David’s outing with his daughters to the ‘Virginia Discovery Museum’ had been a huge success. He had joined in with some of the role-playing fun and, though he couldn’t get involved in the Paramount dress-up portion of their day, he had immensely enjoyed watching Deborah and Sarah as they’d dressed up and joined the other children in putting on a brief play.
His favorite part, of course, had been the honeybee exhibit. His daughters had laughed at him, teasingly calling him ‘teacher’, as he tried to point out the reason bees were important, and dragged him off to the nearby Farmer’s Market to obtain several jars of honey.
It had been a wonderful day, and David was in high spirits when he and the girls returned home. They immediately ran to the living room to use the PlayStation 4, which David had bought for them, while he meandered to his garden to check on some of his recent plantings. He leaned over to pull out a few unwelcome weeds, then satisfied, he walked to the house and entered through the side door.
As he walked into the living room dusting off his hands he heard Deborah’s voice: “Daddy, what’s this?” He glanced to his right to see what she was referring to and froze in shocked panic as he saw that she held the copy of The Joy of Gay Sex which he had tossed into a drawer only a few nights earlier.
He leapt to her side and took the book from her hands. “It’s nothing, honey!” he said. “It’s research for work. I shouldn’t have left it there where you could find it.”
She nodded slowly, but David could see that there were questions in her eyes as she rejoined her sister at the PlayStation. Furious with himself for not thinking ahead to his daughter’s visit he carried the book to his bedroom and stowed it on a high shelf in his closet. His heart was pounding and he could hear his own trembling breath. He took a step back, slammed the closet door, and stood staring at it. Perfect! he thought. Store it in the closet where I’m living myself!
The incident opened up a flood of anxiety in his heart. He had never before really considered how any relationship he developed with Nate would affect his daughters. And like the concentric circles from a pebble tossed into a still pond, how the consequences of a serious relationship with Nate would inevitably travel outward to touch everything else in his life.
It couldn’t be kept secret. That simply wasn’t possible. Furthermore, there was a present and ever-growing part of him that didn’t want it to be kept secret.
Yet, the idea of trying to explain a gay relationship to his two young daughters filled him with dread. Fear threatened to overwhelm him. Fears related to his career, to his family, to his friends, not to mention the greatest fear of all, that he would be spectacularly bad at being gay!
He returned to the living room and sat on the couch watching his daughters play their game. Deborah seemed to be enjoying herself, but to David’s gaze she also seemed a bit subdued compared to how she had been acting earlier in the day. He prayed that her mood change had nothing to do with finding the book. She was thirteen, he reasoned, and mood changes were common at that age.
The remainder of their visit passed without incident, and David took them both back to their mother’s house later in the afternoon feeling a budding sense of relief. Evidently Deborah hadn’t really understood what the book was about and hadn’t been upset by it. She’d seemed fine when he dropped her off.
He tried to put his anxiety behind him. He was scheduled to have a Skype session with Nate that evening and thinking of it now caused his spirits to rise. They hadn’t talked in over a week other than short text messages, and David was looking forward to seeing that beautiful face before his eyes again.
God, it’ll be good to see him, he thought as he tossed a salad for his dinner. It’s been way too long. He felt a moment of happy anticipation touch his heart, but his pleasant daydream was interrupted by the phone. He moved to answer it, licking salad dressing off his fingers.
“David, it’s Rachel,” the hard voice of his ex-wife assaulted his ears.
“We need to talk,” she said firmly. “Deborah told me about the book she found in your living room. She’s very upset by it and frankly so am I! How could you expose our daughters to that kind of sexually explicit material?”
David stood in stunned silence for a long moment, a million negative scenarios running through his mind. His ex-wife was a lawyer. She was also very good at what she did. Could she leverage this incident into a reason to deny him visitation? Would she do that?
He forced his voice into calmness. “Rachel, I told her it was simply something I had here for work purposes. Research. I was wrong to have it where the girls might see it and I apologize for that. But that’s it. There’s no reason for anyone to be upset.”
“David, I don’t think there is any way you could convince me that a history professor who focuses on the Revolutionary War would need to research gay sex!”
David felt a sense of dismay wash over him, and his mind leapt to the worst possible conclusion, that this could be the opening salvo of an ongoing and very destructive war. A war involving his two daughters to a degree that he had never anticipated. He forced himself to react with calmness, though his heart was racing.
“Rachel, I’m not going into a long-winded explanation of this incident. I told you it was nothing and it was nothing. That’s it.”
“I’m very sorry, David, but that’s not it! I have to go get the girls ready for bed but we are going to talk further about this. And until we get it cleared up I don’t think you should see them.”
“You can’t stop me from seeing my daughters!” David blurted. “Not over something this trivial!”
“You forget whom you’re talking to,” she replied coldly. “I’m a lawyer and a damned good one. If I were you, I wouldn’t be quite so sure of what I can and can’t do.”
David heard the phone slam into the receiver, and he stood in silent shock holding his phone in his hand. Oh God! he thought in blind panic. Can she really do that? Can she keep me from the girls?
He raced to his computer and began to frantically research legal grounds for denying visitation in his state. He felt somewhat reassured by what he found, though he was still upset. Rachel might be a good lawyer, but she couldn’t change Virginia law, and according to Virginia law simply finding a book about gay sex was not adequate grounds to deny visitation.
And yet, finding the book might be enough, especially for someone with Rachel’s skill and good connections, to require some kind of hearing. He would win any legal battle, of this he was sure. But the very idea of a public hearing about this issue tormented him. He was already devastated by the fact that his daughter was upset by the incident. Jesus! he browbeat himself. How could I have been so stupid!
He dropped his head into his hands and leaned over his computer keyboard fighting off a wave of despair but was jolted from his mood by an incoming text message.
“Hi”, the message read. “Aren’t we meeting up tonight? It’s past our time and I’m a little worried because you didn’t show up. xxxooo”
“Oh God,” David moaned. He couldn’t face Nate. What could he say to him? How could he explain his distress? Nate would undoubtedly advise him to simply tell his daughters about their relationship. He’d been ‘out’ for years and wouldn’t understand why David was so troubled.
He quickly replied to Nate’s text message:
“Hi. I can’t meet you tonight. An issue with my daughters has come up. Maybe another time.”
He realized that his message has been abrupt and a bit cold, and he was suddenly reminded of his father. That’s how he treated me, David remembered suddenly. Always cold and rejecting. The inner revelation only added to his confusion and swift on the heels of this awareness came another text message.
“David, are you OK? You don’t sound like yourself. Please call me. We can talk about this. Maybe I can help.”
David considered calling, then quickly dismissed the idea. He couldn’t. Not tonight. He was convinced that Nate would be angry and scornful that David was this upset by a situation which was, by now, second nature to him. Nate had no children. He’d been openly gay since college. He couldn’t be expected to understand what this revelation might mean to David as a father.
David realized that he was assigning attitudes and motives to Nate whose source was his own fear and insecurity. But he wasn’t thinking rationally. Floundering in a surge of panic, he needed time to think. To calm himself. To talk again to Rachel and try to defuse this situation. To talk to Deborah and try to reassure her.
“Jesus!” David said aloud, his mind whirling. He quickly sent a reply to Nate:
“Can’t talk tonight. Honestly. Maybe another time.”
He hit ‘send’ and quickly turned his phone off. I can’t deal with anymore tonight, he thought. I’ll contact him tomorrow.
On the other side of the country Nate stared in dismay at David’s last message. Maybe?, he thought in both alarm and annoyance. He’d never known David to be this cold and he couldn’t imagine what had happened to change him. He quickly sent another message asking David to please call him but there was no response, another unusual occurrence. David always replied to his texts, even if he happened to be in his classroom teaching. Never before had he simply ignored any message Nate had sent.
For a long moment Nate sat staring at his Skype screen then shut the program down and slammed the top of his laptop shut with tremendous force. He was suddenly filled with doubt. Was David deceiving him? Had he been playing him for a fool all along? Had he been experimenting with the gay guy as a little midlife adventure?
It was hard for Nate to see David in this light, and through his sorrow he felt a welling surge of disappointment. He had believed in this relationship, new and untried though it was. After the dishonesty of his relationship with Ray he’d hoped that he had found someone he could trust and count on. He felt a rush of anger so intense that it took his breath away.
“Goddamn it!” he said hoarsely. “Why was I so stupid? Why did I let myself get suckered into this? I should have known it was too good to be true!”
He thrust himself away from his computer, stood, and grabbed his coat. I’m going out! he thought, heatedly. I’m tired of looking for love. It’s pointless. It doesn’t exist. From now on I’m only looking for fun!
He left his apartment, slamming the door behind him, and stalked to the parking lot. His rage sustained him all the way to his car then evaporated, leaving him filled with regret and bitter disillusionment. He was angrier at himself at this point than he was with David. He’d been burned in the past by trusting a man who proved himself unworthy of that trust, and at this point he believed he only had himself to blame. He’d only known David for a few days. It was his foolish mistake to think such a brief encounter could turn into anything substantial.
He leaned against his car for a moment, breathing heavily. Then sighed and turned back toward his apartment. “I’m not going to do it,” he affirmed out loud. “I’m not going to let this one experience drive me into doing stupid, self-defeating things. I’m not even done yet with the mandatory HIV testing that Ray forced on me. I’m not going to risk having to go through that again. No one is worth it. No one.”
But even as he re-entered his apartment and forced himself to sit down at his computer to try to finish his homework, there was a part of his mind that rebelled against that thought. He had honestly believed that David was worth it. He’d believed that in this soft-spoken man from Virginia he had finally found someone to whom he could entrust his heart. And as much as tonight’s disappointment tempted him to think otherwise, a small, hopeful part of him still believed that David was worth it. But rather than comforting him, that hope only filled him with angry self-reproach.
“I got taken in by a southern accent and one romantic moment,” he said bitterly, staring at his blank word processing screen. “I need to protect myself. Next time I’ll know better.”
David arose on Sunday morning after a nearly sleepless night. He planned to call a lawyer first thing Monday morning, but he still had to get through today. He was determined to speak with Rachel and attempt to negotiate some kind of agreement with her. After a night’s sleep perhaps she would be more willing to accept his explanation and allow them to avoid the unpleasant prospect of legal action.
She was a strong woman of rigidly held beliefs, but during the years of their marriage she had also been reasonable and open to compromise. He didn’t know what had caused her recent change of humor and he wondered if there was some problem in her ongoing relationship that was the source of her current unhappiness.
All he knew was that he had to make her listen to reason. She knew him well enough to know that he was a fiercely protective father. She had, in fact, occasionally accused him of being overprotective of both the girls and herself, chiding him that he had to let them experience life without the umbrella that his constant shielding provided. He couldn’t believe that she could now see him as someone who would or could purposefully expose his daughters to anything inappropriate.
He forced himself to eat a light breakfast, then carried his coffee cup into his office. He sat at his desk for several minutes, sipping his coffee, striving to compose himself before picking up the phone. Talking to Rachel while he was still upset would accomplish nothing. He knew how stubborn she could become when facing an adversarial attitude, and he was determined not to unwittingly provoke her into an argument.
Finally he drew in a deep breath and lifted the phone. She answered on the first ring.
“Rachel? It’s David. Can we please talk for a moment about what happened yesterday?”
For a moment there was silence. “Yes,” she said at last. “We can talk about it. Though I have to tell you, David, that I’m still upset.”
David immediately could sense that her attitude had changed. She sounded more like the old Rachel, firm yet still reasonable. “I understand,” he said quietly. “And I agree with you. I’m upset myself at my own stupidity at leaving that book where Deb could find it. You have to know it was a mistake. I would never expose our daughters to anything harmful, Rach. You know me well enough to know that.”
“Well,” she commented in a low voice. “That’s what I’ve always believed, David. But yesterday…”
“Yesterday I made a mistake,” he interrupted. “Truthfully, Rachel, the book was so unimportant that I simply forgot where I had shoved it. I was trying to answer a student’s question, and the book was merely research. It’s not an area where I have much expertise,” he added dryly thinking: Well, THAT’S certainly true enough!
Yet, at the same time he was intensely aware that he was lying to his ex-wife and the realization filled him with regret. This was not how he wanted to live. This was not the kind of man he was.
“David, I believe you,” she replied. “I was upset yesterday about other things. I may have overreacted.”
“Rachel,” he said, hiding his surge of relief. “Is something troubling you? You seem…I don’t know…changed lately.”
“Nothing you can help with, David,” she replied stiffly. “I’ll have a talk with Deborah and reassure her about the book.”
“I’d like to talk to her as well,” David interrupted smoothly. “I think it’s important, Rach.”
“Alright,” she agreed. “I’ll have her call you later today.”
They said good-bye and David hung up. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, drawing in a deep liberating breath. “Thank God!” he said aloud, thinking that his last conversation with Rachel had been more reflective of the woman he’d always known. He wondered again what might be troubling her, then sighed and tried to dismiss it.
I’ve got all I can do to handle my own issues right now, he thought, rising and moving toward the living room. I can’t take on hers as well.
And yet the realization that he had lied to Rachel about the book ate at him. He was not a dishonest man. He’d prided himself on being a man who always told the truth, and to the best of his knowledge he had never before deliberately lied to his ex-wife.
He went outside carrying his second cup of coffee and walked quickly to the side of his house where he had left his small gardening cart. Then, holding his coffee in one hand, he pushed it to where he had recently planted and knelt on the ground. He tried to focus on the new seedlings, adding nutrients to their soil and removing any stray weeds that had grown, but his mind wandered.
He pondered how much his life had changed since meeting the young associate producer only weeks before…how much he had changed. He knew that his attraction to Nate was absolutely sincere, and he sensed that any relationship happiness he hoped to have in his life would lie in this direction.
His years of marriage to Rachel had been good ones, and he was grateful for them, and particularly for his children. But he also realized that his feelings toward the sexual side of their marriage had always been lukewarm at best. He had performed adequately, he assumed. At least Rachel had never complained. But their union had never given him the sense of completion that had so powerfully filled him when he shared that one unforgettable moment with Nate.
Thinking of his friend drew his mind back to the night before, and the hardhearted text messages he had sent to Nate. Frowning, he stood and walked back into the house, leaving most of his seedlings untended.
He grabbed his phone and quickly sent Nate a short message:
“I’m sorry about last night. Hope you’re not upset with me.”
After a moment the response came:
And that was it. David stared at the screen then sighed and snapped the cell phone shut. He’s backing away, he thought unhappily. He’s tired of my constant uncertainty and who could blame him? His mind turned to the airline tickets that lay in his desk… tickets that would put him on a round-trip flight to Los Angeles in five short days. He wondered if he should cancel the trip, then dismissed the idea.
I’m going, he thought determinedly. I won’t force him. I won’t push him. If he doesn’t want to be with me, I’ll try to accept it. But I’m not giving up yet.
Yes, this relationship promised to bring unparalleled changes to his life. But in spite of his doubt, in spite of his inability to even begin to think how he would incorporate Nate into his day-to day-life, he knew that he could not turn his back now on this singular chance for happiness.
He went back outside and returned to his seedlings. As always, working in his garden gave him a since of serenity that nothing else could provide. He lost himself in the scent of the soil beneath his fingers and the thought of the flowers that would come into bud through his efforts. He saw himself, at this critical point in his life, as being very much akin to his small seedlings. Something was starting to blossom within himself. He had no idea what kind of flower might emerge from this process. He hoped it was a beautiful one. But no matter what kind of bud was growing at the center of his being, David was determined to nourish it.
While David nursed his seedlings and pondered his future, in Los Angeles Nate was cursing the traffic as he tried to weave his way toward the Paramount lot and his latest crisis. He’d received a frantic phone call from Lance earlier that morning telling him that the director of the documentary in which David was involved had just gotten into a fistfight with his cinematographer. Lance had no idea what the fight was about, and furthermore he didn’t really care. He’d just gotten out of bed himself and was in no mood to settle a back-lot brawl among petulant members of his production staff. “Fix it!” he had growled at Nate, and slammed the phone down.
“Just fucking great!” Nate blurted between clenched teeth as he rapidly changed lanes. Between the constant catfights among people who were supposed to be creative professionals and his concern over what he saw as his deteriorating relationship with David, he was in a foul humor. He only hoped he didn’t get into a fistfight himself trying to negotiating a peace. He was not in a conciliatory mood, and today was not the day to mess with him.
He’d read David’s text message shortly after receiving Lance’s phone call. He knew his response had bordered on surly and he regretted it. But he also wondered if this wasn’t the best course of action where David was concerned. Did he really want to nursemaid a reluctant and newly-minted homosexual through the trials and tribulations of fully entering the gay life?
He wondered if such a thing was even possible. I’m tired of negotiating with people who don’t want to be reasonable. He didn’t want to have to ‘convince’ David that being gay was OK. He didn’t want to have to convince anyone that he was worth loving.
His affair with Ray had soured him on ever again becoming involved with someone who wasn’t completely and totally committed to him on every possible level. He sensed David’s need for him. He sensed his desire. But he also sensed that there were roiling emotional waters within this man that could erupt with volcanic force.
He wanted David. He even felt sure that he loved him, at least as sure as he could be after knowing him for such a short time. But his bottom line remained the same. If David couldn’t see for himself that their relationship was worth fighting for, if he didn’t think Nate was worth taking that final, vital step, then Nate couldn’t see that they had much of a future.
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