It was December fifteenth when Mother returned from rehab. She looked better than I had seen her in years. She was at breakfast each morning and she had supper with the Clan when we ate at my place. Clarisa was thrilled to death with 'your dried out Mother.'
School was out for Christmas a few days after she came home and, when I came down for breakfast the first morning of my holiday, Mother reminded me of the country club Christmas dance the twenty-second. "I thought we'd get you your own tux since I'm pretty sure you have stopped growing, but I guess there's not time to have one tailored. I have talked with Ms. Arnold. Mary Beth will be wearing red. I need to remember that when I order your flowers."
Mother was back in full force. It was as though she hadn't taken a couple or three years off to live in a bottle. "Mother, I'm not sure I want to go to the Christmas dance. I KNOW I don't want to go with Mary Beth."
"Marcus! You two have been a couple so long and done so much together."
"We have been to official functions as you and Ms. Arnold have told us to attend. We have never been a couple. I don't want to be seen with her.
"But Marcus, she's such a nice girl...."
"Nice girl? At the prom last year I was asleep when something hot and wet on my cock woke me up. It was Mary Beth giving me a blow job -- and she was no amateur. I was and she wasn't." I blushed when I suddenly remembered I was talking to my mother.
"This year she was off to a fancy schmancy boarding school -- not for an education, but to get her away from here before her exploits make front page news. Remember how quickly she was 'going away to school?' It came about because Mary Beth was caught giving the Arnold's 'house boy' -- well, let's just say she's an equal opportunity provider. At least that's what her snot-nosed brother told all over school and no-one had any reason at all to doubt it. I'm not about to escort her. I'm afraid I'll catch something!"
Well, in the end I agreed to pick her up, take her to the dance and dance one dance with her, but only because Mother said from now on, I could make my own dates.
John, Susan, and I had dancing lessons, which included ballroom dancing, from the time we were in grade school. Ballroom dancing wasn't something you needed at high school parties, but you did need it at most country club events and many of the events in the social life of the country club set. I wasn't sure we could pull it off, but I suggested the three of us teach the other three members of the Clan enough to get by at the country club Christmas dance and get them to the dance. Bobbie was the only one of the three "victims" who thought it was a good idea. The two guys were definitely not excited about it.
Then there was another problem, Bobbie said she could borrow a cousin's prom dress from last year and, with a little work, it would be perfect for the Christmas dance. Adam's eyes lit up and he said, "Justin, don't think we can do this." In a last-ditch effort to get themselves out of the dance, he pointed out they'd have to rent a tux and that cost money.
John was ready with, "Oh, I think Gibson's might just see their way to a very limited two-for-the-price-of-one sale."
Their efforts to escape having failed, dancing lessons began. I was very surprised when Justin took to dancing like a duck to water. After he had worked with Susan a couple days, he was even able to lead me while Susan worked with Adam. "You're not playing football, Adam!" Susan said. "The object is to LEAD your partner, not take her out of the game."
Adam and Justin were finally persuaded to go with me and John to Gibson's and get fitted with formal wear. Mother reminded me to have Mr. Gibson take my measurements to have tux tailored. "Even if you grow some more, you need a tux, your own tux." I didn't think so, but when she added, "Have everything charged to your father's account." I knew then there would be no problem with getting Adam and Justin a tux.
Having been told his tux would cost him nothing, Justin didn't complain about getting measured and deciding on accessories, but when Susan said she'd find him a date, he drew the line. "I'll go to your dance and I'll even dance with you and Bobbie, but that's it. And if the food's not good, I'll come home early!"
Mother and Clarisa suggested Justin get dressed at my place and he agreed. "That way I'll have help getting in a monkey suit." I told him that since he was getting dressed at my place, I'd pick up his tux since he was working as many hours as possible -- both because he needed the money and because Mr. Sanford needed the help.
The night of the dance, I showered and shaved while Justin showered -- Justin, thanks to his father, never had to shave -- and got dressed. I helped Justin figure out all the intricacies of formal wear and when we had finished, we went downstairs for an inspection by Mother. She adjusted ties, patted shoulders, and finally declared we were, by far, the two most handsome men she had ever known.
Mother was dressed in a bright red gown and had an arrangement of holly and mistletoe in her hair. She looked very beautiful. She had not, of course, completely recovered from several years of abusing her body with alcohol, but she had come a long way.
"You don't look bad yourself, Mother," I said and kissed her on the cheek. I was learning to like my sober -- and divorced -- mother.
"Fact is you look downright glamorous," Justin said. "I have the first dance."
"In that case, I guess you can drive me to the ball, Prince Charming." Yes, it was definitely a new day!
Mother was serious about Justin driving her to the club, which meant I was stuck -- alone, in a car -- with Mary Beth Arnold. She was all over me before we were out of her driveway. "Mary Beth, you're going to have to cool it. I'm driving." She didn't seem to hear and I had to move her hand from my crotch several times. Then, before I knew what was happening, she had my zipper open and my cock in her hand. My cock, being a seventeen- nearly eighteen-year-old cock didn't care who had hold of it and did what you would expect it to do.
"Oh! You're getting hard!" she exclaimed, her mouth headed for my now hard cock. I almost let her go at it while being disgusted with her, but I finally moved her hand and told her that was private, not public property.
"I knew you were a cock-sucking queer!" she said as she slapped my cock and leaned against her door. "Country Club Christmas dance and I draw a faggot when I want a merry Christmas fucking."
"Ever occur to you a guy might not like to have his closest friend in a public playground?"
Mary Beth just looked at me with a sullen expression. Don't think she got the point.
The Christmas dance always started with dinner -- a sit down dinner. When I had told Mother Justin, Adam, and Bobbie would be our guests, she arranged for the six of us to be seated at a table with her and Mary Beth. Dinner conversation was interesting, to say the least. After we had seated the women -- Justin doing the honors for Mother -- Adam said, "Mary Beth, understand you are in private school this year. I guess that's different from public school here."
"You can say that again! It's all girls. Can you imagine a place with two hundred horny girls? And you know what? When you put girls, like you know, in a dorm together, their periods all come at the same time. Always, you know, horny and once-a-month PMS. What a combination."
Mother was trying to look calm but was, I knew, about ready to tell Mary Beth she was in mixed company so she should watch her potty mouth. I could just see it coming.
"No boys?" Adam asked.
"No boys. Not in the school, and damn few in the town. So few around that they just get all fucked out completely by the end of the first school month and can't get it up. 'Course, they bring in boys -- some real studs, you know -- from a boys' school twenty miles away every other Friday for a dance. Friday night dry fuck we call it."
Between outlandish statements, Mary Beth was stuffing her face.
"I'm sure you are getting a good education, dear," Mother said, attempting to change the conversation.
"You can say that again!" Mary Beth said and laughed. "Oh! You mean in school," Mary Beth sneered in a way which said, "I had you going, didn't I?"
I suspected she was trying to shock us, but I also was sure she knew what she was talking about from experience.
"How many AP courses are you taking?" Bobbie asked. "We're all taking four, but I'm sure most of your classes are AP, private school and all."
"Are you kidding me? None are offered and if they offered a dozen, I'd never take one. I don't want to waste my time on school work."
The conversation pretty much stopped there and we ate in silence.
When we had finished eating, Mary Beth went to "freshen up." She was barely out of earshot when Mother said, "Well, Marcus, I'll never question your judgment again! Nice girl indeed!"
"Mother, I wasn't out of her driveway before she was all over me. Had my pants unzipped and..."
"I think we get the picture, Marcus," she responded.
A few minutes later, the band started a smooth tune and couples moved onto the dance floor. The rule was, you danced the first and last dance with your date, then with anyone you chose who would dance with you. Sure enough, Justin led Mother to the floor, the perfect gentleman. And man, he looked good! More than good. He looked a male model.
At the end of the first dance, I had barely had Mary Beth off the floor before George Haynes came up and said, "George to the rescue, Mary Beth. Let's dance!" He didn't mean he was rescuing me, but I felt like he had -- rescued me that is. I was relieved, to say the least. Shortly after they started dancing, I saw them move toward the edge of the dance floor and understood exactly what Mary Beth meant when she referred a dance as a dry fuck. I was dancing with Susan who said, "You'd have to hold up two fingers to see whether or not those two were moving -- well, aside from the grinding!" Grinding George was, grinding what I was sure was a hot, hard cock into Mary Beth as he griped her ass cheeks in his hands.
As the evening wore on, I noticed guys were practically lined up to dance with Mary Beth, then she disappeared -- and so did the guys who had been dancing with her.
I gave it no thought and danced with Mother and Bobbie and two or three other girls. It was getting pretty warm inside and I was glad when Justin asked if I'd like to take a break outside.
When we walked outside, the terrace was crowded with smokers. There had been a battle royal the year before over banning smoking on the inside, but the "no smoking inside" members won out. "I can't stand second-hand smoke any more than I can first-hand smoke," Justin said.
"We can go down a level. The steps over there eventually lead to the golf course," I suggested.
A long flight of steps led down from terrace where we were to an outside dining area which overlooked the outdoor pool and golf course. When we reached the dining terrace, we could hear voices below us -- in the pool area. In December?
When we looked over the terrace rail at the pool below, Mary Beth was on her back and one of the four guys who had been dancing with her was banging away and the other three had their cocks out, stroking them sloooowly, waiting their turn. "Don't think your mother needs to know about that," Justin said.
"Not unless she wants me to go to some future event with Mary Beth."
"Not very likely after your date's performance at dinner," Justin laughed.
I bopped him on the arm, but knew he was right.
Mother had said Christmas and the holidays would be a real test for her. Not only was alcohol in abundance at every occasion, but the season was also a reminder of the breakup of her marriage -- as poor as that had been. She was going to AA meetings two nights a week routinely, but the week before Christmas, she had added two more in nearby towns. I was really proud of her. We spent a lot of time talking, catching up on my life the past two to three years when she was lost in the fog.
Father called two days before Christmas. "Since I'll be in Raleigh for Christmas, wanted to wish you a merry Christmas and tell you there's a check in the mail," he laughed one of those laughs which said, "See how clever I am?" Then he asked, and I could tell he was being "Father" and couldn't care less what the answer was, "Got plans for the holidays?"
It was mean of me I guess, but I replied, "Yeah, well, I thought about coming to Raleigh for a visit. Maybe for the week before New Year's."
I could almost see the expression on Father's face. About the same one, I suspect, I would see if someone hit him in the face with a wet mop.
I immediately raised my "prepare for bullshit" shields.
"... another time maybe. I'm leaving on an important fact-finding tour two days before Christmas and won't be back until after New Year's."
"Too bad. Where you going? I hope not Europe this time of year."
"Mexico. Got to keep the pressure up if we're going to stop the flow of illegals into this great country." Definitely a political announcement he was making these days and used it on me because he was too lazy to come up with a decent -- if dishonest -- response.
"Yeah, but you're going to have to be careful of farmers. They're an important part of your base."
"Sure, well, I think we're working that out."
"Yeah, and Cancun is a hot-bed of illegals trying to get to the US. Have fun, Father," I said, and hung up when he grunted.
There was a check in the mail, $1,000. Guilt has gone up in price I guess. There was nothing I needed or wanted, so I put the money in my account until I could think of a good use for it.
Gifts are always a problem for me, especially for my parents. They have everything. I ended up putting a picture of me in my band uniform in a small silver frame for both of them. I mailed Father's to his office in Raleigh as he had never bothered to give me his home address there.
The Clan had agreed not to go overboard with gifts for each other, and semi-set the limit at $20 for each gift. Good idea, but it made selecting gifts difficult.
Mother helped me pick out something for Susan when, one evening, I took out my Swiss army knife to do something. "I saw the cutest thing today," she said. "A Miss Army knife. It's very much like yours, of course, but it's pink."
All the males in the Clan carried a Swiss Army knife, except in school -- zero tolerance there -- and the women, especially Susan, were always needing one for something. One down and four to go.
Adam and Bobbie were easy as well. I had two great photos of them. The one of Bobbie was taken at a football game. She is in all her glory as a cheerleader, at the top of a great jump, pompoms flying. Adam's was similar in that he was on the football field and appeared to be suspended in the air. It was a lucky shot. I had used the telephoto to pick him out as he ran downfield and, just as I snapped the shutter, he leapt into the air to catch a pass. It couldn't have been more perfect.
They, of course, had asked for copies and I had given them a small one, but now I had the two photos blown up to poster size and mounted in black metal poster frames.
The summer had really changed John. He certainly hadn't become quieter -- that would have been difficult -- but, I guess, deeper. Yet, at the same time, he had developed a sly sense of humor, finding the absurd in just about anything. His family, as I said, were Presbyterians, but John had found the ritual and ceremony of the Episcopal liturgy really meaningful. "Like I've come home," he said once. Of course, St. Paul's was not as high church as the chapel at Emmaus House -- incense Christmas and Easter only at St. Paul's, and at only one service then. He still went to the Presbyterian church with his family most of the time, but showed up at St. Paul's at least once a month. He and Fr. DeBruhl had become very close and they spent a lot of time discussing things. He had mentioned he was a great fan of Marcus Borg and that he was working his way through Borg's books. Took some effort, but I discovered he didn't own Borg's The Heart of Christianity so I ordered that for him. The description made it sound so good, I debated with myself but went ahead and ordered one for me as well.
Justin was a personal problem. I had finally admitted to myself I loved the guy with my total being and that made me very, very careful that I didn't step over the invisible line. A line I had drawn, of course, but I knew my life would be worthless if I lost him as a friend and I was absolutely sure that had he known my feelings, that would have been the end of my life, at least, life worth living. Three days before Christmas I still hadn't solved my problem.
Again, Mother came to the rescue. She and I were walking down Main Street when she stopped in front of a jewelry store where there was a display of American Indian jewelry. Among the jewelry displayed were a number of necklaces and chokers. Mother pointed to a very nice choker. The small card by it said it was ivory bone with black and hematite accent beads. "That would really look good on Justin," she said.
"You don't think ... " I didn't know how to put this. "You don't think a guy giving a guy a gift like that, jewelry, I mean, would, well, be kinda, well..."
"Gay?" Mother smiled. "How would I know? What would Justin think?"
Remembering the bit with the crowns, I replied, "I don't think he would care."
"Let's go inside. That choker's Justin's Christmas present."
Both Justin and I were serving Christmas Eve. The rest of the Clan decided they'd go as well -- Mother's escorts, John said. As was common these days, the Christmas "Midnight Mass" started at 10:30 with music, and the procession started promptly at 11:00. Clarisa had told everyone to be at St. Paul's at 10:00. "Else you won't get a seat," she explained. Seats are definitely at a premium Christmas Eve at St. Paul's.
As usual, a couple of the acolytes were late arriving so Justin and I did double duty by lighting the candles before the service. Pews at St. Paul's hold five people easily and six if they like each other very much. The front pew -- Clarisa's pew -- held six people who I definitely liked -- loved with my whole heart. I got all teary eyed when I saw them while lighting the candles. I was especially happy to see Mother there. She had proven herself a much stronger woman than I had imagined, not only in her battle -- continuing battle she said -- with alcohol, but in how she handled the divorce and working at setting things right with people she had done dirt one way or another while drinking. That was a part of the Twelve Steps of AA I had learned from attending some Alateen meetings.
"Church hats" are a tradition among African-American women. While wearing hats in church was, Mother said, almost a requirement for women in the Episcopal church when she was young, it had gone the way of a lot of things best done without, but Clarisa was not about to darken the church door without a proper church hat. Tonight she had on a most amazing creation. A red hat decorated with holly and mistletoe. As a matter of fact, when I saw it, I suspected I knew where Mother's hair ornament for the Christmas dance at the country club had ended up.
The choir, which had been in place for the music before the Eucharist, filed out of the chancel and the organ fell silent at a few minutes before 11:00. Outside, the acolytes and choir were lined up, waiting for the signal to begin. The organist had started the prelude a few minutes before Fr. DeBruhl hurried out a side door -- he was usually in a hurry before a service started -- and gave me a nod. I opened the thurible, scattered a scoop of incense on the charcoal burning inside, then swung it gently. I loved the smell of incense but a lot of people didn't, so it was only used at very special Eucharists, namely Christmas and Easter, at St. Paul's. The organist finished the prelude and at exactly 11:00 started the opening hymn. Just before I started down the aisle, I turned and looked at Justin who was right behind me, the processional cross high. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw him, his head high, his vestments perfect. He was so beautiful and I loved him so. I started down the aisle, swinging the thurible, raising clouds of incense. After a few paces, I would swing it in an elaborate pattern which brought it upside down over my head.
The service was beautiful. The midnight Christmas Eucharist was Christmas to me and had been since I was ten and allowed stay up for it. The Clan had agreed to come to my place after the service for treats and to open presents. They were still waiting for us when Justin and I had put away our vestments and helped get things ready for a service Christmas day. A very simple one attended mostly, I think, by older people and people with young children.
When we got to my place, Clarisa had hot mulled cider and cookies waiting for us. We had our treats and then opened our presents to each other -- Mother, Clarisa, and I would open ours Christmas day.
All our presents reflected in some way our friendship and love of each other. When Justin opened mine, his face was transformed by his smile. His eyes lit up and leaned over for me to put it around his neck. I guess it was great minds or something, but when I opened his present to me, I laughed. He had given me a black bone choker with silver accent beads. I almost kissed him after he had fastened it around my neck.
Mother had told Justin earlier he was not to go home alone Christmas Eve. I don't think he would have anyway, but she was most emphatic in her demand and he spent the night at our place. Again, I offered to share my bed and, again, he said he didn't think that was a good idea. Since it was three in the morning, I didn't argue.