The Prince – Chapter 11
HELLO!!! I hope you guys continue to enjoy the story. Congratulations to those who won the contest for the advance copy of chapter 11. The rest of you will find out in the Epilogue! There will be a contest for an advance copy of chapter 12 as well, check out the yahoo group for details. the address for the group is ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/futurecanadiansgroup . Details of the contest will be there. Also, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email on me firstname.lastname@example.org . Well....happy reading!!! David :)
“Every Girl’s Dream/The Prince Charming”
***Wednesday, 17 March 2006, Albertville, AL***
The storm clouds loomed over the tiny northern Alabama hamlet that Gavin called his hometown. He’d lived there all his life, and when his sojourn to Montevallo didn’t work out quite the way that he’d hoped, the town seemed comfortable, almost as if it were willing to accept him for who he was, without reservation or condition.
As Gavin woke that morning, he wished that he could return to the place in his dreams, a place where he was happy, with Alex. He wished that he could hold Alex, rather than just a pillow that still bore the familiar musk of Alex’s body. He wished he could experience that happiness that for two months before had made him feel on top of the world. He’d had other boyfriends in the past, and those relationships hadn’t worked out. This one was different. With the others, it had been about the physical rather than the emotional connection between two people. He thought he’d been in love, but as he reflected on those moments, he knew that it had been infatuation and physical attraction, little more.
Alex was different, though. Alex was charming. Alex was smart. Alex was slightly nerdy, but with a God’s body. Alex was his prince charming. Alex had become, despite the short time of their relationship, his world. Gavin wouldn’t have cared that Alex was a prince, what stung at him so deeply was the fact that he’d opened himself completely to Alex. Alex hadn’t done the same for him. He thought he could understand the reasons for his actions, but there were questions. Those questions led to Gavin’s doubting that Alex had ever really loved him. The things running through his mind maddened him as he lay in his bed imagining as rain pelted his bedroom window.
Like Alex, he’d spent Tuesday wading through the thoughts of his mind. There was no resolution. He drove to Montevallo with Conner, and there was no resolution. He packed his things, and there was no resolution. He listened to random songs on Alex’s iPod, and gave it to Lisa to send to his love without complete conclusions drawn in his mind about the situation. He returned home, spending time talking to his little brother. Like Alex, he woke the next morning with a hard on, driven by the dreams that had run through his mind, but he didn’t feel like doing anything about it, as he knew he would be thinking about Alex the whole time. The thought was unnerving.
“Gavin,” Conner said as he opened the door.
“Morning, Kid,” Gavin said, trying to make it seem like he was stronger than he actually was. He felt he had to put on a strong face for Conner; Conner knew that his older brother was hurting, but didn’t understand why he was trying to hide his feelings. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah. I had good dreams. Did you?”
“They were OK,” Gavin said.
“Did you dream about Alex?”
Gavin took a deep breath as he continued to lie there. “I did.”
“Do you miss Alex?” Conner asked matter-of-factly.
“Yes. Very much so.”
“I do, too.”
There was a moment as Gavin took in the magnitude of his brother’s words. Alex obviously meant a lot of Conner. There was a certain way that Alex had with Conner that couldn’t be replicated, even by Gavin, who was the reason for the sun’s rise and fall, in Conner’s mind.
“So Mom told me to come up and tell you to get your ass out of bed for breakfast!”
“Did she say ass?”
“No,” Conner confessed, giggling a bit.
“I didn’t think so!” Gavin said, smiling at his brother. “Well, would you tell her that I’ll be down in just a little bit?”
“Yeah,” Conner said as he jumped off the bed that he’d climbed onto a moment before. Conner walked out of the room calmly. “MOM! He’ll be down in a minute!!!” Conner yelled from the top of the stairs as he walked down. Gavin smiled as he thought of Conner’s innocence and zest for life. He hoped in that moment that no one ever broke his heart.
After a second, Gavin pulled himself out of bed. He felt the cold March morning immediately after throwing the blanket from body. He quickly walked over to his closet and pulled out a t-shirt. He yawned as he walked to the bathroom just down the hall that he shared with his brother. He looked in the mirror above the single sink as he walked in. His face looked tired; he looked ragged and wanton for sleep. He looked down and turned on the water in the faucet. The warm water felt good as it flowed from the familiar silver-colored faucet. He washed the sleep from his face and brushed his teeth. Looking at himself again, he didn’t feel any better. In his mind, he didn’t look any better either. He turned the water off and walked out of the room once more. He walked back into his room and pulled on a pair of jogging pants that seemed far too tight on him. Then he realized that they were Alex’s. He took the pants back off and stood there in front of the mirror in his bedroom for a second. Most people would have thought him odd, but he didn’t care as he lifted the pants to his nose. They smelled of Alex. Dejected, he pulled them away from his face and stared at them for a second. He could still see Alex as he wore them. He could see if muscular runner’s frame fitting perfectly into the black pants. Two or three tears freed themselves from his eyes. They flowed down the bridge of his nose, falling onto the pants as they reached the tip.
“You OK, baby?” Paula asked as she walked in quietly and after seeing that he’d been crying.
“I’m fine, Mom.” Alex breathed in deeply and regained his composure.
“Gavin. It’s going to be OK. If it works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t,” she said as she walked over to him, “you will always have your Dad and me…and Conner…to help you through this. We will love you forever, without asking for anything but your love in return.” She squeezed her son gently as she looked up into his face.
“Why do I always find the ones that break my heart?”
“Sometimes, you have to go through a whole bunch of those before you find the one.”
“How many did you go through?”
“Well. We won’t discuss me,” Paula said, remembered fondly that she’d married the first and only man she’d ever loved.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, Gavin.” Paula released her grip on her son. “Now. I’ve about got breakfast ready. Come down when you get ready, OK?”
“Sure. I’ll be down in just a few minutes.”
“Alright.” Paula walked out of the room and left Gavin with his memories. As she walked down the stairs to the first floor of the house, she wished that there was something that she could say or do that would make him feel better.
“He alright?” Ray asked as Paula walked back into the kitchen. Conner was in the living room, watching cartoons as usual.
“I don’t know, Ray. This time it’s different.”
“I bet,” Ray said as he sipped a cup of coffee as he sat in the kitchen, waiting for the rain to let up.
Gavin put on a different pair of pants and walked out of the room. He slowly descended the stairs of the home he’d grown up in. His mind was blank for that moment.
“Well you look like hell,” Ray said, trying to make a joke.
“Yeah,” Gavin said without response.
“Be nice, Ray.”
“You be nice, woman!” they played, trying to make Gavin laugh a little bit. Instead, they watched as he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.
The phone rang in a moment. Paula rolled her eyes where noone could see. Ray picked the phone up and checked the caller ID. It was Edna, Paula’s mother.
“What’s up, bag-o-bones?” he said, answering the phone.
“If you weren’t my favorite son-in-law, I’d kick your ass for that remark!” Edna said in response. Ray laughed.
“I’m your only son-in-law.”
“Damnit. That’s right!”
“So what’s going on?”
“Well. My grandson is on the front page of the Birmingham News and the Gadsden Times.”
“Oh shit,” Ray said, getting a look from both Gavin and Paula.
“What’s wrong?” Paula whispered. Ray simply held up one finger, as if to say he’d explain the whole thing in a minute.
“What are they saying?”
“Not much. Just that a local boy met a Prince and that their story was featured broken by a Lorenzian newspaper. They’re saying that Alex faces losing his position, or something like that. I’m bringing them over in a few minutes, as soon as I can get my husband gone,” Edna told Ray.
“Alright,” Ray said.
“Is Gavin OK?”
“Well. I don’t know,” Ray said, trying to sound cryptic for those in the room not privy to the other side of the conversation.
“Well you tell him that I still love him more than anything.”
“Alright. See you in a little bit.”
“OK. Look forward to it.”
“Bye,” Edna said as she hung up the phone. Ray followed suit, taking a second to find the button that would turn the phone off.
“What’s wrong?” Paula asked.
“The News and the Times have stories about Gavin and Alex on the front page.”
“Fuck,” Gavin said, standing from the table.
“Oh no,” Paula said.
“Yeah,” Ray said.
“FUCK!” Gavin yelled. “This is too much,” he said, walking out of the room, into the foyer.
“Son. It’ll all blow over in a couple of days.” Gavin started to cry. In addition to dealing with his own emotions, he found himself wondering how he was going to deal with the staring. Like in every Southern town, there would be staring. People would look and whisper for months to come. He felt like he wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there for months. Ray stood from the table and walked over to Gavin. He wrapped his arms around Gavin and held him tightly, protecting him from himself.
“What’s wrong?” Conner asked.
“Gavin’s just dealing with some things,” Ray answered.
“Yeah,” Paula answered as Gavin sobbed into his father’s chest.
“This is too much,” Gavin said, pulling himself off his father. “First I found out that he’s been lying to me, and now I find out that the whole thing with him has cost me my privacy!” Gavin pulled off himself. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Gavin. That might not be wise.”
“Damn,” Gavin said, running his hand through his hair.
“It’s gonna be alright,” Conner said as he walked over and hugged his brother’s waist. The touch brought Gavin back to the reality of where he was. He wasn’t lost in his mind, but surrounded by people who loved and cared for him so deeply that they were willing to let him get lost his mind from time to time.
Gavin put his hands on his brother’s shoulder for a moment, and stood there calmly until Conner released himself. Gavin wiped his eyes and then looked at his family, who were all looking at him. Gavin ran his fingers through his hair once more, holding both hands on the top of his head for a second. “I’m going to step outside for a moment,” he said finally, walking away from his family and onto the front porch.
He opened the large front door and then pushed back the screen door to walk out onto the porch. He sat on the wooden swing and continued to cry. He stared out away from the house, at nothing directly ahead of him. Images of Alex played through his mind like an old home movie. He sat there for a few minutes, relishing the peace and quiet of the world around him. He bore the cold as he sat there for a few minutes. Conner brought him out a cup of coffee after a minute. Conner said nothing, but Gavin did take a minute to smile in his direction and thank his little brother for the thoughtful gesture. Conner smiled back and then ran back inside the house. The coffee was black and bitter, just how he liked it. Its flavor was the only thing that seemed true and reliable in his world at that moment.
Gavin’s grandmother arrived as he continued to sit on the porch. She looked at her oldest grandson and longed to take the pain away from him. She knew that this time was different from the others. This time, it was real. Alex was to Gavin what Paul was to her. ‘He’s young, though,’ she thought as she slowly climbed the stairs to the front porch. ‘He’ll find another love.’
“Mornin’,” she said as she went up to him with a smile.
“Hey Meemaw,” Gavin said, quietly and sedately, not looking up at his grandmother.
“I’m sorry about everything that’s gone on, Gavin. I hope that you’ll be OK.”
“I’m sure that I will, Meemaw. I always seem to find guys that are interested in me for a while, but then there’s always someone new around the corner,” he said out loud, but he didn’t believe it within himself. There was only one man that he could have, in that moment, imagined himself with. He wanted Alex and only Alex.
“That’s a way to look at it,” Edna said, trying to create a lighter mood but knowing in the back of her mind that it wouldn’t work. “So I brought these by, in case you wanted to look at them,” she said, handing him the papers.
“Thanks,” Gavin said, his eyes beginning to swell again. He took the papers from his grandmother and looked at the front page. The same picture that had been plastered on the front of the Times of Cabocha was on the front of the Birmingham News and the Gadsden Times. ‘Every Girl’s Dream,’ read the headline on the Gadsden Times. Birmingham’s headline of the day was ‘The Prince Charming.’ Both articles blasted Alex for coming to America to explore his sexuality. They’d assumed that it was the only reason he’d come to America. They assumed it was his sole intention. Gavin found himself agreeing with them on the one hand, but then growing angrier and angrier as he read article upon article and editorial upon editorial. They were, after all, poking fun at and making a villain out of his man. But he wasn’t his man anymore, or so he thought.
Gavin became frustrated. He didn’t know what to think or how to act. “I’m sorry Meemaw,” he said to his grandmother, who’d sat down in a chair next to swing in which he was sitting.
“Don’t apologize, baby. You have nothing to apologize for,” she said, leaning and placing her old-lady hands on his strong, young knee. Gavin began to cry uncontrollably. This was a reaction she’d hoped she’d never have to see coming from him. It wasn’t because he was crying, but because he was so hurt inside. She moved from the chair to sit beside him on the swing. She wrapped her frail arms around his wide neck and pulled him into her. She let him cry onto her shoulder. She closed her eyes and remembered when he was a baby. She never imagined that someone would break his heart so badly. She remembers joking with his great-grandmother, a women whom Gavin never remembered, that he was going do the heartbreaking. “Everything will be alright, baby. Meemaw won’t let anything happen to you,” she said.
Conner came outside in just a minute. In yet another sweet gesture, he climbed up onto his grandmother’s lap and wrapped his little arms around Gavin and his grandmother’s neck. “Hey Meemaw.”
“Hey babe. How’s my youngest favorite boy?”
“I’m fine,” Conner answered calmly. She kissed the top of his head. She turned and kissed the top of Gavin’s head as well.
“You know. I’m the luckiest Meemaw in the world. I have the two most wonderful grandsons in history.”
“Well, one at least,” Conner said. Not expecting the comment, both Edna and Gavin looked at Conner. For the first time since Monday, Gavin laughed. It was more of a chuckle than a laugh, but it was a start. Edna winked at Conner while the latter smiled like a Cheshire cat. Gavin’s happiness lasted only a few seconds longer, as the temporary good feeling left for the renewed sense of loneliness surrounded him.
“Why don’t I take you two out of lunch?”
“You don’t have to do that, Meemaw,” Gavin responded.
“I know I don’t HAVE to do it, Gavin. I WANT to do it. Besides, it might do you good to get out of the house for a little bit, and it would do your parents good to get rid the booger,” she said, motioning her head toward Conner.
“HEY!” the younger Butler said. Edna smiled and winked again at Conner.
“So I need to go to Oneonta, and there’s a nice restaurant down there called The Landmark.”
“Do they have fries?” Conner asked.
“Maybe. What do you say?” Edna asked Conner first.
“Only if Gavin goes!” he responded.
Gavin pulled himself up from his grandmother’s shoulder. “Sure. Why not? I have nothing else to do today.”
“Good. Well, go get ready, and I will be down here waiting on y’all,” Edna said.
“You CAN come in, Meemaw,” Conner said.
“I know, and I was. I’m missing prime ‘make-fun-of-my-son-in-law’ time!”
“Don’t make fun of Daddy,” Conner joked.
“Well, he makes fun of me.”
“OK. I’ll take care of that!” Conner said as if he were the king of the world. “Daddy!!! Don’t make fun of Meemaw!” he yelled as he went into the house.
“YEAH!” Edna said as she followed him in. There was a bit of laughter inside the house for a second. It did Gavin’s heart good to hear it. It almost gave him faith that things would be OK. Almost.
Gavin pulled himself from the swing and walked inside. The family was assembled in the kitchen. He walked quietly past them and upstairs to his room. He grabbed a pair of white boxer briefs and a pair of jeans. He walked down the hall to his bathroom and shut the door behind him. He looked in the mirror at his puffy face. He looked into his own eyes. He was alone again, and his face bore the scars, the pain, and the strife. He turned after a moment and turned on the water. Carefully, he checked the temperature, adjusting the water until it was just right. As it flowed for a second, he pulled off the clothes he’d been wearing that morning. They rested on the floor as Gavin climbed into the shower. The water was a perfect temperature. The man rested his right hand against the wall of the shower as the water ran down his back. The moment reminded him of the first time he saw Alex. The image was still fresh in his mind, as if it had just happened. He took a couple of deep breaths, but didn’t cry. He couldn’t cry. All of his tears were gone. He threw his head back after a second and let the water flow through his hair and across his face. He soaped his body all over quickly, as he realized the time that he’d been in there. As he rinsed himself off, he closed his eyes and let himself imagine that Alex was there with him. He missed the way Alex’s fingertips felt against his skin. Even though it had only been two days since he’d last seen him, he assumed that the memories of that good time would have to suffice in the future. Alex, now, was an unattainable dream for him. ‘Alex is a prince. What would a prince want with a common, country boy from Alabama?’ he thought to himself. As quietly as he entered, though, he climbed out of the shower and grabbed a towel, drying himself from head to toe. He pulled on his boxer-briefs and pants and went back to his bedroom. Randomly, he pulled a shirt from his closet and tried to pull it over his body. It was tight and too short for his torso, meaning that the shirt wasn’t his but Alex’s. He pulled it off after a second of peaceful recollection and put it back on the hanger from which it had come. He grabbed another shirt, a blue polo, and pulled it over his body. He pulled out a light sweater and went back downstairs to his brother, who’d moved from the kitchen to the living room to watch TV.
He sat beside his brother on the sofa. “I love you, Con-Con.”
“I love you too, Gavin.”
The two sat there for a few minutes until Edna came into the room. “Y’all ready?”
“Yes ma’am,” Conner said, jumping off the couch. He grabbed Gavin’s hand and pretended like he was pulling his much larger older brother from the couch.
“You’re drivin’, Gavin,” Edna said. “I’ll put gas in your truck, I just don’t want to drive right now.”
“Alright, Meemaw,” Gavin said, pulling his keys from his pocket. Gavin hugged both his parents and then left with his grandmother and brother. As they climbed into the car, Gavin noticed that he’d left his cell phone out all night in the truck. He saw that there was one missed call. When he pressed the button, it was the number he thought he’d never see again. Seeing that Alex had attempted to contact him, his anger and disappointment over the whole situation turned to sadness and, in some ways, despair. The indicator on his phone also showed that he’d left a voice mail for him. Before starting the car, he dialed the number, making his brother and grandmother wait just a moment as he checked the message.
“You have one new message,” the automated voice said. Edna and Conner could hear the message over the silence in the truck. Conner wasn’t paying attention; Edna tried to act like she wasn’t paying attention.
“Hey Gavin,” the message began, “This is Alex. I was just calling to check on you. I heard the news hit Birmingham, and I needed to know that you were OK. My sister Elizabeth was responsible for all of this. I’m sorry again that it all happened, and despite everything, I still love you very much.” There was a pause. “Call me if you like it. Ciao.” Gavin closed his phone, letting the system save the message for later action. He wanted to save it and listen to it later.
“You alright?” Edna said as Gavin put the key into the ignition and started the truck.
“I will be, Meemaw.” Gavin looked around and pulled his truck away from the house, turning around in the wide drive. Nothing more was said as he pulled out of t he driveway. There seemed to be an air of understanding in the truck that Gavin needed the peace and quiet to try to make heads and tails of things. He turned onto Highway 75, headed south through the country to Oneonta. They passed through Douglass, Snead, and Susan Moore before coming to the city of their destination. Edna instructed him to park the car on the side of the street, between a tiny thrift shop and Miller Soda Shop. Conner opened his door on the side away from the street. Edna helped him down as Gavin pulled himself out of the car. Edna and Conner walked hand in hand down the sidewalk toward the thrift shop. Conner, who’d been to the story with his grandmother before, ran toward the toys. Edna walked toward area where the kitchen things were, on her quest to find antique kitchen utensils. Gavin, left alone, walked toward the books. There were shelves and shelves of old and new books. Most of them were about various books of the bible, but there were a few other books. Gavin looked at a few before happening upon a book published in 1986 about the Royals of Europe. Of course the first, and largest, section was about Queen Elizabeth and the British monarchy. But then there were sections about Spain, Sweden, Norway, and Spain as well, in addition to Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. The next to last section was about one of particular interest to him: Lorenzia.
The first page of the section contained the name of the country in large print. Below the text, though, was a picture, in color, of Queen Isabel and Prince Petr. He stared at the Queen’s consort, the father of the love of his life, and inspected it. In the picture he could see Alex’s eyes and nose. He could see him in the tone and hue of his skin and in his build. He saw Alex’s smile in the Queen’s face. Like Alex, she seemed to have a genuine smile, not simply a grin that covered up pretense and falseness. On the next page were two pictures. There was a picture of Princess Elizabeth, Alex’s older sister, and the twins, Alex and Margaret. Given the date of the book, they were only babies at the time, but he could still see Alex. A lot of his facial features and expressions were still the same. In the picture, he could see Margaret taunting him.
“What you looking at?” Edna asked as she found Gavin looking at the book.
“I found an interesting book about European Royalty.”
“And guess who’s in here,” Gavin said.
Gavin held up the book so that his grandmother could look at the baby picture of Alex and his twin sister. “Only I would find this,” Gavin said, beginning to swell.
“Is that him, I wonder?” the pair heard two women whisper from the next aisle of the store. Gavin began to feel their stares.
“I think it is Hazel!” the second one whispered.
“Why Hazel Martin!” Edna said, taking the women off guard. She looked at them and smiled.
“Edna Troussard?” the second of the two women said.
“Well. It’s Edna Smith now, but yes. It’s me,” Edna said, continuing to smile.
“How have you been?”
“Good. Would you two do me a favor, though?”
“If I can.”
“Stop going around talking about people. Gavin’s life is none of your business,” Edna said. She looked sternly at the women, who were taken off guard by the comment.
“Well…” Hazel said, looking at the other woman. “I can see someone is still the same bitchy person she was in high school.”
“I’m not a bitch, Hazel. I just don’t like pompous people who want to act like they have money when they really don’t. I don’t like people who claim to be Christian and then go around gossiping all day long.”
“Well. What we talk about really isn’t any of your business, now is it?”
“Honey. I kicked your ass in high school. I will be more than happy to do it again.” Edna continued to smile at the women, who both walked away from them without saying anything more.
“Damn, Meemaw,” Gavin said.
“Well, she shouldn’t have started shit,” Edna said, making sure that the women walked far enough away and kept their eyes off her grandson.
“I love you, Meemaw.”
“I love you, too,” she told Gavin.
“MEEMAW!” Conner yelled as he walked up. “Those two bitches were talking about Gavin, calling him a faggot.”
“Conner. I love you, but never use those two words again.”
“Yes ma’am,” Conner responded. “Are you mad at me?”
“Not at all, but just don’t say those things again. They’re mean.”
“What do you have there?” Edna asked.
“I don’t know. It just looked cool,” Gavin said, holding up a toy that neither of them had ever seen before.
“OK. How much is it?”
“OK,” Edna said. “How much is your book?”
“Oh. I was just looking at it,” Gavin said, putting it on the shelf. Part of him wanted to buy it; another part of him knew that it would become an obsession for him if he did buy it.
“Are you sure?” Edna asked, looking at him seriously.
“Yeah,” Gavin said, fake smiling at his grandmother and moving past her for a second. She grabbed the book and walked behind him. Gavin walked outside the shop and waited on his brother and grandmother. It was still relatively cool outside, but it wasn’t as piercingly cold as it had been earlier. A few minutes later, Edna and Conner came out of the store. Edna was carrying a bag in one hand while holding Conner’s small hand in the other. The bag was large enough to hold the toy that Conner wanted and the book that Gavin had been looking at. She smiled at him, simply, and they walked back to the truck.
“So let’s go to the Landmark and have lunch. Y’all up for that?” Edna asked as the three climbed into the truck.
“That’s fine with me,” Gavin answered.
“Do they have French fries?” Conner asked innocently.
“Would your mother let you eat French fries?” Edna asked.
“Probably not,” Gavin answered.
“Then if they do, you can order some. Just don’t tell her!” Edna said, turning to look at Conner, who was smiling. Gavin smiled for a second as he checked for traffic coming from behind before moving out of the space in which he’d vicariously parked his truck. When he was out of the way, he pushed in the gas pedal casually and drove around to the restaurant, located on the busiest corner in Oneonta, the intersection of Highway 75 and US Highway 231.
When they walked in, the restaurant was virtually deserted, so they were seated without having to wait in a long line, as was the restaurant’s norm.
“Hey y’all. I’m Cara,” the girl said as she came over to the table. “I’ll be serving you today. What could I start you off to drink?” she asked in a bubbly tone. Edna and Gavin ordered water, while Conner ordered a coke. Without writing anything down, she whisked herself away to fill the drink order as the three looked over the menu. Upon her return, she asked what they wanted to eat, and in the same manner as before, she whisked herself away to prepare the food for them.
In that space, in that place, Gavin seemed content for a second. One would have been able to tell that he was in thought, but he seemed a peace with his thoughts, whereas they’d been jumbled and frustrated at home and in the thrift shop. Their lunch was brought quickly to the table. Gavin’s steak was cooked perfectly, as was Conner’s hamburger. Edna’s fish was a little different from what she was expecting, but it met her palette just as well. The three of them ate in silence.
“This is really good,” Edna said as she took a bite of her wish well after the plates had arrived.
“Yeah,” Gavin said.
“Baby. Everything is going to be OK. I promise.”
“I know, Meemaw. Part of me just really wishes that it had never happened.”
“Well, baby. You can’t change the past; you can only live with it. You can’t have regrets, you can only be happy that you survived. Ya know?”
“Yes ma’am,” Gavin said, quite complacently.
“I miss Alex,” Conner said without thinking. “You should go to Lorenzia and get him back.”
“Conner,” Edna said.
“No. It’s OK. There are lot of things that would keep that from happening,” Gavin said. “I miss him, too, though.”
“He is the Prince,” Gavin said. “He has to either marry a princess or not get married.”
“Are there boy princesses?” Conner asked innocently.
“No. Only girls can be princesses.”
“Well, if Alex likes boys, then he wouldn’t have much fun with a girl, then, would he?”
“I guess not,” Gavin said. He smiled at the exchange. It wasn’t about what was going on, though, it was Conner’s innocence. Conner was completely free of prejudice and had a thirst for knowledge.
“So if Alex is a prince, does that make Margaret a princess?”
“It does,” Gavin answered.
“She’s a hottie!”
Gavin laughed again. “What do you know about hot people, kid?”
“I may only be five, but I know a fine woman when I see one!” he answered.
“You watch WAY too much TV, Con-Con.”
“I know. That’s what Mom says, too.”
“Let’s move onto happier topics, shall we?” Edna said, noticing that Gavin wasn’t totally comfortable with the conversation but also knowing that Gavin would answer any question that Conner had. “So are you excited about starting school in the fall?” Edna asked Conner.
He shook his head. “No ma’am.”
“Because it’s going to be hard.”
“Well,” Edna said, “You already know how to read and write. That story you wrote that one time over at my house was great! Plus you can count.”
“And you know a few words in Spanish,” Gavin added.
“I know. I just don’t know that I like people,” Conner said.
Edna and Gavin looked at each other and chuckled a little bit.
“It’s good you learned that early!” Gavin said.
“Gavin!” Edna said.
“Sorry,” Gavin said, smiling again, but looking at his plate. “Seriously, though, you’ll be OK. You’ll be the coolest kid in the class,” Gavin said. “You ARE the coolest person that I know!”
“Uh huh!” Gavin responded back to his brother.
“OK boys!” Edna said. Conner picked up one of his French fries and threw it at Gavin. “NO SIR!” Edna yelled, but it was just what Gavin needed to make him laugh. And he laughed hard. The laughter echoed across the empty restaurant, but, more importantly, it seemed to break him, even if temporarily, from the funk in which he’d found himself since Monday afternoon.
The laughter died down in a moment. “You know you can’t throw food, Conner,” Gavin said, “but I needed that laugh. Thanks Con-Con.”
“I can do it again,” Conner offered. He didn’t dare do it again though, simply from the look Edna was giving him. “Nevermind,” he said, looking evilly at Gavin, thinking that his grandmother couldn’t see.
It was a moment later that Edna smiled, but it was more because Gavin had laughed. The waitress came over to the table in a moment. “Guys. The owner has comped the lunch for you guys today, so there will be no need to print a check out for you guys today.”
“Why did he do that?” Edna asked.
“I’ll get him and let him explain it, if that’s OK,” she said, looking and winking at Gavin. “I will say this, though. He can sometimes be persuaded to do that for guys he thinks are hot.”
“So it looks like Conner got us a free lunch!” Gavin said, knowing full well to whom the waitress was making reference.
“Now. That’s not necessary,” Edna said.
“I know, ma’am. Let me run get him for a second,” she said, walking off from the table.
“This is odd.”
“Maybe he’ll be cute,” Gavin said.
The owner of the restaurant came over in just a minute. He sat and talked with them for a bit. There was definitely an attraction on his part for Gavin, but the feelings weren’t reciprocated. In his mind, he sized up this man and compared him to Alex. ‘He’s cute,’ Gavin thought, ‘but he’s not got Alex’s arms or legs. The smile isn’t right, either.’ He explained that he’d seen in the paper what was going on, and that he wished Gavin well. The three of them left shortly thereafter, though.
On the drive back home, Conner fell asleep. Edna and Gavin, in an attempt to keep from waking him, kept quiet. It gave Gavin a chance to simply look at nature as he drove. The things around him seemed to be a sign from God that things would work out. The sun shined and the trees seemed so green as their spring leaves had begun to grow out. ‘At least I got to love him for a little bit,’ he thought to himself.
They drove and drove until they reached the road on which his family lived. It was rather late in the afternoon by that time, and Edna felt the need to go on home upon arriving. Ray and Paula came out to greet them, with both of them giving Edna a hug before she climbed into the car Gavin had called “Granny-Ride” since she purchased it and left. Gavin slowly pulled the sleeping Conner from the back seat of the car and carried him to his room. He didn’t seem to budge a bit. Gavin walked over to his own room and put the light jacket he’d been wearing all day across his bed. He sat down on the edge of it and relished the silence of his room for a moment. It seemed odd to him, though, that there was a certain peace in the room. Perhaps his relationship with Alex had only been another bump on the road of love for him. Perhaps he would be fine without Alex, even though the feelings he had for Alex were completely different from any he’d ever had before about a boy. He lay down on his bed for a moment and closed his eyes. Before long, he was asleep, just as deeply as his brother in the next bedroom down the hall. He began to dream once more about Alex. It was a good dream, though. It was one of those dreams that makes you feel like you’re in a different place and that the dream is actually reality. When he finally woke, he realized that it had only been a dream and that Alex wasn’t really there.
“Fuck,” he said to himself. “It’s 11. I’ve been asleep for five hours.” He threw the blanket that someone had covered him with from his body but continued to lay there almost motionless. He breathed deeply once or twice. The feeling of despair and loneliness once again returned. The jubilation and comfort he’d felt earlier in the day had only been temporary. He longed for Alex to be with him. He longed for the gentle touch of Alex’s smooth but masculinely strong hands across his body. “I need a fucking drink,” he said to himself. He grabbed the light coat he’d been wearing earlier in the day and walked downstairs. It was dark in the house. The darkness echoed his seemingly reinvigorated negative mood. He looked through his parents’ cabinets, but there was nothing stronger than the beer in the fridge. He wrote a quick note to his parents to let them know that he’d be back later and left the house, locking the door behind him as he left. Of course, he didn’t tell them that he was going out to get a drink. A beer at home would have been OK, but leaving to get a drink, all while underage, would have sent them over the deep end.
Being that he’d grown up in the town, he knew every place that would sell him liquor despite his youth. He was Southern. He had to be resourceful. He quietly pulled out of the driveway and down the road away from his house. He turned on the radio. In an odd way, the music would keep him company as he drove into town.
The DJ came on after a couple of commercials. “And now. We’ve got something new for you guys. Like every other country in the world, the tiny little European country of Lorenzia has managed to produce a lot of international superstars over the last three years. Tonight, we offer you the US first broadcast from the most recent Lorenzian Idol, Donya Ouança performing the first single off her debut CD, a remake of Dido’s ‘White Flag’.” The music began, slow and steady. The voice that came through the radio; it was sweet and consistently smooth. From the very first notes, one would have been able to tell that Lorenzians had made the best choice. He listened to each word of the song and just as earlier, the emotions began to swell. He hadn’t been ready for the relationship with Alex to end. It had only just begun.
“I will go down with this ship. I will put my hands up…and surrender. There will be no white flag above my door. I’m in love…and always…will be,” the crooner sang as the song came to and end. Being that the singer was Lorenzian, had an accent quite similar to Alex’s, and that she was singing the exact words that he had found himself unable to express. The next song began to play immediately afterwards, but Gavin couldn’t concentrate on it. He wanted to scream. He wanted to expel the demon occupying the thoughts in his mind. Somewhere from deep within him, a wail came out. It was a powerful bellow that could have lasted longer than it did had it not been for his lack of breath. Luckily for him, by the time it was over, he was pulling up to a restaurant/bar called Andrew and Shelley’s. During the day, they served food, but after nine in the evening, the liquor flowed freely as the kitchen closed then.
He pulled into a space close to the door and climbed out of his truck. At that point, he didn’t care if anyone saw that he’d been crying. He walked up to the door, where a guy that he’d played football with in high school was checking IDs.
“Well if it’s not the best football playin’ queer in Marshall County,” the guy said, jokingly, to Gavin.
“Hey Bubba,” Gavin said, remembering his name but not quite feeling up to joking around. “What’s going on?”
“Oh. Not much. Just working my ass off. I thought you were going off to become a big college man.”
“I was,” Gavin answered, “but some things brought me back home.”
“Too much partying?” Bubba asked.
“You haven’t seen the Birmingham News today, have you?”
“What use do I have for the newspaper,” Bubba answered.
“You don’t know how glad I am to hear that someone in this town doesn’t know all my business.”
“What’s going on?” Bubba asked.
Gavin took a deep breath. “It turns out that the guy that I’ve been seeing for the last two months didn’t tell me everything about his life. And when the people in his homeland found out about him, they decided to plaster it all over the newspaper and then Birmingham and Gadsden published the pictures this morning.”
“Oh shit, man.”
“Yeah. And I just need a drink.”
“Alright man. You’re 21 tonight,” Bubba said, putting a black mark on his right hand with a permanent marker.
“Thanks, dude,” Gavin said.
“No problem,” Bubba said. “Tell Andrew to put it on my tab. OK?”
“Thanks, Bubba. You’re great man,” Gavin said as he walked away and walked into the bar. There were a lot of people there. Some of them looked at him as if they knew; others didn’t. He went up to the bar, where the owner was mixing drinks. “Hey Andrew,” Gavin said to the man who was rushing and rushing to fill drink orders for everyone in the bar.
“Hey there, sexy,” Andrew said in a manner that he always used. “You look like shit.”
“I feel like shit, Andrew, but everything will be better with one of your famous Cuba Libres,” Gavin said, flashing the black dot on his hand.
“Alejandra!” Andrew yelled. “Will you fix this damn fine man one of your famous Cuba libres?”
“Anything for a hot man,” Alejandra said as she mixed the rum and the coke before placing a lime on the edge of the glass for garnish. She walked over to where Gavin was seated, wearing a red shirt with white lettering that said ‘I’m Not Mexican.’ “Here ya go,” she said. “Hey. You’re that guy from the paper this morning, aren’t you?” she asked innocently.
“The one and only.”
“Well. I’m sorry to hear about you and your boyfriend.”
“Me too, honey. That’s why I’m here to have a drink,” Gavin said to her as he took the first sip of the drink. It was truly the best Cuba Libre he’d ever had. The coke didn’t overpower the rum. The hint of lime took the edge off of the whole concoction.
“Alright. Let me know if you want another one,” she said.
“Thanks, Alejandra,” Gavin said as he continued to sip the drink. It was obvious, though, that one wasn’t going to relax him enough. A bit later, he finished the first one. Everyone left him alone, and he was enjoying that. The Cuba Libre had started to relax him. Gavin ordered another, and then another, and another. By the time the bar closed at 2 the next morning, Gavin was pissy drunk. He was far more inebriated than he had ever been, and he was the first to tell that it was Alex’s fault that he felt he needed liquor that evening.
One drink turned into two. Two became three, and as the night progressed for Gavin, he continued to drink and drink, hoping the euphoria that was being created in his head would lead to a feeling of at least mild comfort with the world around him. He wanted to escape, and this was his only way to do so. By 1 the next morning, he was drunk. Drunk really was an understatement. In a little under two hours, he’d consumed so much rum that he was beginning to see things out of his peripheral vision that weren’t there. He began hearing things and voices that he thought were the people around him. The world became confusing. Andrew and Alejandra officially cut him off at 1:30, after he’d consumed eight Cuba libres, more than most normally could consume before the black-out that usually followed Alejandra’s special concoction of rum and coke.
“Andrew. Am I a fucked up individual?”
“No,” the owner and bartender for the evening answered. “I think you’re a pretty good guy, myself.”
“Then why is it that every single time I meet someone that I fall for, I end up getting hurt in the end?”
“Who’s to say? Maybe it’s that someone is telling you that better things are just over the horizon.”
“Who knows?” Gavin managed to say before his head leaned back one time. He returned and tried to focus on Andrew’s face, but found it increasingly hard to do so. “I think it’s time for me to go home,” Gavin announced as he stood from the barstool where he’d been sitting for more than two hours. The liquor finally hit him and the room began to spin.
“Oh shit!” Andrew said as he ran around the bar. “Bubba!!!” he yelled from the now nearly empty bar. Bubba came in and immediately noticed what was going on.
“Yeah. We should take him to my office,” Andrew announced, intending to place him on the leather sofa that was there. Bubba positioned his weight and strength around Gavin’s frame just in time to catch him from falling. Andrew tried to help, but found himself more in Bubba’s way than anything. He positioned to the back of the restaurant, where he’d constructed an office just large enough to hold a computer, a desk, a bookshelf, and a leather sofa. Bubba put Gavin on the leather couch as his head began to spin once more.
“Fuck! Why did I do this?” Gavin muttered, almost incomprehensibly. “I’m usually the guy that tells people not to do shit like this over a fucking man,” he gurgled.
“It’s OK, Gavin,” Andrew said. “If it were anyone else, I’d have told them to go home hours ago.” Andrew told Bubba to grab a clean cloth and a large cup of water from the bar and bring it back to him. Andrew grabbed a clean trashcan from the kitchen and positioned it close to Gavin, in the event it was needed.
“And I’ve got to get up in the morning and find a job.”
“You left school?” Andrew asked.
“Well, that’s not the brightest decision you’ve made.”
“Tell me about it,” Gavin said, more clearly. “If I’d never gone to that fucking queer college, I’d not be in this situation.”
“Are you talking about that Prince guy?”
“Oh. Well, come and see me when you’re sober, and we’ll talk about you working here, if you’d like,” Andrew said, wondering if Gavin would even remember the conversation the next morning.
“I’ll call you when I’m sober tomorrow and we’ll talk about it,” Gavin said as his head bobbed around in one of the telltale signs that he was about to pass out. Bubba came back in with some water and a rag after a minute. Andrew told Gavin to drink the water as he wiped off the sweat on Gavin’s face.
“Bubba. Go find his Dad’s number in the phone book,” Andrew instructed.
“NO!” Gavin protested, trying to stand. Bubba held him down, though.
“Gavin. We’ve got to get you home. You’re not in a position to drive.”
“Fuck! He’s going to be pissed at me!!!”
“You’ll just have to deal with that, Gavin. He’ll get over it,” Bubba said. “He’s a good man.”
“I know, but still.” Gavin sat back down and put his hand on his head. “He’s going to kick my ass.”
“He won’t kick your ass,” Andrew said.
“You’ve never seen my Dad very pissed then, have you?” Gavin asked, sure, in his mind that his father would come barreling into the room yelling if he were called.
Andrew motioned for Bubba to go call while he took care of Gavin. Gavin forgot about what was going on as he let Andrew continue to nurse him. Bubba returned after a few minutes to let Andrew know that Ray had been reached and that he was on his way. In just a moment, Gavin leaned his head back and was asleep.
“What’s going on?” Paula asked from within a sleepy tone as Ray got up and began to put his pants on. “Is it already morning?”
“No, baby. It’s Gavin.”
“Gavin?! Is he not in his room?” she asked.
“No. He left…and apparently, he’s so drunk he can’t hold himself up.”
“Yes, honey. It’s Gavin.”
“What’s he doing going off and getting drunk like that?!?”
“I have no idea, but I have an idea that it’s related to his mood of late,” Ray said, pulling on a shirt and grabbing his shoes. He sat back on the edge of their bed and pulled his shoes on as quietly as he could.
“Well when he gets home…” Paula started, very angry that Gavin had left their house.
“Paula. There’s not anything that can be done tonight. Just go to bed, and I’ll go get him and make sure he gets to bed. We can handle this in the morning.”
“Alright,” Paula said after a second of thinking about Ray’s words. She lay back down in the bed, facing Ray for a second. “I hope he’s OK.”
“Me too, babe. Me too.” Ray stood from the bed and looked back at his wife. They smiled at each other as he told her that he’d be back shortly.
Despite her husband’s instructions, Paula found herself unable to go back to sleep. She climbed out of the bed and donned her robe. She walked downstairs and, with her unkempt hair, began to prepare a pot of coffee. She had a feeling that she wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep that night.
Ray left the house, trying to keep himself calm. Getting upset, in his mind, wouldn’t have helped the situation before him. He didn’t care that Gavin had been drinking; he didn’t mind that Gavin had gone out for a drink. He wasn’t mad that Andrew had allowed him to drink in his restaurant, as the two had been friends from the time Andrew was a senior in high school and Gavin was a freshman. He drove quietly and slowly down highway 75, using the time to think about how the situation with Gavin would be handled. Before he realized it, though, he was parking his truck next to Gavin’s SUV in the parking lot of Andrew and Shelley’s Restaurant and Bar. He took another minute sitting there.
When he realized that he had to do it, he took a simple deep breath and climbed out of the vehicle. He walked to the front of the bar, where Bubba was standing, waiting on him.
“How is he?” Ray asked Bubba as he walked up.
“He’s alright. He’s in Andrew’s office. I think he’s going between passing out and semi-consciousness,” Bubba informed Ray.
“Mr. Butler?” Bubba said.
“If I’d known he was going to drink as much as he did, I wouldn’t have even let him in tonight.”
“It’s OK, Bubba. It’s his fault for drinking so much, knowing that he had to come home tonight.”
“Either way, I’m sorry.”
“Well. Don’t apologize; help me get his drunk ass to my truck.”
“Alright,” Bubba said, pulling the door open for Gavin’s dad. Bubba showed Ray where Andrew’s office was. Alejandra was busy cleaning the bar and didn’t look up as the men walked by. Andrew only pulled his attention away from Gavin when the door clicked open and Bubba and Ray walked into the room. Gavin was still drifting between consciousness and sleep.
“Come on, pal,” Ray said to Gavin, who wasn’t even aware that his father had entered the room.
“Huh?” Gavin asked, unable to clearly make out who was talking to him. Ray leaned down and put his hand gently on Gavin’s shoulder.
“Gavin. It’s Dad. I need you to wake up for a few minutes. We’ll be home in just a little bit,” Ray said, trying to remain calm.
“Dad? I’m so sorry, Dad.”
“It’s OK, Gavin. Let’s just get you home, and we’ll talk about this in the morning.”
Gavin tried to stand, but couldn’t manage to keep himself up without help. Ray rapped Gavin’s right arm around his shoulder; Bubba wrapped himself around Gavin’s left side, and the two managed to carry him through the empty bar to Ray’s truck. They got him up into the passenger seat and fastened him in, as if he were a baby.
Ray turned to Andrew and Bubba who’d followed him out. “Will y’all do me a favor?” he asked them. They both nodded. “I don’t care that he drinks, but if he ever comes again, call me before he gets this bad.”
“Alright,” Andrew said. Bubba concurred and the two men shook Ray’s hand before Ray walked to the driver’s side of the truck.
Ray was content to ride home in silence, but as the cool night air hit him, Gavin found himself, for a moment, able to think relatively clearly. “I’m so sorry, Dad,” Gavin said before his mind began again to spin uncontrollably.
“It’s alright, son. We’ll talk about it all in the morning.”
“Alright. Where’s my car?” Gavin asked.
“It’s at the restaurant, bud. We’ll go and get it in the morning,” Ray instructed, sounding as if he’d thought through everything already.
“OK,” Gavin said. “Dad?”
“I think I’m going to throw up,” Gavin said, his mind clear once again.
Ray pulled off to the side of the road and unlatched the seat belt. Gavin opened the door and stood off the side of the road, just across the street from the Albertville Airport. Gavin felt the churning deep within his stomach and leaned over. In just a moment, all of the rum he’d consumed, on a completely empty stomach began to flow from deep within him onto the ground below. Ray climbed out of the truck, leaving it running. He walked around to Gavin, who had reached back and latched onto the open passenger door as he continued to hurl. He’d been sick before, but he’d never experienced the wrenching pain of vomiting after consumptions of large amounts of alcohol. Ray rubbed his back. Between the sounds of vomiting, the father heard his son’s tears. They were tears of anguish, not only from the pain he was experiencing in that moment, but from the pain of his heart having been broken. He thought his son had done relatively well up to that point, but realized now that what emotion he had shown to them was only a drop in the bucket of what was going on behind the façade.
When Gavin stopped throwing up, his father, without any words, helped him back into the truck. He walked back around himself, having come to the realization that whereas he’d been able to help his son in the past, this time was different. Any demons in his son’s closet were going to have be worked out by his son, and that he was totally helpless. He could only stand beside his son and try to comfort him as much as possible. A single tear flowed down his father’s face as he climbed back into the truck.
Gavin was completely conscious at that point. “Dad. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK, Gavin. You’re going to be OK,” he said, firm in that belief, at least.
“This isn’t worth it,’ Gavin said. “I’m never dating anyone again.”
“Don’t say that, Gavin. You never know what’s going to happen in the future,” Ray said as he turned down their road.
Gavin wasn’t as confident as his father was in that moment. When they pulled up to the house, Ray was the first to notice the light was on in the living room. “Gavin. Your mother is up, and chances are she’s not too happy.”
“I understand,” Gavin said. His mind was still spinning, but he was able to at least think with a small degree of clarity.
“Just go upstairs and get yourself in bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning. I’ll take care of your Mom.”
“I love you, Dad. Thank you for coming to get me.”
“Anytime,” Ray said. “Just don’t let it happen too often,” he added as he turned off the truck.
Gavin climbed out and managed to stagger, using small steps. As his dad had said, Paula was sitting in the living room, drinking a cup of coffee and watching TV. Gavin passed her and climbed the stairs. Ray followed a moment later, walking, instead into the living room to talk to his wife.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Paula said.
“I figured as much,” Ray responded, sitting beside her on the sofa. “I love you, Paula.”
“I love you, too, Ray Butler.” She looked at him. “What did you do?”
“Do I always have to do something to tell my wife that I love her?” Ray asked.
“Well, no. I don’t guess so,” she smiled at him, leaning to kiss him on the cheek. “How is our oldest?”
“He’s going to be OK. He just needs some time and a bit more patience than normal.”
Gavin managed to make his way to his room with little problem. He managed to take off all his clothes, down to his underwear. He sat on the edge of his bed and looked over at his computer. It was turned on, with an active connection to the internet. He walked over to it for a second and launched a bookmarked page: www.casareal.gov.lo. He managed to find the link to Alex’s page. He looked at the picture of his lover.
“I love you, Alex,” he said as he gently touched the screen of his computer. He stood up after a moment and walked back over to the side of his bed. He climbed under the covers and fell asleep quickly.
That next morning, he woke to find his room was still dark. It wasn’t because it was night outside, but rather because someone had taken a moment to hang a dark sheet over his window, in an effort to keep as much light out as possible. His head was throbbing, but other than that, he felt as though he’d had the best night’s sleep in a very long time. He realized that there were no sounds downstairs. Conner wasn’t playing, as usual, and his mother wasn’t banging things around in the kitchen. There was an unusual quietness in the house as he became more and more awake. The next of his senses to come back was his sense of smell. There was a gross smell coming directly from his body. He pulled himself up a little bit and waited a second before attempting to stand gather his things for a quick shower. The throbbing only got worse as he walked toward the bathroom. The house was still oddly quiet. He stepped into the bathroom and started the water before pulling his underwear down and letting them fall to the floor.
The water was warm as he climbed in. They further relaxed his muscles, and the steam also helped to relax the pain in his head. He’d said not a single word and his mind was transfixed on nothing in particular. His only concern was in that moment, standing there in the shower, bathing himself as the water flowed over his muscular body. Shortly, the stench of smoke, alcohol, and vomit was gone. He felt himself, as much as he could. He toweled off and then walked back into his room, in the peace and quiet of the house that he assumed was empty. He pulled on a pair of boxers and a pair of shorts that he’d found in the closet. There was a t-shirt there that he grabbed as well and pulled over his body. He turned around and walked out of the door of his closet, looking up at his computer monitor. The picture of Alex was still on the active window. He smiled a little bit and then walked out of his room.
At the bottom of the stairs, his suspicions were true as he realized that he was there alone. It was two in the afternoon, and there was no one there. A note on the table said simply that everyone would be back later. He smiled at the irony and then fixed himself a bit of cereal before taking three Aleve with a glass of water. He carried his bowl into the living room and turned on some cartoons.
It was there he sat until his parents returned around 5. They’d gone to do some shopping in Albertville and then stopped to pick up Gavin’s truck. Ray and Paula both looked at their oldest and giggled.
“Gavin!” Ray called from the kitchen, where they’d set a bag of things on the table. Gavin stood up with his bowl of cereal and walked into the kitchen.
“Yes sir?” he asked as he walked in.
“If you decide after we’ve gone to bed that you want a drink in the future, there is a bottle of rum here for you,” Ray said with a smile, pulling a handle of Bacardí from the bag.
“Oh no!” Gavin said, remembering a few things from the night before. “I guess I should say thank you, though,” Gavin said he walked to the sink to rinse out his cereal bowl before placing it in the dishwasher.
“Listen, Gavin,” Paula said as she put some things in the fridge, “we’re not mad about last night. We just wish that you’d acted a bit more responsibly.”
“I wish that I’d acted a bit more responsibly,” he responded. “And I promise you guys that it will never happen again.”
“Damn right! If it does, Gavin, there will be punishment involved,” Ray said.
“I agree with your father.”
“I assumed that you guys would be a bit harder on me than that.”
“Well. I wanted to,” Ray said, “but your mother reminded me of a time when we were younger. She decided that she wasn’t ready for a permanent relationship with me, and I was devastated.”
“Really? Why haven’t I heard this story before?”
“We were saving it for just the right time,” Paula said, smiling at her son.
“Oh,” Gavin said.
“And that night, I got so plastered that I wasn’t even as good a shape as you were last night.”
“And he managed to drive to my parents’ house,” Paula said.
“That was stupid! I’m glad you didn’t try that shit last night,” Ray said.
“So what happened?” Gavin asked.
“Your Meemaw beat me with a broom and then brought me in and let me sleep it off,” Ray said, almost as if he remembered the event fondly.
“Well the next morning, when I got up, I was livid,” Paula said. “I mean, I couldn’t even go 24 hours without him wanting to see me.”
“She beat the shit out of me and yelled and stuff, all while your grandparents sat back and laughed,” Ray recounted.
“They do have a warped sense of humor.”
“Where do you think you get it from!” Paula said, continuing, with Gavin’s help, to put things away. “Well, I decided that I still wanted some time to think about things, and your father had no choice but to accept the decision.”
“I know she was the one at that point,” Ray said, “but I kept my distance until she was ready.”
“Uh huh,” Gavin said.
“And the very day after we got back together, we were married,” Paula said, proudly. “And we’ve been happy ever since,” she added.
“I can imagine how Grandma and Grandpa Butler acted,” Gavin said.
“You should have SEEN your grandmother’s face. She was pissed for MONTHS after that!”
“The point is that, if I’d not gotten drunk and stammered to her parents’ house that evening, we wouldn’t have had that talk and we wouldn’t have taken the time off. Time we both needed to realize what it was that we actually wanted out of life. So my suggestion to you would be give yourself some time, and you’ll figure out what it is that you want out of life. Ya know.”
“Yeah,” Gavin said, keeping eye contact with his father for a second and then averting his eyes.
“And if you’re meant to spend the rest of time with Alex, you will find your way together, baby,” Paula said, walking up and putting her hands on his shoulder.
“Thanks, Mom. And Dad.”
“Anytime. Now…you want a rum and coke?” Ray jokingly asked.
“NO!” Gavin said quite emphatically. “No…”
Ray and Paula laughed at their son, who, during the course of their conversation seemed to find a glimmer of inner peace. He believed them, and he knew that if, in fact, that he and Alex were supposed to be together, they would find a way to each other.
Conner and Edna returned a bit later, and Gavin, along with his mother and grandmother, fixed dinner for the five of them, and they enjoyed the rest of the evening together.