myself.
"It's a long story," Granddad responded, "and no good reason to make it short, but let's get things put away and get a good cup of coffee first."
I went to the kitchen to make coffee and Jason showed Brad and Jeremy to the guest room while Wesley took the grandparent's luggage to their room. By the time the coffee was finished and I had put steaming cups, sugar and cream on a tray, everyone was in the den.
I set the tray down and handed everyone their coffee then said, "Ok, you have your coffee, Grandparents, out with the story."
Granddad said, "Well, I thought first we'd find out about this amazing rescue you all pulled off."
"No way, Jose," Jason said. "We want to know about guys getting married and you being in on it."
There was agreement from the home crowd and Granddad said, "Well, we weren't actually in on any wedding." He looked at Wesley, shook his head and said, "Wesley, you really didn't know what you were doing when you got the condo for us."
"When we arrived at the airport on our way down, we got confused and were just standing in the concourse like the country bumpkins we are, when Brad walked up to us and said, 'You look a bit lost. Can I help?' I told him I hoped so. He took a look at our tickets and said, 'My partner and I are going down on the same plane. Here, let us help with your bags.' Brad and Jeremy just took over and got us on the plane."
"They were not acting like country bumpkins at all," Brad objected. "As a matter of fact, there had been a last-minute gate change--Thank you ASA airline--and Granddad and Grandmom hadn't been told. Anyway, when we got to the plane, I asked if the grandparents--Ok, to let you know we're not pushing in on your territory, Jeremy and I adopted your grandparents since neither of us have grandmother or grandfather--would like to exchange seats so one would be seated by me and the other by Jeremy. They thought it was a good idea. Shortly before the flight was over, Jeremy came back to where Granddad and I were sitting to tell us that not only were we flying down together, but our condos were next door to each other."
"Well," Grandmom said, "when we arrived, Jeremy told us to freshen up and come over to their place. 'We are celebrating and need guests for the party,' he laughed. "As soon as we had unpacked and changed into something comfortable--it was warm and I loved it--we walked over to their place. The two boys had some food and champagne. 'Just what are we celebrating?' I asked and, without a moment's hesitation, Jeremy said, 'Our marriage.' I'll have to give the old man credit, he didn't strangle."
"So you actually did it," Josh said.
"Yeah, we sure did," Jeremy responded, and the two held out their left hands to show off their rings. "Actually, I guess we sorta did it Thanksgiving. We made a flying trip to Vermont and did the civil register bit, and then talked to the Dean at All Souls and made arrangements to have our union blessed Christmas evening when our parents could be present. So we had just gotten married the evening before we ran into the grandparents."
"I'll admit I was more than a little taken aback when Jeremy made the announcement," Granddad said. "I was having a hard time adjusting to the idea of having a gay fellow under my roof, and was making some pretty good progress I thought, but two fellows getting married??? But the way they had treated us... Well, I was sure these were two wonderful fellows. But, as I said, I was taken aback."
"I think we were overjoyed to have the grandparents to tell about ourselves. Seems we seldom had an opportunity to tell someone how we felt about each other. We told about each of our struggles with coming to grips with being gay, then about us falling in love. We talked for ages about how we felt about each other and the commitment we had made and intended to keep and, finally, about how much actually getting married meant to us," Brad said.
"Tell you one thing," Granddad said, "I'll not listen to any bull about gay marriage threatening the sanctity of marriage. Half the people who got married over Christmas will be divorced in two years, but I don't see these two being among that bunch."
Grandmom told us how they had spent a great deal of time with Jeremy and Brad--going to the beach together, having lunch together several times and things like that. "We even went nightclubbing one evening with them and enjoyed it," she said.
"And Grandmom and Jeremy set new standards for shopping," Brad laughed.
The conversation went on for a good long time, the grandparents telling us about spending time with the newlyweds and the long talks the two fellows and Granddad had about being gay, commitment and being in love, the important stuff. I had never seen Granddad seem so open and, at times, very emotional.
I kept glancing at Jason, and he at me, as the conversation when on. I could see the wheels turning in Jason's head as they were in mine.
Finally Granddad said, "I guess that about covers the ground. Wesley, I guess I owe you an apology about making such a fuss about you being gay. The only thing I'd have to say now is that you need to find a man to love you the way these two fellows love each other, and not one just interested in sex. Yeah, I was ignorant and I hope have learned my lesson."
"Granddad, I couldn't have asked to have been treated better, even with your misgiving. For the first time I have found out what being part of a family is really like. And I intend to take commitment to heart if I ever meet a man I can love."
Granddad slapped himself on the forehead and said, "Wesley, I meant to tell you first off but, with everything else, I forgot. When I saw your picture on the front page of the newspaper, I knew your whereabouts was no longer a secret. When we got back to Charlotte, I called your house. Your mother and father were still in Bermuda, of course, but I decided they needed to be told how things stood. Cassandra gave me their number in Bermuda and I called them. I told them you were living with us and I didn't expect any flack from them about it. Your father said he was pleased and told your mother to shut up when she started yammering about something. Suspect she may be living a very different life since it seems your dad has finally found his balls."
"Thanks," Wesley said. "Stone was ready to fight if the parents put up a fuss, but I suspected mother would only be interested in getting her hands on that trust fund money."
All the time the conversations had been going on, Jason and I kept looking at each other. Finally, he looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and I took a deep breath and nodded.
"Grandparents, I guess this is the time for an announcement."
"That you and Douglas are gay and lovers?" Grandmom asked.
"Well, yeah," Jason was finally able to stammer. I was simply speechless.
"Your granddad was still in the dark on that score, but soon after we met Brad and Jeremy, things all began to add up for me."
"When your Grandmom told us about you two," Jeremy said, "it was pretty clear to us what was going on. We didn't say too much, just sorta listened and asked questions. Took your granddad a bit longer to start putting two and two together and getting what we were sure was the right answer."
'Well, I guess that takes a load off my shoulders," I said.
"Don't think it would be wise to say anything to my parents," Josh said, "but to keep everything above board here, Jonathan is also gay. That's why he was beaten half to death."
"And was raped by members of the same outfit as those who beat him for being gay," Jason said.
"Anyone around here straight?" Jeremy laughed.
"John Henry, the horse," Wesley grinned.
There was a lot more talk about the grandparents' trip. I think we were all kinda giddy, having finally gotten out from under the cloud of fear we might be discovered.
When we had finally run down on that subject, we talked about the rescue of Jonathan. The grandparents had a thousand questions and, when they finally seemed satisfied, Grandmom said, "I'm glad I wasn't here and only heard about it when it was all over."
"Tell the truth, I am so proud of you fellows I could just about explode, but I'm also glad I only heard about your adventure after the fact," Granddad said. "Maybe not. If I had known Wes Bushyhead was running things, I'd probably have wanted to go along. He is a remarkable man."
"And he's gay too," Wesley said. Granddad just shook his head and smiled.
There was a brief lull in the conversation when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," I said, hopping up and heading for the door. When I opened it, I was surprised to see Tom McCarter standing there.
Before I could say anything, Tom said, "Good, I wasn't sure if I had the right house or not."
"Come in," I said. "Most of your band members are here. Of course Jonathan isn't. He's at home."
"You mean this isn't his home?"
"Afraid not. This is Jason's, Wesley's and my place. Hank and Jonathan live in the next house up the road, but come on in."
"I guess I got all confused with everyone introducing each other as brothers," Tom said as he stepped inside.
"I can see how we would confuse someone, but to us it's all clear. To us, we are brothers. This is my grandparents' place and when my family was killed..."
"Sorry, I didn't know about that," Tom said.
"Last spring. In an auto wreck. Anyway, my grandparents took me in. When Jason's grandmother died in their cabin when it burned, they took him in. Then Wesley needed a family, so they took him in. In case you get kicked out of house and home, drop in. I'm sure they wouldn't mind another grandson."
When we reached the den, I introduced everyone. When I had done that, Tom said, "I didn't mean to interrupt, but I heard about the dramatic rescue of Jonathan and wanted to come by to see how he was doing."
"He's doing ok, I guess," Jason said, "and I'm sure he'd like to see you."
"Then I think I'll take my leave and go on up the road to see him." After saying goodbye, Tom left and Granddad announced it was time to do the chores. It was a bit early, but I was sure he wanted to check on his animals. Wesley, Jason and I changed clothes and went to the barn with Granddad.
Jason and I started milking, and Wesley went to gather eggs and feed the chickens, a job he had made his own. As we started milking, Granddad sat on an upturned bucket and was quiet for several minutes, then said, "Jason, Douglas, I want you to know you need to thank Brad and Jeremy. In a week's time they got my head turned around on the question of gay men. I was concentrating so hard on how I was going to come to grips with Wesley being gay that if you two gave any signs I missed them. That was good for all of us because, had I known before I met those two, I don't know what I would have done, but it wouldn't have been right."
"We were waiting until you had accepted Wesley before we said anything," Jason said. "We figured you'd come around sooner or later and then we could tell you we were gay, in love with each other and all that."
"By 'all that' you mean having sex?" Granddad asked straight out.
"Well, yeah, I guess that's what I mean," Jason said.
"Fellows, I've been doing at lot of thinking about that. Well, not ACTUALLY about you having sex, if you know what I mean."
"The ick factor?" I laughed.
"You've got it," Granddad said, "but about having sex in general. I know it's very hard..."
"You've been looking!" Jason said in an injured voice.
I thought Granddad would fall off his bucket laughing. When he caught his breath, he said, "Yeah, I can remember those days. Anyway, I suspect it would be difficult for you to control yourselves if you were just two gay friends sleeping together--in the same bed I mean. My memory is not so bad that I can't imagine being in bed with a girl when I was your age. Can't imagine being gay changes the hormones, just the objects of your attention."
"So far I'm with you one hundred percent," I said.
"I'm not going to ask you two if you have had sex with each other because I am positive I know the answer."
"Well, you might be a little surprised," Jason said. "We knew you wouldn't approve but, as you said, we do have hormones. We drew a line and said we'd not cross it until we had told you about us, and we didn't. We didn't for a moment think that would mean anything to you, but it did to us."
"You're right, I wouldn't have approved, but the idea that you at least made a symbolic gesture--well, I appreciate that. Anyway, it's useless locking a barn door after the horse is stolen. It'd be foolish for me to set limits on your sex life. It would either result in resentment or deception and I want neither. I guess all I can ask is that whatever you do, you do it in love and kindness. Yeah, I'd ask more, at least for you to think about. I'd ask that you give serious thought to what sex means to Brad and Jeremy now, as not just sex, but love-making and as a seal of commitment."
"Love-making it is now," Jason said.
"Well, love-making with a varying degree of pure lust tossed in," I laughed, "and commitment," I added. "Suspect, at our age, there'd be a reluctance to bless our union and not sure Fr. Hansen would anyway, but one day that's what I want."
"Right," Jason said.
We had just finished talking when Wesley showed up, carrying a basket of eggs. "Granddad," he said, "thanks for loving us even if we are gay."
"Yeah," Jason and I said in agreement.
Jason, Wesley and I had talked to Hank about a New Year's party, but after what happened to Jonathan, we decided we weren't in the mood. We were surprised when Hank told us Stone had called, and wanted the "Coldsprings Rangers" to get together at his place for a quiet evening. "He said I should invite Beth. Wesley, thought you might like to invite Tom. Not that he's interested in a boyfriend, but he's new and all. By the way, he and Jonathan had a good time together. Tom has a real quiet way about him, he's strong, know what I mean?"
I wasn't sure I did, but I nodded.
"Jonathan be by himself? I mean only your parents around?" Wesley asked.
"Cody's coming over to help him see in the new year," Hank said.
"Sounds more and more like a boyfriend," Jason said.
"Yeah, that's what Beth said."
"Josh coming?" I asked.
"Nope. Got a call about an hour ago from Kathy. She's in Asheville with friends and invited him to come over. He showered, shaved, got dressed and was on his way in less than half an hour."
"Wonder if Stone and Tim would mind Brad and Jeremy tagging along with us?" Jason asked.
"Give him a call. They're friends," Wesley answered.
Stone said the guys would be welcome. I wondered how the grandparents would take our leaving them, but when I asked, Granddad said he thought they would like an evening alone and winked.
Hank got the family van so we could all go together. Grandmom had put together a relish tray from things she had preserved last summer. Hank's mom had given him a bunch of cheeses and crackers to take along. Mr. Dennison reminded us that there would likely be drunks on the highway and said, "Don't let your driver be one of them."
When we started to Stone's, Hank noted his dad had not told him not to drink. "Guess he knows that's one of those things where I'll be making my own decisions," he said.
Tom said he'd meet us at the music store since he didn't know his way around yet. When we pulled up in front of the store, there was a restored Le Baron convertible--well, not exactly restored because when it left the showroom it wasn't a good-looking piece of machinery as it was now--parked in front of the music store. When we stopped, Tom climbed out of the car.
There was a fifteen-minute delay as we all looked over the car and asked Tom questions about it. Seems our new friend had more than musical talent. Finally Beth said, "Ok, I know you guys equate a car with your penis. Tom is the winner, now let's get to the party!"
When we arrived, Stone was in the kitchen stirring up something and Tim was arranging the room so we could all see the large plasma screen TV. "Thought we'd watch the ball drop in Times Square," he said.
"I hope that's the only one that drops," Hank said, and Beth gave him a serious punch on the arm.
We were busy introducing Tom, Brad and Jeremy to Stone and Tim when Wes came in, carrying a burlap sack. "I'm not sure I want to be in the room with what's in that sack," I said, recalling the snakes.
Wes laughed as he dropped the sack to the floor and said, "Just some of the mountains' bounty." Tim came into the room carrying a large plastic sheet which he spread on the floor. When Wes upended the sack in the center of the plastic, all sorts of nuts poured out. "Black walnuts, scaly bark hickory nuts, chinquapins, all good wild mountain nuts."
Tim brought out bricks and hammers and nutpicks and we all set to work cracking walnuts and hickory nuts. The chinquapins were easy to shell since they are a small chestnut.
We were all talking about the Great Sadies Cove Rescue and kinda slipped into talking about life in the mountains. "You all lived here all your life?" Brad asked, indicating the three older men.
"Yeah, well, except for the time we were away in college," Stone said.
"That was less than a semester for me," Wes said. He then told about Andrew and this time said what he thought had provoked Andrew's old man.
"Everyone here gay except Hank and Beth, right?" Jeremy asked.
"And Tom," Hank added quickly.
Tom hung his head but that did not hide the blush which enveloped him, and he said, "Well, I guess I'm among friends. I am gay as well." Everyone was silent, and when Tom took a deep breath, it sounded very loud in the silence. "Wes, I can understand your pain," he added, and after another deep breath told us his lover had died just short of a year ago.
"He was killed by his stepfather but the bastard got off by claiming it was an accident and Derrick's mother backed up her husband. His grandmother knew better but simply didn't have the strength to push for his arrest and trial. She died of a broken heart within a month of Derrick's death. That's the reason I was happy to leave College Park behind and start over."
Tom grew silent as we all were, and after a few minutes said, "But it's New Year's and a time for starting over."
We all knew there was much more to Tom's story, but it would be a while before we heard it all.
We had a pile of nut meats and Wes took them to the kitchen where he roasted some and we snacked on them later when we were watching a movie.
But before the movie was started, Tim and Stone served spaghetti, garlic toast and a great salad. We all had red wine--Tim said he'd look the other way, but if Stone gave him any trouble, he'd throw him in jail for giving alcohol to minors.
After dinner, we draped ourselves over the furniture, lay in the floor as we pleased, couples happily wrapped in each other's arms, legs or what have you. When we were all settled, Wes brought out the nuts and Stone and Tim brought bowls of popcorn.
"Everybody ready?" Tim asked. There were shouts of "yes" and Tim responded, "Then it's time for a ride with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert!" The two older couples and Wes started cheering and applauding--obviously they were fans of a movie I had never heard of. Before long, we were all laughing and having a good time at the antics of the drag queens traveling through the Aussie outback in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a bus.
At midnight, we all had a glass of champagne, kissed our lovers--Tom and Wes got kisses from Beth--and each made a wish for the New Year. We all wished for Jonathan's full recovery and that he, Wesley and Tom might find a partner. We had all agreed on those and then made a secret wish. We decided we'd all get together the Fourth of July, when Jonathan could be with us, and see how many of our wishes had come true.
Before we had the glass of champagne, Tim and Stone both insisted that we agree to wait an hour after we had it before left for home. Well, it was 3:00 in the morning before we left. After we had made our wishes, we started talking about what we faced in the near future: I had a concert to prepare for, the Coldsprings Boys had a band to get together and we all would be going back to school Wednesday.
Jeremy announced he had transferred to Western Carolina so he would be with Brad and that he and Brad had found a house outside Dillsboro. Of course, Brad would be moving out of the dorm.
"Does Josh know this?" Hank asked.
"Sure he does. No way I would make the move without telling him. Of course, the decision was made before I told him. Jeremy and I have asked him to join us in the house if he wishes. It's a big old house with three bedrooms downstairs and a couple upstairs. Josh can have the upstairs with his own bathroom and bedroom. The second one he can use as a study. He said he'd think about it. It will cost about the same for a lot more space, but I think he's thinking about how being on campus puts him where Kathy is. Don't know that he knows it yet, but your brother has it bad, Hank."
"I knew he was anxious to get her in bed, but serious?"
"I'm not sure what all went on when he was home Thanksgiving, but something really got under his skin. Sometime before Christmas break after he had met Kathy and was spending a lot of time with her, he had a date with a girl he used to fuck--that's what he said, 'She's a good fuck, that's all,' and when he came home he said, 'Hell, she was all over me and I wasn't interested, I guess. I couldn't get it up!' After that, I don't think he really went looking for a tumble in bed. But he talked about Kathy all the time."
It was almost 4:00 when Jason and I crawled into bed, kissed each other and were soon asleep.