Grounded in Air
Copyright © 2009 by the author under the pseudonym Gee Whillickers. All rights reserved.
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This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual place, event, or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story is intended for adults and contains subject matter not suitable for children. Parental Advisory in effect.
** 10 **
"...so anyway, that's when Bob said 'no, the other bathroom!'" Donny's mom finished her story about something that happened at work to Donny's gales of laughter. They were sitting at home, just the two of them, eating dinner together. A rare occasion just a few weeks ago, but not quite so much anymore. Laura had found work in a nearby office complex. Personnel management. Not exactly her area of expertise, but she was able to adapt, and the pay was decent and the hours regular. That meant no more fast food work, and no more lonely evenings and weekends for Donny.
Not that his evenings were particularly lonely anymore. His circle of friends seemed to be growing. It was rare that he didn't spend quite a bit of time visiting, or on the phone, or chatting on the computer with somebody each evening now.
Donny's laughter tailed off. He looked into his mom's eyes, her own eyes laughing, showing love and contentment, and something else too maybe.
"You're like a different boy now you know." Laura smiled at Donny.
"No I'm not. I'm the same. Just happier."
"That's what I mean." Her smile became a bit more thoughtful, a bit uncertain. "You really do love him, don't you?"
Donny's smile, unlike his mom's, fell off his face. They hadn't talked about Fred for ages. He wasn't expecting it now.
"Yeah mom. I really do love him." Donny kept his eyes firmly on his mom's.
Donny had been learning. Slowly, but it was a bit easier now. Not easy, just slightly easier than before. He was trying to be honest, to be more direct, to not avoid. He was getting better at it.
His mom continued, "Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. For you to visit him, at his place."
Donny's heart thudded hard in his chest. Sudden feelings, strong feelings, warring with each other, moved around his tummy and chest. He was pleased, of course, but it was much more than that. Donny really had been working hard at being more honest and more open, at trying to deal with things more directly. It was still hard for him. Long established habits are hard to break. He had been having a few talks with Fred and Ray about that, and with Ricky. Unbelievably, even with Ryan.
The problem was, Donny knew that there was one person in his life that he wasn't doing such a good job of this with, this honesty thing. One person who he still avoided talking to about personal things. And this person had more direct influence over his life than anybody else. It was, of course, his mom.
He knew, somehow, that he needed to be more honest. He knew he needed to talk to his mom. About himself, and being gay, and, yes, even about Fred. That's what scared him of course. That's what he'd been avoiding all these weeks. He knew, he just knew, that he couldn't keep on like this, going over to visit Fred, having a relationship with Fred, maybe even having sex with Fred, and hiding and lying about it the whole time. He couldn't do it. He wouldn't do it. It had been easy to avoid up until now, since his accident, when he wasn't allowed over there.
It was strange. He just told his mom that he loved Fred. He had said that before. But that could mean so many things. Telling her that he loved Fred was one thing. Telling his mom that he was gay, and that he wanted to hold and hug and kiss and cuddle, and so much more, with Fred was completely another.
For Donny, it was one of those defining moments, where everything had changed. He had to make a decision. It was maybe the hardest choice he ever had to make. But, it wasn't even a choice, really. Despite the risk, despite the likely outcome, despite everything, it was time to talk with his mom.
Not just talk, but the talk.
His breath was tight in his chest, he felt cold, but despite this he felt himself sweating. Not only that, but he felt like throwing up. He had never been more scared in his life. He couldn't do it. But he knew he had to.
His mom's expression was concerned now, looking at him. "Donny, are you ok? You don't look well. I'm getting the thermometer." She moved to get up.
Somehow Donny swallowed hard and forced himself to talk. "Mom, no. Sit down. We need to talk. I need to tell you some things."
Laura sat back down, her expression of concern and worry telling Donny all he needed to know. It was done. One way or another, the next time he left this room, his mom would know. Everything.
Donny wasn't stupid. He had no intention of getting Fred in trouble. That was the absolute last thing he wanted. But he could talk about himself, how he felt, what he wanted, without talking about the details about the physical stuff, about what had already happened. That was just none of her business as far as Donny was concerned. So the worst that could happen was that she would cut off contact, all contact, with Fred. Probably the worst anyway. These days, even suspicions could get people in so, so much trouble. And that's what scared him. He didn't know what he would do if that was the outcome today. He was scared that it could very well be the outcome. It seemed too horrible to think about.
"Mom, before you let me go over to Fred's house, you need to know how I feel. I mean how I really feel. What I want. I feel like I'm hiding from you, lying, and I don't want to feel like that."
Donny looked at his mom. Her expression wasn't encouraging. She was rapidly moving from concern to serious worry, and that's not what Donny wanted. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea, and from her expression he was pretty sure that it was a bit late for that, she had already had that idea.
"This isn't coming out right mom. This part isn't anything about Fred, believe me. This is about me. Just me. I want...I need, you to know about me.
"Mom, I'm gay."
Donny waited for his mom's reaction. It seemed like forever. He was sure it was forever. Her expression was the same, mostly. Some concern, some worry. No anger, thank god.
Her voice was slow and even. "Donny, I think you know me well enough, at least I hope you do, to know that if you turn out gay that won't matter a bit to me. But, honey, I think you're really too young to know that for sure. And that's what I'm worried about. Has anyone, has Fred, been talking to you about this? Trying to make you think you might be gay?"
Donny put his face into his hands, his elbows resting on the table. He sighed loudly. This was exactly what he was worried about, what he thought would happen. His mom still didn't trust him to make decisions for himself, to know himself. Part of him didn't really blame her, he hadn't exactly been doing a bang-up job of that in the past few months.
"Mom. Please. You need to believe me. This doesn't haven't anything directly to do with Fred. Or with anyone else. I've been thinking this, I've known this, well, forever it seems. Way before I even knew Fred. Or Ray, or Ricky or anyone else I'm spending time with these days. Why do you think I was so sad for so long? I felt like it was just one more thing that would keep me alone and sad forever. It was one of the reasons I didn't want to try and make any friends."
"I thought it was because we moved all the time?" Laura said.
Donny blinked hard, willing himself not to cry. "Mom, that was one of the reasons, probably still the main reason. But me knowing I was gay was the other main reason. The two of them together just made it so it didn't seem worth it to bother trying to know anybody. Then things started to change a bit when I met Ray, and Ricky, and Fred. Maybe even Ryan now."
Donny's mom looked down at her lap, then up at Donny again. "Honey, ok, maybe you know for sure. I won't argue with you about it. I've heard of it happening. But you need to know, despite that, I still think you just might be too young. Now don't argue. I won't dispute what you're telling me, but you need to know that you shouldn't dispute what I'm telling you either. If it turns out you're gay, well, some things in your life will be harder for you but it won't change anything between us. But you need to know I won't be convinced you know for sure for a while."
Her words weren't exactly encouraging, but Donny relaxed, just a tiny bit. He knew that was the best he could hope for right now. Unfortunately, there was more he needed to say.
"Mom, there's more I need to tell you, so I don't feel like I'm lying. And hiding. I know for sure I'm gay, but it's older guys I like. Um, like, a lot older. And if I'm over at Fred's...well, I want him to hug me, and cuddle with me. I don't want to feel like I'm scared you'll find out if I want that."
Donny saw his mom's panicked expression, saw her looking towards the phone. Oh no! This wasn't going well at all. Oh god.
"No! Mom! He's not doing anything! He's not taking advantage of me! This isn't about him!! I just need you to know. I want to be able to hug and cuddle. And kiss." Ok, he probably shouldn't have added the last part. Maybe that was just pushing her too far.
Donny watched as his mom searched for a reply. Twice, she opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it again. She stood up, opened her mouth to talk a third time, then shook her head slightly and quietly went into her bedroom and shut the door.
Donny put his head down on the table, onto his arms, and cried. Big heavy tears, splashing down onto his arms and onto the table. His chest heaving, giant sobs, but quiet. Had he just ruined everything?
Donny felt drained, emotionally numb. Nobody can cry forever and Donny's tears slowed and then stopped. He lay there, his head on the kitchen table, for another ten minutes. He didn't know what to do. He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to go back to the way he had been. The phone rang and Donny got up to answer it, automatically, without thinking. He said hello into the receiver kind of on autopilot. He hadn't looked at the Caller ID.
It must have been the way he said hello. "Donny? Hey kiddo, are you ok? Is something wrong," said Fred's voice.
Donny tried to answer. He really did. All that came out was a breath, a weird kind of squeal, and then a loud sob. Then he was crying again, not so quietly this time, into the phone. Hearing Fred's voice made it all suddenly so real, so immediate. That's what brought it all crashing down on him. What he had done. What he had lost. He dropped the phone and curled up on the kitchen floor in a little ball, crying again, just crying.
Maybe ten minutes later, Donny wasn't sure, he heard Fred's voice again. "Donny? Oh my god, Donny? What's wrong?" He sounded awfully worried. Donny distantly understood that he hadn't hung the phone up. It was nice though, feeling Fred's hands on his shoulders.
Wait a minute. Phones don't do that. His mind clicked back into some semblance of consciousness, and he turned his head to see Fred crouched down on his knees beside him.
"Donny, where's your mom? What's happened?" That worried tone again.
Donny knew exactly what his mom felt like, half an hour ago. He too opened his mouth to talk, and nothing came out.
"Come on Donny, let's get you up off the floor. I'm going to get you some water and we'll sit down over there." He pointed into the living room. "When you're ready, only when you're ready, I'll be here to listen to whatever you need to say."
He retrieved the glass of water and set it down in the living room before gently scooping up Donny and sitting down on the recliner, Donny in his lap, just holding him and rocking him gently, and smoothing his hair back. Donny stared into Fred's eyes. They held nothing but patience and love. Well, and more than a little bit of worry. Worry that Donny knew he was causing. That was what finally allowed him to talk again.
"I told her. My mom. That I'm gay, and I like older guys."
Fred's hand continued to smooth Donny's hair. "I'm guessing it didn't go well?"
"That's just it. I don't really know!" A few more sobs escaped.
"Ok, ok, it's ok. We'll figure it out. I love you, you know."
That's when Laura walked back into the room, looking at both of them, her expression inscrutable. She slowly, very very slowly walked across to opposite recliner and sat down, just looking, and watching.
Fred looked at her, waiting a half minute, and seeing that she didn't seem ready to say anything, he spoke, "Laura, you're here. I didn't think anyone was home. I was worried about Donny when he dropped the phone, I could just hear crying. So I came right over. I hope that's ok, I was really worried."
"I know. I heard you. I, um, heard everything, from when Donny dropped the phone, and when you got here. I...I just couldn't deal with anything. You must think I'm a terrible mom...leaving my crying boy to be comforted by his...well, by whatever you are to him."
"No. I don't think you're a terrible mom. I know, believe me I know, what it's like to get sudden unexpected news. That doesn't mean it's bad news necessarily, it's just that it makes the whole world shift, things you thought you knew suddenly don't seem so certain anymore. You can't move, your brain shuts down, you feel frozen for a while. I think that's what happened to Donny here and it sounds like that's what happened to you," answered Fred.
Laura actually smiled slightly, though it was a hollow smile. "Yes, you definitely are a teacher. Fred, I'm sorry. I think we all need to talk. But we need a bit of time, to make ourselves feel like ourselves. The best way I know to do that is familiar routine. You're a guest in my home and I need to act a bit more like a hostess. Now, what can I get you? Coffee, tea, or juice? And I'm going to slice up some banana loaf. You're not allowed to say 'no' here. That way I can escape to the kitchen for a few minutes while we all get our heads on straight."
Fred was able to smile in return. "Laura, I think you're one of the most intelligent and self aware people I know. That's a perfect idea. And I'm lucky enough to know some pretty amazing people. I'd love some tea, thank you."
Donny felt himself relaxing a bit, still on Fred's lap. His mom was right. The civil talk and friendly routine was making things feel a bit more stable. He knew he needed to use these few minutes to say a few things to Fred.
"Thanks Fred. For coming over. For being here. For...holding me."
Donny felt Fred hug him in response. "Anytime kiddo. Anytime at all."
"She's worried you know. That you're abusing me."
Fred kept smoothing his hair. It felt so wonderful. "I know, Donny. I know."
"Why aren't you scared?"
"Donny. I am scared. A lot actually. But...I don't know. This just seems more important right now. This is where I need to be." He smiled slightly. "A very smart man taught me that a while back."
They just sat quietly, enjoying the feel of each other next to them until Laura walked back into the room, laden with a large tray.
Fred moved to stand up, to help with the tray, but Laura stopped him. "No, no, I've got it Fred. You're a bit busy right now, what with your boy sitting there on your lap."
Fred shifted back, smiling at Laura. Wait a minute...did she say?...no, it must've come out wrong.
They busied themselves for a moment with getting their tea ready before they sat back to talk. Laura started the conversation.
"My son told me some things a little while ago that I'll admit I'm having a hard time dealing with. I didn't react well, I'll be the first to take responsibility for that. Despite that, the concerns behind those reactions are real, and I believe, valid. He's a boy. Barely eleven years old."
Fred opened his mouth to reply but was stopped by Laura's hand held up to indicate she wasn't finished.
"I'm his mother. It's my responsibility to ensure that he's safe and that he is being raised properly. I still don't think he's really quite old enough to be sure that some things won't change."
Donny's lower lip began to tremble again. She still wasn't done however.
"Despite all of that, I'm not blind and I'm not stupid. I can see, and have heard, how much you two care about each other. I've watched you together. Those things, the little behaviours, smiles, nudges, looks. Your eyes. The way you talk to each other, your voice tone and the gentleness of your words with each other. They don't lie. Your feelings are real. The differences in Donny's attitude and outlook lately are obvious and I know you've had a lot to do with that Fred.
"That puts me in a real difficult position. I have two completely different ways of looking at this, and they're mutually exclusive. So, I'm stuck trying to figure out what I should do. I'm feeling a bit like any choice I make is the wrong one. I'm not used to that. Usually I can distill things down pretty quickly, and figure out which way to go, and then stick with it."
Fred and Donny kept stealing looks at each other during this little speech. Wondering where it was leading. Everything said so far was pretty ambivalent and unhelpful. Donny's heart continued to beat fast in his chest, he was sure that Fred could feel it, and he continued to sweat. Part of him wondered if his sweating was making Fred uncomfortable, but then he realized that Fred was sweating just as much, and that his heart was beating just as fast. Fred's face was almost neutral though. He had more practice at controlling his visible emotions. Donny was quickly beginning to realize after all of the events of the past few weeks that just because somebody didn't show feelings, that didn't mean they didn't have them. Maybe even really strong ones.
Laura's speech continued. "So, having said all of that, I've reached a decision. If you can call it that.
"I've decided that, unless I see a reason to change something, I'm not going to. I can see how important you are to each other. If I made a mistake and did something to ruin that I'm not sure either of you, or myself for that matter, could ever forgive me. I can also see how this could lead to a disaster, and I'm well aware of my responsibility to protect and care for Donny. You can spend time together. Lots of time, as long as Donny's responsibilities are taken care of. Yes, he can be at your home Fred. Don't talk to me about overnights right now though. Now is not the time for that discussion. Maybe later, in a few weeks or months. Maybe never. But I need to be certain, absolutely certain, that Donny is safe with you. So that's what I'd better see. Respect. Boundaries. Understanding. Be aware of yourselves and respect each other. Be aware of where you are and who you are with. When you're around me, respect me." She hesitated, meeting both of their gazes in turn. "Am I making myself clear here?"
Donny and Fred looked at each other. They replied simultaneously: "Yes, mom" and "Yes Laura."
"If anything, anything at all, happens to make me change my mind, if I think there's any reason, and I mean any reason at all, that I need to change things, to protect Donny, I guarantee I will do so. By absolutely any and all means necessary.
Several seconds passed while she paused to sip her tea. "I'm not trying to scare you here." She stopped and laughed, a laugh without any humor at all in it. "Actually, that's not true. I guess I am trying to do exactly that. For god's sake, don't make me regret this. I won't be able to live with myself."
Donny was pretty sure she was finished. He felt safe enough to say something. He gave Fred a hug, got up from his lap, and walked over to his mom and sat down in her lap. Putting his arms around her in a hug he said, "Thanks mom. You won't regret it. Not ever. I promise. This is too important. To all of us." Donny kissed his mom on her cheek and then hugged her again.