By John Yarer
The following story is a work of gay erotic fiction dealing with a sexual relationship between an adult man and a boy of high school age. If such stories are not to your liking or if you are not of legal age to read such stories in your jurisdiction, please exit now.
Again, special thanks to Andrew for his proofing and editorial assistance. Any errors remain my own.
This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.
This work is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. The story is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
This is the seventh and final chapter of Columbus Avenue, which is a sequel to the series entitled Montgomery Hall and runs concurrently with the series entitled Cutler House.
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The week Tim spent with me went by too fast. I consoled myself and him that at least it was a preview of things to come.
On Monday Tim and I slept late and took far too long playing in the shower. We dressed for the office because I had to go in briefly for an appointment I'd not been able to postpone and I intended to take Tim in with me. It was only when we left the bedroom that I remembered Yolan was coming in that morning.
Fortunately I had thought of her the evening before and had shut the door from the bedroom to the living room. Otherwise, she might have seen a good deal more of us than she did.
"Oh, my god!" she moaned when Tim and I came in to the living room and found her up on a chair dusting some of the higher book shelves.
"Good morning, Yolan," I said, trying to sound as composed as possible. Before I could even begin to introduce her to Tim she was down off the chair and had him in a rather overwhelming embrace. I knew from the expression on his face that he had not expected such a welcome.
"He is beautiful, Mister Cutler. He is an angel, a perfect angel."
"I guess I don't have to tell you this is Tim."
"I know, I know. Oh, Mister Cutler, he is beautiful!"
"And, Tim, in case you hadn't already guessed, this is Yolan."
"Hello, Yolan. I'm pleased to meet you." His voice was somewhat muffled because his face was involuntarily pressed into her ample bosom.
After Yolan's welcome it was unlikely that anything Tim experienced that day could be as memorable.
At my office, however, he was in for another enthusiastic welcome from my secretaries and my fellow attorneys. They all knew about Tim, of course, but except for my closest friends, who'd met him at our dinner party on Saturday or at the little gathering after church on Sunday, this was the first time the rest of the staff had met him. I must say, the welcome was even warmer than I had hoped for.
On Tuesday we drove to Princeton for his interview there. I gathered it had gone well when he met me afterward but he seemed rather withdrawn and I didn't press him.
By early afternoon we were on our way back to New York, but with so much time on our hands and wonderful weather as well, I decided to extend the trip and drove on to New Hope, Pennsylvania. We actually got to Lambertville, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River in time for a late lunch at the beautiful old hotel there, then left the car and walked across the old bridge into New Hope. The town is a little too quaint, but Tim clearly loved it. I bought him an old ceramic tile we found in one of the overly cute shops. It had been produced by one of the nineteenth century Pennsylvania pottery works and seemed to be a fitting souvenir.
We arrived back in New York about seven o'clock that evening and I took him to Feito em Casa, a favorite of mine, for a little dinner before we went on to the apartment. Over dinner I had a chance to ask Tim what he was thinking at that point about his interview.
"It went well," he told me. "I know they'll admit me, that much was clear. I just don't want to make up my mind until after the interview at Columbia."
"A wise man," I said, "don't make up your mind until you know all your options."
"Um," Tim said as he tasted the cozido. I wasn't quite sure if he was responding to the hardy flavor or my comment.
Tim's interview at Columbia went well, probably, from what he told me later, better than the previous two. My strategy of saving it to last may have helped. At least Tim had considerably more confidence going into it than he had at either Yale or Princeton.
"It was as if they were recruiting me, Martin," he'd said when we got back to the apartment. "I didn't have to convince them that they wanted me. It was as if they were trying to convince me that Columbia was the very best choice for me.
"With the scholarships they are offering me and the money my grandparents are giving me for college, I'll have more than enough to meet all my expenses. They even threw in some additional money because they want me to play football!"
"So you really think Columbia is your first choice?"
"It really has been all along." He smiled at me and added, "I figured you knew that."
"I hoped it would be Columbia, but I really wasn't sure."
He came to me and drew me into a warm embrace. "The closer I can be to you, the better."
"Well, that brings us to another conversation I have been more or less putting off."
"Not here," I'd said. I had sort of planned this out, even to where I wanted to conduct this particular discussion. "Come on."
Without giving us time to change from our suits and ties, I took him down to my car in the basement garage. We drove west to the Hudson, then north along the sparkling river. At the George Washington Bridge, we joined the traffic coming in from New Jersey and cut east to Broadway. From there it was only a few blocks north to Fort Tyron Park. We turned into the gently curving drive and worked our way up the hill to the Cloisters, the great castle-like structure which houses the Medieval collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"It's beautiful," he'd said as we left the car and walked into the dark stone halls.
With my membership at the Metropolitan we sailed in and up the curving stairs to the chapel-like galleries above. I had to practically drag Tim by the "Unicorn Tapestries," promising we'd have time for a proper look on our way out. Each of the spaces we went through had an almost religious atmosphere, so appropriate to our mission.
Emerging from the building, I was relieved to see that we had the little garden to ourselves. We had arrived at my intended destination. We walked across the little formal garden, and stood by an ancient stone parapet. Looking down from this height, the great sweep of the river lay below us.
"Beautiful," Tim said again.
"This is one of my favorite places," I said. "These buildings were constructed from fragments of medieval ruins brought here from all over Europe. In some ways it's always seemed to me like a symbol of New York, bits and pieces brought from all over the Old World and made into something new, something dynamic, energetic. It's certainly a mix of styles and even rather eccentric, but very American."
"American even though it was built out of all those ancient European fragments?"
"Yes. I think in many ways that's what America is, Tim, European fragments made into something uniquely our own."
"Is that why you brought me here?"
"No. I brought you here because it seemed like such a perfect place to ask you a very important question."
Tim looked at me and smiled. Then, leaning toward me and kissing me lightly on the lips, he said, "you know the answer."
"I hope I do."
"I told you not to ask until you were sure."
"I couldn't ask until I was sure you'd made other decisions."
"Yes," I nodded. "I didn't think it was my place to ask until I knew you were sure. If you'd wanted to go to Princeton or Yale it wouldn't have mattered, really. It would just have meant that we couldn't be together quite so much."
"But with me at Columbia, I can be at your apartment a lot more. It is only a short walk from the dorms."
"That's part of what I want to talk about."
"Yes. I see no reason why you shouldn't just move in full time with me."
"I'll have more than enough money to pay for housing on campus, Martin. I'd be with you as much as you want me, certainly most weekends."
"That's just it, Tim. I want you with me all the time."
"Yes, absolutely certain." I drew him to me and kissed him again. "I can't imagine coming home and not finding you there, or waking and not finding you next to me."
"I know," he said. "I feel the same."
"But that isn't all of it, Tim. I think we're both ready to make a larger commitment. I really want us to be a couple, a committed, monogamous couple."
"Are we talking marriage here, Martin?" He smiled. "Did you bring me here to propose?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I am doing."
We kissed again and when our lips parted he said, "maybe you'd better ask my folks."
"For your hand?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he said with a mischievous grin, "my hand, amongst other things."
I gave him a playful punch on the shoulder and wasn't surprised when he returned it.
"I do want to talk with my folks, Martin. They've been so supportive and I want to be sure they are with us on this."
"I know and I agree. In fact, let's call them as soon as we get back to the car. Then we can call my mother as well."
"I didn't know you had a phone in your car," Tim said, almost as an aside.
"In the arm rest between the front two seats."
"So you really think we are ready."
"I know we are, both to make such a commitment and to talk to our families about it."
"What's the next step, is that what you mean?"
"Yeah. I guess we can't exactly have a marriage service."
"We could if you want."
"But in the meantime we would consider ourselves a couple, right?"
"No more messing around with other guys."
"Other guys? Does that mean I can still have a girlfriend?"
That comment earned me another rather sharp blow to the shoulder. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know." I drew him into a deep, loving kiss and when we broke from it, whispered, "no one but you, Tim. I give you my word."
"And I give you mine."
On our way out of the rambling maze of a building, we did stop to stand in awe in front of the "Unicorn Tapestries." Their rich colors belied their age and the symbolism of forgiveness and grace struck us as so right for the mood of the day.
Back at the car, I pulled away from the parking lot and drove on through the park to an overlook from which we could again see the wooded bluffs opposite us on the New Jersey side of the Hudson.
"Mom," Tim said when his mother answered the phone. "Is dad home yet?"
I waited as there was some delay in getting both his parents on different handsets. Tim smiled at me and said, "mom's getting him."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he said, giving me one of his electrifying smiles. "A little nervous."
He changed the mobile phone to his right hand and reached over with his left to take mine. When I gave his hand a loving squeeze, he responded, then lifted our joined hands to his lips and kissed the back of mine. His lips lingered over it and his warm breath caused a jolt to move from my hand up my arm and then to flood my whole body. A jolt of what, I wondered; love, lust, need, caring, all of the above?
"Hi dad," Tim said at last. "You're still on too, mom?" There was another pause and then he continued. "Everything's fine. I had my last interview today and I guess I've made up my mind."
I gave his hand a squeeze of encouragement.
"Columbia. Are you surprised?"
Tim looked over at me and smiled. I saw that there was a sheen of sweat on his handsome forehead.
"I'm certain," Tim went on. "Yeah, a big part of it. I guess I should say that we want to be together."
"Martin's asked me to move in with him." I waited not knowing what response he was hearing from his parents. "Very much, Dad, but you knew that."
Tim squeezed my hand again and went on. "He's right here. I love you, too."
As he handed me the phone he whispered, "they want to talk with you."
When I had taken the phone he slumped back in the seat, as if needing to catch his breath after a long run.
"Hello, Arnold," I said, remembering that Tim's father liked to be called by his family name.
"Hello, Marty. Tim's mom is also on the line."
"Hello, Mrs. Arnold," I added.
"We understand you've asked Tim to live with you next fall."
"Yes, that's right. I did ask him."
"He avoided saying if he'd accepted your invitation, Martin."
"Well, Arnold, that was because he felt he needed to ask your permission first."
"I see." There was a rather long and rather awkward pause. At last Arnold continued.
"I don't know any precedent for this, Martin, but I gather there is another question as yet left unanswered."
"You're right, Arnold, and I guess in a more conventional situation, it would be up to me to ask it."
"Do you remember the conversation we had the evening of my mother's picnic last summer?"
"Yes, Martin, I remember it very well."
"You made certain assumptions about Tim and me and about our relationship."
Tim pressed my arm and looked over quizzically. I nodded. "Arnold, Tim and I are parked in my car in Fort Tyron Park. Let me switch to the speaker phone so all four of us can participate in this conversation."
"Yes," Arnold said, "that might be very helpful."
I switched to the speaker phone and replaced the hand-held mobile in its cradle in the arm between the two seats.
"How's that? Can you hear us?"
"Yes, very clearly. "Hello again, son."
"Hi, dad. You there, too, mom?" Tim said.
"Yes, sweetie, I'm here," Mrs. Arnold's voice came back.
"Well, then, Dr. and Mrs. Arnold, let me go on."
"You not only made some assumptions about Tim and me and about our relationship, but you also told me that you were comfortable with it, assuming correctly that I held Tim's well being above all other concerns."
"Yes, Martin, I'd say that more or less expresses our attitude. I'm not sure I would use the word ``comfortable,'' but we are certainly trying. It is new to us and does take some getting used to."
"I understand. But you do still feel the same way."
"And I am sure you won't be too surprised to learn that our relationship has become even stronger and more meaningful to both of over the last few months."
"Since you met last summer, you mean."
"Yes. I'm sure you know that Tim and I have been corresponding and have talked often while we were working out the plans for his trip."
"Well, that brings us to the question, so to speak." I took Tim's hand and squeezed it tightly. I could feel a slight tremor and didn't know if it was his or mine. "Dr. and Mrs. Arnold, I want to ask your permission to take Tim as my partner. In a more conventional situation I would be asking for his hand in marriage."
I heard a slight sob over the phone and realized Tim's mother must be crying.
"Tim," Arnold came back, "how do you feel about this?"
"Its what I want, dad. I want Martin and me to be together."
"Am I to assume that this will be...how should I say it?" Arnold stammered, "this will be an exclusive relationship?"
"Yes, Arnold, Tim and I have agreed on that. It will be completely monogamous."
"And you think you are both ready to make that commitment?"
"Yes," I said. Arnold's voice came over the speaker phone so clearly that if sounded as if he was right there with us.
"And you agree, Tim?"
"Well then," Arnold said after a short pause, "I see no reason why Tim's mother and I shouldn't give you our permission, and I might add, our blessing."
Our `little' party on Saturday evening, billed as a farewell for Tim, turned into something a good deal larger. I invited my personal staff and the other partners from the office, all of whom knew I was gay, and all of whom had already met Tim. Other friends, not a part of my professional world joined us, including many friends from the church. Jim Knight and Roger Good were there of course, a sort of bridge between my professional friends and the church friends. John Thompson and George Henry came, all be it a little late.
I was especially pleased that our rector, Charles Hamilton and his wife came, along with several other members of the church staff. Word had clearly spread that Tim and I intended to make some sort of announcement about our relationship and as Charles was handing Yolan his coat he turned to me and said, "I took the liberty of calling Pete Miller this afternoon with the `suspected' news. He asked me to tell you he would have liked to have been here but figures, knowing your mother, that he will have a chance to express his love at another event when you two are back in Mississippi."
"I'm sure he's correct about that, about mother, I mean. But thank you." Then, turning to Tim, I said, "Remind me, Timmy, that's one more note I want to write so you can hand deliver it when you get home."
"He's turning me into a mail man," Tim grinned at Charles.
"How do you spell that?" the rector grinned as he and his wife went on into the living room.
Yolan had outdone herself. I had insisted that she go to Zabar's and buy prepared food for our party. She had done so, but with the help of her mother and sisters, had also brought in a vast array of wonderful, spicy and exotic dishes which turned out to be the real crowd pleasers. Tim had even gotten in on the act, insisting on making one concoction for the buffet. He was somewhat secretive about it, but I was not surprised when he brought out a huge platter of spicy rice and red beans, garnished with chunks of sausage and shrimp.
"We have to have at least one dish to celebrate our roots, Marty," he'd grinned. It, too, was a favorite of our guests.
The entire group of over forty had finally gathered. John and George had been the last to arrive but they quickly joined our other guests. The wonderful food and not a few bottles of a very good red Zinfandel were enjoyed by all and the gathering gradually took on a very festive air. There had already been a lot of kidding and as Tim and I took our places together in front of the fireplace, I whispered in his ear that I suspected we were in for a lot of friendly teasing. As I turned from him to begin, the room quickly became momentarily quiet. It was clear that an announcement was eminent.
"When I first asked a few of you to come by this evening, it was with the expectation that this would be a small farewell party for Tim. As you can see, our numbers have increased and the reason for this gathering has taken on an additional significance." At that point I was interrupted by several jovial comments from various friends.
From the back of the crowd I heard Roger say, "Well done, Martin," followed by a wave of friendly laughter.
"I must admit, I'd hoped that would be the case," I added with a smile, and turned to Tim, as he and I had agreed we would do.
"This has been a wonderful week for me," Tim began, "and first, I want to thank all of you for being so kind and so quick to welcome me into Martin's world."
He stopped as his words were greeted by friendly comments from several in the crowd and then a brief round of applause. "I've really felt welcomed and loved.
"But as you all know, a major objective of this visit was for me to visit several universities, have interviews and, if possible, make up my mind about where I'll be studying next fall. That process went very well and I have decided, not to anyone's surprise, to enter Columbia University. I'll be in the pre-law program. I'll also be going out for football, so I expect any of you who don't already have season tickets, to buy them before the first game." Everyone laughed politely.
"So I'll be at Columbia in the fall," Tim finished to a further round of approving applause. He smiled at our assembled friends and then turned and smiled at me, a smile which seemed to be a mix of confidence and a bit of underlying nervousness, which surprised me. I realized how young he looked at that moment. His usual maturity made me forget until moments like that, when the confident exterior fell away, that this beautiful young male animal whom I loved with all my heart, was, under the intelligence and poise, still a boy.
I put my arm around his shoulder and drew him close to me. Tim smiled at me and leaned in to let the side of his face rest against my shoulder. The faces of our guests were illuminated by smiles of approval at the show of affection between us.
"Now, it's my turn," I said and Roger made some further comment which I didn't get, but which caused a wave of chuckles from those near him. "When Tim and I planned for him to come to New York to visit schools and make plans for his future, we also had another agenda in mind.
"I didn't want to ask what was obviously the next question until I knew Tim had made up his mind. Until he had chosen a university with as little pressure from me as possible." I grinned at him and gave his forehead a quick kiss, which elicited a few chuckles from the crowd.
"No pressure at all, Marty," Jim called from the far side of the room. Everyone laughed.
"Well, as little pressure as possible," I repeated. "But Tim has settled on Columbia and that has opened other issues."
"Yes? What issues?" Roger's voice came clear from across the room.
"Well, where he should live, for example."
"Well, yes, Marty, where he should live?" It was John this time, his voice edged with friendly amusement.
"Yes, where he should live," I said. "For example, should he live on campus, in one of the dorms?"
"NO," came a resounding response from our guests.
"Or should he move in here and live with me?"
"YES," came back the choirs.
"That's what we think, too," I said, getting into the mood of the evening. "So, starting next fall, or maybe even sooner, Tim and I will be living together. But we felt it was important for us to make this the occasion for a more formal announcement. We have determined to live as a couple, to honor our relationship with one another and regard it as a formal and permanent commitment based on our love and our respect for one another. We want all of you to be the first to know of our commitment to each other. We also hope all of you will support us in that commitment. I guess I just want to say to Tim, here, now, where all of you can hear it, that I love you, Tim, with all my heart. I am pledging myself to you for the rest of my life."
Tim moved back a little from me and looked deeply into my eyes. "And I love you, Martin. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you to be my lover and my partner and my friend."
There was a general round of approving comments which spontaneously gave way to applause. Our guests moved around us, hugging us, kissing us, congratulating us. Several of the women were crying and I realized as they spoke to us, giving their good wishes, that both Jim and George were being very careful to keep their emotions in check.
At one moment the crowd parted for just a few seconds and I saw Yolan standing across the room in then door to the kitchen. She was wiping her eyes, even as she was beaming at us.
When the general hubbub died down a little I saw Charles Hamilton moving through the crowd toward us. He was smiling from ear to ear. When he reached us he extended his arms and drew us both into a strong embrace.
"May I say a few words?" he asked.
"Certainly, Charles," I quickly said.
He cleared his throat and the room became silent.
"I'm Charles Hamilton. I know most of you, but for the benefit of those whom I don't know, or who don't know me, I have been Martin's pastor for the last five years. In that time I have gotten to know him very well. He served on our vestry my first year here and did everything he could to make me feel welcome and to help me establish myself and my family in the area.
"Have all of you noticed how our lives are often filled with odd turns of events? We may be inclined to call that fate, but I prefer to call such events evidence of God's grace.
"One such `coincidence' is that the rector of the church in Greenwood, Mississippi, where Tim and his parents, as well as Martin's family are all active members, is one of my closest friends. Peter Miller and I were at seminary together and we've stayed in touch over the years since. I spoke with Peter by phone this afternoon. I told him about this party. I also told him that I very much suspected that an announcement like the one we just heard would be made this evening.
"Peter and I agreed that these two men, who have chosen to live their lives together, need and deserve all the support in their commitment which we can collectively give them. Sometime soon, when Martin is back in Mississippi visiting his family, Peter hopes to celebrate their union. The church, as an institution, has not yet seen fit to recognize such celebrations, but we, as individuals, can offer our blessing.
"I'd like to ask all of you, regardless of your own traditions or faith, to join me in offering Tim and Martin our support and our love."
A general murmur of agreement ran through the group as Charles motioned to his wife to come join him. As they stood behind us and we faced the crowd, Charles went on. "I'd like to ask all of you who are here with your husband or wife to stand with them and join hands. If you are here with the person with whom you have entered into a committed relationship, stand with that person and join hands."
There was a moment of confusion as people moved through the crowd to find their mate.
"Now," Charles said, as our guests sorted themselves out, "let us remind ourselves of the way God has blessed us by placing us in relationships. Let us thank God for creating us in families, families made up of wives and husbands, of parents and children, of companions and friends.
"On other occasions I've led the couple as they've spoken their vows, as they committed themselves to one another and to their relationship. I think this evening such vows would be redundant. In their own way, Tim and Martin have already pledged themselves to one another as they told us of their love and their commitment.
"Now let us thank God for bringing Martin and Tim together, for giving them love for one another. Let us thank God for prompting them to join as a couple in a committed relationship. Let us ask God to bless their union. Let us ask God to use their union. Let it be a blessing to them, and through them, to those around them.
"Let us pledge ourselves to support Martin and Tim in their commitment to one another. Let us value their union and honor it.
"In pledging ourselves to their support, let us renew our own commitments to our own relationships. Let our marriages, our unions, be blessed as we bless them."
There was a moment of silence, after which Charles added, "So be it!"
So our public relationship began. It was acknowledged by our families and celebrated with parties, both small and large. My mother insisted on a reception when I was back in Mississippi for Christmas. At her insistence, it was planned for my first night home. I wasn't too happy with that, wishing for at least a one day reprieve so I could rest up a little, but she was adamant. "I want you and Tim to have some peace and quiet over the holidays, so we really must have the reception the very first thing. Then everyone can relax and enjoy Christmas."
Peter Miller and his wife were there and he led us through a celebration which was very similar to the one Charles Hamilton had done in New York. Tim and I realized that it was as much for the benefit of our families and friends as it was for us, but we understood its importance and were grateful that we had families and friends who wanted to acknowledge and support our union.
Even Jimmy du Prey came over after the brief ceremony to wish us well. ""I guess I can't object to you two finding something that special," Jimmy said as he drew Tim and me together with him into one rather awkward three-way hug. His speech was a little slurred and his breath smelled of my mother's very good Bourbon. "I love you, Martin," he said with a catch in his voice. I feared he might break into sobs. He planted a warm, wet kiss on my cheek and then turned his head to give Tim the same token of his affection. "I guess from now on I got to love you both."
"That's right, Jimmy," I said.
"Thank you, Mr. du Prey," Tim said. I realized how uncomfortable he was and gradually extricated us both for Jimmy's forceful embrace.
"No need for you to be calling me `mister.' From now on you just call me Jimmy, same as this old reprobate you've teamed up with." He made another deep guttural sound, half way between a sob and a cough, then cleared his throat and added, "You won the prize, Tim. I salute you, fellow."
Following that gala event, Tim stayed over with me for several days, sharing the White Room openly, no longer secretly as we had been forced to do when I was home the previous summer. It was the Christmas holidays, after all, and we were both free to enjoy the time together. We realized that by openly acknowledging that Tim and I were sharing the White Room, my family was giving their approval to our relationship. David and Carol Ann were over nearly every day and their kids were in and out on a regular basis so the arrangement was known to everyone. It was also clear that we had my mother's blessing.
"I am so glad for you, Martin," she said at breakfast the morning after the reception. I'd left Tim in the shower and gotten to the kitchen to find my mother alone.
"Thank you, mother," I'd said with a smile, looking up from the newspaper.
"I think it is very much for the best. It was time you settled down. It will also be so good for Tim to be with you in New York. That is clearly where he belongs, he would have had a terrible time here." She paused and then added, "I just hope the public acknowledgement of your relationship doesn't make things too difficult for him during the rest of this school year."
"I wish I could be with Martin right away, Mrs. Cutler," Tim said. He had just reached the kitchen in time to hear my mother's remark. "But neither of you should worry about my being here for the rest of the school year. I have some very loyal friends on the football team and they've already let everyone else know that if they mess with me, they have them to answer to."
"I am relived to hear that, Tim," mother said with a motherly smile. "But now that you are for, all intents and purposes, my son-in-law, we must find a more appropriate way for you to address me."
"It would be hard for me to call you anything but Mrs. Cutler," Tim said.
"I don't think `mother' is a good choice," she said, completely ignoring his comment. "I really think it would be best if you just called me Ann. That is, after all, what Carol Ann calls me."
"Okay," Tim said, still a little uncomfortable with it, "if that's really what you want, I guess I could get used to it."
"Good," mother said with emphasis, "that's taken care of then."
I had expected Dave and Monty to be another matter. In fact, I wasn't at all sure how they would take the news that Tim was coming to New York to live with me as soon as his school term ended in the spring.
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Tim had shared the news with them soon after he returned from New York and their only comment was that they expected an invitation to visit us sometime later in the summer.
Over the week that I was home there were other parties as well. Our friends in Winona and even as far away as Jackson and Memphis were anxious to meet Tim. It turned out that he was so well known throughout the state for his football accomplishments that he was the real celebrity of those events.
Then Tim's grandparents came down from Indiana to spend a few days with the Arnolds and we were expected to be at their house in Greenwood for a big celebration on Christmas Eve. Only my mother went with us from Winona for the dinner.
"It's just as well Tim's staying with you in Winona," the senior Mr. Arnold had teased over dinner. With both pairs of grandparents here we need every bedroom my son and daughter can provide."
"Well, sir," I teased back, "if he acts up, I'll send home to sleep on the sofa."
The entire extended family met later that evening at the church and with both the Arnold and Cutler families assembled, we were quite a sizable clan.
Tim and I agreed that those would have been rather stressful days if we had not been able to retreat to the privacy of the White Room each evening.
And so it was, on the evening of Christmas day, when David and his tribe had gone home and mother had gone off to her room, and the house had settled into a happy doze, that Tim and I captured Benand took him away to our sanctuary.
"I still has work to do, Martin," he'd protested.
"Everything that needed to go in the refrigerator is put up, Ben, you said so yourself."
"Yes, but there's still the table linens to put in the washer and the kitchen needs ordering."
"It will all wait, Ben. Besides, Tim and I are getting the feeling you have been avoiding us."
"Oh no. I just got my hands full, Martin. You know your mama wants things done right and that takes a lot of doing."
I had taken a nearly full bottle of champagne from the refrigerator and grabbed three flutes.
"No wine for me, Martin," Tim had said.
"And none for me," Ben had echoed.
"Not fair, Ben. Tim has a good excuse. Well, two actually. He is under age to be drinking alcohol and he's still in football season."
"That's right, Ben," Tim agreed as we headed off toward the east wing of the house. "Our coach made us sign the pledge. No drinking during the season."
"Ain't that all over now?"
"Well, yes, the season is over but we're in the state playoffs in two weeks." Tim had picked up two bottles of some sort of sparkling lemonade and seemed to be happy to watch Ben and me kill the magnum.
As we arranged ourselves in comfortable chairs around the open fire, Ben gave up his protests and settled down to enjoy our company.
"Now, Ben," I said, "Tim knows all about our night together last summer, so don't go getting embarrassed on us."
"I knew you two were going to have sex before it happened," Tim agreed.
"And now you two is hooked up, you is okay with that, boy?"
"I figure Martin had sex with a lot of men before I came along, Ben. What's important is that it's me he wants to be with for the rest of his life. I sure can't be worrying about what he did earlier."
"You is one wise boy, Timothy."
"I think you may have had something to do with that, Ben," Tim said with a smile.
"Well, the thing I want to be sure of, Ben," I said as I filled our glasses, "is how comfortable you are with all this."
"What you meaning, Martin."
"I mean are you okay with the fact that you and I did have sex last summer and are you okay with me and Tim being together now."
"Last summer was a one time thing, Martin. I knew that then and I sure don't expect it to continue."
"Ben," I teased, "were you just regarding me as a one night stand?"
Ben was silent for a moment before he spoke. "I guess I was thinking," he finally began, "it was more like a kind of ceremony than what you'd usually call sex."
"A ceremony, Ben?"
"Yes, Martin. You was giving and I was taking. Then I was giving back and you was taking, too. It was like we was coming to terms with a lot of stuff what went on before you or I was born. Sort of like we had some old baggage inherited from our fathers and grandfathers, stuff that was needing airing. But we done that and that was all there was. It don't need to happen again."
"Thank you, Ben," I said, softly.
"You is welcome, Martin. And I want to thank you, too."
"So does that mean everything is okay between you two?" Tim asked.
"More than okay, Tim," Ben said. "I think we done what was needed. We closed some old doors and opened some new ones." He was again silent, his eyes downcast as if he was watching the chains of small bubbles rise in his glass.
I was looking into the fire as Tim reached over and took my hand.
"I'm thinkin' we should drink to you two with what's left of the wine," Ben said at last, his voice almost a whisper.
"I have a better idea, Ben," Tim said. "Let's drink to the old days and the new days coming."
"Well, that's good, too," Ben said as we all three lifted our glasses. "They is some good old days and some bad old days. I say drink to the both kinds. We can be thankful for the good ones but we sure don't want to go forgetting the bad ones."
"Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it," I said with a nod.
"But to the new days, too," Tim reminded us.
"To the new days," Ben repeated. "They is your days, gentlemen."
All that was over a year ago. Tim has been with me since early last June and it has been the happiest time of my life.
"We are blessed, Martin," Tim had said one evening last week as we sat side by side in front of the fire. The distant noises of traffic reached us from Columbus Avenue, reminding us of the world beyond our walls.
"Yes, love, blessed," I'd said. "We're among the very few."
"Gay men, you mean, gay couples?"
"It would be wonderful to think our life was the norm, Tim, but for most gay people our life is a fantasy. Most of them still live with all the prejudice and hurt."
"I know, Martin. I guess it really is up to the few like us to try to make a difference."