We had been used to excellent breakfasts while we were in Florida, but cold cereal and OJ was going to be it our first morning back home, I was sure.
Well, I got a surprise. Clarisa was in the kitchen, fixing coffee when we walked in. "Slept in this morning," she said. "Thought we'd have the usual cold cereal and OJ, but got to thinking how bad that would be and decided to cook me a breakfast. First cooking I've done in a week." Minutes later, biscuits were in the oven, grits simmering on a back burner, sausage patties frying in the pan, and eggs ready for the skillet. When the coffee was ready, Clarisa poured three cups then messed hers up with cream and sugar, actually sweetener. She used to put so much sugar in a cup it didn't all dissolve, but had a diabetes scare several years ago and has really watched her diet -- and mine! -- since.
Clarisa was soon sliding eggs on plates, adding sausage patties and grits. The biscuits had just come out of the oven and Justin and I were busy slathering them with butter. Not as fancy as the breakfasts at La Casa, but it was good, and good to be home.
Breakfast finished, dishes in the dishwasher, we lingered over coffee and discussed our plans for the day.
"First thing I need to do is to go talk with Mr. Sanford and see if I still have a job. Adam might have done me dirt. If he has carried on about us, Mr. Sanford may have decided he doesn't need a gay furniture mover," Justin said.
"Not likely since he would be expected to take up the slack and you know how Adam hates the store," I reminded Justin.
"You think he'd do that?" Clarisa asked. " Do you dirt?" Then answered her own question. "Well, maybe he would. Not my favorite person in the world."
"Clarisa, when it comes to people's reactions, who knows? I do know he really made an ass of himself in Florida."
"But he didn't come home, did he?" I had known for years that Adam was not Clarisa's favorite member of the Clan. While he'd never say anything directly, she definitely had picked up on his attitude toward African-Americans.
I ignored that comment as did Justin. "We need to go to your place and get what you want from there. Before that, I need to make closet and drawer space for you so we'll have a place to put your things. Good excuse for me to get rid of a lot of junk. I can do that while you go talk with Mr. Sanford. I can't think of anything else I, or we, need to do today. You'll be needing the car, so Clarisa can take Mom's if she needs a car."
"No problem. Consuela asked LaTasha and me to go to the mall with her shopping. Not much interested in shopping, but I need to get out with people more. I'll be back late afternoon, early evening."
We finished our coffee, went upstairs and Justin suggested we get the room straightened up before I undertook the closet and drawer cleaning. We picked up the clothes we had left on the floor the night before and started to make up the bed. When I walked to the far side of it, I saw the package Mrs. Metzer had given me. It had fallen behind the bed when we tossed our things on it. "I forgot about this," I said as I held it up.
Justin and I were soon sitting in the middle of the bed, Indian style. As I started tearing off wrapping, Justin said, "Ah, the famous plain brown wrapper, I see."
"Would appear so," I replied as I tore away the last of the wrapper. Fastened to the inside was an envelope addressed to "The Honeymooners: Marc and Justin." Since I had opened the package, I handed the envelope to Justin. When he opened it, there was a plain white card inside and he read aloud from it, "For Marc and Justin. Love each other and enjoy. With much affection, Antwon, Sharky, and the Captain."
I opened the box and inside were a couple sheets of advice about anal intercourse the three had written. They included preparing for it well ahead of first time, dildos to aid getting ready to try it, and a couple different kinds of lube. The lube had stickers that read, "Too much lube is almost enough." I had asked the Captain about, well, shit, and he said most people knew when to take a dump and that usually took care of that, but if we wanted, we could do an internal cleansing and the box held two anal douches for that. Finally, there were three dozen condoms
"Damn, you would have to find all that when we have work to do," Justin said.
"Ah, but when our work is done..." I said and kissed him. Justin left to go talk with Mr. Sanford and I started making space for him to move in.
I tackled the desk first and, as I was making drawer space for him, ran across the address list from camp. As usually happens, I had written no-one once I got home, but seeing Martha's address, I remembered my promise to let her know if I ever found my true love. I sat down at the computer and wrote her a long letter telling her about Justin, that he had always been my true love and how we had finally gotten together. Checked her e-mail address again and sent the letter on its way, then went back to cleaning and organizing.
I tackled the chests of drawers -- I had two -- next, sure that there was little to toss and all I'd need to do was consolidate. Wrong! But the drawers were nothing compared to the closets. As I tied up a second large bag of trash, I said to myself, "You are one pack rat!" By the time I had finished, I had two bags of trash of use to no-one, three large bags of clothing I could no longer wear and would take to the clothes closet run by St. Paul's and St. Thomas', the Lutheran Church, and a couple boxes of other things Goodwill could use. After I had taken the last bag of trash out it was 10:30. I took the clothes and things to their respective destinations and got back home at 12:30, just as Justin was pulling into the garage.
"So, what about your job?" I asked as we broke a kiss.
"Well, I don't know whether Adam told him about us or not. He didn't bring it up and when I did, he assured me it was none of his business. We mainly talked about what I'd be doing and what he wanted me to think about. It's a kinda long story. How about we grab a bite to eat while I tell you about it?"
Arm-in-arm we walked into the house and both started getting stuff together for sandwiches. Justin continued talking as we made sandwiches, poured glasses of iced tea, and sat down for lunch.
"Mr. Sanford started by asking me what I was planning on doing next year and I told him college if there was some way I could afford it. He said he didn't see why it would be much more expensive than high school if I went to College of the Albemarle and that he was more than willing to work with me on schedules.
"Then he said, 'Justin, I had to let Sam Finch go last week and that set me thinking about our situation, yours and mine. To start at the beginning, the new store register kept coming up short and Sam had kinda blamed you. He never outright accused you of stealing from the till, but said you were just a high school kid and not careful with the cash register and all. Now, first off, I knew you didn't use the register too often since you mainly handled delivery. Then I have seen you work for several months and I know the kind of work you do, so I wasn't buying that. Since you were gone, he couldn't blame last week on you. That and the fact that he took an extra helping made it pretty obvious where the problem was. He got caught more or less red-handed, so he's gone. He has a wife and four kids, so I didn't want him locked up for the taxpayers to provide room and board for him and take care of his family, so I just sent him packing.'
"'So, you see I'm short someone and that got me thinking. I always thought Adam would follow in my footsteps, but he's not interested. Fact is, he hates the store, the business and everything about it except the allowance it provides him. To be honest, I don't know about him. He's always messing up, being led around by the nose. It was that bunch of dumb-ass football players, then Bobbie. At least she's smart and has been good for him. Now he says they broke up. Said you and Marc broke them up while you were in Florida. Don't get involved in teenage nonsense myself.'
"'Maybe you should, Mr. Sanford, and maybe I'm sticking my nose into family business, but if I am to even consider staying on with the store, we need to have a talk.' I suggested we go into his office and when we went in, I closed the door. 'Mr. Sanford, first off, Adam went postal when he found out Marc and I are gay. I suspect that would have been bad enough, (I was watching Mr. Sanford's face for any indication of how he was taking the news), but while we were in Florida, we found out a secret we had been keeping from each other for as long as we could remember. We were/are in love with each other. So if you have a problem with someone gay working for you, then we have nothing to talk about and I'll take my last check and go.'
I couldn't tell how Mr. Sanford was reacting to the news because outwardly, he wasn't.
"He was looking me in the eye when he said, 'Justin, who you are in love with is your affair. I had a gay uncle. When he was in the room, most of the aunts grabbed their children and ran. My father loved his brother and never made any difference between him and his other siblings. And me? I had an uncle all to myself and I loved him dearly. While you haven't said the two of you are having sex, you're eighteen and would hardly be normal if you weren't. Who you sleep with is your business so long as it's not on a floor display mattress!' Mr. Sanford laughed and then said, 'Damn! Maybe you should. Might draw at lot of business!' and laughed again.
"Needless to say, I was relieved and said so. I guess I decided to push my luck and said, 'While we're laying things out, Mr. Sanford, I'd like to talk about Adam. I've got a couple or three concerns you might help with. First off, Marc and I didn't break up Bobbie and Adam...' Mr. Sanford said, 'Be kinda strange for a couple gay guys to break up a couple who are sure not gay or are putting on a fine show.' I guess I looked puzzled, because Mr. Sanford went on, 'Oh, I know they're, what do you call it these days, sexually active. I tried to talk to Adam about that, but he kept denying they were doing anything and all I was finally able to say was, "be careful," and hope they were, since I know the consequences otherwise.'
"He then asked why Adam would say we had broken them up and I told him mostly because Bobbie had said two gay couples showed her what being in love should look like. Mr. Sanford agreed that sounded like Adam. 'Adam always looks around to find someone to blame when he might be being called into question.' He once again started on Adam and I said, 'Mr. Sanford, that's something else, real family business, I'd like to talk about. Tell me to shut up and I will but...' I then told him about the two Logans and Antwon's comments about sons working for fathers. I also was pretty straight about his putting Adam down. I expected him to get mad, but he didn't. Instead, he got tears in his eyes and told me his own father had put him down and how he hated it and had not realized he was doing it. We talked a long time about that.
Then he said, 'Well, this had been some Saturday morning. Give me a few minutes and come on back and we'll talk about you.'
"I went out on the floor and helped a couple people and then he called me back. 'Justin, as I said, I have been thinking about you and your situation while you were gone. With Sam gone, I am without a manager for the second store. It is a bigger job than I would have thought. I have been working there the week you were away and it is doing a brisk business. After giving it a lot of thought, I think it would be smart to move the whole appliance business to that store. Folks coming into that store are often starting out housekeeping or moving into a new house they have purchased. Makes sense they are the ones purchasing appliances. People coming into this store are more likely to be redecorating. Managers here need to be managers/sales people -- and need to know how to deal with...' Mr. Sanford paused," Justin chuckled and said, "He wasn't sure how to talk about your social class. Anyway, he finally said, 'people of means and often lacking an understanding of sales people.' I said, 'You mean made rude by money.'
He laughed and said, 'Right!'
"Then he continued, 'So, I have come up with some plans and I'd like your honest thoughts on them. First, we move the appliance business to the new store. Presently we have a small range of appliances there, but the closest competitor is 30 miles away. We expand the range of appliances -- add things like dishwashers, disposals, and so on and expand the range of brands and models. In short, we go our distant competition one better. I have a feeler out for someone with experience in that field to manage the appliance department, and already have a bite.'
"'Then we expand the range of furniture at the new store. Presently we are selling good stuff at a decent price and value for the money would still be the motto. But without going to cheap, worthless junk, we can add a line just below what we are presently selling, and one above without competing with this store. Presently we occupy a little less than half of that little strip mall out there. I say we take in all the rest. I went ahead and took an option on it before talking with you.' It suddenly occurred to me, Mr. Sanford was talking to me as if I was his partner. I had been paying attention, but that really made me listen.
"'The paint and wallpaper store out there will need to move if we go ahead and take the whole mall, but I talked with Henry James about moving and he was unsure of what he wanted to do. I offered to let him stay on, but suggested he think about the shop next door here. I have had an option on it for a couple years, thinking about expanding this store, but could never justify it. We could open the wall -- put an archway between this store and a new wallpaper-paint store next door -- and make it a part of this store, but kinda separate. We'd make the paint and wallpaper store a home decorating store and really get in to decorating. When I suggested that to Henry, he grabbed at it. Says now that the kids are gone, his wife had been helping out some where he is and has talked about adding a line of window treatments, that sort of thing.'
"'Don't get me wrong, no doubt you could handle it, but I think I'll need to go to the new store. We'll be adding people there in delivery, sales, service and, I suspect, installation. Looks like tripling the number of personnel out there. I'd handle payroll, that sort of thing for the whole operation, but you'd have control of inventory and store operation here. I know that's a big order, but I think you can handle it. Interested?'
"'Overwhelmed would be a better word for it,' I said. 'I still have school until summer and I can't neglect school to take over the store. Next year I'd like to go to college, probably in business,' I concluded.
"'I certainly expect you to do both -- finish high school and then college. We can work around your schedule. I wouldn't expect you to handle the whole deal. I have already talked with Mrs. James -- Mrs. James is assistant manager at the new store -- and offered her the manager's job, but she declined. Said she's taken on the major responsibility until school's out, but wants to be home more this summer. Got two middle school kids who need supervision. You'll likely be fairly free this summer and then when her kids get back in school and you start college, she can take on more hours again. I'm sure you'll want a couple weeks off this summer and she will have her kids in camp at last two weeks and you two can arrange that. In fact, I'd expect the two of you to work out schedules since it will be your show here. Give it some thought. I don't expect an answer right away.' So that's how I left it."
"Wow, damn! You know that is going to piss off Adam more," I said.
"Probably," Justin said, "but I can't worry about that. He's not interested and if Mr. Sanford takes to heart what I said, he and Adam will be getting on a better footing. As I drove home, I thought about Mr. Sanford and what his life was like. He loves what he does and I can see why. It'd not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think I'd enjoy it and it's definitely an opportunity -- one I think I better not pass up. He's essentially offering me what he would have offered Adam had he been interested. Hey! If Mr. Sanford goes ahead, he'll be hiring a lot of people. He might even hire you since you could work in the new store. He won't, I'm sure, allow me to be your boss."
We talked more about the offer and suddenly the thought struck me. "Justin, you know this means that you have no choice. You'll have to go to College of the Albemarle. I'm not sure that will be allowed for me."
"Look, surely your mom knows the first two years we'll be doing basics and one place is probably about as good as another. By that time, maybe being together won't be so important or maybe I will have decided furniture is not what I'm interested in. Who knows?"
I was thunderstruck! "Justin, you don't mean that! You don't mean being together won't be important!"
"No, but I do mean maybe being together will have to take a back seat to something. I expect to love you until I die but, Babe, we don't know what the future holds, so we make the best possible decision and we move on. Plan ahead, but don't try to write the future in concrete. Remember Ozymandias?*"
I nodded, but was still a bit disturbed by Justin's comment.
After lunch, we cleaned up, put dishes in the dishwasher, and drove to Justin's house. When we walked inside, he paused, looked around and said, "There was always an awful lot of love in this house. Even when there was very little else, there was always a lot of love. I'll remember it for that and not for the hard times." I noticed a tear rolling down his face and kissed it away. "Well, the sooner we get started, the sooner we finish and the sooner your ass is mine, Lover," Justin said, returning my kiss.
Justin had long before given away his mother's clothes and things. It had been hard, I know, but he had done it. Now there was just the furniture and his personal belongings -- clothing and little else.
"I don't know what I'll do with the house. Guess I need to talk with someone about that. Maybe rent it furnished as is or just get rid of the furniture and rent it or sell it. I do know you don't want to leave a house standing vacant very long advertising it's empty."
"In that case, we need to come back with lawn mower, weed eater and hedge trimmer. I noticed the place looked deserted when we drove up."
"Good idea. There's a lawnmower here, but if we could get the mower, hedge trimmer and weed whacker from your place, it would go faster." As Justin was speaking, the phone rang. "I need to get that turned off and not have that bill," he said as he picked up the phone.
When he hung up he said, "That was John. The rest of the Clan, minus Adam, had come by your place to see what we were up to. He asked if they could help and I said, 'Sure.' They'll pick up tools and be over in a few. Let's finish getting my things packed and we can make only one trip since John's SUV will be here and he can take a box or two.
When the Clan arrived, they had managed to get two mowers and other tools in the SUV along with the three of them. An hour later the place looked as if someone who cared lived there.
As we were finishing up outside, Susan and Bobbie did some straightening up in the house, then we loaded Justin's things, ready to take them to my place. Lacy had filled a cooler with ice and drinks and sent it by the crew so when we finished, we were all sitting in the living room, cooling off.
"I'm sure all of you have checked your calendars for the next few weeks," Susan said.
"Of course, I ran right to my desk and looked at it before anything else," I replied. "Are you trying to be funny? It's back to school, what else?"
"Prom weekend after next. Can you believe that? It kinda slipped up on everyone this year since it was right after Spring Break. One of the reasons Adam gave as to why I couldn't break up with him was I'd not have a date for the prom," Bobbie said, "implying, of course, that he would and I would be left out."
"Prom in two weeks and we then have three weeks before AP exams. Busy, busy, busy. Two weeks after AP exams it's all over. Summer is here and we are high school graduates. Suppose all of you have been accepted by the college of your choice," Susan concluded.
"I've been accepted at Sewanee and Davidson. Davidson is definitely out because Father pulled strings there. I may be staying here and doing community college for a couple years," I said. "Something Justin and I have to discuss and make a decision about."
"I was accepted at Davidson, too," John said. "Parents' choice, but I'm on the waiting list at Sewanee. Should I get in, I think I'll go there.
"At this point, it's Vanderbilt for me," Susan said. "I thought I'd look at a smaller college, but Vandy made me an offer I can't refuse."
"UNC-Greensboro for me. Same as Vandy. I got a good scholarship there and Mom approves. She went there so it must be the best, right?" Bobbie laughed.
Justin had been very quiet and I guess we all realized it at the same time. "Ok, Justin, what about you? Don't tell me you're not going to college," John said.
"Looks like I will, but it'll be tough. I had saved some money, but even with all the help, Mama's illness wiped it out. Mr. Sanford made me an offer today. I'll probably work and go to College of the Albemarle. It's not expensive and I think I can get the classes I want. I can work around my class schedule, maybe take night classes online. We'll see."
"Mr. Sanford made you an offer?" Susan asked, and Justin told the Clan of his conversation with him. "Sure sounds like a winner to me," she responded.
"Yeah, but where will you be, Marc?" John asked.
"Yeah, that's a question alright and we don't have the answer yet."
We talked a while longer about nothing, then headed to our place.
On the way, I remembered Clarisa was not there and that meant there wasn't food waiting for five hungry eighteen-year-olds. My lunch sandwich was just a memory and I needed food. "Justin, old Mother Hubbard's cupboard is bare. Stop by the pizza place and we'll pick up pizza."
"Better not let Clarisa find out," he grinned. "We'll be on tofu and water for a month."
"We'll hide the boxes." Told the pizza wouldn't be ready for half an hour, we decided to have it delivered and went on home.
The Clan was waiting for us in the kitchen when we arrived. While we waited for the pizza, we talked about the prom. Susan was John's date, of course, and we decided we'd wait and see what happened at school the next week but, regardless, Justin and I would not have dates. I figured by the prom, everyone interested would know we were a gay couple and there was no use pretending we were dating a woman. "So, Bobbie, you gotta have a date," Justin said.
The doorbell rang and Justin said, "Ah, pizza's here."
"Agreed," Susan said. "In the meantime, pizza's waiting."
We were nearly finished when I heard, "I knew it. Soon as my back is turned, junk food." Clarisa had arrived. She was almost covered by packages and said, "I need some help here."
As soon as she was unburdened, Justin said, "Dig in, Clarisa, there's plenty. Marc ordered enough for an army."
"Don't think I won't. This African-American is hungry! Been walking that mall with two world-class shoppers. Finally asked, 'What am I doing here when I am needed at home?' I knew I was needed because I just knew you all would be eating junk food. Two pepperonis and a slice of supreme, if you please."
We were all laughing our heads off.
When we finished eating, the others left the three of us sitting in the kitchen. "Ok, what did Mr. Sanford have to say?" Clarisa asked. "From your look, it couldn't have been too bad."
"Not bad at all," Justin smiled and told her of Mr. Sanford's offer.
*Poem by Percy Shelly:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."