This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive comments are welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 45 - Sterling's Visit, Part I
Damon was not at all comfortable with the insistence by Bryce that he be along for every aspect of the meeting between father and son. He thought Bryce was being unnecessarily rigid. But he agreed to cooperate as he saw how important this was to his boyfriend. Consequently, he was present in the lobby of the airport with Bryce when Sterling Winslow came striding into their presence on that Saturday evening. To his credit, Sterling did not seem disturbed by Damon's presence, but greeted him cordially. They made their way to the baggage claim area. As they waited for Sterling's luggage, he forthrightly told his son, "I don't take very well to non-negotiable demands, Son. I'm a lawyer. I make my living negotiating. But I'm here to see what we can work out. I made reservations at the Hilton, so I'd like to check in there first, then we can have dinner."
"That's fine, Dad. I made dinner reservations for the three of us at La Rincon Latina. It's a Mexican restaurant run by some friends of mine."
"Is that the place you took Nan?"
"Yes, the same place," Bryce confirmed.
"Good. I have a list of places and people your mother and sister put together that I'm supposed to try to see. That's one of them," Sterling said.
And so it was, not too long afterwards, that the three men found themselves being seated at La Rincon Latina by Isobel Sandoval, who chatted away about the soup kitchen as she led them to their table. Then Mike appeared.
"Buenos tardes, señores. My name is Miguel, and I will be your waiter this evening."
"Mike, this is my father, Sterling Winslow," Bryce introduced him. "Dad, our waiter is Mike Sandoval, who is in one of my classes at school, and also a friend from church."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Winslow," Mike said.
"Likewise. You're another of those on my list," Sterling said.
Mike looked perplexed about that.
"Dad has come to look over my situation here. Just answer whatever he asks," Bryce advised.
"Okay, sure. But for now, here are your menus. I'll be back shortly for your orders. In the meanwhile, can I get you something to drink?"
"Dewar's and soda," Sterling ordered.
"Coke, Mike," Bryce said.
"That goes for me, too," Damon echoed.
"Let's order before we get into anything serious," Sterling suggested.
In consequence, it was several minutes later, after they had made their selections, and after Mike had brought their drinks and taken their orders, before anything more was said about the purpose of Sterling's visit.
Sterling began the serious part of their conversation. "Your mother is very upset, Bryce, and I cannot resist her when she gets upset like this. As a result, I have cancelled my appointments on Monday. I will be here for the next two days to try to resolve the difficulties which arose last weekend. I admit, I was pretty angry with you last Sunday. But as I said, I make my living negotiating, and I know an angry negotiator is a poor negotiator. I'm here primarily to listen and find out what the situation is. So let's take it from there. As I said, she and Nan gave me a list of people to see and places to visit. They also informed me that my ideas about homosexuality were way off base - 'antiquated and inaccurate' I think Nan's phrase was. So, I need to get to know the entire situation before making any kind of commitment. You do know that you caught me entirely unprepared last Sunday. I'm not used to that."
"I'm sorry about that, Dad. When Nan came, back at the beginning of October, she found out that I'm gay, and that Damon is my partner. She told Mom. We've talked about it over and over since then. Mom was preparing you for this news. I know it's not what you had in mind for me, but this is who I am. Mom did tell me she was taking it easy, hoping you would get to like Damon before introducing the topic of our relationship," Bryce explained.
"Yes, I know all that. Your mother has, I think, made a clean breast of it," his father confirmed.
"I did not intend to put you on the spot last Sunday. I was willing to wait until Mom had softened you up. It was Chip's offensive comments which made me lose my cool."
"Your mother is very good at softening me up," Sterling admitted. "She and Nan both have been at me ever since Sunday. The talk at home has been unceasing. I'm sorry things happened the way they did. And let me say right now," he said, turning towards Damon, "I have no animosity towards you, Damon. I thought we got on very well, up until Sunday, anyway, and I have a broader ... shall we say, experience? ... of different kinds of people, than Chip."
For the first time since Sterling arrived, Damon contributed significantly to the conversation. "I have no problems with that, Mr. Winslow. I thought you treated me very nicely. In fact, I even told my stubborn boyfriend he was being too harsh on his family. Only one person actually caused me any grief."
"Oh!" Sterling reacted, evidently not expecting that. Turning back to Bryce, he then asked, "If what Damon said is true, what do you have against me, and especially against your mother and Nan? Why are you shutting us out?"
Bryce sighed. "From the moment we entered the house last Wednesday, Chip made it clear he did not want Damon there. He made a big deal about avoiding him, sitting as far away from him as he could, and arguing in a condescending manner about every statement Damon made, even before he was downright rude on Sunday. At no time that I know about did any of you tell him to behave himself, or defend Damon against his arrogance. On Sunday, we got no support at all. That's what I have against you - all three of you. I told Nan before I left what it would involve if I were ever to return. Since then, I've sent the same message to Mom. I got no response. That's the second thing."
"You did get a response, Son. I'm here because of their unceasing advocacy at home. And also, I should add, because you're my son, and I don't want to lose you," Sterling said.
Mike appeared with their entrées at this point, so conversation was suspended temporarily. Sterling, however, involved Mike in the process. "Is it Mike or Miguel?" he asked.
Mike grinned. "On my birth certificate, I'm Juan Miguel, and here in the restaurant my dad wants us to use our Spanish names, to fit into the ambiance, you know. But, among friends, like Bryce and Damon, I'm Mike."
"Thanks. If you don't mind, I'll call you Mike, because I want to talk to you as Bryce's friend. Is there some time we can talk when you're not working?" Sterling asked.
Mike grinned. "Two weeks ago Bryce treated us all to Sunday dinner after church. We don't work on Sundays. Well, Mom does, but not me or Kyle or Terry."
"I have never seen such blatant mendacity," Bryce teased Mike.
"Hey, what can I say? I liked the Olive Garden," Mike replied, then, looking over his shoulder, "but don't let my dad know I said that."
They all laughed.
Looking to Bryce for approval as he spoke, Sterling then said, "All right. How about a repeat for dinner at the Olive Garden after Mass tomorrow?"
"Great!" Mike responded.
"Will you speak with your mother, and ..." he hesitated. "... and anyone else involved?"
"Sure. They enjoyed it, too. Don't get me wrong. We do a great job here at La Rincon Latina, and my dad is a great guy, but a little variety is always appreciated, especially if someone else is paying," Mike said.
"Understood," Sterling confirmed.
The fare set before them was, indeed, an excellent meal, which all three of the diners enjoyed. Sterling commented that he had eaten at many Mexican restaurants, and this was definitely one of the best. There was minimal conversation as the three men made their way through their main courses, but, appetite slaked, as they slowed down over the last few bites, then over flan for dessert, Sterling returned to the purpose of his visit.
"Your mother and Nan have prepared a list of people I should talk to and places I should visit. We've already taken care of part of that, but do you think you can arrange for me to see Dr. Dickinson and Father Miller? I guess we'll be going to St. Boniface in the morning. Then, there's your fraternity. And how about this soup kitchen?" he asked.
"Dad, we wouldn't miss it. If you don't want to come along for the entire three hours, I can drop you off back at your hotel, I guess, but Damon and I will be there from four to seven tomorrow," Bryce told him.
"All right, that takes care of that. How about your fraternity?"
"Tomorrow before we go out to the soup kitchen might be best," Bryce said. "And as to Dr. Dickinson and Father Miller, I'll have to call and see, but we can probably work something out."
"I'm really pleased you're being so cooperative," Sterling said. "I know this is kind of awkward, me coming here like some kind of inquisition or something."
"Dad, I have nothing to hide. I intended all along to let you know about me being gay, and about Damon. It was just a matter of timing. I only accepted this myself a few months ago. For two years, I was in denial, but now I'm at peace with who I am," Bryce proclaimed.
Sterling answered, "I do remember that you had a rough time two years ago. Is this connected?"
"Yes, Dad. But it's a long story."
"I'm here to listen. Since we're about finished here, how about telling that story back at my hotel?" Sterling suggested.
"Okay," Bryce agreed.
Damon spoke up. "Chip said I was from the slums of Chicago. He was right about that. I'm not proud of my background, but I want you and Bryce to get over this, so I'll answer any questions you have, sir, about that or anything else."
"Damon may come from an unimpressive background, but he's going places," Bryce immediately leapt to the defense of his boyfriend. "Think about this, Dad. It's not difficult for someone like me to be socially acceptable. I had all the advantages you and Mom provided from the time I was born. Damon has had to work for it every step of the way. He deserves a lot more credit than I do for being where we are now, despite Chip's sneers about having no background."
"Damon, I hope I have made it clear that I did not come with any hostile intent, but I do want to talk to you. In fact, you are at the very top of the list of people I'm to see. Martha also told me to talk to you without Bryce being around. Do you think we can arrange that?" Sterling said.
"Yeah, that's a good idea," Damon replied with a chuckle. "Did Mrs. Winslow tell you about how Bryce snatched the phone right out of my hand once?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, she did," Sterling confirmed. "We'll have to find a time when he can't interrupt."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Bryce accused his boyfriend.
"Yep," Damon laconically replied.
"How about you come to my hotel with Bryce and me?" Sterling said to Damon. "We can talk there after I hear Bryce's story. Later, if Bryce doesn't want to wait or won't come back, I'll send you home in a taxi."
"Conspiracy!" Bryce protested. To no avail.
When they left the restaurant, Bryce drove his father and Damon to the hotel, grumbling all the way. They gathered around a table in the lounge. There, Bryce related the story of his junior year in much the same way as he had to Father Miller. Sterling received this with concern.
"I knew only a small part of what was going on, I see," he commented with a serious look on his face. "I appreciate your candor, Son."
Bryce rose to leave, but Sterling asked Damon to remain. Bryce looked at his boyfriend, then heaved a sigh. However, he told Damon to call when he wanted to be picked up. No cab would be needed.
Later that evening, when Bryce came by to pick up Damon from his father's hotel, he found them very chummy. "What have you two been up to?" he asked suspiciously.
"We were just going over the finer points of King Oliver's 'Doctor Jazz,'" Damon replied. "You wouldn't understand."
"I think maybe you'd better call that cab, Dad. I may murder Damon on the way back to the dorm otherwise," Bryce announced.
"Where do you get this violent streak?" Sterling rhetorically asked. "Assaulting your brother, and now threatening to murder your partner. Really, Bryce."
"I'll plead temporary insanity. I was driven insane by those closest to me. After I put you two on the stand, no court in the land would convict me," Bryce illogically retorted.
On the way home, Bryce asked Damon, "How was it?"
"No problem. Your father hasn't a clue what being gay is like, but he really is trying, Bryce."
"What did you two talk about?"
"Well, my total lack of background, for one. But mostly about you," Damon snickered.
It was the snicker which caused Bryce concern. "Like what?" he demanded.
"Oh, nothing serious. Just little things, like paying my way into SAT. Like taking care of me while I was beat up. Like talking to Jesus. Like DeShawn's jacket. Like ...."
"I really am going to murder you," Bryce interrupted through gritted teeth.
Damon laughed. Then he grew serious for a moment, " ... and like what you were like last Sunday and Monday."
On Sunday morning Bryce and Damon returned to the hotel to fetch Sterling around ten thirty. He had been up for some time, and was talking to his wife when they arrived. He turned the phone over to Bryce, who explained that, given all the things Martha and Nan had on his schedule for his father to do, he most likely would not be in that afternoon for their weekly phone conversation. Martha expressed satisfaction that he was at least talking to her and to his father. That settled, the three of them left for St. Boniface.
Of course, they met the Sandovals and David Simpson in the parking lot. Sterling was introduced to Kyle, Terry, and David, all of whom thanked him for the invitation to the Olive Garden afterwards. As they walked towards the church, Mike took David's hand. Sterling halted briefly as he walked behind them, and looked questioningly towards Bryce. Bryce leaned in and said softly, "Yes, Dad, Mike's gay, too, and David is his boyfriend."
"I never would have guessed," Sterling mumbled.
As they were seated, the organist broke into Bach's "Ich Ruf' zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ." Then, the soprano chanted the "Introit," followed by the Processional Hymn, "Lift High the Cross." Another Mass at St. Boniface had begun. This Sunday, Deacon Murphy was preaching. He drew upon the readings for the day, finding a theme of preparing with real anticipation for the coming of the Lord on Christmas. He talked about anticipating his own birthday cake as a child, and how we should be longing for the coming of Christ just as a child can't wait for his own birthday celebration to begin. As they neared that part of the Mass called the Sign of Peace, Sterling gave Bryce a questioning look. Bryce wiggled his eyebrows, teasing his father, but when it came time he merely shook Damon's hand, wishing him Christ's peace, then did the same to his father, with what Damon called his 'shitty grin.' He knew his father was afraid he would actually kiss Damon. In fact, before the changes following Vatican Council II, this was called the Kiss of Peace, but only the priest and any deacon or subdeacon exchanged the greeting.
As they were leaving the church, Sterling accused Bryce, "You were trying to raise my blood pressure back there."
"If you didn't have such a suspicious mind I couldn't have done a thing," Bryce replied.
At the Olive Garden, Sterling sat between Isobel Sandoval and her elder son. He observed everyone carefully, but no one did anything he could object to. There was nothing to indicate to a casual observer that Bryce and Damon, or Mike and David, were gay partners. Thinking about what Bryce had said coming out of church, he asked himself, "Why should there be?" and got no answer. He utilized his position to ask Isobel quietly about Mike, and how she and her husband had handled knowing he was gay. Sure, it had been a surprise, she reported, maybe even a shock, but that was years ago, and now everyone just accepts it, she told him. That's just who Mike is, and she was very proud of her oldest.
"But what about ... um ... intimate relations?" Sterling asked.
"I worry more about Terry. Girls can get pregnant. And as far as sex is concerned, Mike has been very considerate. It's his brother who's the real Romeo in the family," Isobel replied.
They also talked about Bryce and Damon, and about the soup kitchen. Sterling found Isobel to be an intelligent and observant woman who liked his son because she had decided he was honest and compassionate, and who simply dismissed the occasional comments of the pastor at St. Boniface as nothing more than a nuisance. She did tell Sterling that, whenever Father Payne got too insulting, the entire family walked out in solidarity with Mike. She wasn't sure he ever noticed. On his other side, Sterling spoke with Mike, discovering that he was in Bryce's English class, and that he had been David's boyfriend for only a brief time. He found Mike determined to pursue a career as a teacher of English, in part, at least, to break the stereotype that Hispanics were uneducated in anything except Spanish. Sterling was also impressed that Mike was paying most of his way through the University from his job working at the restaurant.
After dinner, Bryce drove back to campus. He and Damon gave Sterling an abbreviated campus tour, pointing out where their various classes met, before ending up at the Sigma Alpha Tau house. There, thanks to some phone calls made by Bryce the evening before, they found Keith Hamilton, Curtis Manning, and Tom Blankenship awaiting them. Bryce introduced his father, and told Sterling that Tom was the fraternity President, Curtis the Pledge Master, and Keith his mentor. Bryce and Damon went off to talk with DuBois as his father and the three SAT brothers gathered in one corner to talk. Sterling was treated to an extended account of the entire story of Bick and Mack, with contributions from all three brothers. Curtis mentioned that Mack made a big deal about Bryce being gay, and announced it to the entire fraternity, but it did not seem to sway any votes at that crucial meeting on October 13. He repeated what he had once told Bryce: there may be other gays in the fraternity, but no one else was out, so he did not know for certain. Curtis made a point of that, as he felt Sterling needed to know that the fraternity which was accepting his son was not some kind of hothouse of gay activity he needed to worry about, but an ordinary college fraternity.
Curtis also spoke of meeting Bryce most mornings for a workout at the gym, and how he had missed the previous Monday, then told of Bryce's prowess on the soccer field. Tom entertained them all with an account of Bryce's mission to Jim Maguire, the Pan-Hellenic President, then spoke about the trash pickup, and about Bryce and Damon introducing the fraternity to the soup kitchen. Keith praised Bryce's determination and ability, as well as his agreeable personality. He also spoke about his becoming Bryce's mentor only after his conflict with Mack, and the blow up there at the house. By the time they broke up, Sterling was impressed with the young men he had been talking to.
From the fraternity, Bryce, Sterling, and Damon walked to Clay Hall, where they visited the rooms. Damon noted that the arrangement with the bathroom was a lot like what Bryce and Chip had back in Lincoln. Neither student chose to mention their private affairs, such as sleeping together, but Damon did say he appreciated being able to use Bryce's computer for school work, and to watch movies while he was recovering from his attack. Bryce then showed his father the lounge, and introduced him to a couple of guys who were watching television there. They were leaving when they encountered Wayne Diebold, who was also introduced. Bryce mentioned that he was on the football team. Damon decided to test the waters, and again thanked Wayne for the support at Mike's fraternity party two weeks previously.
"Hey, no problem," Wayne answered. "Like I said, Bryce helped me when some of the guys were giving me grief. It's only fair."
Outside, Sterling said, "Seems like everyone we run into has a story about you helping with something, Bryce."
Damon jumped in before Bryce could dismiss it. "That's the kind of son you have, Mr. Winslow. He's always helping someone. I should know."
When they got to the apartment building, once again DeShawn and Malcolm were both waiting for them. They looked confused by finding this strange older man in the car. Sterling got out to let the boys crawl into the back seat with Damon. Then, they were introduced to Bryce's father. The boys were a little subdued in the presence of this older man until Sterling asked DeShawn, "Is that your new jacket?" That set off a torrent of talk, with DeShawn going on and on about how much he appreciated having a winter jacket in this cold weather. By the time he even began to wind down, they were at the shelter.
"I understand you guys got paid by Mrs. Sandoval last week," Damon said.
"We didn't ask, honest!" DeShawn insisted. "She made us tell her what you guys gave us, then she did the same."
"It's okay," Bryce said. "We talked to Mrs. Sandoval earlier today, and she told us the same thing. Just don't expect double pay today, since you got paid last week."
"Oh, no. We'd never do that," DeShawn said.
"Well ... not since you know already," he grinned.
Inside, Bryce introduced his father to Deacon Jeffers and a couple of other volunteers. Then they set to work preparing for the meal. By four thirty, there was a long line of "guests" at the door when Damon opened it. The Deacon said grace, and the first diner started through the line. Sterling worked on the line for two hours like the other volunteers. He noted that the kitchen was run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and found that the volunteer next to him on one side was a factory worker, that on the other was an accountant. By six thirty the torrent of "guests" had dwindled to a trickle. He gratefully sat to eat with Bryce and Damon.
They had no sooner sat down than DeShawn came running in yelling, "Some guys are trying to get Bryce's car!"
Several dozen people rushed to the door, Bryce at their head. He saw Malcolm being held by a very large teenager, while two others were trying to get the car doors open. Suddenly, all three teens were surrounded by irate men. Surprised, they had little chance of escape. All three were marched towards the shelter door, as several people were on their cells calling the police. It seems the teens were known to some of the "guests" anyway, so they could not avoid the consequences of their actions. One boy did manage to break away and take off running, but one of the men simply said, "Well, the police can pick Leon up at his mama's place." This little bit of excitement meant they were later than usual leaving the shelter, but it also showed Sterling that his son was appreciated by these people, who had sprung to his defense.
As he dropped DeShawn and Malcolm off, Bryce paid them double.
"Hey, remember, we got paid by Mrs. Sandoval last week," DeShawn reminded him.
"Yeah, I remember," Bryce said. "This is combat pay."
The boys whooped, and ran into their apartment building.
Sterling insisted on being taken to Pat's, as Nan had stressed that as a place where lots of students hung out. Consequently, they went right after getting back from the soup kitchen, as Bryce did not want to be there with his father when it got kind of rowdy later in the evening. As they took their place in a booth, not the usual waitress but the bartender came over.
"You going to behave yourself tonight?" he asked Bryce.
Turning bright red, Bryce assured the man he would.
"What was that all about?" Sterling asked when the bartender had departed.
"Oh, nothing," Bryce said.
"Bryce ...." Sterling began.
"I'll tell you," Damon said. "Bryce has been embarrassed so many times already he can stand it." Damon then proceeded to remind Sterling of the story of the previous Sunday evening, when they returned from Lincoln, and Bryce sat there for several hours and got thoroughly soused, eventually being cut off by that very same bartender. They had not encountered that bartender since. He went on, despite Bryce's complaints, to repeat the tale about the next morning and afternoon. He ended with, "So, you see, Bryce was really very broken up about the way our visit turned out."
Sterling sat for several minutes before replying. "I guess I didn't quite realize just how much you were hurting, Bryce. Thank you for reminding me of this, Damon."
A short time later, Curtis and Maddy came in. Seeing Bryce and Damon there, they went to their booth, but then, seeing Sterling, hesitated. "I don't want to barge in," Curtis said, "but I do want to introduce my fiancée. Mr. Winslow, this is Madeline Moore, the future Mrs. Curtis Manning."
That led to an invitation to both Curtis and Maddy to join them, which they did. After a while, Sterling asked Maddy how she came to know Bryce. Was it because she was Curtis' fiancée?
"No. We're in the same English class, so I noticed Bryce the very first day. He ... he reminded me of my brother."
Once started, Maddy could not stop until she told that whole story. Bryce was again embarrassed to be reminded of how awkwardly he had handled his first real encounter with Maddy, but Sterling was more interested in Maddy's account of her brother's suicide, and the fact that she had left home, having no contact with her parents since August. It was impressed upon him that, had he not come to Clifton, he could have lost his son similarly, not to suicide, probably, but to estrangement.
Sterling, Bryce, and Damon left Pat's relatively early, as Monday promised to be a full day, too.