Two Boys

Rocco Paperiello


This is the final Part IV of a four part story. (See Part I for Index). It is a story about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then how come you're reading this? Find a different story. Or perhaps read on; you may be persuaded to think differently.

If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence six. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our butts.

Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it, please e-mail me and also give proper attribution.

Note that an author welcomes any feedback. Constructive criticism is appreciated, and all e-mails will be answered.

Rocco Paperiello

PART IV -- Graduation and College

Chapter 98c -- Home Is Where the Heart Is, But Where Is My Heart? (part c)

I spent most of Christmas vacation at Jade's house. That says most of it. I just didn't feel very welcome at my own house. And the strain was too great. I wondered what my Mom thought about me living at Jade's house. I was afraid to actually ask her. But I needed to make some connection. And in spite of everything I was also a bit homesick. I didn't know why with all the animosity.

I talked to my Mom for quite a while when I got there. For the first hour we stayed away from any topic that bordered on my relationship with Jade. But I knew that we had to talk about it eventually. I talked about college, and my future plans, and about the people we met, and what we were planning to do this summer. And lots of things to catch us up.

During our conversation Mariann came home from her friend's house and when she saw me she yelled: "You DID come home. I told Momie you would. Are you staying at home now?"

"Just for a visit. I'm still in college out west you know. School restarts after the Christmas holidays."

She then had to fill me in on all her plans and what she was hoping to get for Christmas. I realized that Jade and I hadn't gotten her anything yet and she had just given me a few ideas. I would have to coordinate with Mom later. She suddenly remembered one of her favorite TV shows was starting and ran off into the living room. I could hear sung: "M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse," coming from the living room. I laughed. I wondered if I was so absorbed with my own affairs at that age. Probably. And after a little thinking, maybe even more so.

Mom said: "That girl has a mind of her own. She's even more stubborn than you were. She seems to be the only one here that doesn't seem to think that you and Jade are anything to be concerned about."

I smiled at that, thinking about Mariann. To think I had had trouble getting along with my youngest sister. We were so different in a lot of ways. But I was starting to appreciate her thinking on her own. But when I tried to use what my Mom had just said to start talking about Jade she changed the subject. We then just covered general topics.

Dolores was working where my Dad worked and was going to night school at St. Joes. Carl was in his third year at LaSalle College and doing well. He was majoring in Physics. A difficult area of study. Harder than Math, or so I judged. Mariann was a seventh grader and was possibly the smartest of all us kids. She got all A's even more effortlessly than I did.

And Dolores had no steady boyfriend. I guess after Charles Antell, she hadn't really found someone she could get serious with. I was the anomaly. I was even married, even if most people wouldn't recognize it as a real marriage.

Finally my Mom asked about Jade. I guess she was mentally working up to it.

"How is Jade doing?" (Not how are you getting along, or how is your relationship holding up. Just the most oblique reference possible).

"Jade and I are doing very well. I think we're more in love than ever, if that's possible." I could see my Mom flinch just a bit. There was no escaping it however. "Please Mom. I will say this one more time. Jade and I believe that we are in God's grace. We believe that our love for each other is a good thing. There is nothing morally wrong with our living together. Just the opposite, God made us gay and we are just living as our natures' dictate. I hope someday you can not only accept our relationship, but even be happy about it."

I could see tears in my Mom's eyes. "I'm trying Rocco. I really am. It's just I can't see your relationship even succeeding. I couldn't want this for you."

"And why not? We believe that God wants it for us. And even according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, we can't be sinning. Even they recognize that you can't sin unless you believe it to be wrong."

"I know that. But I can't see how you can be really happy this way."

"Mom, Jade and I are in love with each other. That alone brings great happiness to us both. You talked with Dr. Krazenski; didn't he mention that Jade and I were in a true love relationship? That was in his letter. The only thing I'm not happy about is how my family is reacting to our relationship. But as far as my being with Jade, we are still as happy as two newlyweds. And we're excited about our future."

Mom even smiled a bit. "I guess I'll have to believe you."

I then brought up the really hardest topic. "You said you talked to Dad. He still can't accept Jade and me?"

"He won't say much. You know how he is. The more he doesn't like something the less he says. But don't think he doesn't love you. He just can't understand either how you can be this way, or how you and Jade can actually be a couple. His ideas are very traditional."

I would have used a much different word to describe his ideas. "Do you think he will even speak with me? Can I even come and visit when he's here?"

"Of course. But don't bring Jade when he's home." She didn't elaborate.

I almost asked her if when Dolores got married would she tell her not to bring her husband here.

"One thing I've never really understood, Mom. Well before even I knew that I was a homosexual, for all practical purposes Dad ignored me. I felt I didn't have a real father since I was about 12 or 13. Has he ever told you why?"

Mom looked really troubled. She said: "Rocco, I think you're wrong. He just never understood you at all. You and he are so totally different. He's just been disappointed."

It was that same day when I DID get into that discussion with my Dad. The opportunity came up and I took it.

My Dad saw me talking to Dolores when he came home from work and even asked: "You home from college?"

"Yes. For the break between quarters."

He looked like he was going to say or ask something else but stopped. I started getting my coat on to get something from the corner store but I guess my Dad thought I was leaving.

"You're not staying here?"

"I would like to. But is Jade welcome?"

My Dad got this terrible look on his face with his lips pressed tight.

"I see you still haven't grown up. You need that guy around you all the time just to make yourself feel good."

Dolores fled to the kitchen. I guess she was worried about bloodshed even figuratively. I could hear Mariann, however, at the top of the stairs. I knew she `listened in' on things from there sometimes.

"That `guy' has a name Dad. And we are married. But even before you knew Jade existed or anything else, you stopped being my father. I'd like to know why."

I barely believed I got up the nerve to ask that question even if it had been in my mind for ages. And for once my Dad didn't just walk away. Maybe he'd been thinking about things too.

"All right I'll tell you why. Because you would never grow up. You kept whining about everything. A real man takes charge and doesn't care what everybody else thinks. He just does what's right. But you never grew up into a real man. Your mother always coddled you too much. And look at the result!"

I think I was more angry than scared: "And what's a real man Dad? Someone who doesn't care about their own son? Someone that doesn't even have the slightest idea how much pain they are causing them by rejecting them? You stopped caring about me years before you knew I was gay! Damn it Dad you weren't there for me when I needed you most. And I could never understand why!"

"Don't swear! And what's to understand? You got into High School and stayed a little kid! And you cried about everything. When I was that age I didn't need anybody pampering me. I proved I was becoming a man."

"But Dad, I WAS only a kid yet. Why couldn't you understand that people grow up at different ages? I just wanted you to just once say: `Hey that's great.' Or just once say: `Nice going Rocco.' Or just once say: `How about doing something together?' But you couldn't do that and I never understood why.

"But you needed to get a backbone. You needed to be taught to stand on your own two feet. And you never would. You always needed to be indulged like you were a baby."

"No Dad, what I needed was just a father who could take pride in his son. I always tried to make you admire me. But instead you wouldn't take notice of anything I did."

"Of course I did. You did well in school, and I told you that. But you never did anything else. You never showed the slightest desire to become a real man."

"There you go again Dad. Why can't you understand that people are different? And how come I always did better in school than Carl and you never gave me credit for it? And I got my Ham Radio License and you would never congratulate me? Carl got money for all his Ham stuff, and I got a kick in the butt. And I even ran my own TV Repair business and you never said `Hey great going.' Can't you understand that I did a lot of that for you? I wanted you to be proud of me? But instead I just either got ignored or even blamed for everything."

My Dad looked at me and I could see he was angry. And again it was just like we never even had this conversation. He wasn't listening. As usual. And I couldn't believe it, he started walking away. "WHY?" I actually got the nerve to physically block the doorway. "YOU KEEP WALKING AWAY! I NEED AN ANSWER!"

Dad looked like he was ready to explode. "OK, you asked for it. I blamed you when blame was due. If you were a real man, you wouldn't have let all those things happen to you. And you were competing against your brother just for attention. Not because you decided what was right to do. And you wanted me to be proud? Well you never did anything for me to be proud of! And you still haven't! Let me know when you decide to be a man. When you prove that you can stand on your own two feet and not need to be patted on the back all the time. When you don't need someone giving you attention all the time. When you stop being so worried about what everyone thinks about you." He paused a moment and then said with some vehemence. "And when you don't need to have that nigger boy around you all the time fawning all over you. You're the one that made yourself into a pervert."

I was stunned. He just plain didn't understand anything I was trying to say. "My god Dad, you don't have the slightest clue about how to be a real man yourself. A real man cares. A real man doesn't destroy people. A real man understands other people. A real man allows someone to be different from themselves. A real man doesn't abandon his own children. A real man knows how to love someone. A real man decides who he is, but also allows others decide just who they are."

Dad started to turn away. "Oh no you don't. I'm not finished yet. A real man understands just what real love is. And until you can understand that Jade and I have real love for each other, it's YOU who aren't a real man. Let me know when you're willing to have your son back. I'll be waiting."

I started to turn away, but then turned back. "And you want me to be your kind of man? Then how about this. This is still MY family and I'll come here anytime I want. And if you don't like it than you can just leave yourself, . . . or try to throw me out."

My God my Dad actually had a small glimmer of a smile. "About time. That's the first time in years you've even tried to measure up. Maybe there's hope for you yet." He left.

I was so upset, that I couldn't face anyone for a while. But then the thought came to me that that was exactly how my father reacted some times and I always hated it. I went to the phone instead and called Jade.

Tim must have run faster than everyone else. "Hello. This is Tim." I almost laughed. We kept trying to tell Tim that to be polite you should let the person calling know who was answering the phone.

"Hi, Tim, is Jade there?"

But Tim had to ask a thousand questions and it was a couple of minutes before I was talking to Jade. "Jade, you're invited over for dinner here. In fact in just 30 minutes or there abouts."

There was a pregnant quiet on the other side of the phone. Then Jade asked: "Just who's doing the inviting?"

"I am. And please Jade I need you to do this for me." I almost but not quite felt guilty about answering like that. I knew Jade would then come no matter what he was feeling. "And look Jade, I know this isn't really fair to you, and I'll explain when you get here. But believe me. I think I know a lot better how my father thinks. He said he never wanted you in this house again, but I'm deliberately defying him on this. And I'll explain later how our `talk' went."

"OK White-boy, you knew I'd come when you ask me this way. But you had better have a good explanation, or I'll get even. A whole lot even!"

I could almost hear his smile in his voice. "Thanks Jade, and I was almost going to ask you to bring Tim but realized that wouldn't be a good idea after all."

We talked a bit more and he decided to come right over to get here enough beforehand for us to have a talk ourselves.

I went into the kitchen where Mom was busy preparing dinner. She also had a huge bundle of clothes in a couple baskets. She must have just taken them out of the dryer downstairs and folded them. I suspect she deliberately found something to do down there when Dad and I started `talking.'

"Mom, you need to make sure we have enough for one more person."

She looked around at me with surprise. "You mean your father agreed to this?" She obviously knew who this additional person was.

"Mom, Dad and I talked. He still refuses to listen to what I say. It's as if he filters out anything he doesn't want to hear. And I guess I really don't understand him too well either. But he didn't specifically say I can't have Jade over."

Mom sighed. "Rocco, I don't want a confrontation. Please, don't get into a fight with your father over this. If he starts objecting, please, for the sake of our family, don't continue to provoke him."

I thought about this some. "Mom, I think it ironic, but he wants me to be what he defines as a man. He said a man has to do what he thinks is right no matter what anyone else thinks. How am I ever to gain his respect if I don't do just that?" But seeing my Mom's expression I added: "All right, don't worry. If he even starts to object, Jade and I will leave."

Mom came over and hugged me. "Look, Rocco, I love you so much and I still have so much trouble with you and Jade being together. So think how your father feels. Don't deliberately provoke him. It can lead to no good."

"Thanks Mom. I promise." Still at eighteen I welcomed my Mom-hugs. But I just realized what she may have implied. Did she realize what she had just said about my Dad?

"And one more thing. If Carl makes any of his remarks, just ignore him. You know how he is. In fact I'll talk to him before dinner myself. We need peace in this house."

"Mom, when Jade gets here, I'll fill him in on what's happening. And don't worry. We'll both be on our best behavior. And I'll tell you how our talk went later -- I mean between me and Dad. Let's just say for the first time ever, I finally got him to explain why he seemed to just ignore me for years. I never realized just how two people could think so differently about everything."

"Look Rocco, your father and I DO talk about these things. I was always so unhappy that neither of you could understand the other."

"I'm starting to understand him a little. I just so disagree with him on everything. I wonder if I have any of his genes at all."

My Mom actually smiled: "Don't you worry about that. You are both as bull headed as it's possible to get."

About 20 minutes later we were gathering at the dinner table and I came in and sat at my usual chair. Dad commented: "You're eating here tonight?"


"Who's the extra chair for?"

He had to know but this was a sort of challenge. Carl had come into the kitchen by now and sat down. I was surprised but he hadn't said a word. "I asked Jade over for dinner. I decided that you are right about some things. So I've decided to take your advice. I'm not going to worry about how other people think. I am just doing what I believe is right." Of course what we thought was right was totally opposite. I looked at my father and he stared back.

He finally said: "What you two are doing is NOT right. You have to know that. And I will not have it in this house. You know I said that I never wanted to see him here again. I'm still in charge of this household. For your mother's sake you can sit there, but I will never allow that boy into this house."

Mom got real tense and Dolores looked pretty worried. Carl smiled. I answered: "But Dad, you just got done telling me to be a man. So that's what I'm doing. Whether you agree or not, Jade and I are partners. If you can't accept that, then you can't accept me."

Mariann chose that moment to show up. She probably heard the harsh words and she asked: "What's going on?"

Carl answered: "Your queer brother asked his queer boyfriend over for dinner."

I couldn't believe how my father reacted. I was stunned. He actually reprimanded my brother. He said to him: "I'll have none of that. Respect is as important as family."

I thought: "Too bad he didn't seem to understand `family' the way I did." But I said to my brother: "Carl, Jade's my partner. We're married. He's not my boyfriend."

Carl murmured to Mariann: "And he has delusions of being married."

I knew that Jade was just out in the back yard. He knocked. I let him in and he smiled as he greeted everyone. An academy award performance. My Dad just looked and stayed silent. So far so good. No one else could probably tell, but Jade was quite nervous. His back muscles kept tensing and his hooks kept opening slightly.

My father finally said: "I will not have it. You know what I said."

I looked at my father and said: "If you don't want Jade here, then you don't want me here. I was just wondering Dad, how long has it been since you've talked to your own father?"

My Mom gasped. Dad looked about to boil over. I had never seen him react so badly. "Don't even think about comparing what you're doing with what I had to do. Get out, and take that . . . that faggot with you!" Dad never used profanity. I guess now I had to say almost never.

Mom was horrified. I looked over at her and said: "Sorry Mom. I really hoped it could be different." And I looked at my father. "Dad, it's not the slightest bit different. Remember how you loved Mom? Well I love Jade at least as much."

Dad hurled a few imprecations that I ignored as Jade and I left.

When Jade and I got away, he said: "White-boy, you owe me so much for that, you will never be able to repay me. Never ask me to do that again. I can still feel the waves of hostility coming from your father."

We had talked about what me and my father had `talked' about but I now explained more about my own motives for having him come over for dinner. "Jade, I've realized one thing. The only way my Dad will even begin to, . . . well maybe accept is too strong, I guess tolerate us is for me to stand up to him. We have to show him we are not budging and are as determined as ever."

Jade was quiet for a while as we walked around the neighborhood. He stopped about a half block later and said: "OK White-boy, but just give me some warning ahead of time. I have to build up a whole supply of forbearance if I'm going to be around your father again." He then smiled one of his sexy best. "And I'll expect full reward afterwards."

I didn't care who could see us, I kissed Jade right there on the street. "There's a promissory note."

Dinner at the Websters' was a little strained. Everyone was trying too hard not to bring up anything that could lead to the subject about my strained relationships with my own family. Even Mrs. Webster was subdued. Tim barely said anything. Just raced back to watch television.

As we were helping Mrs. Webster with the dishes she asked me: "You goin' to be alright boy?" Using the word `boy' was her way of being more personal.

"I'll be Ok Mrs. W. Remember back to you're worst days and you then realizing that you had Mr. Webster and things were suddenly all right with your world?" She had told stories about this a time or three.

"Sho' 'nough do." She smiled.

"Well, I've got Jade."

Jade and I looked at each other and "sho' `nough" all was right with our world.

Much later that night Jade collected on his `promissory note.' Some time after midnight we snuck downstairs to raid the refrigerator and the cookie jar. We saw Tim sprawled out on the carpet in front of the TV sound asleep. The network was off the air and the Channel 6 test pattern was the only thing showing on the screen.


Channel 6 Test Pattern Philadelphia

With no school the next day Tim had talked Mrs. Webster into letting him watch the late movie. It was evidently some old movie not quite capable of keeping him awake. I think I remembered him saying its title was "The Blob."

After getting our goodies I went back downstairs and lifted Tim into my arms. It felt so amazingly good just holding him just then. I immediately started leaking a few tears. I guess it had been a very emotional day. Tim suddenly reminded me of several things at once. How I so much wanted children. And how my own father had essentially abandoned me. And how there was no justice in the world. All right, I was being overly simplistic in my thoughts but that's what I was thinking at that time and I make no apologies. I tried to carry the still sleeping Tim up to his room but he was too heavy for me. I started suspecting he now weighed almost as much as I did. Jade had to do the honors.

I later told Jade about my recent thoughts. I sure liked how he distracted me away from them. All was right again with my world again.

The next day, we called on Jimmy Alexander and his family. It was almost Christmas and his house was decorated as usual. His Mom answered and asked us to come in. We got into the living room and we could see the whole family was decorating the tree. Mr. Alexander turned and greeted us very politely. Jimmy seemed a bit unsure around us and asked how we were doing. When I got a chance a few minutes later, I asked Jimmy if we could go outside for a moment to talk. Jade realized what was happening and stayed put.

When we got to his back yard I walked into a whole pile of snow, not watching where I was going. But I turned and asked: "Jimmy, I could tell you're not acting your normal friendly self. We've been friends forever so what's going on?"

Jimmy actually blushed a bit: "Sorry Rocks, but it's still hard for me to not keep thinking about what you and Jade must be doing. And I can't understand how you and him can think it's OK to be that way. But look, we're still friends. But. . ." He didn't seem to think what to say next.

"Look, Jimmy, Jade and I have given this a whole lot of thought. Can't you just accept that WE don't believe we're doing anything wrong? Your aunt is divorced and remarried and you don't seem to worry about her doing something the Church disapproves of."

"I know, it's just that what you guys are doing is so much worse." When he saw my expression he quickly added: "I don't mean worse like in bad, but worse like how it's hard to just ignore it." He sort of stumbled around for words and finally added. "Look Rocks, we're still friends. But I don't think my Mom knows about you and Jade and I don't think she'd take it too well. I know my Dad and Mom share everything, but about this I'm not so sure. The few times your name's come up she doesn't seem to, well, you know. Say anything about you guys."

"So what you're saying is to make sure Jade and I don't do anything to upset the apple cart?"

"Well, that's part of it."

"Look Jimmy. Why can't you just accept us for what we are?"

Jimmy did smile and then said: "That's something like my father said. But he's strange that way sometimes. He's so strict about everything I can't see how he can just go along with that."

"There's one thing I do know about your father. Sure he's very strict. But he also respects other people and allows them their own beliefs. I don't think he agrees with how we're living, but he allows us to live as we believe. I just wish my own father could do that."

Jimmy and I talked some more and got into old times. And different changes at the High School.

Jimmy remarked: "A couple of the teachers were pushing to have a sex ed course set up in school but Fr. McNeil nixed that fast. At least that's what the rumors say. And I can't believe how that thing you guys wrote a couple of years ago keeps surfacing every once in a while. It's like it has a life of its own."

I smiled thinking about it. So Jade and I did some good trying to enlighten people. "That brings up one more thing Jimmy. What I put in that article was true. At least 4% of your classmates are like Jade and I. That's one whole lot of people. And it's been that way all through history and in all kinds of societies. Don't you think that that would indicate we're just born that way? The Church says there's something wrong with us, and we need to be cured, and if we can't then we can never have any close relationships with anyone. Well, I just can't accept that."

Jimmy wasn't sure what to say. "Well, I'm sure glad I don't have to worry about that!"

And then I asked him: "Well, let's suppose you get married and have several kids and one of them turns out to be gay like me or Jade. Then what will you do?"

"I hope I never have to worry about that. We'll raise them so they don't have those problems."

"Well, I'm saying that it don't matter very much how they're raised. People are born that way."

Jimmy answered: "Well, I'll have to think about that. Maybe Dad will have something to say about it."

I sighed to myself. I wished I could so calmly assume I could talk to MY father about these things.

Jimmy could see the exasperation in my tone when I tried to ask that same question again.

"Look Rocks, I never gave much thought to this stuff. I'm not quite sure what I'd do. Except two things. Like my Dad always says make sure you know all the facts. And two, I'd do what my Dad does with me. I'd listen."

I felt pretty good about his answer.

Then he added: "And Rocks. I got this neat new game. Let's for now just have some fun."

We went back inside and played several games of Stratego. The `old' Jimmy was back. Jade and I even stayed for dinner. Afterwards Mr. Alexander came out into the yard with us as we were leaving and told us to hold up for a minute.

"Look. I've thought long and hard on what you two are doing. So long as you are harming no one my philosophy is live and let live. And surprising to me you two seem quite happy together. Of course you two believe that you are doing nothing wrong and I will respect that belief. And contrary to what Jimmy might have told you, my wife does know. Our marriage is built on love and trust and we never keep anything from each other."

As was Mr. Alexander's usual manner and habit, he elaborated on this theme for quite some time. He said we were always welcome but just to be circumspect about what we did in front of others.

And then he said something that quite surprised me. "And Rocco I tried to make your father see reason, but I'm afraid I was not successful. I'm sorry."

I was barely able to thank him and leave before I had tears again. A short time later I remarked: "Damn Jade. Jimmy was sure lucky when he picked out his parents."

Jade and I stayed at his house for the remainder of the holidays. I went to my house for dinner a few times, and also to talk to Mom and Dolores. And to leave a few gifts on Christmas. What I found ironic was that Mariann was the only one who acted their normal selves around me. Carl is convinced I had to have done something wrong to have made myself this way. He said as much several days ago. Mom of course keeps trying, but I can easily see that she is struggling to accept me and Jade as a couple. Dad of course was his normal self. In other words he just mostly ignored me. My conversations with Dolores I have to say are not fraught with any "how could you's" or "it's not right's." Aside from Mariann who still wondered what all the fuss was about, Dolores was the only one who really seemed happy that Jade and I were getting along so well -- as a couple that is.

Christmas at my house held little of the joy for me than it had on previous years. On Christmas Day, after church, there was quite a group at the Webster's for opening of presents. Their oldest son and his wife were there, and even Kyle. BJ was at his girlfriend Jenny were at her place and were supposed to be back around dinner time. The presents under the tree plus several more hastily pulled out of other hiding places were presented and opened. There were even some from a couple of the Webster's kids who had been there but had to leave before Christmas Day. The present I had put under the tree for Jade was an electric razor. Now that he shaved every day -- even if the whiskers were so sparse you could almost count them -- he had been complaining how a blade caused him to break out too easily. I had several gifts there too, all clothes of one sort or another. Jade had gotten me some slippers which would be nice when we were back in the dorm room with its cold tile floor. The phone rang and Tim scortched the rug running for it. It was Billy. They were soon comparing notes.

Jade and I slipped away to our room for a moment and he pulled out a 'surprise' present. It was a leather wallet. I had been in the habit of carrying my IDs and other important things just in a pocket. He cringed every time he saw me look through the wad I pulled out of my pocket wondering if I had lost anything. In addition there were three of our favorite photos. One from our wedding. One from those taken by the Graphex camera way back in high school. And the third was our favorite from Rickets Glen. It showed us holding each other tight in front of Adam's Falls.

After I gave Jade a thank you kiss I started walking away stating I had to get to my parents' house. But Jade grabbed me and would not let go.

"Where's my special present?"

Coyly I replied: "You already got it. The Norelco."

Then Jade stared at me for a moment and then searched all my pockets. And then inside my shirt. He found it. I never could figure out how he knew it was on me.

I finally managed to break away from Jade and walk the several blocks back to my own house. Which barely felt like my own home any more. Along the way I was thinking about the present I had just given him. I had given him a leather bookmark with his name engraved on it along with his favorite quote from James Baldwin: "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

Now if only members of my own family could all take off their masks.

I gave Dolores and Mariann their presents -- just some clothes for Dolores, and a book of logic puzzles for Mariann. To Mom I gave a framed photo of that same picture of Jade and myself at Adam's Falls -- only a larger version. I suspected that it would not be shown to my father. I eventually left saying goodbye to my Uncle John who was there visiting. He was my mother's unmarried younger brother. I always wondered about him. I also wondered if he knew about Jade and myself. And if he wondered why I was eating Christmas dinner elsewhere. But neither of us was up to asking any questions.

It was my brother who was most surprised when I handed him an autographed copy of Arthur C. Clark's latest science fiction. He was one of my brother's favorite authors.

"Carl, remember several years ago you brought me those couple books while I was in the hospital?"

With a slightly perplexed look he answered: "Well, sort of. A couple science fiction weren't they?"

"Yes. And it meant quite a lot to me at the time. Thank you."

I ate Christmas dinner at the Webster's. That evening Tim was looking through a coin book to see how much his collection of pennies was worth. Jade and I had given him our old penny collection as a Christmas present. After watching him that night, we were sure he would prize the collection as much as we had. Of course we had a distinct advantage when collecting. Old coins were still findable in circulation when we had first started. But very quickly it seemed that every body in the world started collecting coins, so that two things happened. The truly rare or even uncommon coin was no longer so available in the change you got at the store and the prices of these coins in coin shops had zoomed upwards. So the nature of coin collecting had greatly changed. But, nonetheless, we hoped that Tim could get some satisfaction with the collection itself.

We had also given him a whole set of nature guide books. Jade maintained that those books he had, and his interest in `nature' were the type of thing that got him `living' again, even if in a limited way.

BJ and his girlfriend Jenny showed up in time for dinner and gave Tim a card with a twenty dollar bill in it. That was the easy way out. He also had a new truck. Well a newer USED truck. I wondered how come he didn't just buy a new one, since he was making some pretty good money. And so I asked him.

"Well, Jenny and I have more important things to spend our money on than a new truck."

I thought it significant that he was talking about `their' money. Jade and I later agreed that in spite of him denying they were engaged, they seemed to be planning some common future. I knew that Mrs. Webster was already putting together wedding plans.

The Webster's own boys and their own families were at the house at least for a short while over part of the Christmas holidays. For the most part they were not too surprised to see me since they all knew by now that Jade and I had been `best friends' for years, and were even at college together. But at the table for Christmas dinner were the Websters,Tim, the Webster's oldest son George Jr. plus his wife, Kyle, BJ and Jenny, plus Jade and myself. During the meal George Jr., asked me how come I was staying there for the holidays and I merely mentioned that I wasn't very welcome at my own house. Fortunately he never asked why. (Damn! I hate even half lying). This was the first time their oldest son and I spent any time together. He and his wife said it was easier to travel now that their own kids were old enough to stay at home. (Especially since home was a couple thousand miles away on the west coast. It seemed that joining the Army or Navy had an ability to fling members of a family far and wide).

But that evening he kept staring at me during dinner, so much so that Mrs. Webster finally asked him what was the matter. He seemed embarrassed at first but Mrs. Webster just point blank told him to say what was on his mind.

"Well, I just find it strange that Rocco here isn't at his own house eating dinner, since he's obviously home from his first semester at college. And Pop said he was even staying here. I just thought that mighty strange." I guess my half lie was maybe not quite believed after all.

Mr. Webster just looked up and said: "That's right."

His wife seemed more embarrassed than I felt. Tim was wondering if he should say anything at all.

It was Jade who answered. "George, I can't believe that no one's said anything. I thought everybody knew by now. Rocco and I are a couple. We've been together as a couple for over two years. The picture of us on the mantle is our wedding picture."

George Jr. sat there a moment and just stared at Jade. Then he looked at the reactions of the rest of us -- or rather the lack of reactions. He exploded: "You mean you all know?! And that seems normal to you all? You all accept it just like that?" He was standing by this time.

Mrs. Webster was clearly not happy. But for once she seemed at a loss as to what she should say. Or could say.

It was Mr. Webster who finally reclaimed the peace. "Look Junior, you've clearly known the love of your Mom and I your whole life. And we raised you to spread that love out to others. So how about doing some of that spreading right now. How can the relationship of Jade and Rocco threaten you? And if you can't find in your heart not to judge these two boys, then at least keep the peace for our sakes."

They were some of the strongest words I had ever heard Mr. Webster ever say on our behalf. (And it might have been the best Christmas present Jade and I got that day). I was amazed and felt almost overwhelmed by emotion.

Then it was George Jr.`s own wife who told her husband to calm down and just enjoy the holiday visit.

So he did. Calm down that is. And I guess he took a page out of my father's book. He mostly just ignored us until they left two days later.

Mrs. Webster later that evening explained to us that George Jr. was the only one she hadn't mentioned about our relationship, mostly because she was afraid that his reaction wouldn't be very good. "He never did accep' how his own little brother was. He had jus' gotten married and the few times he and Bobby got together, he and Bobby fought. That was right before Bobby left. And I didn't do much to stop it. I always wished I had. I guess I was just hopin' that the subject wouldn't come up while he was here. I'm sorry this happened."

I couldn't figure what to say. I was quite upset and Jade could see that I didn't want to be there right then. He said something to Mrs. Webster about not worrying about us and we finally left as soon as possible.

Jade and I talked about it some that evening. "Look, Rocco, you know as well as I that there are going to be a whole lot of people who will not be able to accept us, or our relationship. And I hate to say this, but the reactions from black people will generally be worse than most. It's always been like this and I never could make you understand just why. It's almost as if our relationship threatens how men are supposed to think of themselves, and Negroes are even more worried about any threat to their self-imagined masculinity than white people. As much as I know Joey and have been friends with him for years, I'm still afraid how he will react.

Jade and I had also previously talked about the importance of all the Webster's `kids' knowing about us. Jade remarked: "We will be seeing them from time to time and eventually they've got to start wondering how come we're always together."

I realized that Jade was right. But Mrs. Webster said that she would do the informing. I hadn't known that George, Jr. hadn't been told until now, and I wish it didn't have to happen the way it did.

And although their reactions of the Webster's `kids' weren't overly enthusiastic, I think that Mr. and Mrs. Webster's attitudes went a long way in keeping things `peaceful.'

I cried in Jade's arms that night. It was about a lot of things, but it was mostly about my own family. And how their reactions were so different from the Webster's. I wondered if Jade and I would ever be invited to my parent's house for Christmas dinner. I tried to talk my Mom into visiting us at the Webster's house but didn't succeed.

Billy was over a lot the next day. They had had a bunch of relatives visiting for the holidays but Billy said he had to escape. There were entirely too many girls right now at his house. He brought his new guitar that he had gotten for Christmas and had been teaching himself some chords. I was happy all over again at just how normal both Billy and Tim acted around us.

That evening when Jade and I were discussing the day's events I had a thought. On occasion, Jade and I had mentioned the subject of raising kids somehow. I didn't really believe that we'd ever be allowed to have foster kids like the Webster's and others, but I just sort of wondered 'what if.' So it just occurred to me to wonder if either my Mom, or more problematically, my Dad, would accept THEM if we ever DID have foster kids.

And I had only guessed as to the reason my Dad had not seen his own father for as long as I could remember. And now I wondered if I was wrong somehow. I kept hearing my father's words: ". . .with what I had to do." It seemed to imply it was my Dad that did the staying away, and not my Grandfather that had refused to see his own son. I wondered if there was more to the story than I suspected.

Jade and I also talked about all these things. And a lot more.

As Jade and I snuggled together, I was comforted by the love and regard we had for each other. And I started fantasizing about a world where people always cared for other people. That sounded so simple. What an amazing place it could be. Wasn't that Christ's message after all?

Copyright 2007 by Rocco Paperiello