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. Hopefully you've reviewed Chapter 41 already or at least the summary of Chapter 41 you can find here since this chapter and the next two will shift the focus of the story back to Tommy and Andy . As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 43, Nolan tries to come up with a plan for sidelining Andy that will be politically cleaner than just leaking the story to the press. An idea occurs to him and he sets it in motion by having his secretary arrange for him to have lunch with Andy the following week. At that lunch, Nolan offers Andy a job in the White House as Deputy Director for Domestic Policy. Andy is interested, but only if he can start the new job after the House has acted on the McPherson amendment. When Nolan indicates he would have to start immediately, Andy decides not to take the position. Stunned by Andy's refusal, Nolan then shows him the damaging information The Brennon Group has collected on Tommy and him. He asks him to reduce his efforts on behalf of the amendment, but Andy refuses and leaves, angered by the effort to blackmail him. Later, after discussing the matter with Josh and concerned Josh might break up with him if he goes ahead and leaks the information, Nolan turns all of it over to Andy, along with an apology.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
As much as I tried to keep my expectations in check, it was hard. I was hoping Tommy would like living with me and decide to move in. I could tell he was enjoying the sex. By then the two of us were going at it every night and both of us seemed insatiable. But it seemed to me something had changed.
We were starting to do things together away from the bars for one thing and he liked that. We went to a minor league baseball game and took in a couple of movies. We had even gone hiking up at Cunningham Falls on the weekend. I had never seen Tommy as relaxed and carefree as he was in those mountains. At one point he even remarked how the place reminded him of where he had grown up. But when I asked where that way, he just changed the topic. It was something he wasn’t ready to talk about yet.
Even though I was pretty sure Tommy liked living with me, the whole thing was over almost as fast as it had begun. Teddy was feeling better and looked fine as well because my dentist had fashioned a couple of temporary crowns for him while he worked on the finals. Both of us were happy about that, but it came with a price. Teddy and Sean had moved out of Ray's place and now it was time for Tommy to move back in.
The day he packed was difficult for me. Teddy’s beating had opened my eyes and I hated the thought of Tommy going back to that world. But it was the only real world he knew and Takoma Park was just too far away for him ever to be comfortable living there. Still, I was pretty certain he didn’t move back into town without some regrets. On the drive into Washington he told me he had left a couple of things at my place.
“Just so I’ll have something to wear if you ever decide to invite me back out again for a visit,” he said, nonchalantly. “You can wear them if you want. I don’t mind. Oh, and I borrowed some of your stuff too, mostly some of those tight fitting briefs you wear.”
As July drifted into August I was becoming more and more frustrated. Part of it had to do with the leadership’s decision to postpone action on the defense appropriations bill until after the Labor Day recess. By then I was certain we had the votes to win if they would only bring the amendment to the floor for a vote. But they were stalling and the waiting was becoming harder for me.
The frustration only heightened when I learned the Clay Administration was targeting me in an effort to put together the votes they needed to win. Looking back on it now, the whole thing seemed kind of strange. They had offered me a job in the White House and done it in a way that seemed genuine. Sure, I knew they considered me a nuisance by then and wanted me out of the way. But they weren’t looking for any quid pro quo regarding the amendment.
It had been tempting, especially because only a handful of votes remained undecided at that point. I knew nothing we were doing was going to make very much difference. If I had taken the job right then, not much would have changed. But I had decided to stick it out to the end. I felt I owed that to Jesse.
Once I turned down the offer, the guy making the pitch for the Administration had tried to blackmail me into backing off. It was a shock to learn just how much they knew about Tommy and me, and I was pretty certain it would mean the end of my career. But there was no way I was going to back off after being challenged like that. I had told the dude to fuck off.
And that was the strangest part of the whole thing. While I was sitting in the office the next day waiting to meet with the Congressman so I could offer my resignation, I got a note from the guy apologizing to me. Along with the note, he included what he claimed was all of the evidence the Administration had collected against Tommy and me.
Like I said, the whole thing was strange and had me on edge after it happened. I decided not to resign, but woke up every morning wondering whether Tommy and I were going to be the storyline when the news came on. It took a couple of weeks before I was able to relax.
I told Tommy what had happened and suggested he skip town until after the amendment was voted on. It seemed like the smart thing to do. If anything, he was in more danger than me because that was the part of the scandal people would focus on, the cute little boy toy. He just asked whether I was planning to leave. When I said no, that I needed to stick around to help out however I could, he said he didn’t have any place to go and would stay as well.
I didn’t understand why he was taking that kind of risk, but there was a part of me that was glad when he decided to stay. It seemed liked he had been gradually coming out of his shell while the two of us were living together. I was hoping that would continue if we kept seeing each other.
But that was still another thing that was making me frustrated. It had only been ten days, but now I was living alone again and I didn’t like that at all. I guess that’s what finally motivated me to get more serious about moving into town. I began spending more and more time with Jan in search of the perfect place.
Eventually we found what I was looking for at a price I could afford about half way between the Palermo and Georgetown. I figured it would be close enough to New York Avenue for Tommy, but still far enough away to provide a haven whenever he wanted to escape from that world.
The place was on the top floor of a building they had just finished renovating near the White House. Ordinarily it would have been too expensive for me. But the market for condominiums had turned sour that summer and the builder was having trouble moving the units.
The one I liked was on the very top floor, one of four penthouse suites that shared their own private elevator. The formal entrance led into a small sitting room where you could greet guests privately if you wanted to do that without exposing the rest of the place to them. Just off the sitting room to the right was a dining area overlooking a sunken living room about twelve feet below. To the left were two bedrooms separated by an alcove that could be used as a small office.
The second bedroom was larger than most and had a very nice view looking east toward Capitol Hill. It also had a full bathroom, the smaller of the two in the place. The master bedroom was totally awesome. It was huge and had a massive window that ran the length of the wall. That provided a spectacular view of the city. It also had its own private bathroom with a hot tub, shower, and other appointments that seemed like decadent luxuries to me.
Just off the dining area was a curved spiral staircase that led down to the sunken living room and kitchen below. The kitchen was hidden away and not very large, but it had nice appliances and was perfect for someone like me. Like the bedroom, the living room was totally awesome. The nicest thing about it was the wall of glass that gave you a really impressive view of the Mall and some of the monuments.
I fell in love with the place immediately. It was exactly what I was looking for. If it had just been for me, I might have settled for something less expensive and closer to Capitol Hill. But I was hoping I could eventually persuade Tommy to move in with me. By then I wanted him to be my boyfriend and I was hoping living together would seal the deal for us.
As the middle of August drew closer, I finally worked up the courage to invite Tommy to take a trip with me.
“How would you like to go to a real beach?” I asked one night on the drive back to Ray’s place after the two of us had visited the P Street Beach together.
“What do you mean?” Tommy replied.
“Washington is just brutal in August,” I responded. “It’s hot, humid, and totally unbearable. That’s why the bars are dead these days and business has fallen off at Head & Tails. Everyone tries to get out of this city in August and I want to be one of them, at least for a couple of days.”
“I’ve rented a room down on the Delaware shore this weekend. There’s a beach down there, Poodle Beach, where all the guys hang out, and a really cool dance bar nearby that caters to guys as well. You’re welcome to come along if you want. I’m sure you’d like it.”
“Um, well, I dunno,” Tommy responded. “Let me think about it.”
I was expecting that answer because Tommy was cautious about things he didn’t know much about.
“Sure; whatever you want,” I replied. “I’m leaving Friday evening. If I don’t see you between now and then and you want to come along, give me a call. Like I said, I think you’ll like it but suit yourself.”
Tommy called on Thursday.
“Is that offer to go to the beach still on?” he asked.
“Sure,” I responded.
“Okay,” he said. “It sounds like fun. Count me in.”
We agreed to meet at the Palermo the following night and Tommy even arrived on time. I did most of the talking on the drive down to the shore, describing the beach, the bar, and the boys as best I could. I had visited Rehoboth Beach the previous summer and knew the scene pretty well.
Eventually we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel where I had rented a room. Tommy had brought nothing along and that didn’t surprise me. The truth is, he didn’t have all that much to bring. He wasn’t into buying clothes that much. Knowing that, I had packed some things that fit him. By then he was always borrowing my stuff and I liked sharing with him.
After checking in and freshening up, we headed out to the bar I had mentioned. When we arrived, the place was already mobbed.
“Look, if you see someone you like and want to go home with the dude, that’s fine with me,” I said, trying my best to show I wasn’t possessive. “Just be careful and let me know if you can before leaving; and if you need a ride back on Sunday, meet me back here around noon.”
Offered his freedom, Tommy quickly disappeared into the crowd. He seemed to spend most of his time on the dance floor just like in Washington. I managed to keep myself busy talking with some of the regulars who were down from D.C. that weekend.
By the time the bar was preparing to close, I was worried Tommy had taken me up on my offer. But he caught up with me as I walked toward the door after the lights in the place started blinking.
It was apparent he had enjoyed the evening on the drive back to the hotel. He was in a really good mood and that made me happy.
Like most places on the beach, the room I had rented was small, overpriced and not especially appealing. It was the only place close enough to where I wanted to be that was available that weekend, but I remember being disappointed nonetheless.
Two twin beds occupied most of the space, allowing the owner to double a price that would have been outrageous for one. We smoked a couple of joints Tommy had brought with him before climbing into separate beds. I was starting to fall asleep when the question came out of the blue.
“What are you looking for Andy?” he asked.
It surprised me. When he was in the mood, Tommy could talk up a storm, but he had never asked me anything serious like that before. It caught me completely off guard.
“Umm, well, what do you mean exactly?” I responded, cautiously.
“Just what I said,” he replied. “Everybody is looking for something in life. What are you looking for?”
“Jeez, I’m not sure I know,” I responded.
“World peace,” I joked. “That must explain why I’m working so hard on the McPherson amendment.”
I was trying to lighten the mood without blowing him off completely, but Tommy wasn’t about to be put off.
“Come on, Andy, be serious,” he replied. “I know that amendment of yours is important to you, but I wasn’t talking about your job. I was talking about what you’re looking for in your personal life.”
“Sorry, Tommy,” I apologized. “I wasn’t making fun of you. It’s just that, well, that’s really one of those questions that's tough to answer. Does anyone really know what they’re looking for?”
“Absolutely,” Tommy responded. “Take me, for example. When I first came to Washington, I didn’t have a job or a place to live or any friends I could count on so that’s what I was looking for back then; people who could help me out by putting food in my stomach, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. Of course, what we need and what we want are two different things sometimes.”
I was surprised by that last comment. It seemed to me Tommy was smarter than people usually gave him credit for.
“It’s just that sometimes I have a hard time figuring you out,” he continued. “That’s why I asked.”
“What’s so hard to figure, Tommy,” I replied. “When it comes to me, what you see is what you get.”
It was a popular phrase at the time and rolled off my tongue easily enough.
“I’m not sure about that,” he responded, challenging me. “In fact, sometimes I think the exact opposite is true; that there’s a big difference between what people see and who you really are. The truth is you keep everything buried so deep inside there are times when I wonder if you even know what you want.”
By then the whole conversation had become a little unnerving.
“I know what I want,” I responded. “Sometimes it’s just hard for me to accept. And look who’s talking by the way. You’re not exactly the most open person I’ve ever met in my life,” I added.
“Yeah, but we’re talking about you right now, not me,” Tommy replied. “So stop stalling and tell me what you’re looking for.”
I remember sighing. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be honest with him, but the whole thing was complicated so I tried to evade it again.
“Like I said, it’s tough to answer, Tommy,” I continued. “I mean, yeah, sure, I suppose there are things I want. I want to do well at my job because I want to make a difference for people. I want to get my very own place in town so we can spend more time together; and buy some cool furniture and maybe even a new car, I suppose, something sportier. Those are some of the things I want.”
“Everybody wants those things,” Tommy responded, dismissing my answer. “I’m talking about your life, not your things. I mean, look, you go to the bars every weekend, Andy. You spend hours there. Why? What are you looking for there?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly,” I said, still surprised at the conversation the two of us were having. “I go to the bars because I like spending time with you and you spend most of your time in the bars. As for the rest of it, there’s a simple answer and a more complicated one. I guess the simple answer is I’m looking for what most people in the bars are looking for, a boyfriend.”
“Have you ever had one?” Tommy asked, pouncing on my answer. “Was Jesse your boyfriend?”
“I don’t know,’ I replied, sighing again. “I don’t know whether I’ve ever had a real boyfriend.”
“I mean, I didn’t really have sex all that much before coming to Washington; and even after I got here and started having it more, it wasn’t doing that much for me. I mean, the truth is I had a hard time getting close to anyone before I met Jesse.”
“Why wasn’t the sex doing much for you?” Tommy asked. “I’m really curious about that.”
“That’s where it gets complicated,” I replied. “I guess it just wasn’t providing me with the kind of intimacy I was looking for.”
“I mean, all my life I’ve been looking for someone to love, someone I trusted so much and loved so completely I would feel totally comfortable surrendering to him; because somehow I knew I could only achieve the kind of intimacy I was looking for by surrendering myself completely to someone I loved that much.”
“To me it seemed surrendering myself like that would allow the two of us to come as close as any two people ever can to becoming just one; and I wanted to be close to someone like that.”
“That probably sounds stupid,” I continued. “But it’s something I always wanted and was never able to achieve.”
“Part of the reason for that comes from how I was raised. My parents were very religious and the only thing I ever learned about sex growing up was how bad it was. And then later on my first experience with sex made things even more difficult for me.”
“I mean, I knew I liked boys, but everyone said it was sinful and wrong. I knew I wanted to get close to someone, but every time I tried I was afraid to admit what I wanted because of something that happened a long time ago. And then I met Jesse one night in a bar.”
“It was his first night back home in the States. They had given him thirty days leave and he was on his way home to North Carolina. Someone suggested he go to the Hide & Seek that evening and he didn’t even know it was a gay bar at first. He just wanted to forget something he had done in the war. And he had some weed he knew would help him forget.”
“He was just so good looking and masculine and I was tired of denying the truth. I invited him back to my place to smoke the weed and he jumped at the chance even though I think he had figured out the Hide & Seek was a gay bar by then. I guess he must have known I was gay; and even though I didn’t think he was gay, I was tired of lying to myself and I figured he would do what I wanted him to do and then be on his way the next day.”
“When we got to my place we smoked his weed; and then one thing led to another and we were in bed together, naked, and we had the kind of sex I wanted to have all my life and it was perfect. Right at that moment I felt as closed to fulfilled as I ever had in my life.”
“I thought it would be a one night thing; that he would be mad or embarrassed or ashamed of himself in the morning and that would be that. I mean, I was ashamed in the morning for letting him do that to me. But he didn’t want to leave in the morning. He didn’t want to go back to the pain so he spent the whole thirty days just clinging to me because it allowed him to forget what he had done over there.”
“I let him do it because I wanted someone to cling to as well. I had never let anyone do that to me before and I liked it. I liked it a lot. It provided the kind of intimacy I was looking for even if I had to surrender a lot to achieve it. And then he had to go back to the war, but he couldn’t shoot any more boys like they wanted him to so they gave him a medical discharge and sent him home and he killed himself.”
“I like to think he was my boyfriend, Tommy, but deep down inside I’m not really sure if he was. I mean, he did love me for those thirty days. I know he did; and I loved him too and I’ll probably love him forever. But he wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend, I think. He was just looking for some inner peace, for some place where he could get lost and forget about what he had done.”
“To make a long story short, I don’t think I’ve ever had a real boyfriend,” I concluded. “Maybe I never will. But I would like to have one. I would like you to be my boyfriend, Tommy, but I’ll take whatever you can give; whatever you can give will be enough. I promise I won’t ask for more.”
I remember being surprised at just how candid I had been with him. I had never been able to share what I was feeling like that with anyone, not even Jesse. I wondered how he would react and I guess that surprised me even more.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Tommy replied. “Why do you like me so much, Andy? You’re such a terrific guy and I’m nothing at all. What’s so special about me? I mean, there are lots of boys cuter than me like Miss Teddy. He likes you so much. Even before you helped him get that dental work done, he was crazy about you. Now he practically adores you. He would do just about anything you asked him to do and he’s cuter than me, at least I think so.”
“And there are lots of boys smarter than me, like Sean,” he continued. “He doesn’t say very much, but I know he would jump at the chance to be your boyfriend. He’s been searching for someone special like you ever since he came to Washington, someone who can help him get an education. He knows what he wants and he tries and he tries, but it just never seems to work out for him. You two would be perfect together.”
“So why would someone like you want me to be your boyfriend?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense. You deserve someone special, not someone like me.”
“You’re special to me, Tommy,” I replied. “In fact, you’re pretty much everything to me. I don’t why, but you are. I mean, just looking at you makes me happy; just kissing you drives me crazy. When I go to bed every night I fall asleep thinking about you. Every morning when I wake up, I start thinking how many hours it’s going to be before I see you again.”
“And then when I walk into the Palermo and you’re there and you smile at me, I go totally weak in the knees. It’s what makes my day complete; and if you’re not there when I arrive, I’m totally miserable until you finally show up.”
“Does any of that make sense? I don’t know. I’m not sure love is something any of us can understand or explain. As far as Teddy and Sean are concerned, I like both of them, Tommy. They’re my best friends after you. But you know as well as me they’re in love with each other, not with me. You’re the only one I want to be my boyfriend.”
“Not that it matters very much, of course,” I added, trying to lighten a mood that had suddenly become much too heavy even for me.
“I mean, the thing is, I keep waiting for you to propose because I would certainly say yes, but you keep refusing to make an honest woman of me. But that’s okay, Tommy. I understand. Why would a masculine dude like you marry me when you can get me for free? I guess you knew all along I was a slut.”
Tommy looked over at me with an expression I had never seen before, some combination of shock, disbelief, and pain
“I know you’re just joking, Andy, but sometimes you go completely over the top,” he finally responded, shaking his head. “I can’t believe you just said something like that.”
Then he just laughed and the expression was suddenly gone.
Seeing where the conversation had led us, I decided to take a chance.
“Okay, so now that I’ve confessed my sins, what about you, Tommy? What are you looking for?”
I thought he would probably resist getting personal, but he didn’t.
“When I first came to Washington, it was simple,” he replied. “I was looking to survive. I was fourteen years old and I had run away from home and I didn’t know anyone in Washington. I mean, Washington was just a place the guy driving the rig who gave me a ride was passing through on his way to someplace else. I didn’t have much money, just $42. I didn’t have a place to stay; no friends. I had nothing; nothing at all.”
“So back then it was all about survival and I did survive although it took a long time before I began to take survival for granted. And I guess after that it’s been mostly about improving the terms of my survival, trying to make them more appealing to me. But what’s the point of surviving if there’s never anything more? There has to be more to life than just surviving, Andy; don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “I do.”
I remember being surprised he was opening up to me like that.
“Something has always seemed missing,” he continued, “but I’ve never been able to figure out what. I guess that’s why I smoke weed so much. When I’m high, I don’t have to think about stuff like that, what’s missing, what I’m looking for, whatever.”
“But you have thought about it, Tommy,” I said. “That’s obvious. There must be something you’re looking for.”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “One time I remember thinking having a girlfriend would make a difference and I suppose it did in some ways. I mean, I liked doing stuff with Meghan, going to the movies or the stores, just ordinary stuff; you know what I mean?”
“But the sex was just never as good with Meghan as it was with guys. I don’t know why exactly. I mean, it was okay, I liked it, but it was never as intense and I could never get it to do as much for me as I wanted. I mean, the truth is, I was mostly interested in having a girlfriend back then because I was sixteen and wanted to be normal and just get some pussy like I knew the guys back in my high school were trying to do.”
“The thing is, I’ve always had this really powerful sex drive, Andy, and for the longest time back then I thought the only way I would ever get any real satisfaction was by pounding some babe’s vagina.”
“No,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “I would never believe that about you, Tommy; a strong sex drive; you? That just shocks me, Tommy. It shocks the hell out of me.”
Tommy just laughed at that.
“Well, I do and you already know that, but I think yours may be even bigger,” he added, sticking his tongue out at me. “You’re like some kid who never had any candy growing up. Suddenly you’re grown up and all you can think about is candy.”
“Yeah, but we’re talking about you, not me,” I responded, returning an earlier favor. “So if it wasn’t a girl, was it ever a guy?”
“I don’t know,” Tommy said. “Most of the time even the sex with guys never did as much for me as I was hoping. There was one time, when me and Teddy were best friends, that the whole thing seemed really magical and special. But I knew we could never be a real couple and I didn’t want Teddy to get hurt so I broke that off; and that turned out to be the right thing to do because Teddy and Sean are just perfect together and I’m really happy for them.”
“It’s kind of funny actually,” he added. “I mean, what you just told me before. It’s like we’re exact opposites, Andy. You said you wanted to get close to someone, so close the two of you would almost become one. Me? I’ve been trying to survive all my life and I’ve had to do some pretty nasty stuff to survive. But no matter what I did, I always tried to keep something just for myself, something I could hold on to that nobody else could take from me. And I guess I’m still doing that even today.”
“Well, um, you know what they say about opposites attracting, Tommy,” I interjected, smiling at him.
“Maybe,” he replied, grinning. “That would be nice. In any event, like you said, to make a long story short, what I was looking for when I first came to Washington was to survive and I did. But I don’t really know what I’m looking for other than that. I survived; big deal. I screwed up my life in the process, made a ton of mistakes, big ones.”
“There are times when everything seems hopeless and then I just think about what it would be like to start over again, to get a fresh start someplace else. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about moving to California.”
“They say it’s warm in California all the time, Andy, and that’s where I wanted to go originally. I just didn’t have enough money to get there back then. But now I do. I’ve got enough money stashed away to go wherever I want. What do you think of that, Andy? Do you think starting all over someplace else would work out for someone like me?”
I guess it didn’t really surprise me that much. I think everyone probably wants a fresh start in life at some point, some place like California to start over.
“If that’s something you want to do, then sure,” I responded. “Go to California by all means. But let me ask you something. I don’t know where you were before you came to Washington, but you were somewhere else. Where doesn’t matter because the question I want to ask is whether coming to Washington solved all the problems you were looking to solve when you ran away? Or did it just create a bunch of new problems?”
“Good question,” Tommy said. “I guess it just created new problems that allowed me to forget some of the old ones. I mean, the thing is, I could have gone to Memphis. The truck driver who dropped me off in Washington, his name was Bob, Bob was going to Memphis; and sometimes I think about what things would have been like if I had gone on with him to Memphis instead of having him drop me off in Washington.”
“Well, you see, that’s the thing, Tommy,” I replied. “You’ll never know. And because you’ll never know, it’s easy to convince yourself things would have been better if you had gone on to Memphis, just like it’s easy to convince yourself things would be better if you moved to California.”
“But the truth is we carry our demons with us wherever we go and the only thing you can know for sure is things would have been different. If you had gone to Memphis, things would have been different; and if you go to California, the same thing. But different doesn’t mean better. It just means different. It might be things would turn out pretty much the same way except for the scenery.”
“And you need to look at it the other way too,” I continued. “If you had gone to Memphis, you never would have met Danny or Teddy or Sean and they seem like really terrific friends to me. If I had friends like that, I would never want to go anywhere without them.”
“Well, they are your friends, Andy,” Tommy protested, “just as much as they’re mine. But think about it. Danny was my best friend when I first came to Washington. I liked him a lot. We were tight, but then he got tired of working the streets and found himself a daddy and now I hardly ever see him anymore.”
“And what happened?” I asked. “Was that the end of having any friends at all?”
“No, of course not,” Tommy responded. “Later on I met Miss Teddy and then Sean and they’re my best friends now, along with you, of course. You’re probably my very best friend. But friends go away. Someday Teddy and Sean will go away, just like Danny did, just like you will. We won’t be best friends any more. It’s hard thinking about stuff like that.”
“You can’t be sure about that, Tommy,” I said. “I mean, yeah, sure, things change. They always do. Are you the same person you were when you first came to Washington? Like you say all the time, no way, no how, forget about it. Everything changes. That’s just the way life is. But I can tell you this. If you want me to stick around, I will. I’ll stick around as long as you want me to.”
“To me, life is kind of like a journey with lots of destinations along the way. And I’m not saying the destination isn’t important. It can be. So, yeah, sure, go to California if you think that’s where you want to go next. But wouldn’t it be more fun if you could bring Miss Teddy along; if you could bring Sean along? Or whoever?”
“Life isn’t just about destinations, Tommy. In the end, I guess we’re all headed to the same final destination and most of us aren’t in a rush to get there. What life is mostly about is the journey and one of the great things about journeys is sometimes you get to pick your traveling companions. And it’s the great times you share with them that are important, more important than the destination itself most of the time.”
I looked across the room and there in the darkness was Jesse staring at me and I remember thinking about the time the two of us had spent traveling together. But now Jesse was on his own private journey. He had taken a different path and he was alone by himself and for some reason I started to cry. And then he was gone as quickly as he had arrived and I could see Tommy staring at me and climbing out of his bed.
I wondered whether he would think I was crazy, but he just came over and hugged me and starting brushing my tears away.
“Sorry about that,” I said, trying to compose myself.
“I just started thinking about Jesse being all alone on his journey.”
“And that’s what I like about you, Andy,” Tommy whispered.
“Sometimes you’re so freaking smart it scares me; and then I see you crying for some boy who died a long time ago and I don’t even know what to think. If you can still care about Jesse that much, it makes me wonder what it would be like to have someone care about me like that.”
“I care about you, Tommy,” I replied. “I care about you more than Jesse.”
I had said it without even thinking about it, but I was telling the truth; and right at that moment I think Tommy could sense it as well.
“It’s just so hard,” he responded, shaking his head. “Why can’t I see what you see, Andy; why can’t I feel what you feel? What’s wrong with me? Why am I so screwed up?
“You’re not,” I replied, “at least not any more than I am. You’re just weighed down by the past like me.”
“We can help each other, Tommy. I know we can and it doesn’t have to be hard either. Do yourself a favor. Just let go of the past like I’m trying to do and think about the future we could share together. Give yourself a chance, Tommy; everything will be so much better. I promise”
Then, exhausted by all of the words we had shared, I embraced Tommy and pulled him into the bed with me. He must have been played out as well because the two of us just lay there together for what seemed like forever, our bodies entangled, our eyes locked together. I wondered whether anything I had said made sense.
It was later. Tommy had already fallen asleep embracing me and I could feel myself surrendering to the darkness now, Tommy beside me, the warmth from his body protecting my own from the cool evening breeze, the sound of the distant waves wafting through the open window and lulling me gently to sleep.
I closed my eyes momentarily and Jesse was there and I knew it was time for me to let go and for the two of us to share a final good-bye. I remember seeing him smile as I leaned over and gently kissed Tommy. And then he was gone and there was only the embrace of the person I loved.
Dawn would follow the darkness, their ancient struggle renewed. Whatever else happened, love endures.