SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. This chapter features some jargon that may be familiar to Congressional insiders but perhaps confusing to others. Don’t let it bother you. Mostly we’re just talking about different pieces of paper Andy is producing as part of his job and the main point is that writing stuff is an important part of what he does. There will be less jargon as the story proceeds. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. Have fun reading and feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment over at my blog or contacting me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 32, Andy wakes up in his apartment at 5 a.m. the next morning after only a couple hours of sleep. Tired, he thinks about abandoning his usual workout, but then remembers he needs to get into the office to prepare for a meeting with his boss, who is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. After running and working out, he takes a shower and reminisces about his struggles with being gay. Then he reflects on his relationship with Jesse, an 18 year old soldier home on leave from the war. Tormented by killing a 10 year old boy in North Burkistan, Jesse had killed himself and that had caused Andy to become involved in efforts to end the war, most notably by persuading his boss to offer an amendment to cut off funding for it. Although it had become an issue in the last Presidential campaign, the amendment had failed to pass the House in either of the two previous years. While drying himself off and getting dressed, Andy’s mind drifts off again, this time to the events of the previous evening. He knows that he's attracted to Tommy, but is disgusted with himself for what he did in the bathroom. He makes a promise to himself never to go back to Exiles & Castaways.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
I grabbed my briefcase and a tie just in case I needed one that day, headed down to the parking lot behind the building, and pointed my car toward Washington. It was one of the things I liked most about working for the Congressman. He let me dress pretty much like I wanted most of the time. It was only at crunch time that he expected you to wear the suit and the tie; and crunch time was still weeks away for us at the soonest.
Traffic was still light at that time of the morning and I sped down North Capitol Street without any problems at all. Driving into the garage at the Rayburn Building, I maneuvered my car through several twists and turns before finally reaching the spot reserved for me.
Most of the time I didn’t especially like being thirty years old, but every morning when I pulled into that parking spot on Capitol Hill it gave me a sense I was actually making my mark in the world at last. Most people who worked on the Hill didn’t have one of those spots and it made a difference, especially when you stayed late at night like I did.
As usual, I was the first one into the office. I turned on the lights and opened the door to the Congressman’s private office so he wouldn’t have to when he finally arrived. Then I walked over to the cubicle they had carved out as my private space, just one of two in our office besides the Congressman’s.
It was small, of course, and only enclosed on three sides, not four like Todd’s. Todd was the Congressman’s Administrative Assistant and Administrative Assistants were in charge of the offices so they always carved out the best space for themselves; except for the Congressman, of course.
Usually they were also in charge of the staff, but that wasn’t true in my case and Todd resented that. He resented it because it meant I had direct access to the Congressman and didn’t have to go through him. He also resented the fact that the Congressman and I talked alone so he didn’t have a clue what the two of us were up to on the legislative front.
There were all different kinds of Legislative Assistants on the House side, of course. Most of them just had the title and spent the biggest chunk of their day drafting responses to constituent mail, the kind of responses Todd reviewed and signed in our office. The Congressman rarely signed any mail these days. He had been in the House long enough and his positions on most issues were well known enough that Todd knew exactly what he would approve or reject. It made sense for Todd to sign the mail, but having to spend every day doing stuff like that made it a thankless job, at least as far as I was concerned.
I turned on the lights in my office within the office and started putting aside the stuff I would need to review with the Congressman. There was the latest whip count, completed and hot off the press late yesterday afternoon. It had been my idea to set up an alternative whip operation because we couldn’t count on the leadership to help us out and we needed to have our own system for counting votes.
Having our own private whip count did that for us so I went over it closely that morning.
At last, I remember thinking. There he was, Congressman Sam Hanson, now a definite “yes” on our amendment at last. I knew that fucker would have to come around sooner or later. There was talk of a primary challenge back home and he was getting too much heat from his constituents to oppose us this year. But why did it take so much pressure to make guys like him do the right thing?
When I had finished reviewing the whip count, I turned to the rest of the stuff. There was the latest version of both the basic and expanded talking points supporting our amendment, and the FAQs about what our amendment would and wouldn’t do.
No, I remember reading. The McPherson amendment would NOT result in the death of more American troops. Continuing to fund the war in Burkistan would have that result since it was the war that was killing those young American boys.
And then there they were, just the facts and figures on what this war was costing America in terms of dead and crippled young men and women. It was shocking when you looked at those numbers and they didn’t even take into account the rest of them, the boys like Jesse who came home filled with anger, shame or despair and ended up taking their own lives. We only had an imperfect count for them, but it was a lot bigger than most people realized.
The FAQs looked good, really good. I reminded myself to thank Michael for doing such a terrific job on them. I had given him an initial draft of the questions and some suggested answers, but he had done an excellent job in fleshing them out and deserved all of the credit. I knew he would never get any from his boss so I wanted the other staffers to appreciate the effort he had put in.
I had drafted the “Dear Colleague” myself. It was the letter we would be sending around asking other members of Congress to cosponsor our amendment, and it was tight, punchy, and to the point. No excess verbiage. Did you want to cosponsor our amendment? You should, of course, and here were all the reasons in summary form.
It was good and I was pretty certain the Congressman would sign off on it with minimal changes. There would be some, of course. There always were some changes. Even when it was only a couple of words, it was what made the “Dear Colleague” his very own work, not the work of some staffer.
That never bothered me, to be honest. It was part of the basic deal. You do a lot of the work. The member gets all of the credit. To me, it always seemed like a pretty fair deal.
There had to be some reward for actually being the Congressman and having to put up with all the shit they went through. The weekends back in the district listening to constituents complain about this, that, or the other thing. The endless hours on the phone over at the Congressional Campaign Committee raising money to keep getting reelected. The receptions to raise still more money, not just for yourself, of course, but for your friends and even some of the younger members you didn’t know all that well. After all, one hand greases another in Washington. If you wanted them to attend your funders, you had to return the favor. It took up an incredible amount of time and it bored the hell out of me.
So, yeah, there was a lot of shit involved in actually being the Congressman. It wasn’t like being the Legislative Assistant where you could spend all your time focused on things you really cared about, like ending the war in Burkistan. That was the thing I cared about most.
Except making love with Jesse, of course; nothing could ever beat that, I recalled.
Looking back on it now, Russell had been right all along. I guess I had just been waiting forever to let someone do that to me. I don’t really know why, but something inside told me Jesse was the person I had been waiting for and that first evening together turned out to the most incredible experience of my life. It had been everything I was longing for and more because Jesse turned out to be a surprisingly gentle lover. Later he would joke I was confusing inexperienced with gentle.
I was the first one awake in the morning; and since I didn’t want to wake him up, I just laid there quietly staring at Jesse. He was so beautiful and it just seemed impossible that I could be sharing a bed with someone like him. But now the sun was rising and he would awaken soon and I wondered how he would react. I had tried to provide him with an excuse by waiting for the two of us to get high from the marijuana. But would an excuse be enough?
Maybe he wouldn’t even remember, I thought, but that would have been disappointing so I envisioned a different ending.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he would say. “It was a mistake, a terrible mistake. I’m sorry ... I have to leave now.”
I was praying that’s how it would end because I knew it would end. But I also knew there was another possibility as well. I knew he might be mad, very mad, perhaps even violent.
Jesse wasn’t much taller than me nor did he weigh very much more. But he was a soldier after all. He had been trained as a warrior and was probably stronger than me, I reasoned. What should I do if he was angry and decided to take it out on me? I remember being a little afraid.
I’m not sure how long I laid there just staring at him. Eventually his eyes opened and I smiled, hoping to disarm him.
“Good morning, Jesse,” I said. “Did you sleep okay last night?”
He didn’t say anything. He just laid there staring at me forever and it was kind of unnerving.
“Would you like some breakfast?” I asked. “I could make something for you or we could go over to the local IHOP; my treat, of course.”
But Jesse just continued to lay there staring at me and by now I was getting more and more nervous.
“Or I could drive you back into town if you want to skip breakfast,” I continued. “It wouldn’t take very long and I suppose you’re kind of busy.”
Finally, Jesse rolled over on to his side and propped himself up with his elbow.
“I slept pretty good,” he said, smiling at me. “Your bed is a lot more comfortable than what I’m used to. I’m still kind of tired from all the flying to get back to the east coast though. I wouldn’t mind going back to sleep for a little while. I mean, I don’t want to impose on your hospitality or anything.”
“No,” I responded, relieved. “That’s fine. Um, well, I suppose I should take a shower and get dressed while you rest up though. Maybe see what I have if you want me to make breakfast for you later on.”
I slid out of bed and stood up. I was naked, of course, naked and embarrassed at being naked like that in front of him. I could feel a blush coming on and did my best to suppress it.
“You have a nice body,” Jesse said in a detached kind of way, as if he was judging an entry at some Future Farmers of America contest. “Kind of like mine but better. You must exercise a lot.”
“Some,” I responded. “But your body’s a lot nicer than mine.”
I turned and started to walk toward the bedroom door, exposing my ass to him in the process.
I heard him giggle momentarily, then quickly suppress it. I could tell he was staring at my ass.
“Um, Andy, that reminds me,” he said, and I found myself struggling harder to suppress that blush. “I was wondering . . . .”
Then his voice drifted off.
I turned around and looked back over at him.
“Wondering what?” I asked.
“Um, well, I was wondering if you would be interested in maybe doing what we did last night again. I mean, I’ve never done that before, but I liked it. I liked it a lot.”
I was back in that bed and all over Jesse before he could say another word; and so that’s what we did. We kissed and made out and then Jesse did it to me again that morning, not once but twice, and both of us liked it.
Eventually we got up, of course, and took a shower together. Jesse thought that was funny.
“My Mom used to make my brother and me take baths together when we were little,” he said, as if we were having some perfectly normal conversation instead of standing there naked together in a shower.
“Taking a shower with you is a lot more fun though,” he added, grinning at me.
My heart was beating rapidly by then and I thought I might collapse on the spot, but I didn't want to make a fool of myself so I tried to return his grin.
We had breakfast together at the IHOP. Later on, after he told me he didn’t have any plans for the day, I drove him up to Cunningham Falls and the two of us went hiking together. It was a beautiful day and it was fun and he told me he liked doing that together with me.
It was on the drive back to Takoma Park that he mentioned he was home on leave. He had been planning to visit his parents, but they didn’t know he was coming and Washington seemed like a really nice place after all. One thing led to another and I offered to put Jesse up during his leave. He said he would like that. I already knew that I would.
So Jesse had stayed at my place for the next thirty days and those were the happiest days of my life. Jesse? It was harder to say. There were times when he seemed incredibly happy and that made me happy because he had the nicest laugh in the world and seeing him smile reminded me just how lucky I was.
But there were other moments when he was quiet, usually just after we had exhausted ourselves having sex. I would talk to him and he told me how much he liked me talking to him like that, but it seemed like his mind was somewhere else. He had trouble falling asleep and I wondered whether he was ashamed of what we were doing. I finally worked up the courage to ask and he just said no, that he wasn’t ashamed, that he just needed a hug; so that’s what I did, I hugged him until he finally managed to fall asleep.
And then perhaps a week or ten days later, he finally opened up and let it all out and he cried. It just tore me up. I mean, with each passing day I had found myself liking him more and more. I don’t know why. I mean, sure, he was good looking and I was attracted to him and the sex was terrific. But there was more. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was I wanted to be with him whenever the sun was up, wanted to hold him whenever the darkness rolled in, wanted to hug him so the two of us could fall asleep together in the evening, wanted to kiss him first thing in the morning. And now here he was crying and I didn’t know what to do except hug him.
The mornings were much too cold in Burkistan, the days much too hot. His unit had been trudging through the heat and the dust for hours and hours on some mission none of them understood. And then the radio had crackled with the news that some ragheads had been spotted close by. They had spread out and approached them quietly. It was hard to see very much because evening was rolling in and then the order was given and all hell broke loose and the rifles were spewing fire. It had surprised Jesse when the body he had focused on jerked involuntarily, then crumpled to the ground and stopped moving.
There were nine of them when his unit finally reached the location, the youngest perhaps six or seven, the oldest about to turn twelve. Jesse just stood there staring at the kid he had shot until someone finally led him away.
There was an investigation, of course; people you didn’t know asking so many questions, the same questions over and over, then scurrying off never to be heard from again. Later on they heard some low level functionary from the Embassy had driven out to the village in the black, armor-plated, SUV with the darkened windows accompanied by lots of Marines in Humvees nervously fingering their rifles. He had visited with the families for thirty minutes or so, told them how sorry the United States was for their loss, handed them the compensation he had brought, then quickly returned to the capital.
Most of his buddies shook it off after that, but Jesse kept wondering just how much a dead ten year old boy was worth?
I had let him talk and he had talked for a long time; and when he was finally done talking, I wrapped him in my arms and just held him as tightly as I could. Later, much later, I had led him to bed and we had made love. We made love because Jesse needed someone to love him and I loved Jesse even if I was afraid to tell him I loved him.
We spent a lot of time together during those thirty days, Jesse and me. I showed him all of the monuments, of course, and he was in awe, just like a little kid on his first field trip to Washington. I took him out to the rapids at Great Falls and we just walked along the Potomac for what seemed like forever. We visited Mount Vernon together and later we drove down to Charlottesville to explore Mr. Jefferson’s home. I think he liked me keeping him busy like that and I think he liked me as well. It was enough that he liked me.
It was getting toward the end of his leave and we had been having sex the same way from that very first night together; and so after we had kissed and hugged and tickled each other, after we had laughed and joked and then become much too quiet and serious, I just assumed the position, my face down on the bed, my ass lifted and pushed back, and waited for him to mount me from behind. But Jesse seemed troubled by something that evening.
“Um, I don’t know, Andy,” he said. “Maybe we should ....”
“I mean, well, it seems like it’s just me getting off all the time. It bothers me because I want you to be happy as well. The thing is, all of this is new and confusing and I really like you, Andy, I like you more than I’ve ever liked anyone before. I want to let you, but I’m kind of nervous and I just don’t know if I’m ready to, well, you know ....”
“It’s okay, Jesse,” I replied, rushing to interrupt him. “It’s been perfect for me. You don’t need to do anything more.”
“Um, well, are you sure?” he asked. “I mean, it just doesn’t seem right. I think maybe we should switch ....”
“It's fine,” I responded, trying to reassure him again. “The only thing is that sometimes I wonder why you always make love to me from behind. Are you pretending I’m someone else?”
I guess it must have shocked him to hear that from me.
“Why would I be pretending you’re someone else?” he replied. “I mean, I love you, Andy, nobody else. I’m just doing it the way you showed me that first night. I don’t know how else to do it.”
Had he really said it, I wondered? Had he really said that he loved me?
I showed him another way that evening. We shared the experience facing each other, smiling at one another, allowing each other to see the delight we were experiencing together that evening.
That was the night we stopped having sex and began making love; and as for the intimacy we experienced together that evening, well, I won’t even try to describe that. How do you describe two people so totally connected in every possible way, physically, to be sure, but in ways that transcended anything I had ever experienced in my life up until then? I had never been closer to anyone than I was to Jesse that evening.
When it was over, when he had finished exploding inside me, Jesse leaned down and whispered those words again.
“I love you, Andy. No one else, just you. Always. Forever.”
And that was the greatest gift Jesse gave me because it liberated me to tell him what I had known all along, that he was the love of my life and I wanted to spend the rest of my days together with him.
And then he was gone.
No matter how hard I tried and there did come a time when I tried really hard, I had never found anyone like Jesse. He was the first boy I genuinely loved and by now I knew he was the only boy I ever would love. There would never be someone like Jesse again.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and tried my best to suppress them. What was it? Two years? Three? The pain was still as intense as ever and I struggled to choke back a sob. At last I remember sighing, then forcing myself to turn back to the papers staring at me.
There was the press release I had drafted. The Congressman would need to look at that, of course, although we wouldn’t need it for at least another week at the soonest. But a week wouldn’t change very much and it was best to get as much as you could done in advance. Because at some point the shit would hit the fan and then you would be glad all of the mundane stuff was already done.
I could have tasked Gene, our press secretary, with drafting it, I suppose, but Gene really wasn’t very good at his job. He was a nice guy in a strange kind of way, but everyone knew he was a terrible press secretary, just like everyone knew the Congressman would never fire the guy. Unlike me, Gene had been there from day one, the very first campaign, the one where the Congressman upset the sitting incumbent and became the first Democratic Congressman to represent that district since before the Civil War.
So I had drafted the press release and the first draft of the Congressman’s floor statement, just like I had already drafted six Extensions of Remarks and fourteen One Minute speeches. They were sitting there in the computer, just waiting for the right moment to come along. We would need every one of those and more in the weeks to come. I was churning out a couple every day and then farming most of them out to other staff to have their members use when the shit hit the fan.
This was Washington after all and there was no way you could ever win a fight like this without lots of paper; and what made me especially happy was knowing we were better prepared than they were right now. The Administration was totally clueless about just how much progress we had made during the previous year. They were assuming House Democrats would give them a free ride during their first year in office. They didn’t really understand just how badly a lot of people were pissed off when the President flipped on the issue after the election and decided she needed the kind of flexibility to handle the war that the McPherson amendment didn’t provide.
I was happy the Administration was clueless, happier still that the House Democratic leadership wasn’t planning to schedule their first whip count until the bill was reported from Committee.
Were they ever going to be surprised when they get it back, I remember thinking.
I had even dropped a few hints to Wade Walker, the Speaker’s floor general, that perhaps the Congressman wouldn’t be offering the amendment this year after all. We had already lost twice, I told him. What was the point of trying again?
I didn’t fool Wade, of course.
“You know, Andy, I like you, I really do,” Wade had replied after listening to me moan and groan about being tired of the whole thing. “You’re bright, you’re talented, and you actually stand for something, and that’s becoming more and more rare in this town.”
“But don’t play games with me, Andy,” he said, smiling at me, then messing up my hair with his hand like I was some little kid. “I’ve been around this town a long time, much too long for my own good and much too long to fall for your cute little con job.”
I just smiled at him, sheepishly, making a mental note never to try that again with Wade. I liked Wade and I knew a lot about how the place worked by then, but Wade would always know more. Still, every day that passed without an official whip count being scheduled was one more day for us to sneak up on the leadership.
Of course, once they got their whip count back there would be hell to pay. The paper would really start flowing then because they would enlist the Pentagon. It would be tough turning out more paper than the Pentagon, but I was determined to give it a shot. We had been battle tested by the fight over our amendment the previous two years and I was pretty certain we could kill as many trees as those bastards at the Pentagon this year. Their problem was that everything they produced needed a half dozen clearances at least. The only clearance I needed was the one that came from my conscience.
So, yeah, we would have to kill lots of trees, no doubt about it. Because I knew all along the Congressman would be offering the amendment and it was going to be a hell of a fight, assuming the Congressman didn’t back off. It all came back to the Congressman, the Honorable John H. “Happy Jack” McPherson.
I loved that nickname of his. I really did.
The Congressman had been a car dealer before he ran for the House of Representatives and that’s where it came from. He used to run these corny commercials where he would talk with customers about their experience buying a car from one of his many dealerships. Whether they were satisfied with the deal they got on their car; or with the service? Whether he had delivered on the loaner they had been promised? And then, at the very end of those stupid commercials, he would ask the folks whether they were happy. And the answer was always the same: “You better believe it, Jack,” they would scream for the camera. “We’re definitely happy, Jack.”
It was incredibly dumb, but it worked and it made him a lot of money selling cars. It also plastered his name all over the congressional district and that had been a big help when he decided he had made enough money, that he was bored selling cars and wanted to sell himself to the folks back home instead.
He didn’t use the nickname much anymore, of course, except in the bios we sent out to Congressional Quarterly, the Almanac of American Politics, and all of the rest of publications that made money by peddling useless shit like that to the lobbyists. Most of his colleagues just called him Jack. The ones he was close to called him Hap, as did they staff when he wasn’t around.
I actually liked the Congressman. Unlike a lot of his colleagues, he treated me and the rest of the staff pretty decently. That wasn’t always the case on Capitol Hill. Unable to yell at their constituents or their wives or their children or their colleagues or at all those people who contributed money to their campaigns, a lot of the members turned their frustrations on to the staff. Some of them were brutal about it.
That included the Congressman from the district where I had grown up in western Massachusetts. His constituents loved him. Everyone thought he had a great sense of humor and, the thing is, he did. But he also had a nasty temper and he had reduced more than one staff member to tears with a tongue lashing. It changed how I thought about him.
But Happy Jack wasn’t like that. Not that he was perfect, of course. He wasn’t much into praising you for your work, for example. When he did, it was kind of perfunctory, just a general “And I would also like to thank my staff for all the fine work they put into making this such a success.”
Like in most congressional offices, you knew you were doing a good job in our office when you hadn’t been called in by Todd and been fired. And even that wasn’t a perfect indication as the Congressman’s refusal to fire Gene made clear every day.
Like I said, that was pretty much the rule on Capitol Hill. Unlike the Executive branch, the evaluation system on the Hill was really quite simple. If you were doing your job, you stayed employed. If not, you got fired. Do your job well enough and you’d get a pay raise each year, sometimes a large one if the member thought you might be looking elsewhere and valued your work enough. You didn’t have any real protection, of course, but mostly it worked, at least I thought it did.
I hadn’t really been keeping track of the time that morning and I was completely oblivious to the arrival of the rest of the staff. And then the intercom on my phone started beeping. I looked up, kind of startled. I guess I must have been daydreaming. I picked up the phone and it was Julie, our receptionist.
“Andy, the Congressman is back from his breakfast with those constituents and wants to see you in his office in five minutes.”
“Thanks, Julie,” I replied.