Chapter Thirteen – Understanding Dad

The next few days passed in a haze of happiness. David and Nate walked the trails scattered throughout the area, discovering many new and wondrous vistas. Nate was fearless about clambering up onto heights that frightened David half to death, but he screwed up his courage and followed Nate doggedly. They discovered a waterfall that David had never seen before and they shared an unforgettable moment as they stood at the top, hand in hand, staring at the sparkling waters as tumbled to the valley floor below.

At night they lay entwined in David’s bed, the bliss of their lovemaking leaving both of them exhausted and utterly satisfied.  David would often lie beside his lover watching him sleep, stroking his hair or softly tracing the veins of his arm, scarcely able to believe that this creature, so lovely and so good of heart, was his to love and cherish. He felt he had stepped into a waking dream, and one from which he never wanted to awaken.

But their time in the Virginia mountains was drawing to a close. Nate could have stayed longer, but he felt he had to return to Los Angeles. He couldn’t leave Lance to finalize the projects they had begun together, including the one to which David was attached, all by himself. “You want your big, fat paycheck, don’t you?” Nate teased, then laughed when David rolled his eyes.

“I’d rather be here with you than have the fattest check Hollywood could cut me,” he replied. But David understood Nate’s reasoning and admired his loyalty to the friend whose urging had sent him here in the first place. “I’m grateful to Lance,” he told Nate as they sat drinking their morning coffee. “And I hope I get the chance to tell him so.”

David had not yet told him about the contents of the journal which he had discovered just the day before Nate arrived. He wasn’t sure how to bring it up and, in fact, felt a deep reluctance to revisit the memoir, a reluctance he pondered constantly. It’s the first time I’ve ever known dad to speak lovingly of me, he thought, puzzled by his own reaction. Why don’t I want to look further? What am I afraid of?

He resented his preoccupation with the journal, feeling that it sapped strength and energy which he would have preferred to give to his blossoming relationship with Nate. He felt flashes of irritation when the thought of his father’s journal came to mind, irritation which he knew instinctively that Dr. Mallory found revealing and worthy of exploration. But at the moment, David didn’t want to explore anything except the beautiful country around him and Nate’s fair, pristine body. He forced his mind away from thoughts of the book that lay on the desk behind the closed door of his father’s office, but every day that he did so, the thought nagged at him that he needed to shake off this reluctance and discover the truths hidden on its pages.

On their last day at the cabin they sat in the living room, Nate’s head resting comfortably on David’s shoulder, talking quietly about the past few days and what their time together had meant to both of them. David rose at one point to refill their wineglasses and when he returned, Nate was standing before the closed door that led to his father’s office. “What’s in there?” he asked casually, accepting the wineglass from David’s hand.

David sighed audibly, and Nate glanced quickly at his face. “That’s my father’s office,” David answered heavily.

“Don’t you mean your office?” Nate asked, moving closer, watching David’s face with careful scrutiny. “This is your cabin now, not his,” he added gently.

David smiled grimly, but his eyes never left the still-closed door. “It’s always seems like his place. Never occurred to me before that it might be mine.” He turned to Nate and bent to kiss his cheek. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He took Nate’s arm and drew him back to the couch.

They sat close together drinking their wine while David revealed to Nate some of the experiences he had gone through as a child. He spoke of his father’s coldness and criticism. He spoke of the sense of inadequacy he had always felt as a result. Nate listened without comment, only reaching now and then to stroke David’s hair or clasp his hand. Then finally David drew in a deep breath and told Nate about the journal and the singular passage that had shocked him to the core of his soul.

“I know I should read more,” he said, in a trembling voice. “But somehow I just can’t. I don’t know what I’m afraid of, Nate. I can’t get that fucking book out of my mind, but at the same time I also can’t make myself pick it up again and read it!”

Nate grasped David’s arms gently and shook his head. “No, Davy. No. There’s no should connected with this. There’s nothing you should do, now or ever. This is your cabin. That’s your office. And that journal isn’t your father’s anymore. It’s yours. It’s part of your heritage. It’s an explanation. It’s a clarification of many things that have troubled your life. But it’s also a book that you don’t ever have to read if you don’t want to. You can burn it. You can ignore it. You can tear out every page and bury them in the ground. Nothing you do with that book will be wrong!

David enfolded him in his arms, pressing his damp face to Nate’s neck, incapable of speech. He’d never before experienced such complete acceptance. Here in Nate’s arms David felt for the first time in his life that he had nothing to prove. Nothing to live up to. Nothing to compensate for. He was complete. And he was enough.

He knew he still had a long way to go, but at his deepest core he also realized instinctively that he had moved to a place of inner safety and would no longer be dominated by fears whose source lie buried deep in his past. Nate was his guide out of the darkness that had threatened to envelop him. Nate was his light into the future. He lifted his head and stared into his lover’s brilliant blue eyes. “Will you read it with me?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

Nate nodded, and together they entered David’s office and retrieved the leather-bound journal that lay waiting on the desk. They took it back to the living room and sat together on the couch, exploring its many pages as the afternoon shadows lengthened.

They discovered that Josiah Gardener had been a complex man with a deep and intense emotional core. But his own horribly abusive childhood had driven that tender and vulnerable man into a shell of fear and bitterness from which he had never been able to escape. His father, David’s grandfather, had been a violent alcoholic. In his journal, Josiah recounted many, many instances of both physical and emotional abuse heaped upon himself and his mother.

Emotion, tenderness, the expression of loving acceptance; these qualities had been internalized completely and covered over with a hard and protective shell. They discovered that the love he had for his wife and children was deep and abiding, but totally unexpressed.

David’s father wrote:

“Today I was made Superintendent of Schools for Charleston.  I should feel a sense of pride and achievement, but instead I am numb and dead inside. Would my father, cold and brutal man that he was, have finally expressed any pride in his son had he lived to see this accomplishment? I know the answer without asking the question. I’ve always known it. I could have scaled the highest mountain or achieved any level of success imaginable and he would have remained stony and unmoved. And yet who am I to criticize him? I give no more to my own son, who is infinitely more deserving of expressions of love and pride than I am myself. How I hate the man who made me what I have become! And how I hate myself for not being able to crack the mold he created and be free of him.”

David read this last and turned to Nate, his face white and his voice shaking with emotion. “My god, Nate, I could have written that passage myself! It’s exactly how I’ve felt about him for all these years!”

They turned to the last few pages in the book and read the final entry, written shortly before David’s father had passed away.

“I will die with even the smallest bit of tenderness within me still unexpressed, even to those dearest to me. I will die without them ever knowing how much I loved them. How much I longed to enfold them in my arms and beg for their understanding and forgiveness. But how can I ask them to understand what I do not understand myself? I cannot. And so I face the final days of my life alone, knowing with the deepest regret and pain that no one, no one, ever really knew the man that I am inside. The real man. I go to my grave without friend or family who can speak about who I really was. What a lonely and bitter end!”

“Jesus,” Nate whispered, his voice trembling with sadness. “Jesus, David.” He turned to his friend and saw that David was trembling all over, his face buried his hands. With a quiet moan he collapsed into Nate’s arms, crumbling into his lap, sobbing as though his heart would break.

Nate held David close and rocked him while he wept. Nate didn’t speak or try to console him. He knew this purging was necessary. David needed to grieve for the father he had never really known and for all the wasted years when they could have truly been father and son. Years that were gone now, never to be reclaimed.

Finally, David lifted his head. It had been years since he’d allowed himself to cry, to really experience the sadness and pain of that little boy who desperately sought his father’s love and approval. Now, he felt as though he would never stop crying.  His face was pressed to Nate’s damp shoulder and still he shuddered with sobs. But within himself he felt a sense of release and freedom breaking through the darkness. He felt one other thing as well, and his arms tightened around Nate, drawing him even closer, overwhelmed by intense gratitude to this beautiful man whose unconditional love and acceptance had helped lift out of despair at this critical moment in his life. With Nate’s help he had faced that dark place within him and had emerged into healing and light.

Finally David rose and stumbled to the bathroom, Nate close behind him, and splashed cold water over his face. When he turned back to Nate his face was deathly pale. “Listen, babe,” he quavered. “I’m gonna go for a short walk by myself. OK?”

“Dave… Davy,” Nate said, worry creasing his beautiful features. “Are you sure?”

David nodded and clasped his shoulder for a brief moment. “I’ll be OK. I won’t be long. Just need…a little time.”

Nate reluctantly nodded and watched as the man he loved walked out of the cabin and down the sandy path.  He tried to relax, tried to read, tried everything he could think of, but all he could manage to do was pace restlessly until, forty-five minutes later as evening was approaching, he saw David walking slowly toward the cabin. He instantly ran to meet him.

“Are you OK?”

David nodded and slid his arm around Nate’s slender shoulders. “I think so. It’s like…Jesus, Nate, it’s like…”

“A death,” Nate said understandingly.

“Yes! That’s it exactly.”

Nate nodded as they walked up the porch steps. “Because that’s what it was.” He turned to face David, both hands on his shoulders. “God, Davy, I’m so sorry.”

David quickly pulled Nate into his arms and held him close. They stood for a long time savoring each other’s embrace, taking healing from their closeness.

“He loved you so much, David,” Nate whispered at last. “He just didn’t know how to show it.”

“I know,” David whispered hoarsely. “I know.”

“Davy…baby, I’m so glad we read his journal.”

“I could never have done this without you,” David replied, his voice trembling again. “God, Nate. What am I going to do when you leave?”

They looked into each other’s eyes, then turned and walked into the cabin. This was the one subject they had yet to discuss, and they both knew the time had come when they had to face it. Nate was leaving the day after tomorrow. Their tentative plans were to return to David’s house the following morning, drop off Nate’s rental along the way, and then David would take Nate to the airport the following day.

David could scarcely bear to think about it. The past few days had been the happiest of his life, and the thought that Nate would soon be three thousand miles away and that they would once again be left with Skype sessions and emails was almost unsupportable. He tried not to overstate his sadness, but the look in his eyes spoke more eloquently than words about the depth of his sorrow.

After seating himself on the couch Nate turned and touched his cheek. “David, you know I don’t want to go.”

David nodded, chewing his lower lip, but didn’t speak.

“You’ve got the rest of the summer,” Nate said, trying to find a positive note. “You could come to LA for part of it anyway, couldn’t you?”

“Of course I will,” David told him. “You know I will. But Nate, that’s still only a temporary solution.”

“I know that, but what…”

“Listen to me for a second,” David said, interrupting him. “I have an idea.” He glanced at Nate’s face, and then drew in a deep breath. “Take a job at the university,” he said quickly. “You said you want to teach, well, I can help you get a position there. I have influence and I know they need associate professors.”

Nate stared at him open-mouthed. “Do you think…” he began. “I mean, do you honestly think there’s an available position?”

“I know there is,” David stated flatly. “They always want associates.” He grinned suddenly. “And part of the reason they always want them is that they don’t pay much, and you get a crapload of work dumped on you, at least at first. But Nate,” he added excitedly. “You wouldn’t need much money because you can live with me.”

Nate leaned back and looked at him. His face was furrowed with indecision, and he felt sudden doubts flame in his heart. “Look, Davy,” he said slowly. “That’s a big step, inviting someone to live with you.”

David’s eyes dropped. “I thought,” he said haltingly. “I thought maybe you’d want to…” his voice trailed off.

“Of course I want to!” Nate said, reaching to grab his arm. “But have you thought of what this means? Telling Rachel and the girls? Telling your friends? The people you work with? It’s a huge change in your life.”

David looked at him for a moment then burst into laughter, his body shaking all over with mirth as a slow smile also spread across Nate’s face. “What the hell’s so funny?” Nate asked at last.

“Have I thought about it?” David queried, shaking his head, still laughing softly. “Jesus, Nate, for the past three months that’s all I’ve thought about! Hell, since the day I met you that’s the only thing I’ve thought about.” He studied Nate for a moment, then smiled, his face glowing with love. He took Nate’s hand in his. “I want you in my life,” he said, his voice soft, but filled with resolve. “And I’m fully prepared to face any changes that having you in my life might bring. The only change I can’t bear to face is not having you with me.”

Nate tried to speak past the ache that tightened his throat, but couldn’t. He tightened his hold on David’s hand and nodded. “A crapload of work, huh,” he croaked out at last.

David grinned happily and nodded. “A shit ton of it,” he said with mock seriousness.

“Well,” Nate said with a resigned shrug. “Sounds like every associate job I’ve ever had, so I know damn well I can do it.”

David burst once again into laughter, but this time it was the laughter of pure joy. He clasped Nate tight in his arms, covering his face and throat with kisses.

“Nate, Nate… Jesus, Nate,” he murmured over and over again. “I can’t believe it, baby! I can’t believe it.”

“Well, believe it,” Nate informed him. He bit gently on his own lower lip and with frowning concentration began to unbutton David’s shirt.

“How dare you, sir,” David protested, giggling, while at the same time making no attempt to stop Nate’s nimble fingers.

“I DO dare,” Nate said, unbuttoning the second-to-the-last button.

“How double-dog dare you, sir!”

“Pfffffffft!” Nate scoffed, grabbing at the final button.

“How TRIPLE-DOG DARE you, sir!” threatened David at last.

“Too late!” Nate said, tugging the shirt over David’s head.

“You are a very forward young man,” David observed, reaching to grab the hem of Nate’s T-shirt.

Nate raised his arms slightly so David could pull the shirt up and off then drew their chests together with a soft moan. “And just where would I be if I wasn’t?” he murmured, his arms going back around David’s neck.

“Shut up,” David whispered. He kissed Nate again and again, nibbling his lower lip, caressing it with his tongue, while his fingers reached between them to tug first at Nate’s zipper, then at his own. “We have too damn many clothes on,” he muttered against Nate’s mouth, trying without much success to push their jeans down and away from the hardness that throbbed beneath.

“I think we’ve taken this couch thing as far as it’ll go, ” Nate told him, wriggling away so he could stand, nearly tripping over his jeans as they fell to his knees. “C’mon, Teach. Let’s go to bed.”

David stood and dragged Nate into his arms for a long lingering kiss. The sensation of their nearly-naked bodies pressed close wrenched a cry from his throat and he crushed Nate against him.

“Bedroom, David. Right now!”

David’s arm stayed around Nate’s waist as they stumbled to the bedroom, only stopping once or twice to press their lips together in passionate kisses, and remove the last of their clothing before they tumbled onto the bed.

“Oh God, yes,” David moaned as he covered Nate’s slender body with his own. “Jesus, you are so beautiful!”

Nate was already reaching to the bedside table for a small tube of lube and a condom which he quickly shoved into David’s hand. “Less talk,” he demanded, pushing David gently back so that he could roll onto his stomach. “More action.”

After a moment he gasped as David’s lips began a slow, languorous slide down his spine complete with plenty of warm breath flowing over his skin, firing off pleasurable nerve endings he didn’t even know he had. “Mmmm, Dave,” he moaned softly, lost in rapture. “Dave, Davy…  so good!”

“Turn over,” David murmured, nudging at his hip. “I want to see you. I want to see your eyes.”

Nate turned to his back, then gasped again as David’s caresses swept over his body. After days of lovemaking, David knew just what to do to turn Nate into a trembling, pleading mass of sensation. He knew Nate’s body better than he knew his own. It was his treasure and he had mapped every erogenous zone. For David there was no greater ecstasy than taking all the time he wanted to revisit each of them one by one. He took a long time touching and caressing, nearly wallowing in the pleasure, loving the trembling of Nate’s body, loving the sight of him as his desire grew.

Finally, slowly at first, he made Nate ready for their lovemaking. His skillful, lube-slicked fingers entered his lover’s body and moved in and out in a blood-slow rhythm that was matched by the rhythmic rise and fall of Nate’s hips and the labored tempo of his breathing. “Please, Davy,” he whimpered at last, hands white-knuckled from clutching the sheets on either side of him. “Enough teasing!”

David gave a choked cry and leaned over Nate’s body pressing his hardness to the small, puckered opening. “Slow, baby,” he whispered hoarsely. Moving bit by bit he eased himself into Nate’s body, biting his lip against the surge of desire that ripped through him like wildfire. “Christ, Nate!” he moaned, as they slowly became one together, melting into Nate’s body, losing himself completely in the bliss of their joining. And then he began to move.

Nate gasped. “Harder, Dave!” he cried, clutching at David’s shoulders. “Oh, God yes!”

And as much as David feared causing him any discomfort he found it impossible to resist his lover’s voice coupled with the overpowering urge to plunge into him again and again, losing himself in pleasure as Nate arched his hips wildly to accept David’s thrusts.

David grasped Nate’s lube-slick cock in his right hand and stroked it in a short, lightning-fast motion that had Nate crying out again and again. In seconds they were both thrusting, arching, writhing… all control lost as they claimed each other’s bodies…feeling the pleasure building–growing–taking them to the very edge of sanity until finally Nate gave a wild cry and his body clenched as he came into David’s fist. Seconds later David joined him in ecstasy, convulsing against him in jolt after jolt of white-hot pleasure then collapsing on top of him, feeling utterly spent.

For long minutes neither of them moved. They lay listening to their harsh uneven breathing, trembling all over from the force of their climax and the frantic pace of their lovemaking.

Finally David levered himself up onto his arms and slowly fell to his side, moaning as he slipped from Nate’s body.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Nate gasped between frantic breaths, turning to flop onto to his back.

David heard himself laughing softly and he turned to lean over Nate on one elbow. “My God, is it possible I’m getting better at this?”

“Who would’da thought it?” Nate asked, grinning. “Guess that book came in handy after all!”

David chuckled, then bent and kissed Nate’s swollen lips with exquisite tenderness. “Thank you,” he whispered.” Thank you for this and for everything that came before.”

“You mean came before we did?” Nate asked, giggling.

“I mean it,” David said, in a voice thick with tears. “You healed me.”

“No,” Nate whispered, caressing his cheek, thinking as he did that this face had become the most precious, beloved thing in his life. “You healed yourself, baby. I was only there as a witness. It took an amazing amount of courage to open that journal and read. You found that courage within yourself. I didn’t put it there.”

David shook his head doubtfully, convinced within himself that it was the love of this good and gentle man that had helped him find the courage he so desperately needed at this turning point in his life. He would never believe anything else. He bent again and kissed Nate softly. “Shower, babes?” Nate nodded and they both rose.

They spent the rest of that evening preparing to close the cabin and packing for their trip the next morning. For David this task, which had so filled him with dread the day before, had become a joyful experience, filled with trembling expectation.

“I hope we come back here soon,” Nate said, helping David to shutter the windows. “I’m going to miss this place.”

“We’ll be back,” David assured him. “We’ll be coming back here for the rest of our lives.”  Nate turned to look at him. “I know!” David said, laughing. “An incredible thought isn’t it?”

Nate scoffed. “Incredible doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Their plans for the next day hadn’t changed. They would drop off Nate’s rental car and David would take him to the airport the following day. But afterward, Nate would tell Lance that he was leaving and begin the process of packing for his move to Virginia. David would fly out at the end of the summer to join him, and together they would drive back to Charlottesville in Nate’s car.

In the meantime, David would tell his daughters and Rachel of their decision. Gaining Nate a position at the university might also mean having to quietly inform the dean and perhaps other key faculty members. He anticipated no problems, but even if there were, his course was set. Nothing would change his mind now. Nothing.

This chance at happiness had come to him out of the darkest period in his life and he would never take back the future they had planned here in his cabin.

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