John called rather late Saturday night to say all was clear with the trust fund, so he'd be coming. Sunday morning, early, Michael called. "I still haven't been told whether or not I can go. I'm still hoping, so don't count me out." We told him there would be room and he should meet us at our place if he was ready before 10:30, or at St. Paul's if later. "No problem," he said. "Sandy will be keeping my truck if I get to go, so he can pick it up either place. I'm all packed and ready to go as soon as I get permission and I think I will."
Sissy showed up at St. Paul's with luggage, ready to go, just before the service. "Would have called, but the old man held out and only gave permission a few minutes ago. Auntie brought me. I guess the old man thought if he waited long enough you'd decide to go without me, then he could talk about how untrustworthy honkies are. Says he's afraid I'll pick up the man's ways' and about the fact that I'm going with two honky queers.' He's afraid you'll turn me queer," Sissy started laughing so hard he got tears in his eyes. Leaving his luggage in the narthex, he joined us in the pew behind Mom and Clarisa.
During the Eucharist, St. Paul's graduating seniors -- which now included all the old Clan -- were recognized and each of us given a beautiful silver cross. Fr. DeBruhl congratulated us on having achieved a milestone and admonished us to continue on the path to becoming great human beings, "the path you are already on." I began to get a bit antsy thinking his remarks could make the service longer than usual and we had a plane to catch. Fortunately, his sermon was short and to the point so we were out on time.
As we walked out of the church, Michael came rushing up the walk, pulling a rolling suitcase. As soon as he saw him, Sandy rushed toward him, I suspect getting ready to give him a kiss. I saw Michael raise an eyebrow and Sandy smiled and just reached for his hand. Michael held his hand and smiled. "Wow! Glad I made it. Why do parents just keep us hanging? I'm sure they decided I could go before the last minute. Anyway, I'm here."
"Yeah," Sandy said, with a huge grin covering his face, "And all I'll have to do is ace my exams and I'll be on a plane headed for Key West at 8:00 Tuesday evening. Mom made arrangements with Mrs. Crandall and, Michael, she said you'd meet me when I arrive. I'll wake up at La Casa Wednesday morning instead of in Elizabethton."
"Well, Babe, I sure hope the possibility of waking up in La Casa in my bed is incentive enough to have you ace all your exams," Michael said in a low voice as there were parishioners nearby.
"Hell yes!" Sandy said and immediately covered his mouth with his hand as Miss Amy Louise gave him a sharp look as she walked past.
Sandy got in the truck with Michael and the two headed for the airport. The rest of us piled in the van which Lacy was driving. At the airport, the plane was waiting. Our luggage was stowed and John hugged Lacy, and Michael seemed quite at ease as he and Sandy exchanged a goodbye kiss -- nothing was held back by Michael in that kiss! -- and we all boarded the jet and headed for La Casa and a week of fun and relaxation.
One good thing about the trip down was getting to know Mr. Nixson and Mr. Everest. Both were as excited as teenagers in love and it definitely showed. Mr. Nixson talked about his painting and how he had decided to be an artist rather than go into something which paid a lot more. "I loved what I was doing and generally was very happy," he said. "I also knew I'd never be happy in business which would have been my father's goal for me. Aside from being alone, I was very pleased with the path I had taken. Now that Dakota Everest is a part of my life again, I couldn't ask for more."
"Well, you made better choices than I," Mr. Everest said. "The worse choice I ever made was the decision to out you to draw attention away from me. I knew I was gay from the time I was thirteen or fourteen, but denied it with my total being. Part of that was because I knew my parents would put me out, part of it was fear of rejection by my peers -- not an unreasonable fear given the times and especially the hell my outing put Jess through -- and part of it was my desire to go places in the world I knew an openly gay man would not likely see. All very selfish and hurtful to Jess and myself, not to mention the women I left behind. Fortunately, there were never any children from my four short marriages."
"So you were in oil?" Sissy asked.
"Yeah, for twenty years. Graduated with a degree in geology and got hooked up with a wildcat oil man, Dusty Rhodes -- I never could imagine parents allowing that, but apparently his father started calling him Dusty when he was a baby and it definitely stuck. Anyway, 'wildcat' was right as he was a one-man company when I joined him. We struck oil in our first wildcat well and had repeat performances time and again. Of course, we drilled a lot of dry holes as well but, overall, it made us very wealthy before we had been together ten years. By the time we had been together fifteen years, we both had more money than we could ever spend, and I could never see a rough, tough wildcatter like Dusty settling down, but he came in one morning a couple years ago and said, Fuck it, Dakota, we've got more money that we can spend. I'm retiring. You know I have a son?' I did.
"While he had talked very little about his private life, I did know he had married young and they had a son a few years later. His wife died in childbirth and Dusty left the son with his parents. He saw the kid a few times a year and, while he had given the kid everything he wanted materially, they were almost strangers to each other. When Dusty's dad died, I expected him to send the kid to boarding school, but he continued living with his grandmother.
"Dakota, I guess I should have expected it, but I didn't. Kyle called last night to tell me his granny -- my mom -- dropped dead yesterday. I'm flying out in a couple hours and I won't be back.' He handed me a check, for well more than half what the company was worth, and said, I'm retiring and think you should do the same.' I took his advice and sold the company, but after a couple months I was bored to death and started a consulting business.
"After doing consulting all over the world, I was in Yemen advising a company on the necessity of changing its focus since the oil there is near an end. I was thinking about that and suddenly realized that not only oil, but also people reached an end, so to speak. In my heart of hearts I knew I was gay and knew I had never stopped loving Jess. A few weeks later, I was back in the States and I saw an announcement of his coming exhibition at La Casa. Made arrangements to fly down and, I guess, you know the rest. What a waste of years when we could have been together, but the good part is now we are."
"And I thought Justin and I had wasted a lot of years," I said.
"But you have a lot of years before you," Mr. Nixson said.
"So do we, Jess," Mr. Everest said. "Maybe not as many as these two guys, but they will be good ones."
"But they are just out of high school," Sissy said. "How many high school romances last?"
"True, not many do, but I never stopped loving Jess nor he me, even when I tried," Mr. Everest said. "Well, I think we are well on our way and it's well past my lunchtime. Anyone else hungry?"
"We're teens. We're always hungry," Justin said.
"Bet it's not the only thing you're always," Mr. Nixson said, then -- realizing, I guess, there were women present -- added quickly, "sorry ladies."
Bobbie, with an evil look in her eye, said, "Not gender exclusive," as she grabbed Adam's thigh.
Mr. Everest said he had arranged to be host rather than have one on the plane so there was just a crew of two, the pilot and first officer. "Thought you might welcome the privacy," he said as he explained the short crew. With the help of Adam and me, we managed to put on a great spread: cheeses and crackers, veggies and dips -- some very strange to me, but delicious -- sandwiches and wraps and an assortment of drinks. For dessert we had fruits of all kinds and some great cookies.
While we were eating, Justin asked, "What happened to Dusty and Kyle?"
"Good question," Mr. Everest said. "Well, Kyle was in high school when Dusty retired, and the two had a pretty rough time for a while. Dusty, of course, had no experience with kids, much less a teenager, and Kyle wasn't about to let a stranger tell him what to do. Fortunately, Dusty had done enough consulting to know that an outsider is often needed to set things right. With Kyle's willingness, the help of a good counselor and the fact that the grandparents had done a good job, by the end of the school year, the two had at least started to tolerate each other.
"They made a trip to Florida and one day were watching a sailing ship come in and Kyle said he'd always dreamed of going on one. Dusty immediately chartered a boat and they cruised around for a couple weeks. Both fell in love with it and Kyle suggested they sail around the world. Took a year to get ready, but the last time I heard from them, they had a ship and crew, and were already somewhere in the Pacific."
"What about school?" ever-practical Susan asked.
"Tutor on board. Kyle's already accepted at Trinity College for spring semester."
"Nice story," I said, as we cleaned up from lunch.
As soon as we had cleaned up, Mr. Nixson said, "You guys know our story, what about yours?" That led to the whole story of our first trip to La Casa and my and Justin's getting together and Adam and Bobbie's breakup and, later, their reconciliation and all that had gone on between, including the latest -- the attempt to frame us.
When we mentioned the jacked-up truck trying to force us off the road, Mr. Nixson said, "I've seen that truck around a few times when I have been out. You know, there's something going on in the swamp. A couple times when I have been out in my boat, I was sure I was being watched, but never saw anything."
Our story finished, Sissy told of his coming to grips with what he had known about himself as long as he could remember. "I had no role model and given the homophobia in my community, I knew I was in for a rough time. I took two routes. I became such a flaming gay that no-one took me seriously and I really got into martial arts." He laughed. "Most were afraid I was catching' and those who got too close and tried to harm my body caught' it -- a flying foot or whatever. They soon learned to leave me alone. Funny, being on center stage all the time, people overlook the real you."
We talked about that and Sissy, always center stage, told a dozen very funny stories of both his flaming gay and his ninja sides.
Finally, the only story left was Dr. Macon's. I guess he realized that as well because he said, "Gee, anything I have to say will seem pretty dull. My dad was -- is -- a doctor. Mom was a nurse he met when he was interning and they married after a brief courtship. I was born three years later and we lived a pretty ideal life in small Midwestern town until I was in sixth grade. I don't know all the details, but a young man in our town hung himself. He and his family were friends and the suicide devastated Dad. I, of course, was very upset, but he was several years older than I and I wasn't told why the suicide had happened. I learned later it was because he was gay.
"After six months of his moping, Mom suggested Dad actually do something and he decided he'd work on becoming a psychiatrist. He did and for many years had an active practice in Chicago working with gay men and boys. He focused especially on those rejected by their families and those who were victims of abuse and rape. When Mon died about seven years ago, he decided there was no reason to endure another Chicago winter, so he retired, moved to a small town near La Casa. Actually, to say he retired is a laugh. He does a lot of consulting and working with doctors who are concerned with their gay patients and, lately, doctors who have gay patients but have difficulty dealing with their own attitudes toward gays. He still takes on a few patients -- mostly very difficult cases or ones he encounters among friends or a few I have referred to him. He also takes me in hand for training once or twice a year. He'd like for me to become a psychiatrist but, so far, I enjoy my general practice too much to give it up."
"Guess that explains why you were so sensitive to Sandy and his plight," Bobbie said.
"That," Dr. Macon laughed, "and the fact that I am gay. As a matter of fact, not only am I going to visit Dad on this trip, but also meeting Daniel, my soon-to-be husband. We are being married in Vermont in June."
"Hope you're not leaving Elizabethton," I said.
"Well, I guess that depends," he responded. "Daniel says he will be perfectly happy to go where I want -- need -- to go so long as it doesn't have rotten winters. Since he can work anywhere, whether we stay in Elizabethton will depend on how we are accepted after we are out -- as we will be as soon as we start living together."
"You can always join us in the swamp," Mr. Nixson laughed.
"Afraid I don't know much about doctoring 'gaters," the doctor chuckled.
"Doctor, you seem to be missing something," Sissy said. "We've heard your father's story, but not yours."
Dr. Macon laughed and said, "You're right. Part of it is that I find my father's story much more interesting and a part of it is that I really don't think there's much story. Growing up with dad and especially after he began a psychiatric practice, it seemed some people were straight and some people were gay and that was just the way it was. I mean, I did know there were some who were homophobic -- after all, a number of dad's patients had been victims and there was no way I couldn't know that -- but it never touched me until I was in high school and a classmate was beaten senseless and had fag' branded on his chest. I couldn't ignore that.
"I had known I was gay, as most gay men do, I think, by the time I was thirteen or before. Knowing it with the head is not knowing it, as I'm sure you gay guys would agree. When Calvin was beaten, it made me accept the fact that I was gay and that there were people who did not know me who hated me. Having lived in a caring, loving, accepting world all my life, I had a real crisis. I mean, I really crashed and burned. Dad recommended a therapist who had just started working with groups of teens -- gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, whatever. I expected him to send me to an old, established therapist who would prescribe the right pills to make me comfortable again. Turned out he was a young man. Still, I must admit, I was a reluctant participant in the group sessions he recommended -- to be honest, I was a real ass.
"One young man in particular really got under my skin. I wasn't sure why, but more and more I was nasty to him, making fun of his contributions and his situation. One afternoon, after a session, Dad was unable to pick me up and said I should wait until he could send someone or, if I wanted, I could walk home. It was probably a couple miles, but I was used to walking. I told him I'd walk. You might guess, Dan, the guy who I gave a hard time, walked out behind me and started walking in the same direction. I pretended to ignore him, but he called to me, Asshole, you could at least be civil since we're headed in the same direction.'
"How do you know, Asshole?'
"Because I live six or eight blocks from where the famous Dr. Macon lives and I assume you're headed home, Asshole.' We were now walking alongside each other. Anyway, I think your problem is you've never been laid and you have the hots for me. Yeah, that's your problem. You're a fucking virgin. Bet you've never even been properly kissed.'
"I could feel my face turning red because, in fact, I had never been kissed, well, at least by a man who wasn't kissing kin,'" Dr. Macon laughed.
"Take off the frigging backpack,' Dan said as he slid his from his shoulders.
"I had been taught, of course, that fighting and violence were animal-like. While I had a black belt in martial arts for a couple years, I was not to use it except in self-defense, but I guess this was testosterone time and my backpack was soon on the ground and I prepared to defend myself, except Dan wasn't cooperating. He just stood there, a big smile on his face as my temper started to rise and all that discipline and training I had been taught at home and the dojo was going out the window. Finally, like an ordinary street thug, I was so pissed -- sorry ladies -- I just rushed toward him. He opened his arms, pulled me into an embrace and planted his lips on mine.
"I was shocked, surprised at first, but before long had opened my mouth and welcomed his tongue and the kiss went on and on and on. Before it was over, I think I was close to giving as well as I was receiving," Dr. Macon laughed.
"When we finally broke it, Dan said, Well, I think that solves one of your problems. I think you have now been properly kissed.' To which I replied, I'm not sure,' smiled, and started a new round of kissing. That time when we broke the kiss, I grinned and said, Yeah, I think I have been properly kissed.' A week later, I brought Dan home and introduced him to my mom and dad as my boyfriend. They were happy for me. His parents? Strange, they had been so accepting of his sexuality until it started manifesting itself in a relationship. We had all sorts of rules and restrictions at their place and I was never made to feel welcome.
"It was the spring of our junior year when we exchanged our first kiss and, showing some discretion, we were boyfriends. We never faced any open hostility the way you guys have, but a more subtle kind in abundance. We made love at my place, on some camping trips and all, but open shows of affection were rare.
"The fall before, Dad and several of his friends were dove hunting -- his yearly excursion into violence -- in rural Indiana and as they were headed back to their vehicles, in came a downpour. They took shelter in a barn and while the downpour continued, Dad noticed a tarp-covered car. It was a 1957 T'bird convertible. It was in reasonable good shape and he noted the farmhouse's address and, to make along story short, he managed to buy it and he and I spent a lot of Saturdays restoring it. When we finished it was a beauty. I expected him to give it to me, but I had gotten a seven-year-old Ford Ranger the year before when I got my license.
"I was seventeen the week before school was out and was surprised and delighted when I opened my birthday present at breakfast and found a key to the T'bird. Friday, the day school was out, there was a party at a friend's house and Dan and I were invited, as a couple. We had a wonderful evening and I drove him home in my pride and joy. We were so busy talking about the summer that I guess we just forgot and walked to his front door, holding hands. It was getting late, so when we reached the front door, I gave him a peck on the lips and turned to go. He was having none of that and soon he were making sure I was properly kissed again. While my tongue was in his mouth, our legs entwined and the obvious result of our passion hard between us, the porch light came on, the door burst open and his father was shouting at me, calling me pervert and faggot and ordering me off his property.
"Dan didn't call and when I called him, his parents wouldn't call him to phone. He simply disappeared. It was a week later that I learned he had been banished to a summer camp in Canada and would be in a California college in the fall. I got a letter from him while he was in camp and wrote every day, but got few replies. Once he was in college I never heard from him. Crushed, I threw myself into my school work, and did well, very, very well. He came home Christmas and I saw him at a party and really didn't know him he had changed so much. He was a real stuffed-shirt jerk.
"I went to a small college near home and, again, did well. I was lonely, but never had a desire to move on. As little as Dan was who he once was, I still dreamed of him that way. My internship found me in California and one night at a party during a break, I saw him across the room. Dan?' I called to him. He turned and with a very superior air said, Daniel.'
"Dan or Daniel,' I replied, when was the last time you were properly kissed?' He laughed and said, Maybe when I was not yet sixteen.' I saw the boy I had loved and knew he was now the man I loved. He came across the room, and was standing before me when I embraced him and showed him he had taught me well. I did go along with the name change! His dad had made it clear he'd be on his own if he contacted me while in college and he said he'd tried to forget me, but never had.
"He was a budding architect in Chicago and had returned for the party -- I later learned he had known I would be there. We maintained a long-distance relationship until I managed to get a residency in Chicago. We had several happy years, but I ended up in Elizabethton and he studied in Europe, then spent a couple years in Asia, becoming well-known in his field. He's now in a position to work from anywhere and fell in love with the area when he first came to Elizabethton and has found a deeper attachment each time he has returned. End of the story to this moment."
"Wow, someone should write a short story called Journey to La Casa,'" Bobbie laughed.
I guess we all soon became lost in our own thoughts about the stories we had heard -- and our own stories -- and slowly drifted asleep.
We were awakened to the sound of the captain announcing, "We are approaching our final destination. Seat backs and tray tables up and locked, seat belts fastened. We'll be on the ground in fifteen minutes."
"Or sooner if this thing falls out of the air," Adam groaned, still half asleep.
The plane landed and we all thanked the crew and were headed for our luggage when a van arrived, driven by Antwon. Sitting beside him was Sharky. The two hopped out and there were hugs all around for old friends. That completed, Antwon said, "I'm Antwon and this is my husband, Sharky."
"Damn, a good-looking gay brother and he's snatched up by a honky," Sissy said, very dramatically.
"Lay yo' hands on that brother and this honky will put you out of yo' jealous misery," Sharkey looked menacing, then laughed.
"Sharky, Antwon, may I present his blackness -- well, his semi-blackness -- Walter Stepphenwolf Lancaster, known to his fans as Sissy and, I guess, his whiteness -- actually his brownish pinkish whiteness -- Michael Duncan," I said. The two, of course, knew Mr. Nixson, Mr. Everest and Dr. Macon. "Sandy Thurmond, John's new adopted brother and Michael's lover will be flying in Tuesday night, if he does well on his finals."
"Given his handsome boyfriend, he'll ace them all," Sharkey laughed as he shook hands with Michael.
"I didn't notice, but is the plane plastered with triangles for insignia?" Antwon grinned.
"Well, the ratio does favor our team this time," Justin said with a smile.
We all piled into the van and headed for La Casa.
When we arrived, the front doors burst open and Mrs. Crandall and Mrs. Metzer rushed to the top steps. They stopped and Mrs. Crandall spread her arms wide and said in a loud voice, "Mi casa es su casa! Welcome, welcome all!" There was a hugfest on the steps. That completed, Mrs. Crandall said, "Clan, your old rooms are as before. If individuals need to swap roommates, that's up to you. Mr. Duncan...."
"Michael, you and Mr. Lancaster...."
"Sissy," he replied.
"I think not," Mrs. Crandall said, eyebrow raised signaling my word is law.' "Stepphenwolf, Stepphen, or Wolf, as you prefer."
Clearly Sissy had met his match. "Then Wolf it is," he said with a courtly bow which Mrs. Crandall acknowledged with a slight bow of the head.
"Wolf and Michael, one of you can have the second bedroom in Marc's suite and the other the suite next to John. Sandy will join you, Michael, when he arrives. Mr. Nixson, Mr. Everest and Dr. Macon, you are welcome to stay over if you change your mind about driving into Key West after dinner. Well, freshen up, get settled and we'll meet in the sunroom for drinks in forty-five minutes." We all nodded.
Post-secondary School Visitation was underway!