Journey to Love
Chapter Three—The Kitchen Table
edited by Cole and Peter
Brad and Sam led me and DeAngelo to where the water was chest deep and started teaching us to swim. In spite of the fact that we worked at it for forty-five minutes or more, my ankle felt fine. When I mentioned that, Brad said, “Yeah, swimming is good for the ankle and the warm water makes for real pool therapy. And it’s lots more fun that the therapy pool at the center, right?”
“Know we would like to stay longer, but dinner needs attention,” Sam called to Brad and the four of us reluctantly got out of the pond. It was late September and early evening, so while the water had been warm, the air was not! We quickly dried off and dressed in the clothes we had worn from town and headed back to the house.
As Sam checked on his food and set the oven to preheat, Brad asked, “Do we have time for a short tour of the house before dinner?”
“The twenty-five cent tour,” Sam responded. “I’ll join you shortly.”
“Fine, well, originally this part of the house was divided into two bedrooms and the family dining room. When we had gutted the inside, we decided to make it all one room with the kitchen in one end and our living area in the other.”
As we walked to the kitchen end Brad continued. “The kitchen is all Sam’s. I can make coffee and use the toaster, but after that, I’m lost. He loves to cook and has actually been to a fine cooking school for short courses, so when we started designing the house, he got what he wanted in the kitchen.
“While the house was being restored, we kept our eyes open for things we wanted in it. At a house sale at an old farmhouse up near Woodstock, after looking over everything, we saw nothing which interested us until we were walking back through the kitchen. There were all sorts of things piled on a table in the center of the kitchen and we both glanced at them again and just before I said anything, Brad whispered, 'Look at the table underneath all the junk.' I did and saw what he had seen. The top was sliced from a single log. The tree must have been enormous since as you can see, it is a good six feet wide, almost eight feet in length and four inches thick. The table weighs so much it took four men to move it,” Sam said.
“While we were looking at it, the woman who had inherited the place and was selling everything—she was going to modernize the house—was talking with her husband and I heard her say, ‘I’ll have to pay a moving company to get that old kitchen table out of here. I knew it’d never sell and I haven’t been able to give it away.’ Brad got an evil grin on his face and walked over to the woman. He told her he would move the table for $100, a lot less than a moving company would charge, if she’d have it cleared off in the next two hours. She agreed in a heartbeat.
“Since it was Sunday and we were in apple country, I knew we could pick up four guys who would be picking apples during the week and twenty-five dollars for an hour’s work would be more than double what they would be making Monday,” Brad said. “We quickly found a truck rental place, rented a truck, found four guys with muscle at a local hangout and had the table loaded and headed for Alexander County within the hour. It cost us the truck rental to get it here and a case of beer to get it unloaded and in the kitchen. We love this kitchen table. Here's where we eat unless Sam is having guests for a full, formal dinner. It’s where all our decisions get made, any disagreements settled and our hopes and dreams discussed. Lot of unhappiness could be avoided if people had and used kitchen tables,” he said as he ran his hand over the smooth table top.
As we walked toward the opposite end of the room, he said, “In the original house the kitchen was not part of the main building, but in a one-story wing from the family dining room. We renovated the old kitchen wing, if you can call it that, into our office and a study/library.” He opened the door to a beautifully appointed room lined with bookcases. In the center was a reading table with reading lights and four very comfortable looking chairs. Under the windows on one wall were two desks facing each other. Two computers were on L-extensions of the desks, allowing the people at the desks to have unobstructed views of each other. “The only addition we have made to the house’s footprint is the garage behind this room.”
Back in the main room, Brad said, “This end of the room is our den. We have a sound system and now a projection TV for entertainment, but being the readers we are, you’ll note decent light anywhere you sit. Since I’m a physical therapist, I insisted we get the recliners that do all sorts of things such as allow the leg rests to be moved independently. That’s about it for here.”
We then stepped through the double doors into the entry hall and he continued, “The original house had no entry hall. You stepped from the top step directly into the main room. Like most houses of the era, there was no porch, not even a stoop. There was a wall separating the main room from the dining room, so on that score, our arrangement is close to the original, however there were no stairs. The stairs were in the family dining room. Sam saw a staircase in some historic house somewhere, but couldn’t remember where. He spent hours searching the internet for a photo of the staircase he wanted and finally found it. I don’t recall where the original is located, but the staircase running alongside the dining room wall of this entry was what he wanted. The living room wall starts over halfway down the entry hall, allowing anyone entering to see and be seen. The room is furnished with somewhat traditional furnishings, but certainly not antiques or reproductions. Comfort won out over ‘the way it was’ which is funny because this was always a farmhouse and certainly was never elegantly furnished, but, of course, the Hunsinger family would never hear that. To hear them tell it, their ancestors were wealthy Virginia gentleman farmers! It’s okay though, they have never seen the house since we bought it.”
‘Maybe another story for later,’ I thought.
“Derek, if DeAngelo will carry your crutches, I’ll carry you upstairs unless you want to do it with crutches.”
“Thanks, I do pretty good with crutches, but just as soon avoid stairs when I can,” I replied. I was amazed again as I was picked up as if I weighed nothing. I am certainly not overweight, but I am six one and weigh about one seventy-five. Nevertheless, he just scooped me up and walked up the stairs. At the top, DeAngelo handed me my crutches as Brad stood me on my feet—actually, on my foot as I kept the injured one off the floor, hanging on to Brad until I had my crutches.
“Originally the upstairs had six tiny rooms with a hall down the middle and, of course, no bath or toilet. A bath and toilet had been added sometime in the late forties, early fifties, replacing one of the rooms. When we started planning the layout, we thought about putting our office up here, but decided against it as you know since we saw no real reason to do so and had already decided to move the kitchen, leaving that space unused. So, to your right, the west end of the house, are two nice-size bedrooms with a connecting bath.”
He showed us the guest rooms, each with queen-size beds. Again, they were attractively decorated, but definitely masculine in furnishings and décor. The two rooms shared a large walk-in closet and bath; the closet and bath occupied what had been a central hall which meant they were both quite large, the bath having not only a whirlpool-type tub, but also a large enclosed shower. “When you guys sleepover, which I hope you will, these will be your rooms.” I noticed he said ‘when’ we slept over.
We walked down the short hall. Brad said, “The end of the house is our bedroom.” I had suspected that Sam and Brad were gay and a couple. I didn’t miss it the day they picked us up by the side of the road when Sam introduced Brad as his partner nor when he had almost called Brad ‘Babe.’ If there had been any question remaining, their room was all the proof anyone could want. The main feature of the room was a king size bed. I glanced at DeAngelo in time to see reality dawn on him. He looked, well, shocked, and stammered, “You two sleep together?”
“For just over nine years. Every night except when we had to be separated because of our jobs, school or some business. Yeah, DeAngelo, we sleep together, we live together and for since June 2004, we have been married.”
I don’t know what I expected DeAngelo’s reaction to be, other than unpleasant, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be, “But you can’t be married, guys can’t get married, to each other, I mean.” Instead of looking shocked or upset, he looked puzzled.
“But we are. Virginia doesn’t recognize it and, frankly, I didn’t give a rat’s ass whether we got that piece of paper or not. I asked Sam to marry me six months after we met and he said yes and so far as I was concerned, we were married, but he wanted a piece of paper so we were married in Massachusetts in June after they legalized gay marriage there. Sorry if it shocks you, but I thought you had it figured out as soon as Sam slipped and introduced me as his partner. By the way, we usually say husband unless I think that could cause trouble. Does our being married make a difference?”
“Well, I just don’t know,” DeAngelo admitted. “I mean I’ve heard all the stuff about faggots and queers and I know in our community, in the African-American community, there aren’t any . . .”
I thought Brad would fall on the floor laughing. “Sorry to disappoint you, DeAngelo, but the ten percent rule applies to African-Americans the same as honkies.”
“Ten percent rule?”
“Yeah, you know, about ten percent of men are gay, doesn’t matter what color they are.”
“Well, why did you choose to be part of the ten percent?”
I was feeling pretty strange. I had always feared DeAngelo would go ape if he found out someone was gay—okay, if he found out I was gay—and he hadn’t, but he was mouthing the old shit about black men not being gay. Things were going so well, I was giving serious thought to coming out to my brother and would have except Brad stopped me when he said, “DeAngelo, I didn’t any more choose to be gay than you chose to be black—actually a pretty nice coffee and cream,” he said as he ran a finger down DeAngelo’s cheek, then he laughed. “Dude, you are one good looking man and if I wasn’t attached, I might make a play for you even knowing you’re half my age and straight.” He laughed and quickly added, “Just kidding,” then in a serious tone continued, “Look, Sam and I are gay, we’re very much in love and have been practically from the time we laid eyes on each other. We had boyfriends before we met and, I guess the same as straight guys, had sex, but once we met, all that was over. After our second date, we agreed we’d be monogamous. About six months later, I asked him to marry me and, as I said, he said yes and so far as I was concerned, that was our life commitment. It was for him as well, but he wanted it to be official. So, DeAngelo, I’m married--taken--and you’re straight and neither of us has to worry about the other hitting on him. And so long as you know you and your partner are agreeable, both know the commitment involved, why you are doing it, and are safe, who you take to bed and what you do when you get there is none of my business . . . ”
“And the same goes for me, yeah, okay It’ll just take some getting used to, but I guess you’re the same guy who stopped to help two black guys when we had just been disrespected by a truck load of redneck hillbillies, so I guess if you can put aside all the shit you’ve heard and maybe been told about niggers, I can do the same about faggots. So you’re gay and I’m African-American and we’re friends and going to become very good friends.” Damn my brother really surprised me sometimes, but there was a difference between gay friends and a gay brother, so I kept my mouth shut.
We saw the rest of the bedroom, walk-in closets and a bathroom you wouldn’t believe, but the really wonderful thing about the bedroom was the east wall. The stone wall had been replaced with steel beams and glass; the bed faced a wall of glass. “Fortunately, both Brad and I are morning people and we loved the idea of waking up to the sunrise.”
“We sure do,” Sam said, joining us. “Expected to join you earlier, but I got a call from Mr. Simpson. DeAngelo, Derek watch for the announcement this week, but R. E. Lee may have an aquatics team as soon as it can be organized. Keep that under your hats until it’s made official. More importantly, dinner’s ready.”
As we walked—I was carried—downstairs, Brad said, “DeAngelo found us out, Babe, but thinks he can live with our being faggots if we can live with him being a nigger.”
“Not funny, Samuel, even joking, not funny.”
“It’s okay,” DeAngelo said, “I was the one that said that.”
“Still not funny, DeAngelo. Those are two words that are not to be used in this house again.”
Both DeAngelo and Brad looked sheepish and said, “Sorry.”
I hoped that episode would not cause trouble between Sam and Brad and I guess my face showed it because Sam said, “Don’t worry yourself, Derek, there are just some words that cut deep and especially for me. Brad being called something like that is water off a duck’s back to him and I know it—but you do know his reaction when someone else is called names like that.”
I laughed, “Yeah, I believe I’ve seen money change hands.”
“Well, I just need to remind him from time to time it’s not the same with me. Those words cut deep with me, but no problem, guys.” I relaxed.
“Money changing hands?” DeAngelo asked.
“Five bucks in the emergency room when we took Derek in.”“That bitch at the desk?”
“Yeah.” Sam then told DeAngelo about bets on Brad’s temper and we all had a laugh.
A few minutes later we sat down to a wonderful dinner at the kitchen table. Sam had prepared lasagna from scratch, I mean he even made the noodles—homemade bread and a salad with dressing like I had never tasted, but definitely wanted to enjoy again. During dinner, we talked about school, our dreams for the future and such until it was time to load the bikes on the truck and head home.
Beginning Monday morning, we rode our bikes to school and were the envy of not a few students. After school, we rode to the new Alexander Fitness Center. When we walked in, the receptionist asked if we were applying for the janitor assistant’s job. “Maybe later,” a voice behind us said, “but right now they are here to pick up their membership cards, get the photos made and do some swimming.” Brad stepped up to the desk then, put an arm around each of our shoulders and added, “Beth, these are my protégés, Derek and DeAngelo Wilson, you know, of the birthplace Wilsons.” Beth looked as if she had been hit in the face by a dirty gym sock. Caught between her obvious assumptions we were looking for a job as a janitor and Brad’s embrace of us, she hadn’t a clue as to what she should do. Brad linking us with the birthplace Wilsons was the coup de grace. It was all the three of us could do to keep a straight face.
She finally got herself together enough to hand us membership forms and took a digital photo. Brad had completed all he could of the membership form and had signed the ‘Recommended by’ statement. As soon as we had filled in the rest of the form, it was scanned into the computer and our laminated membership cards spit out. When Beth handed us the cards, she also handed each of us a towel and Brad asked, “Bring swimsuits?”
DeAngelo said, “Didn’t figure we’d get in the water today. Derek has the one you got him for rehab, but to be honest, I don’t own one. We talked last night about being able to find swimsuits at Wal-Mart this late in the season, but even if we could, we’d have to ask for money for something we didn’t have to have. That would cause a problem at our place, especially right now. Since he didn’t get the promotion he thought he deserved, Dad has decided he’ll lose his job and is even tighter with his money.”
“Okay, come on into the office,” Brad said and when we were seated, added, “Guys, I know your parents are hard working and have good jobs considering, but they don’t have money to spend on what they probably consider luxury. You two obviously have problems with being given stuff. So, Derek, you’re not sixteen until March, right?” I nodded. “I’m going to suggest DeAngelo take the part-time job that is available here now and you can go to work here when you turn sixteen. We’ll pay for anything you need here and give you some pocket money.
“For now, Sam and I are your mentors and sponsors.” Handing us two gym bags, he said, “Here’s what you’ll need for the time being. So let’s get your stats so you can get in the water at least for a short time today. Pop into the locker room across the hall and put on the swimsuits, then come get me. Oh, not perving on you, but wear the brief swimsuits.”
When we opened the bag we each found two swimsuits—one trunk style and one brief style. Both Speedos, but the latter what everyone thinks of when they think of Speedos. It also contained two gym outfits—shorts and shirt and track pants and jacket. I’ll admit we looked pretty hot when we pulled on the brief swimsuits, but felt a bit exposed as well. Both DeAngelo and I slipped into the track outfits before going back to Brad’s office.
“Good, okay, let’s go down the hall and get your stats.” I thought we’d be weighed and our height determined, but there was more. Our lung capacity was measured, a resting and after exercise BP and pulse rate taken, our body fat percentage measured in a hydrostatic weight tank, various means of testing the strength of different muscle groups were used and finally, we were given a stress test. Needless to say, when we finished, we were two tired dudes, but we were not finished. Brad took photos of our torso, legs and arms for our file. “We now have a very accurate baseline for you two and can see to a proper personal training program. While I’m working on that, take a quick shower and head for the pool.”
After we had showered, we walked into the pool area and saw two teachers, Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik standing with Brad. They were actually husband and wife, but she kept her maiden name and even though they had been teaching at R. E. Lee for four years, Stanton still held them at arm’s length because of that. Well, not only because of that. I mean she was, after all, Italian and he, even worse, was Indian. Of course, the fact that the grandparents of both were born in the US didn’t count. They were still foreigners so far as Stanton was concerned. Ms. Bianchi is an honors and AP American history teacher and Mr. Malik an advanced math teacher. Not only was I surprised to see them, but the fact that both were wearing swimsuits obviously designed for sport, not show, interested me.
“Come on over, guys,” Brad said, then turning to the two teachers, he said, “Do you two know DeAngelo and Derek Wilson?”
“I know they are students at R. E. Lee” Ms. Bianchi said, “but haven’t had either of them. Of course, everyone knows DeAngelo.” She extended her hand. “Nice to meet you guys.” Mr. Malik did the same.
“They know there is an aquatics team in the making, so we can talk freely. Guys, Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik are the new team coaches. Both will work with swimmers, but if we can field a dive team, Ms. Bianchi will coach that.”
“I’m curious. Just how did the Alexander Physical Fitness Center come to be? I mean there is hardly need for another spa,” I asked.
“Hardly,” Ms. Bianchi laughed. “There’s barely need for what’s here already and there wouldn’t be more than one except, you know Stanton. Clannish is not adequate to cover the way this town separates into the ‘right’ groups.”
“I think they took lessons from my ancestral country's caste system,” Mr. Malik said. “In fact, that may be the death of a team at R. E. Lee. Some of the school board members are concerned about the kinds of people who might be swimming with their children.”
“Back to your original question, Derek, do you know the history of the Smithsonian Institution in DC?” Brad asked.
“To make a long story short, it was sprung from a bequest of a man who had never been to the US, but who left his fortune to start such an institute. No one is sure why. We know a little more about the benefactor who gave the money for the building and program which will be and is the Alexander Physical Fitness Center. His name is anonymous, but he left his entire fortune, which is in the millions, to build the center and furnish it with the needed equipment and staff to become a model for physical fitness centers concerned with real physical fitness and not just looks.
“The reason? An unidentified friend of his and his family moved to Stanton to be pastor at one of the churches here. The long and short of it was the town and church took a strong dislike to the man because he was a liberal—note here, they knew that when he was asked to come and they claimed that was what they wanted. In three years, town and church had almost destroyed the family, the marriage and the individuals in it. Yet they did survive thanks to a few friends in the church and town who stood by them and were ostracized because of it. Vicious lies about the man and his family became vicious lies about those who had befriended them after they were gone.
“Race, class, social status were all glued together by lies to work the evil done to that man and his family. So, we now have Alexander—note it’s not Stanton—Physical Fitness Center. Individual memberships are open to all with the understanding that all are welcome and any disrespect shown to anyone—member or nonmember, at the center or outside the center—is cause for immediate cancellation of membership unless the offender is willing to do some serious work toward becoming who he or she pledges to be when applying for membership. Membership fees are on a sliding scale.
“One of the provisions is that R. E. Lee can have full use of the facilities for any team sport which is NOT a contact sport. Since Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik are highly qualified to coach swim and dive teams, R. E. Lee will have both if the school and students can accept the terms. Otherwise, there will be an Alexander Physical Fitness team.
“Great to have this place, but swimmers we are not,” DeAngelo said.
“Maybe not yet,” Mr. Malik said, “and I know basketball is your sport, but your brother has a swimmer’s body. All he needs to do is to learn to swim,” he laughed.
“Well, they’re yours,” Brad said. “I have to go complete their profiles.”
“Gianna,” Mr. Malik said, “if you’ll work with DeAngelo, I’ll work with Derek.”
“Fine, but I get a crack at Derek as well,” she laughed. “I think I see a diver hiding in that magnificent body.” I blushed.
“Hey, this body is pretty magnificent too,” DeAngelo said, striking a pose.
“Well, let’s see if it can float,” Ms. Bianchi laughed. “If so, then it will be a magnificent floating body.”
None of us could have guessed how intertwined the lives of Mr. Malik, Ms. Bianchi, Brad, Sam, Derek and I would become as we started our first day at the Alexander Physical Fitness Center.
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