As we crested the hill into the yard, we ran into Ken and Mary. They were holding hands and smiling. "We were just going to find you," Ken said. "We're gonna start the food, and it looks like we might get a thunderstorm."
They both looked at my mother, then me, with questioning expressions.
I smiled back at them. "Everything's fine. Mary, this is my Mom. Mom, this is Mary Winslow. She's a friend of mine, and I'm kinda trying' to help her out with a little problem."
Ken looked at Mary, and Mary gave me a look that suggested my days might be numbered. Then she laughed and held her hand out to my mother. "David has told me a lot about you, and I'm glad we finally get to meet. You've raised a fine young man here, and you must be very proud of yourself. I can't wait to get to know you personally."
My mother was beaming, and Mary grinned back at her. "I just asked David to tell me who helped him through all this, and I can see you were part of it. Thank you, Mary. I didn't know what to expect tonight, but seeing my son looking so healthy and happy, and with ambitions and goals . . . well . . . thank you. Thank you, too, Ken. When my husband died and you stepped in to help David, I didn't know what to say. I still don't. You were like an angel sent from Heaven, and that's how I'll always think of you."
Ken looked a little embarrassed. "Hey, I didn't do anything. Thank Timmy Atkins. He's the reason you still have a son, and the main reason you have a happy son."
I looked in the driveway and didn't see Tim's car. "Is Tim here? Is he coming tonight? Ken's right, Ma. Tim risked his life for me and saved me in ways you can't imagine."
Ken said, "I haven't seen him yet. He's probably still at work. Don't worry, kid, we'll wait for him. There wouldn't even be a celebration if it wasn't for Tim."
"Remember me?" It was Richie, who'd run up and was standing in front of my mother, holding his hand out. My mother took it.
"Should I?" She was looking at his face. "Richard? Is that you? Oh my, haven't you grown?" She pulled him into a hug. "Is your mother here? I haven't spoken with her in ages."
"She's not coming, but Bud's here. You should call my Mom sometime. She always wonders about you. How long's Dave grounded for?"
"I haven't decided yet. I think I'll work backwards from five hundred years."
I groaned. "Mom, I've been punished enough. I punished myself. I did a real good job of it, too, so you don't have to worry about it any more. Didn't I, Ken? Mary? Help me out here, guys. I'm too old to be grounded."
Ken came to my defense. "Dave's right. He's already been grounded for a long time. He needs to be set free. Free to do the dishes. Free to take out the trash. Free to wash the car. You know ... like an emancipation. Come on. We have to move the furniture around in case it storms."
We all walked to the house and helped move the lawn furniture closer to the patio, in case it stormed and we had to make a hasty retreat inside. Jimbo and Sherry were there, and the first chance I got I pulled Jim aside and thanked him for having faith in me all that time.
He was modest about it, but I could tell that he was pleased I'd said something. "Barry told me you and Tim finally got something going. I'm glad for both of ya, but ya gotta promise me you'll be careful. The world's not too pretty sometimes."
He held me by the shoulders and looked at me, an odd smile on his face.
I said, "I'm learnin' that. We'll be careful. We already talked about it, but we gotta start doin' it. We really need to be careful tonight. My Mom's here and she doesn't know yet."
"How do you think she'll take it when she finds out?" Jim asked.
"I don't have a clue. It's somethin' that just never came up at our house. Do you think she'll find out if I don't tell her?"
Jim thought for a moment, "I don't know, but you should probably tell her anyhow. I'll try to talk to her, just feel her out on some gay issue. Maybe we can get her to say some things that'll give you a hint. Isn't Timmy coming?"
"He works 'til seven. He said he'd come over after work. I haven't even seen all of who's here now. I need to introduce Ma to some people. I'll talk to ya later, Jim."
With that I turned and looked for my mother. She was sitting with Don and Barry and they were all laughing, so I figured I had a few minutes to see who else was there that she needed to meet. Rafe, Brian and Adam were talking to Ken, who was telling them he hadn't planned on them for lobsters, but they were welcome to stay and have cheeseburgers or something. I spotted Doc Forrester and went over to him.
He grinned at me. "Hello, David. You look great! I was really afraid of what last weekend might do to you, but you held up very well. How do you feel?"
"I feel fantastic. Thanks, Doc ... for everything. I want you to meet my Mom."
He smiled brightly, "I've met your mother several times, though not recently. I take it things went well between you and her?"
"Pretty good - better than I expected, anyhow. At least she doesn't hate me. She doesn't even seem mad. You gonna say hi to her? She wants to thank the people that helped."
We walked over to where my mother was. Don was still telling jokes, and it took a minute before they noticed us standing there. I broke in when I got a chance. "Mom. You remember Doctor Forrester, don't you? He kept me alive after Tim rescued me."
She stood up and looked at Doc, then at me for a second, then back at Doc. "How bad was this? David looks so well that it's hard to believe something awful happened. Thank you, Doctor. Thank you so much."
"Aw, it wasn't anything a little glue and a few screws couldn't fix. You raised a good, strong boy, Mrs. Devino. The little I did isn't worth mentioning."
My mother smiled, "I suspect it was more than that, but thank you for helping. I'm so happy to have my son back. Is there anything I need to know? Does David still need any special care?"
Doc grinned, "My prescription is twice daily doses of TLC and laughter. Feel free to increase that if the need arises."
My mother smiled at Doc. "That seems easy enough. Who's this, now?"
She was looking behind me and I turned to see Timmy. He was wearing another white dress shirt, but no tie this time. He looked great, and I wanted to devour him. "Ma, you remember Tim, don't you? Tim Atkins? He used to come over all the time."
"Ohmigod! Timmy? You're such ... such a man now. Come, give me a hug." Tim went up to her and she tried to squeeze him to death. "Ooh. You turned out so handsome and tall. David says you saved his life, and I want to hear all about it. Thank you, thank you, Tim. You and David used to play so well together, and now look at you."
I thought Tim would be embarrassed, but he seemed to be eating it up. He was wearing the grin of the year, and hugging my mother back. He tried a John Wayne accent. "Shucks, it warn't nuthin', Ma'am. Ole Davy here had himself a little fall into some deep water and I yanked him out 'fore he drowned. It warn't nuthin' at all."
I cracked up, and so did Barry, Don and the Doc. What Tim had said was meant to amuse, but it was so, so true at the same time. It was the perfect thing for my mother to hear. True enough, but no drama or details. It was going to be a great night.
"Ma! Let Timmy go so he can breathe!"
There was thunder in the distance and everyone turned to the west. The sky was still blue, but the clouds in that direction seemed to be miles high. Ken yelled, "Get everything inside. It's gonna storm!".
There was a flurry of activity. Don and Barry hooked a tarp to the edge of the house and strung it out to the patio railing. Everyone else was pulling lawn chairs and small tables into the house. The lobster cooker got moved under the tarp. The sky darkened, then turned a really ugly greenish-yellow/black in the west. The breeze strengthened and turned into a steady wind, bringing leaves and twigs flying across the lawn. There were a few flashes of lightning followed by increasingly loud claps of thunder. Then the rain started, just a few drops at first. Before long it was a tremendous, wind-driven downpour. The lightning intensified and the thunder grew louder. We all crowded into the kitchen and the big room next to it, which was now filled with lawn furniture.
Ken looked out the window. It was as dark as night. "These things don't last very long." Then there was a loud 'click' and the power went out.
I had just gotten next to Tim, and in the dark I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. Tim loved storms, and he pulled me to the back room where there was a view to the west. He wanted to watch the lightning. I wanted a kiss. There was a small sofa against the wall under the window. We knelt on it, side by side, looking out at the storm. I turned and kissed his cheek, but at that very second there was a deafening clap of thunder that made Timmy jump. He hit my chin with his shoulder hard enough to make my teeth hurt when they snapped together.
"Ow! Be careful, man. That hurt. You gotta kiss it and make it better."
Tim looked at me. "Where's it hurt?"
I pouted and pointed to the middle of my lips. Another flash of lightning showed him the way, and in a second his mouth touched mine.
There's something about an electrical storm that excites people and raises tensions in them. There's something about kissing the person you love that's both calming and electrifying at the same time. The storm outside was right overhead. You could actually hear the zz-zz-zzit of the lightning, immediately followed by huge bangs. The static electricity was making my hair move. Tim's lips were making something else move. The loud thunder did nothing to drown out the pounding of my heart. I knew I was treading thin ice here, with my mother in the next room. I could not stop, nor did I want to, nor would I have.
There was another close lightning strike, followed by a bang, followed by a crash, followed by a scream. A woman's scream. Tim and I both jumped up and ran into the other room.
"Something smashed into the kitchen window. Sherry's hurt," Rafe said excitedly.
I could hear Jimbo from the other room. I probably could have heard him from the next town. "Doc? What is it, Doc? She's pregnant! Oh, God! What the hell is it?"
"Calm down, Jim. It's just some cuts. She needs the ER, though. It's gonna take stitches. Somebodies get a car over here! We can't waste any time."
Tim squeezed my hand, then said, "My car's the closest. I'll be right back." With that he ran outside, leaving the door open. In a minute we could see his tail lights backing up to the front door. Doc and Jim were helping Sherry out of the kitchen. Every lightning strike showed that her face was a bloody mess, and that Doc was holding a cloth to her forehead.
"Ken, call the hospital and tell them I'm on my way in with an injured pregnant woman," Doc said. "I'll call you from there."
With that, they helped Sherry to the car. We all followed them outside into the drenching rain. Jim held the door and the front seat as Doc guided Sherry into the back and sat beside her. Then Jim jumped in and closed the door and Tim drove away. A bolt of lightning illuminated Jim's panic stricken face as he leaned over the seat to comfort his wife.
We all stood in the rain for a few more minutes. Both of my hands had other hands in them, and I didn't even know whose they were. I looked, and it was Don on my left and Adam on my right. Everybody was holding hands with the people closest to them. I know I was crying, and I expect that we all were. The rain was washing away our tears. Our hands ... our closeness ... our friendship ... were helping us deal with our fears.
People eventually started to move back indoors. Somebody brought some towels from the bathroom and we all took turns drying our hair and faces. The storm ended as quickly as it had begun, though we heard thunder from off in the east for hours longer. It was already twilight, but there was more light than there had been earlier. People could see each other, and there was some amusement about the state of everyone's hair, and about the amount of water on the floor. I found my mother and hugged her.
"Sorry, Ma. So much for a celebration, huh?"
"We'll celebrate when we hear that Sherry's alright." She was staring at me, and she looked angry. "Are you going to tell me about Timmy, or am I supposed to be left guessing?"
"Huh? What? Whattya mean?"
She glowered at me, and her voice was threatening, "David, lightning is a bit like flashbulbs going off. It brightens things up for the briefest moments, but things are as clear as a bell during those moments. They're terrible moments to try to hide things in. I saw you, David. I saw you kissing that boy. I want you to explain what he's done to you ... what all these people have done to you. You're not like that. You weren't brought up that way."
I looked at the floor, swishing my toe around in the puddle that my dripping clothes had made. I was stuck - caught in the act. I wasn't feeling particularly brave, but it was time for truth and whatever consequences it brought. I looked up at my mother's face. Her expression was stern, her eyes still angry.
"I'm in love, Ma. With Tim. He didn't make me. Nobody did. I just am. I was gonna tell ya, just not tonight. You can't blame Tim or anybody else for what I am. Timmy saved my life, and everybody else here made me see it was worth living. They're my family as much as you and Lisa and Donna are. If you can't understand that, then just tell me now and I'll go away. I don't ever want to hurt you again, but I can't take any more hurt myself. There isn't anything I can do about it. If you won't deal with having a gay son, then I'll go, and you can make believe I never existed. You can have no son at all."
I felt terrible about putting it that way. I loved my mother, but I'd already been away from her for a long time. It would be easier to just stay away than to lose the new things I'd found. Everything had felt so promising earlier, and I ached to be back home.
It was my own fault for climbing all over Tim as soon as the lights went out, but now the cards were on the table. I knew how I'd play mine, no matter what.
"David, you are coming home with me. You're not gay now, and you never will be. I won't allow it. Get your things and let's go."
I sat down on the floor. "You go, Ma. I'm not leaving. I hate to say this, but I'm staying right here and waiting for Timmy."
"DAVID! You get up now or I'm calling the police!"
"Call 'em, Ma! I'll just tell 'em what I've been doing for the last year, and I'll spend the rest of my life in jail."
Everyone was looking at us. "What'll it be, Ma? A queer or a jailbird? A queer teacher or a jailbird? A queer college grad or a jailbird? A happy person or a gang-raped lifer? You decide, Ma! Look at the other people here. They all know what I am, but they know who I am, too. They're good people, Ma. You know it damned well, too. What the hell do you care about who I love and who I don't? I feel like a good person for the first time in my life. I care about people ... all people. I love you, Mom, and I care about you. But if I'm gonna be in a cage, it's gonna be the cage of my own choosin'. You still callin' the cops?"
I heard the phone ring and some noise as someone went to answer it. Mary was beside my mother with her hand on her shoulder. "Don't say anything. Let's you and me talk for a minute, OK?"
My mother looked at Mary, then at me. "Alright, I'll talk to you."
Ken ran into the room. "Sherry's fine! They'll be back as soon as she gets stitched up!"
A cheer went up. My mother disappeared into the living room with Mary. I just sat in my puddle pondering my latest predicament. Rich, Rafe, Brian and Adam all came and sat with me, forming a little circle. Adam was beside me and I saw him looking longingly at Richie. I nudged him and shook my head no. Disappointment entered his eyes for a moment, but then he just shrugged and smiled.
Rafe said, "Man, what happened? That was pretty brave."
"It wasn't brave. It was desperation. She says I can't be queer. She thinks Timmy made me this way."
"What'd you tell her, anyhow?" Rafe asked.
"I didn't tell her anything. She figured it out for herself, and she doesn't like it one bit."
I could tell that Rich was uncomfortable hearing this, and I said, "Richie, you don't have to listen to this crap. Why don't you go help with the food or something?"
"How'm I gonna learn if I don't listen? If Brian and Adam can hear it, I can too!"
We all burst out in giggles. Rich looked from one of us to the other, then turned beet red. "You mean ... all of you?"
We all laughed again and nodded.
Rich started to get up. "I do think I hear a lobster calling me.". Then he sat back down. "I guess I'll never understand if I don't start tryin'." He pushed himself back a few inches. "You guys talk about whatever you want. I'll just listen."
I said, "If you want. I was just gonna tell Brian and Rafe that Adam thinks you're kinda handsome."
Adam and Rich both turned red, and Adam punched my arm pretty hard. Brian and Rafe started laughing like idiots.
I said, "My mother wasn't supposed to know, not today anyhow. She figured out about me and Tim, and now she's all bent. I don't know what to do, guys. How'd you tell your parents, Rafe? They're okay with it."
"I just out and told them. I was fourteen, and it was killin' me keepin' it all inside all the time. I told them at dinner one night. I didn't mean for it to happen exactly the way it did, but when I got it out they just happened to be taking mouthfuls of spaghetti. I swear it's the truth, they both got some up their nose and down their throats and started choking. I panicked. All I could do was picture the headlines: 'Gay Boy Kills Parents With Revelation'. Just imagine the first paragraph of that article! Anyhow, they were choking and I was running back and forth pounding them on their backs, hoping I could keep both of them alive. When they finally stopped choking, we started laughing and crying and hugging each other. It wasn't news they wanted to hear, but the way it happened made it less important than their breathing. They're pretty cool with it."
We had all laughed during this, Rich included. The story was funny even if the circumstances weren't. I looked at Brian. "Do your parents know?"
He looked horrified. "God, no! I don't think they even know what it is. I can never tell them."
Rafe looked at Brian. "I'll bet they know. At least they must have a feeling. People aren't stupid, even parents. Mine had an idea about me, even if they hoped it wasn't true. Yours are probably the same way. How about you, Adam. Have you told your parents?"
"I haven't told them, but you're right. I think they have an idea at least that I'm gay. My Dad stopped askin' ages ago why I don't have any girlfriends. Everybody else seems to know, so why shouldn't they? I'm gonna tell them pretty soon, anyhow. I just gotta figure out how. Maybe I'll just wait for the next time we have spaghetti."
That got another laugh.
I looked at Richie. He seemed pretty comfortable. "How about you, Rich? Do your parents know about you ... that you're straight as a ruler?"
He grinned. "Naw, they still think I'm queer. I don't know how to break it to them. You guys got any suggestions?"
"Let 'em find a Playboy in your room," Adam said.
"Bring home a couple of Richie Juniors," Brian suggested.
I said, "Yeah, that ought'a give 'em a hint."
I was ready to say something else, but the door to the living room opened and Mary gestured for me to come in.
"Uh, oh. See you guys."
"Good luck, Dave," Adam said.
My mother was sitting on the sofa. She watched me come in. Mary sat beside her, so I sat in a chair. "David, I've explained a few things to your Mom. I think you two should try talking to each other again. No threats this time. Do you hear me?"
I mumbled, "I hear." I looked earnestly at my mother, "I just can't go back to square one, Ma. It's too late for that. I finally figured myself, out and I'm happy with what I see. For the first time in my life I have a future that I can understand and look forward to. I know you're disappointed, Ma, but I'm still a hell of a lot better person than the kid that ran away last year. You said so yourself. If you really want me to come home you're gonna hafta be happy with nine out of ten, and just not think of the other part. I wanna come home, Ma. I wanna go back to school and catch up. I'll do anything you want me to except give up Timmy."
Her expression told me nothing, but her voice was softer, "David, I want you home. Mary explained how hard you worked, how much effort you put into coming to terms with yourself. You come home Sunday like we planned. There will be no restrictions on your time with Tim other than the normal school day things. He can visit you any time, but your door will remain open. I'm the one who needs to come to grips with this. I'll work some more with Mary in the hope that I can understand you better. I love you, David. I only wish your father were here to listen to the wonderful things I've heard about you today. He would have been very proud of you. I know I am. Now, do I get a hug?"
I was grinning so hard it hurt. I practically fell across the room, then pulled Mom up and gave her a huge hug. We held it for a long time, and Mary had left when we finally broke it. I took my mother's hand and headed for the door. "There's a lobster with your name on it out here, Ma. Let's party!"
Party we did. Everything had moved back outdoors. I got my mother a bottle of red wine, and we sat at a table with Ken and Mary. Everything stopped for a few minutes when Tim got back with Jim, Sherry and the Doc. Sherry had a couple of bandages on her forehead, but said she felt fine. A branch had broken the window she was looking through, and she'd been hit with a few pieces of glass.
Tim and Doc joined us at our table. Tim looked a little uncomfortable, glancing first at my mother, then at me. My mother broke the ice. She was on her third glass of wine, and I didn't blame her that day. She could be wicked funny when she wanted to.
"Timmy, is there something you need to share with me?" she asked.
Timmy gasped, "Huh? Wha...?"
"Does David still have water in his lungs? I'm his mother. If there's still a problem I need to know about it."
Timmy looked stricken. "I don't get it ... huh?"
My mother looked so innocent, "I could swear that I saw you giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation during the storm. Did you get it all out this time?"
The look of sheer terror on Tim's face was priceless, and his white shirt provided a nice offset to the brilliant red color of his face and ears. He grabbed somebody's glass and took a drink of whatever was in it, then dropped it in his lap when he missed the table while putting it down. He jumped up and started brushing the liquid off his pants. The rest of us started laughing.
I could tell he was thoroughly embarrassed. I got up and walked over to him, pushing him back into his chair. "She's jerkin' your chain, Tim. She knows about us and it's okay. I sat on his lap, but that caused the lawn chair to collapse, dumping us both onto the muddy ground. I landed on top of Tim, and took the opportunity to give him a quick kiss. "Gee, Tim. Where's your manners? Don't you usually wash up before you eat?"
Tim started to giggle, then laugh, then really laugh. In about a minute the entire yard was laughing hysterically.
The lobsters were ready. My mother got served first, followed by a muddy Tim. The rest of us got ours and we tucked into them. There was little conversation while we ate. Ken and Mary were making salacious wisecracks about various lobster parts, but the rest of us just enjoyed the meal. My mother seemed to be having a good time. She kept looking at Timmy, but she was patting me on the knee at the same time. When she and Tim were finished she asked if she could speak with him privately, and they went inside.
I was nervous about what she was saying to him, but when they came back out they both looked pretty happy. My mother stayed for a while longer, but then excused herself to go home while she could still drive. I got another great big hug and kiss, followed by "Don't worry. Things are going to be fine." With that, she got in her car and left.
I went back to the table, but it had been cleaned off and everyone was milling around. I saw Tim with Rafe, Brian, Adam, Rich and Jerry. Rich was amusing them with stories about Australia. I walked over to Barry just to say hi.
He smiled, "Hey, kid. Things went well with your mother, huh?"
"Pretty good. She saw me and Tim kissing and kinda lost it, but Mary talked to her, and I think it's cool now."
Barry's eyes narrowed, "I saw your little scene in there. I didn't know what brought it on. I thought you were goin' back to your old self until I heard what you were sayin'. That was takin' a chance, wasn't it?"
I waved my arms, "What choice did I have? This has been a hell of a week, but everything's changed. I ain't goin' back to the way I was for my mother or anyone else. I didn't try to be mean, I just said how I felt."
Barry patted my shoulder, "As long as it worked out. What happened with Richie? Jerry started to tell me, but then all hell broke loose."
"It was nothing. I just surprised him is all. I gotta learn to keep my mouth shut sometimes."
Barry nodded, "That I gotta see. It's okay now?"
"It's fine. I'm gonna go join them. We haven't all been together in about a million years."
I walked up on the group hearing Richie say something that sounded like digeree-doo. I was happy. Richie, Jerry, Timmy and I had been coming to this place for a long time, but Rafe, Brian and Adam fit in like old friends. The grass was wet, but we all sat down in a circle and shot the bull for about an hour, until Bud stumbled over and asked Rich to bring him home. Rich looked torn between staying longer and the chance to drive, but driving won out. After vowing to get in touch more often he left, but first he promised me that he'd try what we had talked about earlier. He said it should be easy after spending time with all of us.
Jerry left a while later to make sure Whit was alright. I moved closer to Tim and Brian moved next to Rafe. He surprised me by kissing him on the cheek, but I was glad to see their inhibitions relaxing a bit. I did the same to Tim, then we sat for a long time, talking quietly about nothing in particular. Adam was the odd man out, but it didn't seem to bother him.
Everyone eventually had to go home. Tim promised to pick me up early so we could have a whole day together. I asked him what he'd talked about with my mother. He said that Mary had told my mother some of the details of my rescue, and she had thanked him for it again.
"Then you know what she said?" Tim asked.
"Welcome to the family!"
... to be continued
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