Journey to Love
Chapter Twenty-two: Home for the Holidays
edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
Preface warnings apply.
On the workbench in the garage were two beautiful arrangements of poinsettias and evergreen sprigs with blue berries. The ugly duckling poinsettias had been transformed into two magnificent swan arrangements by Levi’s skilled hands. “Levi, they are beautiful. I know about the poinsettias, but where did the stuff with the blue berries come from?”
“Haven’t you noticed the two old cedars out front? They must be at least a hundred years old and are loaded with small blue berries. You take the low arrangement and place it in the center of the table. I’ll take the large one for the buffet.”
As we stepped through the door from the garage into the house, I heard the garage door opener start, but the mechanism had been disengaged so while the motor ran, pulling the chain, the door remained closed. I laughed and said, “Let’s get these placed quickly.” With the arrangements in place, I grabbed Levi’s hand and led him into the parlor. DeAngelo was already in the entry hall as we had planned. DeAngelo met the dads when they came in the front door. “You leaving quickly?” he asked,
“No,” Sam answered. “Why?”
“I thought you might be since you came in the front; I figured you left the jeep out because you were leaving shortly.”
“You haven’t had a problem with the garage door?”
“No, I went to see Mom and Granny Lotz this morning and it was fine when I got back about noon. I did some reading for next semester and have been with our visitors since 2:30 or so.”
“We have visitors?” Brad asked. Levi and I were sitting in the two wing back chairs which faced the fireplace and, therefore, we were not easily seen from the entry.
“Yes,” DeAngelo said and as we had arranged, Levi stood when DeAngelo continued, “Dads, Mr. Levi Epstein of New York State. Levi my dads Mr. Bradford Hunsinger and Mr. Samuel Houston. Oh! And Dads, Mr. Derek Wilson of Alexander County, Virginia.”
Both dads stood in total shock for a moment before both wrapped me in a bear hug. A few minutes later, they released me and shook hands with Levi and said, “Welcome to Grace House, Levi. Let’s get something to drink and find out what’s going on.” I had the kettle ready and Sam selected the tea and set it to brewing. DeAngelo got the cups and Sam brought the pot. Once we had our tea in hand, Brad said, “Okay, we’re ready for the story,”
“Actually, there’re two,” I said. “There’s the story of Auntie beating up on the Dean of Student Life and of the arrival and departure of the Lynchburg dragon and sub-dragon.” As Levi and I recounted the stories, we had to stop several times to allow the dads and DeAngelo to recover from laughing.
“Son, it is so good to have you home. I know your responsibility to Auntie, but that didn’t make the thought of the holidays without you any less heartbreaking,” Brad said. “So where do you want to go to celebrate?”
“How about Grace House? Tonight is the third day of Hanukah and this is the fourth week in Advent. We have candles to light and dinner to enjoy. Levi and I brought back fresh seafood we picked up practically off the boat and we’re having some of it tonight. You two hit the shower--keep playtime under an hour.”
“No promises, Youngest Son,” Sam laughed. and the two headed upstairs. They were back in half an hour and we went to the dining room and Brad asked Levi to light the menorah which he did as he said the appropriate prayer. Brad then lit the Advent wreath candle while saying the prayer for the particular day. Levi and I went to the kitchen to bring out the shrimp cocktails and while we were doing so, Sam had filled wine glasses for all of us.
“A toast to Auntie and Levi, slayers of the dragons of Lynchburg,” Sam said, raising his glass. There were toasts to ‘our sons’ and one to ‘our dads’ and then we ate.
The dinner went much more smoothly than I had anticipated and we really enjoyed it. Brad suggested we have dessert and coffee later as we had eaten well and it seemed a waste to eat DeAngelo’s cakes when we would enjoy them much more in an hour or so.
We all settled in the living room and Sam asked about photos. “I know you sent us pictures by email, but I’m sure there are more.”
“Thousands,” Levi laughed. “Seems most everyone who shows up sooner or later hauls out a camera and we end up with another disk of photos of King Derek’s Palace or is it Derek’s Den of Iniquity? Come to think of it, Derek, you might open a present early. Adam, Janette and Trevor, mass media majors who were in one of our study groups, sent you a present by me. I’ll get it.” Levi went upstairs and returned carrying a small package.
When he handed the package to me, I saw a folded tag attached which read, ‘To King Derek from the Knights of the Round Table.’ Inside was a note, “Derek, enjoy this as much as we did making it. A somewhat cleaned up R rated version earned us an A. Please don’t tell our teacher the model release from you was forged. Bet you didn’t know Janette had that skill!” I opened the package and inside were two DVDs. I don’t know when or how the shot had been made, the picture on Disk One was an overhead view of seven people seated around the round table. I handed the DVD to Brad who popped it into the player, dropped the projector and screen into place and started the DVD. It opened with a video of me sleeping, waking up, headed for the shower in my naked glory, morning wood standing proudly. “Holy shit! Who did that? When?”
Levi said, “To this point, I am innocent.”
The video ended and a slide show of still shots started. The entire DVD was a mixture of still shots and video. It included a section on Derek, King of the Diving World, King Derek’s Chariot with many pictures which included the LeBaron, and on and on it went. The disk concluded with ‘Tales of the Adventures of King Derek,’ in which well over a dozen friends told a ‘Derek’ story. I was very flattered, and, I admit, proud, at comments made about me and how the apartment had become an important part of so many lives.
At the end, Adam appeared and said, “A documentary concerning any royal person would not be complete without a tour of the palace. Be sure to watch the second part, ‘King Derek’s Palace’ in which the docent will be Mrs. Amelia Kingston, known to all as Auntie.”
“You do us proud, son,” Sam said.
“You do indeed,” Brad added.
“You have every right to be proud of him,” Levi said. “He’s a great guy.”
“Okay, enough already,” I said and Levi laughed since ‘enough already’ was one of his contributions to the vocabulary of the Knights as, I guess, those who hung out at my place were to be known.
Brad ejected the DVD and loaded a second one while Levi, DeAngelo and I brought in coffee and the lava cakes. The second DVD began with an interview with Auntie about the house, how she happened to have Derek living there and on the transformation of the upstairs with many before-and-after shots. “As a matter of fact, Mrs. Kingston, Auntie, would you be so kind as to give us a guided tour of the palace?” Trevor, who was narrating, asked. Auntie, of course, agreed. Someone must have carried her upstairs and she and Trevor walked through the apartment. In each room, the before picture was shown, then Auntie pointed out how the room was changed and told about the furnishing. It was a beautiful job.
“You sure have a nice place, Littl' Brother. No wonder people like to hang out there.”
“Well, I like to have them there. Auntie does as well,” I said.
“And I am sure that is an important part of why they are there and like to be there,” Brad said.
“Yeah,” Levi said, “the place is nice and don’t get me wrong, I especially enjoyed it since it was the library or a pigsty for me otherwise, but don’t let Derek fool you. He is a well liked--hell, well loved--because he cares about and is concerned about other people. Never sell your little brother short, DeAngelo, he is a big man on campus in the way many big men on campus will never be.”
“Bet that fancy apartment doesn’t hurt his social standing,” DeAngelo laughed.
“I hope not,” I said.
“Of course it’s a nice place, a wonderful place and we enjoy it,” Levi said, “but with what goes on there, it’s not a hangout. That round table in the library kept some people in college this semester and sure helped others get a better grade. I’m sure if we needed it for something else, Derek wouldn’t hesitate to use it, but the library is for reading, studying and serious discussions. Those who ask where the library TV or sound system is when they walk in seldom stay long.
“Occasionally there will be soft music there, but it’s because of something else going on in the room. The living room is where we enjoy music, movies, playing games, couples may make out some there, but it’s off limits when there is studying to be done. No, DeAngelo, the apartment is a nice addition to the lives of Derek’s friends and some of his fellow students, but the main attractions of the Palace are Auntie and Derek, two loving, caring, concerned people.”
“Wow, you really make little brother sound like a goody-two-shoes mama’s boy,” DeAngelo laughed.
“We had an aquatics coach who would certainly disagree with you,” Levi laughed. “Because your ‘mama’s boy’ had enough of his mistreating the team, he told him off and the coach ended up leaving, not Derek. The man has balls, but he also has a sense of right and wrong that guides his use of them.”
“Levi, enough. You are embarrassing me!” I said and meant it. “Speaking of swimming, I told Levi we went skinny-dipping year round in a pond in the pasture and he doesn’t believe me.”
“The proof is not far away,” Brad said. “Let’s go!” Five minutes later we were bouncing down the trail to the pond. As we approached the pond, I was surprised to see a small building near where we had always parked the jeep. The jeep had barely stopped before we all started stripping. As soon as I was naked, I ran and jumped in the pond as always, expecting to hit bottom by the time the water was to my waist. I didn’t. In fact, I was floating back to the surface without ever having hit bottom.
As I broke the surface of the pond, underwater lights came on and flood lights illuminated a diving platform, a real one with what I was sure were seven and a half and five-meter platforms as well as a two meter one for beginners. “How do you like it?” Brad said, surfacing on one side of me and as Levi surfaced on the other.
“The platform? You know I love it, but that’s just part of the changes.”
“Yeah, you know how projects around here kinda grow. One night we were talking about the fact that one day we’ll be old and stripping and getting dressed in the middle of a pasture will be pretty rough. Sam said, ‘Babe, it will not get rough, it is rough, we just put up with it because it comes with the joy of the pond.’ So we decided to build a small dressing shelter. We talked about heat and Sergeant Major said, ‘You have heat; circulate pond water through the shelter.’”
“Sam and I were watching Ms. Bianchi put some divers through their paces when he said, 'Brad, wouldn’t our youngest love to be able to dive at the pond. Our thoughts went: A diving board means we needed to dig the pond deeper--while we are at it, we may as well make it deep enough for a platform--and we could use more space so we may as well make the pond larger. Then the question of lights came up again and that led to illuminating the diving area. We’ve stopped there for now,” Brad laughed. “So let’s see you two show off.”
For the next half hour, Levi and I gave the diving tower a real work out. “You’ll have to show off for Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik while you are home, here as well at the Center. Give our divers something to aim for,” Brad said when Levi finally called a halt and we were relaxing in the warm water.
Unlike pools Levi and I swam in ordinarily, the water in the pond was actually potable and unchlorinated and therefore, there was no real need to shower when we were ready to get dressed, but we always did. Once dressed, we made a dash for the jeep and Sam drove quickly over the nearly no trail back to Grace House as the temperature had been dropping ever since Levi and I had arrived. Inside, Sam made hot chocolate from cocoa powder and cream rather than a mix, something Levi had never seen.
While the dads and DeAngelo were getting to know Levi, I slipped into the office and called Mom. She sounded as though she had been asleep even though it was only 9:30. “Mom, this is Derek. You sound as though you were asleep.”
“Derek, Baby, good to hear your voice, sorry I won’t be seeing you Christmas. Yeah, I sat down for a few minutes and dozed off. After work I caught a ride to the hospital to check on Mama. I had to call 911 night before last. She had some kind of spell. Derek, she is awful weak. Told me she was ready to go home and she didn’t mean coming here. So how are you? How’s Norfolk?”
“I’m fine and so’s Norfolk, or it was when I left. I’m home. I’m at Grace House.” I then told her about Geneva’s arrival and departure. Mom laughed and said she had only met her once and that was enough. I agreed, then asked, “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so I guess you’ll be home.”
“Well, I need to get to the hospital. No real need to stay since Mama sleeps twenty or more hours a day. The doctor is trying to arrange home hospice care for her. If that can be arranged, she’ll be here until she passes which can’t be much longer. She has eaten nothing in almost a week and only takes a sip of water now and then. She has absolutely refused to be hooked up to IVs. The nurses were having none of that, but the doctor pointed out that she was alert and in her right mind when she told them that and it was her right to refuse.”
“I’ll pick you up about nine in the morning and take you by the hospital. Tell me how long you want to stay and I’ll take you home. Better yet, call me when you are ready to go home and I’ll pick you up. I have a friend with me and he and I are planning on spending the morning at the Center.”
“Thank you, Baby.”
“Now go to bed and get some rest, Mom.”
“I will. Glad you got to come home.”
When I went back into the living room, Sam asked how Mom was doing. “She had fallen asleep when I called and sounded very tired.”
“She is,” he said. “She hasn’t missed a day’s work and has been on duty at home when she was not at work for the last couple months. Granny Lotz wasn’t able to care for herself. Family and neighbors have either sat with her or dropped by often enough to see to her needs during the day until a couple weeks ago. Since then Granny has had to have a sitter while your mom worked. When they brought her in night before last, I was told, she was unconscious, but regained consciousness shortly after she was admitted. Of course she is in the end stage of life and sleeps most of the time. Soon she will go to sleep and simply not wake up.”
“Mom said the doctor is trying to arrange home hospice care for her.”
“That should be no problem and would certainly be wonderful,” Sam said. “It should have been done a couple weeks ago, but Mae wouldn’t hear of it. I was afraid she will drive herself into the ground and get sick herself. Brad and I had done all we could to help out, but Mae has a lot resting on her. Hospice would take a major load off her shoulders, but to be honest, Derek, Granny Lotz will soon be winging her way to glory. I just hope they are ready for her. She is one fine lady made from pure gold and steel.”
“Derek, I know you have heard enough from me to know that Granny Lotz is very special to me, but I’ve never told you why,” Brad said.
“One minute, Dad,” I interrupted. “Levi, Granny Lotz is my grandmother, well, actually, she’s my great grandmother. My grandmother was thirty when she had Mom. She died when Mom was two or three. The only mother she remembers is Granny Lotz and she has always called her Mama. I know nothing of my grandfather. When I asked, I was told, ‘Never you mind about that.’ Being my grandmother would make her special enough, but you may not know African-American families and communities are essentially matriarchal. Granny Lotz is the matriarch in Stanton. She is at least ninety, I’m sure.”
Sam laughed. “She was admitted to the hospital about fifteen years ago and gave her age as sixty-five. Mae, Derek’s mom, laughed and said, ‘Then you had my mother when you were ten or so.’ Granny, without batting an eye, said, ‘Yes, we started young in those days.’ When she was admitted this time, the admitting officer said, ‘Granny Lotz, I see you were sixty-five when you were admitted fifteen years ago with pneumonia. That makes you eighty now.’ Granny Lotz exploded. ‘I most surely am not eighty! I was seventy my last birthday.’ Mae almost died laughing, 'Mama, you live a few more years and you’ll be younger than I am.' Truth is, no one knows how old she is, but she is at least ninety. Sorry, Babe, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No problem. That gives you some insight into the woman. I’m sure Derek could give you many others. Often Granny Lotz has ruled with an iron hand. To cross her was to ask for trouble, serious trouble. There were, of course, many other sides to the woman.”
Brad then took up his story. “When I was in high school I fell in love with my best friend who was straight. Booker knew of my love for him and he certainly loved me deeply as a beloved brother, but we both knew there would never be more. We started jerking off together when we were twelve or thirteen, but surprisingly enough, we had never done each other.” Brad then told how he and Booker had been caught giving each other a hand job and the aftermath.
“After Booker’s death, I lived with Miss Grace until I graduated high school. I toughed it out at school, taking abuse from students, then I noticed I was getting bad grades on work I knew was good. I told Miss Grace. Booker’s grandmother, who was Miss Grace’s live in companion overheard and told Granny Lotz. The two went to the school and really let the principal have it and threatened a lawsuit and I did graduate second in my class. I had the grades, but I wasn’t salutatorian. The school board voted to eliminate the honor; of course they voted to restore it the next year. At graduation, I was booed and a lot of names shouted at me as I walked across the stage to get my diploma. As soon as I had it, I threw my mortarboard at the audience, shucked off my robe, and walked out.
“I was upset, not only because of how I was treated, but also because Booker hadn’t been there to graduate. I just kept walking and crying when I left the stage. I had walked about half an hour when three bullies who had just graduated saw me. They beat me unconscious and rolled me into a ditch beside the road. Granny Lotz had been to graduation and as she was driving back, for some reason, spotted me in the ditch. She flagged down a car and asked for help and was refused. After that happened the third time, she managed to get me into her car—the woman was in her seventies or eighties and probably weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet—and drove me to the hospital. Apparently someone had alerted the hospital, because when she got there, no one would answer the emergency bell. She stormed inside, but was invisible. She got back in her car and drove me to the hospital in Harrisonville where I was admitted. I was in the hospital for two weeks. Had she not managed to get me to Harrisonville, I would have died in that ditch. When I was released, I left Stanton, but Granny Lotz has always been one of my heroes.
“Brad, after Derek told me part of your story,” Levi said, “I wondered how you managed to come back to Stanton and why, so far as Derek has seen, you are not bitter.”
“Oh, Levi, I left Stanton and went to Charlottesville a very, very bitter, angry young man. I lied to Miss Grace, telling her I was in summer school at UVA. Instead, I wandered around Charlottesville, dreaming of nothing except revenge and looking for trouble, and usually finding it. Anything and anyone was a ready target for my anger.
“One night I used my fake ID, got in a bar and soon had a guy buying me drinks. He, obviously, had something in mind as he felt me up. I wasn’t objecting, but told him we needed to continue in private. Instead, he unzipped my pants, pulled out my cock and whirled me around until was standing in front of the bar, my dick at full mast for all to see. I saw red and decked him. I was rushed out of the bar--I was underage, remember--but the police arrived just as I was tossed on the street. The guy I decked was nowhere to be found. My fake ID was quickly identified as such so I was taken to the jail and charged with underage drinking. The next morning, I was taken to juvenile court. I had been searched and I had a ‘Congratulations on your Graduation’ card from Granny Lotz in my wallet. Not sure why I had kept it, but I had. Turns out the juvenile judge knew Granny Lotz and called her.
“She rescued me a second time. When I was released, she took me to dinner and while I was eating we had a ‘Come to Jesus’ session. 'You’re simply saving Stanton a job they are ready and willing to do. They want to destroy you, but they don’t have to worry. You are hellbent on doing it yourself. You know what they respect—money. What they hate most is for someone not as good as they claim to be to have more money and respect than they do. They cannot stand someone who doesn’t give a gray rat’s ass about being accepted by them. You’re angry and you’re bitter—well, you can let it destroy you or you can channel it into something constructive and beat the bastards at their own game.' So now you know why I’m here and why I owe Granny Lotz.”
We talked awhile longer and finally Levi said, “You know, Brad, I think you may have just paid back Granny Lotz. I have expressed it differently, but I have been angry and bitter at my father, but I think I was doing what he wanted--destroying myself. Maybe I need to beat him at his own game.”
A short time later I said, “It’s not late, but it has been a long day. I’m heading up to bed.” I kissed the dads goodnight and hugged DeAngelo. Levi and I went upstairs, got undressed and crawled into bed.
We exchanged a great goodnight kiss and as we broke it, Levi said, “Thanks, Derek, for bringing me. I don’t know when I have felt so welcomed.” He wrapped his arms around me, we kissed again and were soon asleep.
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