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Drama Fiction Gay

Note: You may read Baby Blue and The Will to get the backstory.


Tom looked outside on a cold, dreary day. It was cold but not enough to snow and be fun. With a sigh, he turned back to the video call. He hated them, wished people just used cell phones. But this was all the rage ever since that stupid corona crap. Vaccine or not, people never got over the video calls. Over the computer, his father in law asked why Michael needed him at this dinner.

 “It’s to prevent a murder,” Tom said. “Possibly. And there’s a bottle of whisky in it for you.” He held it up to the camera. The glistening contents filled the screen.

Michael looked at the label. It was a good Irish whisky, aged in a double oak barrel. “Uh-huh. Tell me more.”

“The way I see it,” Tom said, “Dad can’t misbehave if you’re there.”

“What about this Patti person he’s dating?”

“I haven’t met her. For all, I know she won’t hold him back.”

“Sounds great and all,” Michael said. “But really-“

“Oh, forgot to mention, James is on his way. If you back out, I’ll have to call him, and he’ll be mad.”

 Michael rubbed his chin. “So, this is a kidnapping. Entrapment with a guilt trip to boot.”

“Yep.” Tom sighed loudly. “Look, the old man texted me. I figured I’d at least hear him out. So we’re doing this pre-holiday dinner at that new restaurant. No pressure to host or-“

“And you want us around, so you don’t kill him,” Michael said.

“Yep. Did I tell you you’re the best father in law a man can ask for? A shining example of-.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. How about this? I’ve got this Protec50 that was my late wife’s.” Michael said, smiling. “Can I bring it? I’ll slip it in his coffee. It’s supposed to work right away, not like the old anti-depressants. Expired in 2030, but maybe we can all use it.”

“Bring whatever,” Tom said, laughing. “I won’t stop you.” He sighed again and put his head into his hands. A father wanting to talk to his son after what had happened-at best was a bit frightening.

 “Look, I’ll always have your back,” Michael said. “But seriously, son, you and him should be doing this by yourselves. Hear him out and reconcile, kill him or whatever. But you’ll never really figure this out with us there.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tom said, without looking up. “But I’m a coward.”

“Well,” Michael said, “Don’t be surprised if we’re fashionably late.”

As it turned out, Michael and James were late, thanks to a horrible accident on The George Washington Bridge.

^^^^

Gerald sat in a bar at The A.I. Steakhouse, which was staffed with android wait people. It was the happening place. For Gerald, it just meant he didn’t have to tip. And the android bartender did an excellent job with an old fashioned. As for listening to people’s problems, it was terrible. The damned thing had walked away just as he was trying to explain he was about to meet his son tonight.

Where is he anyway? It’s not like Tom to be late.

He probably was having second thoughts, Gerald thought, as he finished his whiskey. He had them himself. Gerald raised his hand for another drink, thinking about his latest lady friend who had put him up to this. All because after too much wine, he’d told her why he had disowned his only son.

“Stupid reason,” Patti said. “Given what happened to Jack. Would you want that for Tom?”

 “Don’t use that against me!” Then, seeing her raised eyebrows, Gerald apologized.

Patti waved him off. “Oh, get over it. You know I’m right.”

Deep inside, Gerald did, although he’d rather have his fingernails ripped out one by one than admit it. Although he was a staunch Christian, the problem had never been that, only an excuse. It had always been about explaining to strong, tough men that his son was one of those people who marched in Pride parades and wore rainbow shirts. Facing grown men laugh at his boy and call him cruel names, know he was queer. The idea was unthinkable. Then one of their own, their top bowler in the league, had admitted some things. He was going to begin the new treatments even though he was 55 years old. He had only waited until his kids were adults and could handle the truth.

Gerald had been so shocked, so angry he couldn’t speak. The other men had acted differently and cruelly. Gerald didn’t know which was worse, the verbal abuse Jack took, or-he didn’t want to think about it. He had gone to see Jack in the hospital, almost sneaking into the room. And the whole time, it wasn’t his friend he saw in the bed. It was Tom.

“It’s a sin,” he said to Patti, pacing.

“Look,” Patti had said, “Which is worse? James and Tom being married, or that idiot woman who left that child to die in an automated store during a snowstorm? The one they saved and adopted?”

“It was safe in there,” Gerald had said. “Some do worse-”

“Until the power went out! If it wasn’t for James…” Patti drew her finger across her throat. “Least she could’ve done is brought the baby to a hospital.”

Gerald grunted. “At one time, a mom could do that. But now they take your name and make you pay for child support until the kid is adopted,” he said. “Or you lose any benefits you have. The courts are so overwhelmed. Probably the damned mom is virtual world addicted, on drugs, or couldn’t get an abortion.” They hadn’t overturned Roe vs. Wade, not yet. But the courts might as well have with some of these state regulations. If one didn’t have money-

“I don’t care,” Patty had said, interrupting his thoughts. “You just don’t leave a kid like that. What did Jesus say about that? ‘Better to tie a millstone around your neck than-’”

Gerald had raised his voice. “I know what He said!” He paced in the living room, stopped, and rubbed his eyes roughly. When he took his hand away, they were irritated and red. “It’s probably too late, Pat. It’s been five years. And I-I said some things I can never take back.”

“Never know until you try,” she said in that annoying, it’s so easy manner. Sure it was easy for her; she wasn’t doing this. She was supposed to be here and obviously had flaked out on him. And now here he was, alone, wondering where everyone was. He turned on his stool and looked through the window.

Tom's out there. Probably waiting for everyone.

Wonderful. Gerald was just wondering if the android could point him to the back door when Tom raised his head from his phone. He looked right at his father. No, through him.

I don’t think he sees me, Gerald thought. Or maybe he did because his son walked to the door and inside the dark, warm restaurant. He watched Tom stand there as if enjoying the smells of steak and lobster. The human hostess was friendly and pleasant, the ambiance quiet, the white tablecloths showing no hint of the murders, lobsters boiled alive, the animal blood in the kitchen.

Jesus, what’s wrong with me? he wondered. His stomach cramped, his ulcer complaining. He was about to ask the android where the bathrooms were. To hide there for the rest of the night. Maybe the rest of his life.

Coward, he thought.

Another voice inside Gerald said I can live with that. Unfortunately, Tom saw him. Rats.

“Dad,” Tom said, coming up to him. He stood, feet away, holding his coat like amour across his chest. “James and his dad are stuck in traffic, and our table isn’t quite ready yet.”

“That’s convenient,” Gerald muttered, wondering why he didn’t use that excuse.

“Accident on the bridge,” Tom went on, gesturing at the T.V. A newsman said something about an SUV rear-ending a taxi and colliding with another car. He sat on a stool an arm’s length from Gerald. There weren’t many people on their side of the bar. It was still early, and most folks were at the bar tables. All wearing their fake smiles, Gerald thought. Pretending to be happy. And if they’re not, the whiskey will fix that. The problem was alcohol exacted its price. Eventually, the sorrow would come back and double at that. That knowledge, of course, didn’t stop Gerald from his own drinking.

“Why are they on the bridge?” he said.

“James’ father doesn’t drive,” Tom replied. “So James went to pick him up. See, Michael has cataracts. The doctor doesn’t want to do the surgery yet, although the man is uncomfortable driving, especially at night.”

“Damned doctors never do anything right.”

Tom glanced around. “How do you signal this guy anyway? And are you including me in that?”

Gerald shook his head and raised his hand for the android. It glided over, looking for all the world like a bartender from 1920. He had slick black hair, a white shirt, black sleeve garters, and suspenders. The only odd thing was his empty doll eyes, with nothing behind them. To Tom, Gerald said, “Don’t be stupid. What are you drinking? Gin and tonic?”

“Yes,” Tom said, laying his coat on a seat next to him.

“You always take things too seriously,” Gerald told him, finishing his drink at a gulp. This wasn’t going right. But what do you say to a son that you disowned five years ago? As a kid, if he did something wrong, his mother always said sorry didn’t help. And that was over something silly like stealing change off his father’s dresser. Something like this would be much worse.

He could say he missed his son and the things they used to do together. Fishing, for example. They’d get up at the crack of dawn and sit in the boat watching the sun come up. It didn’t matter if they caught anything or not. And when Tom was fourteen, Gerald had given him his first beer on one of these fishing trips; drinking laws be damned. The kid had sipped it, squinched up his face, and said it tasted awful.

It’s an acquired taste, son, Gerald had said, laughing. And Tom, wanting to be a man, had drunk more before secretly pouring it out when he thought his father wasn’t looking. But he had gotten used to it. The beer, the fishing, cleaning the catch, all of that was a rite of passage, a bonding. Or at least Gerald had thought they were bonding.

He could say he was glad he had been there for all that, but the words wouldn’t come. Besides, they would be trite, even cruel. That fight they had when Tom came out had seen to that. He had murdered all those experiences, those kind words. One probably should let the dead rest in peace instead of resurrecting zombies. 

Gerald expected Tom to argue, but the man surprised him.

 “James says I take things seriously too,” he said, quietly, tapping his fingers on the bar. “Probably right.” He glanced at his father out of the corners of his eyes, gripped his left leg as if steeling himself, and said, “to be honest, when you texted me, I figured you were dying or something, and this was your confession. Are you?”

“No. At least, no more than I ever was.” Gerald coughed. “The doctor gave me medication to help my COPD. And I quit smoking. So,” his mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. “I’m not actively dying. In short, I’ve got a few years left.”

Tom waited until the bartender brought the drinks. When he left, he said, “these androids give me the creeps. I feel like they’re going to report back to the government or become sentient or something. And start a revolution.”

Gerald drank half his whiskey off. “He’s just a machine, programmed to do nothing more than make a damned drink. And this one does a fine job of it too. You’re listening to that liberal newscaster again. Walt Rather? I’m telling you-”

“So why are we here, then?”

“I made-mistakes,” Gerald nearly whispered. “Thought we could-I don’t know.”

“Dad, you can’t make up for these last five years.”

Gerald slammed his hand down on the bar. “Don’t you think I don’t realize that? I’m not trying to do that!”

Everyone stared at him, including the android. But Tom paid them no mind. He drank half his gin and went on, just as loud. “You called me a fag and worse, that I was no longer your son. You ignored my letters, my wedding, and refused to acknowledge your own grandson! And now you think you can just come in here-”

“Please,” said the android in a soft voice that could narrate a T.V. nature show, “I must ask you to keep it down.”

Both of them glared at the android but said nothing. After a moment, Gerald spoke, his voice shaking with the effort to keep quiet, “I’m not asking for forgiveness.”

“Well,” said Tom, his eyes narrowed, “something brought this on. What?”

“Nothing did,” Gerald did.

Tom snorted and turned away. He finished the gin as swiftly as Gerald had earlier. “What?” he said, “Your new girlfriend? Need to seem woken and all?”

“She wanted me to come,” Gerald said. “But that’s not it.” He put his glass down so hard he was afraid he cracked it, relieved when it wasn’t. “Do you remember that clinic over in Hackensack? The one that was seeing the-” he nearly said queers but stopped himself in time. “The GBTL community?”

“It’s the Rainbow community now,” Tom said. “And which one?”

“The surgical center that caters to people who, what do you call it? Who want to transgender or whatever. Anyway, someone walked into this one,” Gerald said, too loudly, given the android’s look, “and lit it up. It was about six months ago.”

Tom shuddered as if his father’s words were fists. “You’re drunk,” he said.

Gerald was just sober enough to realize he was making a scene, and he should leave. Yes, leave before he destroyed what pride he had left. Certainly, James couldn’t see him like this, nor his grandson, baby or not. But he couldn’t stop himself. It was all he could do to stop the tears. Alcohol was exacting its price now.

“Jack was there that day,” he said, looking into his glass.

Tom stared as if trying to remember. “Jack Fryer? That moron? He always put the Rainbows down along with anyone who wasn’t white and Protestant. Or the right political party. And he was your friend. But no-he wasn't the shooter.” Tom gripped his dad’s arm tightly. “Why was he there?.”

“Jack was there as a client,” Gerald continued, still looking into his glass as if it contained a way out of this mess. He rubbed his eyes, pressing his hands into them.

“What?” he heard Tom say, as if from a long distance away.

“Jack was a client,” Gerald repeated. “He came out to us, the goddamned fool. Thought we were his friends, we’d support him, I guess. That’s a laugh for sure. He should’ve known better than that.”

“Dad,” Tom said. “That’s it. We don’t want to hide anymore. Jack tried that, apparently. Then he couldn’t anymore.”

Gerald wasn’t listening. “Naturally, the guys didn’t like it. I sure didn’t, but they took it worse than me. You know how some people are these days, I guess.” He gave Tom a side glance.

“Even after all this time,” Tom replied. “Schools teach diversity, and it still doesn’t mean shit.”

“Well,” Gerald went on, softly. “I don’t know the-terrorist who went in there. Probably nothing to do with Jack. But he was there that day. Got shot up real bad too. Nearly died.”

“Good God, Dad. I’m sorry,” Tom said, relaxing his grip on his father’s arm. But he kept it there. Gerald gripped the glass, afraid if he let go, he would take his son’s hand. He didn't dare do that.

 I saw him once at the hospital, but he was in a coma then. Good thing too.”

“Why?”

“They induced to keep brain swelling down or what the hell ever. But I told him I thought he’d make one ugly woman if he wanted to know the truth.”

Tom chuckled. It wasn’t funny, not really, but he did it all the same. Jack wasn’t in the least feminine. Gerald went on.

“Now he’s at some ALF in Florida. I hear his kids are looking after him.”

“I didn’t like him,” Tom said. “but he didn’t deserve that.”

“No one does. Not you, not anyone. Shit, that’s what he got. And what I gave you. Anyway,” Gerald said, wiping his eyes, “that’s all I came to say. Don’t change nothing, but…I was a fool.” He fumbled his phone, unlocked it, and gave it to the android to scan. It did and texted the receipt. Gerald put his phone away. “I’d better go. Tell everyone I’m sorry. In more ways than one.” He slid off the barstool and nearly stumbled.

“I’ll walk out with you,” Tom said, taking his father’s arm again.

Outside, he called a taxi, and Gerald got into it. Just as he did, he heard Tom call to him. He looked through the window at his son, just heard him say thank you. Then the taxi drove off. Tom looked up to see James and Michael coming. James carrying Azul. Behind them was a woman with shining white hair. Tom assumed it was Patti. She came up and introduced herself, apologizing for being late.

“Dad left,” Tom told everyone. “You just missed him.”

“Really? What happened?” Patti asked.

“Well,” Tom said, “We talked.”










December 05, 2020 04:00

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