Chapter 4, Altered States
From Chapter 3:
"Mike?" he said. Mrs. Shaw and Mike approached Eric and stopped. Eric smiled and offered his hand for a shake. 'Jeez,' he considered, 'he does look very similar to me at that age.' His son was definitely in the transition from boy to young man, Eric thought, as he studied Mike's trim, sturdy physique and feet that were out of proportion to the rest of his body. If Flynn genes were in play, he knew that Mike was primed for a growth spurt.
"You're my real father?" Mike asked. He grabbed Eric's hand and held it very firmly.
"Yes, Mike. I'm your father. Your real dad." Eric shook the smaller hand and raised his eyebrows. For a moment, Mike seemed unsure what to do. They voluntarily released each other's hands and Eric gestured with open arms.
"Hi." Mike walked into Eric's arms and wrapped his dad into a crushing hug. He sighed, buried his head into Eric's chest and started crying. Eric reached around to balance the hug.
The father and son stood together until Mike's sobs ran out. Mrs. Shaw backed away to afford privacy.
"Why did Mom do that? It just sucks." Mike asked, after he pulled away from Eric.
"Mike, it does suck. I guess your mother had a lot of problems that overwhelmed her. I'm really sorry, son."
"Um, Thanks. I'm glad you're here." Mike's stare into Eric's eyes telegraphed an initial, guarded acceptance.
"Listen, I saw a burger place not far from here. Why don't you get whatever you brought with you, and we'll grab some lunch. We're okay to leave this place." 'Okay,' Eric thought, 'the first couple of baby steps have worked out.'
"Yeah, I'm kinda hungry. I'll get my backpack and the letters. By the way, I had no idea that you had been writing me back then. They're really neat." For the first time, Mike offered a small smile.
"I brought many more with me. These were letters that were returned unopened. We've got lots of lost time to make up, buddy." Eric nodded, as Mike walked back to the hallway. He hoped that Mike would buy into the move to California.
"Mr. Flynn, I think this went better than I expected," Mrs. Shaw offered. "Under normal circumstances he would need a strong, male role model. With the mother gone, you've got a big job ahead."
"I know what you mean. I think that the letters he's been reading point out that I really didn't want to desert him. My challenge is for him to understand that his life is now going to continue with me out in California. I have no idea about his friends, school, nothing."
"You seem to be a man with a good head on your shoulders. I feel positive about your ability to effect change," Mrs. Shaw said, as Mike returned.
"Let's hope. Thanks for looking after Mike," Eric said.
"That's our job. Your case is a success story we don't see that often. Good luck to both of you." She squeezed both their hands at the same time and smiled.
"Thanks, Ma'am," Mike replied. Father and son turned and walked out the door and into the future.
The stop at Fuddrucker's was a big hit with Mike. Eric was amazed that his son could put away with ease the 'world's greatest burger' and all the toppings. Eric made a mental note to adjust his household expense budget to handle feeding a soon-to-be teenager. Eric had a more modest chicken Caesar salad.
To relax the atmosphere, Eric spent the first part of lunch telling Mike about Solana Beach, his job, the home and the grandparents that Mike hadn't seen for over eight years. He purposely skirted, at this point, any mention of why Brenda and he had split up.
"I kinda remember goin' to the beach with Mom and you," Mike said, between mouthfuls. "I liked playing in the sand. Jeez, being with you has brought back all these memories."
"Yep, me too. I remember that we'd build things with the sand, and later the ocean waves would come up and wash them away. You and I did that a lot the year before you left. And we used to have picnics with your grandparents. They are really looking forward to seeing you."
"Those were the old people that lived in a house on a hill? When we'd visit, I remember thinking that you could see the whole world from there."
"Mike, that's where I live now." 'Might as well open up this can of worms,' Eric thought, 'while the subject is on the table.' "And this is where you're going to live."
Eric saw Mike's expression suddenly freeze as he stopped chewing and considered that statement. After a few moments he started eating again, slowly, while looking down at the plate to avoid eye contact.
"I guess I knew that was what we were going to do," Mike said, as he recovered from the news and swallowed the food. Facing Eric again, he continued, "Leaving my friends and school is goin' to be tough."
"We need to work out a plan that you and I can both live with. There are several things that we need to accomplish in the next couple of days. Just so you know, we need to travel back west on Sunday." Eric observed Mike digest this statement with no reaction.
"I've got some people I want to say goodbye to," Mike announced with widened eyes that only accentuated the blue pupils. "Mostly school friends."
"Let's talk about that, and what we need to do between now and Sunday. First, we need to take care of your mom. I'm aware of her wishes. Why don't I settle up the bill, and we can go back to the house and talk. Is that okay?" Eric observed that Mike didn't have a negative reaction to the suggestion; just an expression of sadness.
"Um, yeah, we could do that. But I gotta tell you that going back there gives me the willies...finding her like that, an' all. I really don't want to stay there tonight," Mike said in a voice of trepidation.
"Buddy, no problem. You're going to stay in an adjoining room with me at an airport hotel. We've got to sort through her things, though. And you should be thinking about what you want to take to California with you. You up for that?"
"Yeah, Dad. As long as you're with me, I can do that." He reached across the table and grabbed the back of Eric's hand. Eric rotated his hand so that they could firmly lock into a solid handgrip.
Eric was happily surprised to discover that the house, however modest, was clean and well organized. He remembered several pieces of furniture that had been part of his earlier, married life. Generally, the furnishings were pretty threadbare and not worth salvaging.
Mike began making two piles of belongings in his room: one for the Salvation Army and the other for packing. Eric called the school and arranged to meet with the principal at 4:30 p.m. He was told that because Mike's grades were so good, they would probably waive final tests and give him a pass for sixth grade graduation. 'Curious that there was no computer in the house,' he observed.
In the small master bedroom, there was a desk that contained all of Brenda's papers. Eric decided to take everything that looked important, including a will that bequeathed everything to Mike. He noted that nothing pertaining to her missing husband existed. The one bright ray of discovery was the deed to the house. 'Hmm,' he considered, 'She must have used money from an inheritance to pay off the mortgage?' Eric decided to find a real estate broker to handle a quick sale. Any money could go into Mike's college fund. All of Brenda's clothes were bundled up for pickup with Mike's discards.
Another detail remaining was Brenda's remains. Eric called a mortuary/crematorium that was recommended and arranged for the body to be picked up from the morgue and cremated once the county sent the release approval. He needed to know about her friends, church or social groups. 'Better see what information Mike can shed,' he concluded.
"How are ya doing?" Eric asked, walking into Mike's bedroom.
"There's a lot of sh...um...stuff to sort out." Mike sheepishly smiled and shrugged. "I guess that I don't have to worry about furniture?"
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, your new room will be the one I had when I was your age. We'll get it fixed up. I've got a lot of sh...stuff to sort out when we get back," Eric said with a smile and wink. "How's your computer skills? I noticed that you don't have a computer here."
"Um, Mom thought that a computer was just too corrupting for someone my age. We also couldn't afford one. My school has a computer program and a lab. I can do pretty well for someone who doesn't have a PC at home. Jeez, Dad, I'm the only person in my class who doesn't have a computer."
"Well, we'll have to change that when we get back. Your mother did have a point. There's a lot of real crap on the Internet. And instant messaging can lure some kids into dangerous situations. However, I'll set you up with a computer...and some ground rules...when we get back."
"Cool. That'd be rad." Mike flipped on a trademark, broad Flynn smile.
"Mike, did you and your mom go to church? We need to discuss whether or not we need a service for her in Richmond. Just for your information, we'll have something special for her back in California. That's what she requested."
"We went to a Baptist church up to a year ago. But the guy she married really objected to going. In fact, he called the junior minister a fairy and a queer...plus other things." Mike looked at Eric like he wanted to share something more.
"Really? What brought this on? That sounds pretty hateful." Eric decided to gauge the level of homosexual acceptability from his son. 'This is like the proverbial 500 pound gorilla in the room that no one will acknowledge,' he thought.
"I don't exactly know. I remember once that we were out for dinner and Rev Dan - that's what we kids called him - came in the restaurant with another guy. This must have been Rev Dan's best friend...I'd always see them together at church functions, picnics and at the mall. Ya know?" Mike paused and took a sip of Coke.
'Best friend, at the very least,' Eric thought, as he waited for the rest of the story.
"Anyway, my 'loving step dad' was really pissed and started calling them both bad names from the table. Then he went over and really got in their face. It got so bad that Rev Dan and his friend left the restaurant. I never went back to a Sunday church service after that." Eric couldn't help but inwardly smile at Mike's sarcastic reference to his step dad.
"I feel sorry for your minister and his friend. That's a shitty way to treat people." 'Might as well use a street-term to loosen up the conversation,' Mike decided.
"Yeah, real shitty," Mike replied with a small laugh. "Once I saw Rev Dan and his friend in the mall and apologized to them for what happened. They were real nice and Rev Dan said that my step dad was speaking from a level of ignorance and hate; that accepting of all types of people marked a real Christian. Rev Dan even invited me to come to the Christian Youth meetings on Wednesday nights. Occasionally I would go on the sly and tell Mom that I was studying over at a friend's house. He's a neat guy."
"Your minister offered good advice. Sounds like your 'loving step dad' really hated gay people. Why do you think he was like that?"
"I don't know. He was a real a-hole, and I didn't like him or what he stood for. Other times he called me a few names like that when he got mad and said that I was probably going to be queer, too. I guess he knew about you." Mike looked at Eric and grimaced when he realized what he said.
"Son, I guess it's serious discussion time. Let's go out to the living room and talk about what you just said. You okay with that?" Eric asked with compassion.
"Err, yeah. I guess we should." Mike followed Eric out to the front room and sat on the couch. Eric pulled up a side chair near Mike. They were both silent for a few minutes.
"How much do you know? You gotta remember that I haven't been a part of your life for eight years."
"I only remember the times when Mom would be talking to her folks on the telephone a couple of years ago. Or when she and that guy would be discussing me. Your name would come up and usually Mom would really get pissed. I guess she didn't realize that I understood what she meant by calling you a fag."
"Terms like fag, queer, fairy. Are these names that people call each other in your school because someone is a homosexual?" Eric was curious about Mike's term of reference to steer the discussion along to a positive conclusion...he hoped.
"The guys call each other that all the time. I don't think they mean anything by it, though. There's one boy at school who's a sissy. But he's more ignored than anything."
"I guess some things never change. It was the same way when I was your age," Eric said. "But it doesn't make it right."
"Um, is it true? That you like guys instead of girls?" Mike had an expression of concern mixed with anxiety. 'Well, there it was,' Eric thought. 'My son doesn't beat around the bush.'
"First, Mike, I don't think that anyone has the right to call people names to inflict hurt. Second, to answer your question, I denied that I was a homosexual when I was younger. I came to realize after your mother and I married that I really was gay. Gay is the term that is acceptable. I finally was honest with myself by acknowledging that I was attracted to men and told your mom. She couldn't handle that news when I told her."
"So that's why we moved back here?"
"She wanted a divorce, but I thought you two would remain in California. After we split, she took off one day with you and cut off all contact with me. I tried, buddy, real hard to be part of your younger life. She just wouldn't let me." Eric offered a hand and Mike accepted it. They held each other tightly and didn't say anything for a few minutes.
"Um, how could you choose something like that?" Mike asked. Eric picked up that it was an innocent question of curiosity and was relieved that his son seemed to accept what he had just mentally digested.
"You don't. That's the point. Most scientists and doctors now agree that it's something that's part of genetic makeup. It's not a choice. It's something that you're born with."
"You mean like the same way that I really like girls?" Mike asked with a grin.
"Yep, that's about it," Eric replied with a laugh. "Mike, I'm your Dad and I'm prepared to do everything in my power to provide a loving, safe home for you. I need to know if you're going to be all right with me being, um, well...gay?" Eric stared into his son's eyes with quiet, pleading and caring questioning. There was a silence that enveloped the room. All Eric could hear was heavy breathing.
"I guess the easy answer would be 'I don't have a choice'. But the real answer is that I'll try to figure out what this all means. Mom's death and you coming has been a real eye-opener."
"A lot has been thrown your way, Son. I'll try to make it up to you."
"I'm willing to give it a try, too." Mike returned Eric's stares before dropping his head for a moment.
"Buddy, that's all I can ask for. Please understand that I've always loved you and will never let anyone or thing harm you. I'm also a little rusty being a parent. If something bugs you, promise that you'll let me know. Deal?" Eric reached over and offered his hand.
"Yeah, deal." Mike smiled and took Eric's hand.
"Time to get over to your school and meet with your principal. Let's lock up and finish this tomorrow. Okay?"
"Yes, Dad. I'm ready."
"By the way, there are a lot of cute girls in your new neighborhood," Eric said with a Flynn grin.
Mike giggled as they bumped knuckles. The two, genetic grins matched each other.
"Hi, babe. I hope you don't mind me calling at The Joynt?" It was almost midnight in Richmond, but Eric was concerned that, approaching nine in California, Brian would be too busy to talk.
~~~ "Not a problem. When I knew it was you, I came back to the office. How's it going?"
"It's been crazy but good. My son has been very accepting of the scenario that I've offered. I guess I'm the security blanket and emotional glue he needs."
~~~ "And much more, 'Dad'. I'm sure of that. How's his reaction to coming out here?"
"Mike is getting warm to the idea of moving to California and seems to be open-minded about his dad being gay."
~~~ "Wow, that is progress. You going to wrap up everything and get back on Sunday?"
"That's the plan. Apparently Brenda didn't have many friends. Because of the a-hole - to use Mike's words - she was married to; Brenda pulled out of all church activities and was pretty much a recluse. I can only assume that this husband of hers was very domineering. And I think that the guy's homophobic attitude and comments probably work in my favor."
~~~ "Sounds like Mike didn't have a very happy home life."
"It even gets stranger. From what I can gather, Mike's most positive adult male influence is his minister: a single guy who is always accompanied by his best friend...boyfriend, I think. My gut reaction is that Mike has subconsciously put the pieces together of that relationship. Gives me a chance to be accepted...if I'm a good dad."
~~~ "You'll be great. Maybe he'll have room for an Uncle Brian?" he asked with a chortle.
"Uncle at the very least," Eric replied, joining in the laugh. "Listen, I've got to go. Tomorrow I need to make sure that Brenda is cremated, help Mike get everything packed and find a real estate agent to handle the house. Then Saturday, I'm hosting a pizza farewell party at some popular, local place that the kids love. This'll be a chance for Mike to say goodbye to his friends. I'm also going to invite his youth minister and see if the boyfriend shows up. I'm sure that there will be an interesting story to tell you when I get back."
~~~ "Okay, Eric. Would you be embarrassed if I told you I really miss you? When you guys get back, I'd like to figure out how we can get a little time to ourselves. I've been thinking a lot about the other evening. Fuck, has it only been two days ago since the world changed for me?"
"Okay, truth time. I feel the same way. Whatever happened the other night wasn't a fluke. You're a special guy, and I want you in my life for a long time." Eric felt that if this didn't scare Brian off, nothing would.
~~~ "Sounds like we've got like feelings. Babe, let's talk Saturday. Why don't you call me around 1:00 p.m., your time? I'll be at the restaurant."
"Will do, you sexy guy. I got a feeling that things are going to work out. Bye, babe." Eric had to stop himself from using the "L" word.
~~~ "Bye, bye."
The powerful roar and thrust of the Rolls Royce engines threw the passengers back into their seats on takeoff. Mike and Eric were able to stretch out with a seat in the middle not occupied. Mike was eager to take the window seat; it was his first airplane trip. With the one stop in Charlotte, N.C., it would be a full day of travel. They would not arrive in San Diego until early evening.
Eric decided to pack all of Mike's belongings in boxes and pay the additional freight costs. He added Brenda's documents to his carry-on suitcase for safekeeping. The other carry-on package was her cremated remains.
"This is really neat," Mike said, once they leveled off. "How long will the flight take?"
"If we were going non-stop, it would be around six hours. However, with our one stop in Charlotte to pick up more passengers, it'll be closer to a nine-hour trip. You'll get to take off one more time."
"Cool. Um, what happens if I have to, um, go to the bathroom?"
"All these planes have toilets. They're kinda tiny, though. Let me know when ya have to go and I'll show you what the deal is."
"Thanks, Dad. And thanks for helping me get through this. I'm goin' to miss her...a lot. But I'm just going to think about the happy times."
"That's a great idea. I still think about the happy times we all had together. And I'm really looking forward to you and me getting to know each other. There are so many things I want to do with you. And you've got a great set of grandparents that will probably spoil you rotten." Eric and Mike laughed as he playfully punched his son on the shoulder.
"I don't mind that, as long as it's okay with you."
"In moderation, I think that you're entitled to a little spoiling...and a little love. I think you'll really like my mom and dad. They're excited about seeing their grandson again."
"So who's Brian? The guy who's picking us up at the airport."
"He's a friend that volunteered to meet us. I really appreciate it 'cause the shuttle from the airport to our home is a long drive."
"Is he, um, well, you know...gay...like you?" Mike asked with an expression of innocence.
Eric looked over at his son, swallowed hard, and sighed. 'One more hurdle,' he thought. "Before I answer your question, do you mind us establishing some ground rules?"
"Ah, yeah, I suppose. Whaduya mean?" Mike furrowed his brow and looked into Eric's eyes for clarification.
"I'm always going to be completely honest with you. Remember that, Son. However, my answer to your question is what gay people call 'outing'. That is revealing someone's sexuality without his or her permission. Like your mother's former husband, some 'a-holes' like to make life miserable for gay people. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Putting it that way, yeah, I understand. If someone wants to know about some guy's private life, they're going to have to ask them. Right?"
"Correcto. The only exception will be talks you and I have. Now, to answer the question; yes, Brian is gay and we're becoming good friends. I'm pretty sure you two will hit it off just fine. He also manages a restaurant that we'll have to check out sometime."
"Ah, yeah. If he's your friend, I'd like that. Maybe he's like Rev Dan's friend?" Eric was privately amused and pleased that Mike seemed to digest this information.
"Best friends? Maybe," Eric said with a slight pause. "In the meantime, I thought we could invite part of his family for a spaghetti dinner next week. Brian's sister and her two sons are temporarily living with him. I haven't met them yet. The boys are four and six as I recall."
"If you'll let me help cook. I did that with Mom all the time. The last few months I made all the meals," Mike replied with a tone of sadness. Eric noticed a tear appear before Mike turned his head towards the plane window.
"Sure, Son. That'd be great." Eric patted Mike's thigh before closing his eyes.
"Hey, guys, over here." Mike and Eric heard the voice and turned to see where it was coming from. Mike noticed Eric's grin become broad when he spotted a man standing next to a luggage cart.
"There's Brian. You stay here with all our stuff, and I'll bring him over with a cart." Mike was staring at the man who recognized them.
"Sure, Dad. We can use all the help we can get." 'So this is Brian? A cool looking dude,' Mike thought. 'Best friends? Hmmm, I wonder...' He watched as Eric greeted the man with a handshake and pat on the shoulder. The two said something, waved in Mike's direction and came over with the cart.
"Son, this is my friend Brian McGruder," Eric said as they all gathered together. "This is Mike."
"Hi, Mike. Welcome to San Diego." Brian offered his hand and Mike eagerly shook it.
"Thanks, Mr. McGruder. It's been several years since I've been here. I guess it'll take some time to get used to the differences." Mike was a little amused to notice the 'locals' with their suntans, tees, shorts and flip-flops. Just then a group of young women walked by. 'Wow,' he observed, with a leer, 'do all the girls have such big cans out here?'
"First, please call me Brian or Mac. Second of all, if I read your mind correctly, there's lots of hot, young girls in California," Brian said with a snicker. "And a good-looking young guy like you will be very welcomed by our single, female population."
"Since Dad calls you Brian, I will too. If there are a few girls where we'll be living, I think I'd enjoy gittin' to know them." Mike turned to Eric and grinned. All three paused for a second and let out a loud laugh.
"School is out next week, and we've got a great community pool. I'm sure you'll find a few new friends," Eric replied. "In the meantime, let's load the cart and get down to the baggage claim. We'll probably need two more carts for all the luggage and boxes."
"I'm glad that you suggested using the Cherokee. Sounds like we're going to need all the cargo space available." Brian started stacking the cart with the carry-ons.
"Yeah, your Wrangler wouldn't have cut it," Eric said, as he finished the loading.
"Gee, you've got a Wrangler, Brian?" Mike's eyes became wider with this new information.
"Yep. Something I've driven since college. It's great for the beach. I'm off work on Wednesday. Maybe you and I can take it for a drive?"
"I'd really like that. Could you show me some of the town?" Mike couldn't help but like this new adult in his life. 'Maybe things won't be so bad out here?' he thought.
"If it's alright with your dad, we gotta date." Brian said. He placed his hand on Mike's back in a fashion that made the young man feel protected.
"That's a great idea, 'cuz I've got to work. Brian, I'm officially appointing you Uncle. Is that okay with both of you?" Eric asked with a sincere inflection in his voice.
"Works for me. How about you, Mike?" Brian squeezed Mike's shoulder for emphasis.
"Me, too. Just don't forget to show me where all these girls are," Mike replied in an upbeat manner. 'Yeah, I think things are going to work out okay,' he decided. 'A dad and an uncle.' He smiled, as he thought of this 'twofer' walking next to him.
TO BE CONTINUED