"Plaquemines Parish" Part 17

By: Pee Jay



The trip to Natchez will forever live etched in my mind. Mark and I professed our love and consummated our union with the ultimate act of lovemaking. As far as we were concerned, the world couldn't be a better place. Now more than ever, I was sure of myself. I loved Mark and would go to any length to be with him. I was sure he felt the same, which endeared him to me all the more. In retrospect, it was one of those momentous occasions where the consequences endure for a lifetime. That's how extraordinary it was ... how extraordinary he was!

The next week was one of the most outstanding I remember. I took advantage of every opportunity I could to be with him and he did the same; it was the best. We affirmed our commitment a couple times that week after Mike and Steve went to work. I loved him with every faculty I had and thanked God for the best gift I'd ever been given. It didn't seem like things could get any better. I didn't think being alive could be so exhilarating but it was.

School started and we settled into a routine. It was hectic with the demands of school and work but I somehow managed, so did Mark; though his hours were shorter than mine. At first, I found it hard to make friends because I thought they would be able tell I was gay, as if I were wearing a sign around my neck. Then I felt like I was living a double life; the one that was outwardly visible and the real one. The one that would stay with me until the day I died, the gay one. It got easier as time went by and eventually I adjusted and made a few friends.

They were friendships that revolved around school and classes for the most part. I rarely saw them off campus. What free time I had, I reserved for Mark. I loved every moment we had together and looked forward to the next time I saw him. He was everything to me. When we were apart, he was all I thought about.

As the months passed, it seemed like I was supposed to be somewhere every minute of the day. Finding time to do homework and study was becoming more of a challenge. It was tiring but my bank account was growing steadily, so that kept me motivated. I used weekends to get a head start on the coming week and first period study hall to complete homework for that day. Most Sundays were spent with Mom and Bill, and I always took Mark along because our time together was so limited and therefore cherished. I don't know if Mom and Bill understood the way we felt about each other. I wanted them to know and be happy for us but I didn't dwell on it. What was important was that they accepted us and let us be. That meant a lot to me.

Bill and Mark grew closer, too. It was nice that Bill was taking a special interest in Mark's future. It was good to see because Mark wasn't close to his stepfather and Bill seemed to play the role of something more than mentor. He encouraged Mark to enter the petroleum business and described everything about it from exploration and refining to marketing. Mark's interest was noticeably peeked as he peppered Bill with questions.

Mark's mother, ever the wary parent, made it a point to get to know Mom and Bill wanting to know where her son was going on Sunday afternoons. Her concern for Mark was evident but we didn't see it that way. We had something to hide and the more she interfered the more guarded we became. After a while, it was almost a cat and mouse game, or so it seemed, with Mark and me trying to be discrete and her scrutinizing Mark's every move. It was a damper on our activities; one we had to live with. Since Mark's little brother was caught with weed, she was on the alert to anything that appeared out of the ordinary.

Eventually, school let out for the Thanksgiving holiday. We weren't due back until the following Monday. Neither one of us had to work until late afternoon. So the next morning, Mark came over. Mike and Steve had left for work when he arrived and I had a load of clothes in the washing machine.

Mark had the idea to go to Audubon Zoo so we waited for the load of clothes to finish then I threw them in the dryer and we were good to go. I went upstairs to change since it was unseasonably warm for that time of year.

"Why don't you wear the shirt I bought you? You'll look good in it."

"Okay," I agreed even though I didn't want to. Then I chose a pair of shorts and sandals and we were off.

Mark wanted to change, too, which was a pain because we had to drive out to Metairie then back into town for the zoo. When we arrived at his house, I parked the car in the driveway and went inside with him. I was feeling a little frisky and thought we might be able to mess around. It didn't take much to get either one of us going so I decided to go for it. I didn't think I should let an opportunity like that pass without acting on it.

I was sitting on his bed when he undid his belt letting his jeans slip to the floor. His chest was bare and the sight of him standing in his boxers was more than I could stand. I walked over to him and said, "Hey," softly, then I put my lips to his and fondled his crotch. As we kissed, he raised his arms placing them around my waist and pulled us together. Then he grabbed my butt with both hands and started kneading my cheeks. We explored each other's mouth with our tongues and our bodies with our hands. He felt magnificent making me rise to the occasion.

A few moments later, there were two loud knocks on the open door. We were both startled and pulled apart as fast as we could. Mark's hard-on was protruding from his fly. I was holding him and blocking his view. I turned around to see his mother standing in the doorway glaring at us. After processing what had just happened, I stepped aside and we stood there shell-shocked as the color in our faces intensified.

Apparently, she was stunned, too, because she didn't blink or say anything for a minute, which seemed like forever. Her stare alternated between us while we stood there mute and motionless. I had the impulse to run but she was blocking the door.

She shook her head a couple times remaining speechless then bore down on Mark with her eyes. She was on the verge of crying and blinked a couple tears away.

Then, she looked at me and said, "Get out of here," stepping aside.

Before I left, I turned to look at Mark who was looking like his whole world had come crashing down. I understood it completely because that's exactly how I felt.

"NOW!" his mother said looking at me, so I beat a path out of there.

Mark's mother forbade us to see each other. She got in touch with Mom and told her she wanted to meet. She wasn't specific, telling Mom there was something she should be aware of. Needless to say, that was all it took to get Mom worried. She called and asked if I knew anything about it. I told her what happened omitting the part about groping Mark in his underwear. It was a hard thing to do and I tried to make it sound as innocent as possible.

Mom and Bill decided to invite Mark's mother to Mike and Steve's house. The plan was to tell her the truth because, Mike posited, everything was on the up and up and there was nothing to hide. They were going to tell her the truth about Mike, Steve, and the circumstances; under which, I came to stay with them. Mike's direct approach appealed to everyone except me. I was scared to death I wouldn't ever see him again if she knew the whole story.

Mark and I stayed in touch with our cell phones but it wasn't the same. We were both miserable and Mark was worried about his stepfather who tended toward the redneck school of thought. Mark said his stepfather was ignoring him and he felt like a stranger in his own home. He wouldn't speak to him and barely made an effort to acknowledge his presence. It was like Mark didn't exist. As if that weren't enough, his mother was acting distant, too, making matters worse. Mark felt marginalized and uncomfortable like he was a guest in his own home.

The meeting came and went but nothing changed. Mark's stepfather was successful in swaying Mrs. Doucet to his way of thinking. He had her convinced that it was my influence that made Mark do what he did. He told her I was perverted and Mark would be normal if he'd only keep his distance. She wanted to believe her son was normal so she went along with his suggestion. We were despondent and the phone calls did little to fill the void. The situation seemed hopeless.

I don't know how many talks I had with Mike and Steve, I wasn't keeping track. As much as I pleaded with Mike to do something, his response was always the same, "It's not your fault and there's nothing I can do," he would say sympathetically.

If it were a matter of accepting blame, I would surely do it for the privilege of seeing him again. But it wasn't to be. It seemed like nothing anyone said made any difference because nothing changed and it didn't look like it would anytime soon.

I went through the motions but my heart wasn't in it. I looked forward to our phone conversations but after we hung up it was the same old thing; alone, with no idea when I might see him. I kept up with school and work but I couldn't stop thinking about him. He may as well have lived on a different continent. That's how isolated we were. I was cloaked in a pall of melancholy and despair with no idea when things might change.

It got bad over the Christmas holidays. I was missing him more than ever. I didn't know if I'd be able to see him long enough to give him a Christmas present; that's how desperate the situation was. The hardest part was the spare time on our hands. Without school to occupy the days, he was all I could think about. It was Christmas and I couldn't be with him.

Asking him over was out of the question since Steve's hours were minimal for the holidays and Mike took time off work so he was constantly around the house. Mark had a few close friends but they didn't know he was gay so meeting at their house was pointless because we both craved intimacy. I could have beaten the shit out of myself for not showing some self-restraint that afternoon in Mark's bedroom. If I hadn't been so selfish, thinking about my own wants, then we wouldn't have a problem.

The weekend before Christmas, I called Dave to wish him a merry Christmas. We hadn't talked in a long time and I thought it would be a reasonable excuse to call, say hello and find out what he'd been up to. We had a long talk. He told me how he and Greg were still friends and messed around. He said Greg was definitely gay but having a hard time with it. He was on the baseball team and went to extremes to make sure no one found out. He even dated girls to bolster his image.

Dave said Greg was unwilling to commit to a relationship, which frustrated him. He apologized again for his indiscretion. He said it was a big mistake on his part; one he regretted deeply. He also hinted at how much he cared for Greg. I felt sorry for him and his problem but thought things probably worked out for the better as far as I was concerned. Mark was the one for me, if only I could be with him.

He asked what was new with me so I told him the whole nine yards, everything that had happened since we last talked. He wanted to know if I was seeing anyone so I gave him the scoop on Mark telling him about our forced separation and the reason for it. He thought it was funny. I guess it could be humorous if it were someone else but I didn't see it that way. Then he suggested I call Mark and ask him to meet at the mall. He said it shouldn't be suspicious since it was the season and everyone needed to Christmas shop. That sounded like a good idea. At least I would be able to see him.

Dave wanted to go with me and meet Mark. I wasn't opposed to the idea but I wanted to see Mark alone since it'd been a long time. I told Dave we could do it between Christmas and New Year's. We wished each other a merry Christmas then hung up.

I was excited about Dave's idea and the prospect of seeing Mark. I called Mark's cell and he answered on the first ring.

"Hi, pretty boy," he said.

"Ah, hi yourself, handsome. I was thinking. Why don't you tell your mother you're going Christmas shopping and let's meet at the mall?"

It was quiet on the other end, and then he said, "That's a good idea. Val, I miss you it's been so long."

"Me, too ... me, too," was all I could utter.

We agreed to meet that afternoon in the food court at the mall. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Mike was downstairs in the library so I set out to square it away with him. I had all I could do to act as if everything were normal.

When I entered the library, Mike was typing away at the computer. I took a chair in front of the desk. It felt like the hot seat; I was nearly bubbling over with anticipation and the idea of seeing Mark.

When he finished typing, he looked up asking, "What's up, Sport?"

"Not much," I said. "I think I'm gonna go to the mall and do some Christmas shopping."

"Do you mind if I come along? I still have a few things I need to buy."

Son of a bitch! Man, my life is never going to be my own. I was doomed. Mike was going to put the damper on this for sure. Would I ever be able to see Mark without interference?

"Ah, Mike," I stammered a little. "I don't know about that. I was going to get something for you and I don't want you to know what it is."

Damn, if ever there were a God, please send me a sign!

"It's okay, Sport. We can split up and meet after an hour or two."

So much for interceding with God, apparently I was on my own. Shit, I was totally screwed. I could envision Mike busting us and me getting in trouble over the whole thing. It was the only expectation I had to see Mark so decided to go for it.

"Well," I said. "I guess it's okay as long as you don't follow me around."

He chuckled then asked, "You driving?"

"Yeah ... your car. You're parked behind me in the driveway."

"This is screwed up," Mike said. "How the heck did you manage to get my spot in the garage?"

I rose to go upstairs saying, "The man of the house always gets preferred parking."

"Why you ..." he said as he leapt to his feet and stumbled trying to get around the desk.

I took off running for the stairs.

"Come here you little sh...," he stopped short of cursing.

I took the stairs two at a time and hollered over my shoulder, "Language, Mister."

At the mall, Mike and I agreed to meet in the food court in an hour then went our separate ways. Mike took off for the shops and I headed for the food court to wait for Mark. We were early so I sat on the edge of a knee wall with tropical trees and plants behind, watching and waiting for my man.

It wasn't long until Mark stood at the edge of the food court surveying the area. He was wearing a brown leather jacket and blue jeans with a white T-shirt. All I could think about was holding and kissing him. He looked so good, better than I remembered. After some thought, I began to feel inferior. How could I be with him? He was way more attractive than me. I felt grossly inferior as I stared at him longingly. What, if anything, could he possibly see in me?

He spotted me then waved and started walking in my direction. My heart started racing as I watched him make his way. I stood up when he got close, then his mouth curled at the edges before breaking into a grin, frosty white teeth and all. I wanted to leap into his arms and smother him with kisses and nibbles then lick up one side of him and down the other. God, he looked awesome!

"Hey, Val," he said. "I missed you;" then he placed his hand on my shoulder.

Wow! Talk about healing touches; I forgot every forlorn moment of the past few weeks. All I wanted to do was hold him and tell him how sorry I was for screwing things up and how much I loved and missed him.

"Aren't you going to say something?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, looking at him. "I missed you, too."

We sat on the edge of the planter and talked for a while. It was so hard to keep from touching him and holding his hand. I wanted us to squeeze and hug each other the way we used to. It seemed like forever when I held him last. I had no idea how or when but something had to give. We couldn't go on the way things were. Seeing him again was all I needed to make up my mind.

"Val," he said loudly.

I looked sideways at him saying, "Yeah?"

"You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"

"I'm sorry. I was thinking about us and how things have to change. What did you say?"

He shook his head then smiled. I couldn't help it either; his smile was infectious and it was so damn good to see him.

"I said, I love you and want us to be together."

"Me too," I said. "I don't know what's going to happen but we have to do something. This sucks big time, the way it is."

He laughed then said, "Come on, we can talk while we shop. I have to buy some presents."

"Me, too."

We snaked our way through the throngs of bodies browsing and stopping to buy when we found what we were looking for. We talked about all sorts of things and enjoyed our time together. I wanted to hold his hand and kiss him once in a while like other couples did but that was wishful thinking.

Eventually, we grew tired of the seasonal insanity in the mall and decided to get a snack and wait for Mike. It wasn't long and Mark noticed him crossing the food court. He stopped at our table and stood there smiling.

"What?" I asked.

"Somehow I don't think this rendezvous is coincidental," he said. Then he set his packages on the floor and sat down. "How are you?" he asked Mark.

Mark didn't hesitate to say, "Miserable."

Mike nodded then said, "Guys, We've been thinking ... "

I cut him off. "That sounds like trouble with a capital T."

"No," Mike said. "Listen up, Sport. Steve and I have been talking and we decided it would be okay if Mark came around the house. We're not crazy about mitigating your mother's decision but we see no harm in it. You guys are much better together than apart. The same rules apply, okay?"

We both agreed then grinned at each other. At least something good came out of our covert connection, even if it wasn't a secret anymore. I wanted to hug Mike and thank him for the best Christmas present I could wish for.

Before we left, Mark and I hugged as innocently as possible then we said goodbye. As we walked away, I turned to have one last look. He was doing the same, then we smiled at each other. He raised his hand to wave, so did I. The last glimpse I had was him looking over his shoulder with that disarming smile.

On the way to the parking lot, I put my arm around big Mike. He could be hard as nails when he wanted to but the truth was, there was a soft spot in there, too. I was so grateful he and Steve were on our side. They successfully lodged the first breech in the bulwark. I was determined to blow it to smithereens.

One Sunday in late January, I was watching a football game with Bill while Mom prepared dinner. I was staring at the screen with no idea what was going on, I was thinking about Mark and all the Sunday's we spent together with Mom and Bill. It was depressing. I decided to try for a permanent solution.

"Bill?" I asked.

He turned the volume down with the remote, then said, "Yeah?"

"Do you think you and Mom could try talking to Mark's mother? Maybe you could turn on the charm like you do. It couldn't hurt."

He smiled then said, "It's fine by me if Katy's up to it. I forgot to tell you; I saw him at the club this week and he said to say hi."

I knew they saw each other. Mark told me on the phone.

"Thanks," I said. "I'm going to ask Mom if she'll do it."

Then I got up and went to the kitchen. Mom was standing over the cook top stirring something so I took a stool at the island. She looked up and smiled.

"Bored with the game?" she asked.

"It's not that," I said. "I can't seem to concentrate." Then I paused for a moment before I began. "Mom, I asked Bill if you and he would try talking to Mark's mother, just the two of you. He said he would do it if you agreed."

I thought the desired effect might stand a better chance with a traditional couple versus two gay guys since her husband was a diehard redneck according to Mark.

Mom consented so I rose to thank her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. When I drew back, I was looking down at her when the term `little lady' came to mind. It made me smile. My dear ole mom, you couldn't ask for a better one.

That week, Mom called Mark's mother and they talked about getting together. Mrs. Doucet expressed concern for her son; telling Mom how he hadn't been himself and she was worried about him. She accepted Mom's dinner invitation for the following Sunday. Mom said they were going to bring Mark!

I could hardly contain my exuberance at the thought of seeing him. My mood improved noticeably with a couple friends at school making comments. CK, a kid in first period study hall, was pestering the hell out me trying to find out what was up. I couldn't tell him why and made no effort to hide it. I was borderline giddy. The prospect of seeing Mark again made all the difference in the world. I don't think my feet touched the ground all week. It was a phenomenal feeling, one I hadn't had since Christmas.

The next morning, before Mike and Steve went to work; I told them about it.

"That's great, Sport," Mike said. He was sincere when he said it.

Steve was more reserved saying, "I'm glad for you, Val. I hope it works out."

"Me, too," I said.

It seemed like a long time coming, but I finally made it to Sunday. I didn't think it would ever arrive and the anticipation was driving me crazy. Mark called that morning and said his stepfather was acting like a total jerk. He was telling Mark's mother what a waste of time it was going to be and how he didn't want to be in the same room with me. It didn't sound very promising and even had an ominous quality about it. Before we hung up, I told Mark how much I cared for and missed him. He did the same then we said goodbye hoping for a favorable outcome.

Mike and Steve left about noon for some friend's house. They were going to a pre-game party then go watch the Saints play at the Superdome. Mike was all geared up and talked with his old buddy, Mack, a few times that week. The Saints were having one of their best seasons on record. Steve enjoyed going to the games and was the designated driver. He didn't seem to mind, taking it in stride. I wondered if he did that for Mike or if it was simply Steve's manner. Either way, I had to admire him. The more I was around him the more I wanted to be like him.

I was getting antsy so I showered and drove out to Mom and Bill's house to wait. When Bill let me in, the aroma from the kitchen made me salivate.

"Man, that smells good. What's for dinner?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," he said. "You have to check with Katy."

"Oh, okay," I said. I was getting used to him referring to Mom by her first name.

Bill took his regular Sunday position in front of the tube and I went in the kitchen to greet Mom.

"Hi, Mom," I said on the way in. She was kneading dough at the island. "What ya making?" I asked her as I crossed the kitchen to kiss and greet her.

"Hi, honey," she said offering her cheek.

I stopped short and looked at her. She had her neck partially extended with her eyes closed waiting for a kiss. When it didn't happen, she opened her eyes and looked at me.

"What?" I asked then started laughing.

"No kiss, no dinner," she said.

I gave in and pecked her on the cheek then sat down at the island and sighed. Mom looked up and smiled. "Relax," she said. "Everything's going to be fine. Get yourself a glass of wine," then she took a sip of hers.

"Mom, you got this backwards. I'm supposed to be trying to get alcohol and you're supposed to try and stop me."

"I didn't say get drunk. I said have a glass of wine, there's a difference, honey."

I knew she was right but I didn't feel like having wine.

"Is there any pop in the fridge?" I asked.

"Help yourself," she said.

I took a diet cola and half of a sandwich that was in there then went to watch the tube with Bill. He was watching the pre-game show.

I plopped down opposite Bill and said, "Mike and Steve are going to the game."

"Lucky them," he said.

"Yeah, Mike's law firm has season tickets and it's his turn to use them."

"Nice. It should be a good game."

We watched the tube and talked intermittently for an hour or so. It was nearing three o'clock when Mark and his parents were due to arrive. I started getting nervous and fidgety. I went to the bathroom but couldn't pee then sat down again. A short time later, I got up and went to the kitchen and peeked in the fridge. I wasn't looking for anything in particular; I couldn't seem to sit still. I was looking out the kitchen window into the courtyard when the doorbell rang.

Mom stopped what she was doing to answer the door. Bill was on his way from the den where they watched television while I waited at the far end of the foyer. I wanted to size up Mark's stepfather since I'd never met him and he was the source of our problems.

They were all inside with the door closed when Mark stepped from behind; he was the last one in. Wow! He was dressed nicely looking hotter than I thought he could. He looked so preppy wearing a polo shirt that showed off his muscles and slacks that hugged his butt. He had his hair styled differently, too. It was a little shorter and neater. He looked older and more handsome than I remembered. He was smiling at me with the sides of his mouth curled up as only he could do. All I could think was, `Knees don't fail me now!' If Mom and Bill didn't work something out soon, I thought I might have to elope with him!

"VAL," Mom said raising her voice slightly.

I snapped out of it saying, "Yeah, Mom."

"Come here."

I walked over then she introduced me to the ogre, Mark's stepfather.

His name was Frank Dear and when Mom said it, I almost lost it. I had all I could do to keep a straight face and not crack up. Good Lord, why do I keep finding myself in these situations? I didn't have a clue. And, I had to stop thinking about it or run the risk of embarrassing myself. But give me a break; a redneck named Frank Dear? Go figure.

I said hello to Mrs. Doucet, Mark's mother, and told her how nice it was to see her again. I was sure my face was red because it felt like it was on fire. God, all I could picture was her standing in Mark's bedroom looking at us. Then I asked her how she was doing in my most polite demeanor. I was pouring it on and walking a fine line at the same time, trying to kill her with kindness and respect without over doing it.

Bill said, "Come in and get comfortable," as he motioned for us to proceed.

I looked at Mark and said, "C'mon, you want something to drink?"

He nodded then we took the lead. We ducked into the kitchen while they made their way to the den. On the way past the kitchen, Frank stuck his head in the room to see what we were doing. We weren't doing anything, we just walked in so I gave him an icy glare, fuck him.

After he left, I said, "You look nice. I like your hair."

"Thanks. Mom made me get it cut. I didn't like it at first but I do now. Come here," he said pulling me to him.

We kissed the sweetest most depraved kiss I ever had. I put my arms around him and gave him the firmest most heartfelt hug I had ever given anyone. Man, he felt good, warm, solid, and one hundred percent male. More importantly, he was my boyfriend and I missed him. I wanted to hold on to him for the rest of the day. After our kiss, I whispered in his ear softly, "I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too," he said, then we had another kiss.

When we parted, I asked, "Would you like a glass of wine?"

"If you're having some, then I will. I don't want to be the only one."

"Yeah I am; grab a stool at the island and I'll get some glasses."

I started looking through the cabinets for wine glasses. It was a large kitchen so there were a lot of cabinets to check out. A few minutes later, Mom walked into the kitchen.

"What are you looking for?" she asked.

"Wine glasses."

"They're in the butler's pantry."

I looked at her as if she were nuts or maybe pulling my leg. "Butler's pantry?" I asked skeptically. `Where the hell is the butler?' was all I could come up with. I said, "If you have a butler, then why am I looking for glasses; where is he?"

Mark and I started laughing our asses off. It was too funny. The more I watched him laugh the funnier it became. It was a great relief for the tension we were feeling. Finally, I managed to control myself. I took two paper towels from the roll and handed one to Mark. I had to dry my eyes and blow my nose, and guessed, maybe he did; too.

When we calmed down, I looked at Mom who was grinning, kind heart that she was. I knew she wouldn't be mad or offended. "Mom," I said. "Where's the butler's pantry?" then my body hiccupped as I nearly started to laugh again.

She pointed to an open arch on the sidewall, "It's that small room between the kitchen and dining room."

"Oh, okay," I said making my way to `The Butler's Pantry.'

I found a couple of wine glasses that were tall and `V' shaped. I thought they looked cool so I took two back to the kitchen. I placed them on the granite countertop then began to uncork the bottle.

"What are you doing with those glasses?" Mom asked.

"We're having a glass of wine."

`Hello!' I thought silently. `Wasn't she the one with the idea earlier?'

"Those are champagne flutes," she said picking them up then left the room.

I looked at Mark and said, "How the hell would I know that? It all comes from grapes anyway so what's the big deal?" Then I made a kissing gesture with my lips at him. He started grinning that award-winning grin of his. If he kept that up, I might have to jump his bod in front of Mom!

I poured us a glass of wine then went to sit next to hot stuff. I pushed Mark's glass in front of him then stroked his thigh. Oh man, that felt real good and solid and sexy and ... whew, I had to quit before I got myself all geared up.

"Thanks," he said.

"Thank you for thanking me," I replied curtly with a smile.

He started giggling then looked away. "What's got into you?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said low. "That's the problem."

He couldn't resist grinning. He raised his hand to his forehead and bounced slightly as he tried to stifle himself. Damn, it was good to see him!

The meal went well. Bill was the perfect host never allowing the conversation to lag or become confrontational. He skillfully avoided opinionated topics so the mood was always convivial and pleasant. There was a lot of nodding in agreement.

Frank tended to the quiet side occasionally looking at me, which made me uncomfortable but never being rude. It wasn't hard to see that he was outclassed and probably intimidated by Bill.

In keeping with his persona, he drank beer with his meal. He was dressed in an open collared white shirt with black pants and shoes, his belly stretching the buttons of his shirt. It was an unlikely combination since Mrs. Doucet was pleasant, poised, and well dressed; pretty even. She had an infectious laugh, too, that made me smile more than once.

After desert, Mom asked Mark and me to clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. The four of them went to the living room to talk and have coffee. It was obvious what the topic of conversation would be. I had a good feeling based on the way the meal went.

We finished the dishes, then made our way to the den to watch television. I wanted to sit next to Mark but didn't think I could resist handling him so I took a seat in an upholstered chair. We talked about school and work, things in general. He told me how depressed he'd been and how, when his mother asked, he said it was because we couldn't see each other. I understood completely. It wasn't one-sided. Then he told me his mother asked if he was gay. He said he reluctantly admitted it, then looked at the floor.

When he stopped talking, he looked gloomy and sorrowful, definitely unhappy so I went and sat next to him. I put one arm around his shoulder and took his hand in mine. I raised it and kissed it then held it to my chest. I wanted him to feel my heart beating for him. He freed his hand from mine, then put his arms around me and we hugged silently trying to assure one another. God, he felt good and everything that was right.

A few moments passed, then he drew his head back and said, "I wish I could live with you at Mike and Steve's house."

"They like you and I don't blame `em."

That got a smile and a chuckle out of him.

"I hope this thing works out," he said. "I can't stand not seeing you. I hate Frank; he's a first class asshole. I have no idea what Mom sees in him. He's so different from Dad. They're like night and day."

We heard someone coming down the hall so we had a quick kiss then scooted apart. Bill stopped in the doorway and said, "I think we're done," he said. "Your mother and Frank are getting ready to leave."

"Okay," Mark replied.

The three of us made our way back to the living room. I followed them while Bill had his arm on Mark's shoulder. Mom was talking to Mrs. Doucet in the foyer while Frank listened. As we approached, Mrs. Doucet hugged Mom then said, "I'll call you at work this week. Maybe we can meet for lunch."

"I'm looking forward to it, Mary," Mom said. Then Mom extended her hand to Frank saying, "Nice to meet you, Frank," then they shook hands.

Frank nodded and said, "Nice to meet you, Katy."

Bill said goodbye, too. While he did, Mark rubbed the small of my back briefly. I looked at him intently, unwilling to resist the urge to kiss him, though I did. I didn't want him to go. Then the three of them left. I stood in the front door watching until Mark disappeared inside the car. I waved one last time hoping he saw me, then closed the door.

When I turned around, Mom and Bill were standing there watching; Bill with his arm around Mom. I felt a pang of embarrassment stab me. After I suppressed it, I asked, "So how did it go?"

"I don't think you're going to have any problems with Frank," Bill said.

"That's right," Mom agreed. "Mary told him in no uncertain terms, not to make her choose between him and her son. Bill tried to get Frank to see a professional but he thinks it's a waste of time."

"What did he say?" I asked.

"It's not important. Mary's in charge of that household and I'm sure she'll do the right thing."

After all that happened, my brain was over-processed. Man, if this world gets any crazier, I'm going to take my business elsewhere! And that's a promise.

Mark called that night and said his mother lifted the sanctions in the car on their way home. He wanted me to come over after school the next day and stay until I had to leave for work. That sounded great so I agreed. Before we hung up, I told him how much I loved him and hoped nothing would come between us again. He said the same thing then we said goodbye. That night I went to bed the happiest gay guy in the world, hugging my pillow and wishing it were Mark.

The next morning, Mike and Steve were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading. Steve was holding the front page of the paper facing out.

"Good morning, lads," I said entering the room.

Mike looked up from the paper, "Lads?"

"Yeah, or would you prefer lassie?" Then I raised my eyebrows and pointed at him smiling. "Gotcha."

Steve giggled then said, "How did it go yesterday?"

"A-okay," I said. "Mark's mother lifted the ban. It was all Frank's stupid idea from the beginning. Mom and Bill talked to them after dinner while Mark and me watched TV. She gave him the green light in the car before they got home."

"That's great, Val. I'm happy for you," Steve said.

I hugged him from behind then said, "Thanks, Steve. I don't know what I would have done if she didn't. I considered eloping with him if I had to."

Mike said, "Sport, sit down," pointing to the chair opposite him.

I sat down with a coffee then said, "Yeah, Mike?"

"I don't like the sound of that. I thought we agreed that you were done running away. We want you to talk to us if you have a problem, not run away."

"Mike, I meant that to be sarcastic. I didn't intend to run away, not without Mark anyway. Besides, you said you couldn't do anything," then I smiled at him.

"This isn't funny. This is serious business, Sport. You could end up riding the bus and trolley if we think there's a chance you might take off with the car. Maybe I should put a withdrawal limit on your bank account."

I looked at Steve who was staring at me. Uh oh, all of a sudden it wasn't funny. Things were headed south so I did my best to reverse course.

"Mike, lighten up will ya? I was kidding around for Christ sake." I was going to say, `I wouldn't run away without permission,' but changed my mind saying, "I'm not going anywhere without permission, okay?"

Mike sat there beating me up with his eyes. They almost looked beady when he did that. It didn't exactly give me a swell feeling.

"Mike?" I asked trying to evoke a response. After a few quiet moments I said, "Say something, Mike."

He cleared his throat then said, "That really worries me, Sport. After all we've been through, you make a statement like that. What are we supposed to think? The answer to a problem is not running away from it."

"Mike, you're making this into something bigger than it is. I'm not going anywhere period. We're family, Mike, and I'm not going to do anything to ruin that. We've been through a lot and I'll never forget what you guys have done for me ... never, Mike. I couldn't find two better dads if I spent the rest of my life looking."

I had to shut up because my mouth was out pacing my brain and I was beginning to feel kinda dumb having said what I did; though I meant it from the bottom of my heart. I had to get out of there before I said something else to embarrass myself so I stood up and said, "You guys are wearing me out."

"Who's wearing who out?" Mike asked.

"Whatever," I said. "I have to get ready for school. See you guys tonight if you're still up." Then I got the hell out of there with watery eyes and my face aglow.

I had been falling asleep for a while in homeroom, which was first period. I started out using the time to do homework so every time I fell asleep, I didn't complete my assignments.

That Friday when the last period bell rang, the teacher asked me to stay behind. I didn't have a clue why because it was mechanical drawing. All our assignments were done in class and handed in when they were due. I was in the process of acing the class. When I approached the teacher's desk, he said my counselor wanted to see me.

I thanked him and made my way to the office. I was a little irritated because I was supposed to meet Mark at his house after school. I stopped in the hallway to call him and say I was going to be late. He didn't answer so I left a message.

When I arrived at the counselor's office the secretary asked my name then told me to have a seat. I sat for a few minutes then my head started drooping. I caught myself and jerked it up looking straight ahead to see the secretary smile. A few minutes later and I succumbed to sleep.

The secretary awakened me saying it was okay to go in so I stood and made my way down the hall to his office. The door was ajar but not enough to warrant walking in so I knocked.

"Come in," a voice said. It was Mr. Halpern, my counselor.

I pushed the door open to see Steve sitting in a chair opposite him. `What the hell?' I wondered. I was totally confused because I hadn't done anything wrong. They both rose to their feet then Mr. Halpern said, "Hello, Val. It's been a while," then he extended his hand.

I looked at Steve with a puzzled look, and then shook Mr. Halpern's hand. I turned to Steve and said, "Hi, Steve. What's going on?"

"Sit down, Sport," he said. "Mr. Halpern wants to talk to us."

We made ourselves comfortable then Mr. Halpern began. "The reason I asked Steve to come in was to find out why you're falling asleep and missing assignments. You started the year off with a bang and now you're showing signs of falling behind. I want to see if we can get you back on track."

I looked at Steve to gauge his reaction.

He looked away and said, "I think we know what the problem is. He's working too much."

Then Steve went on to say that I had a full time job and didn't get home until late. He gave him the abridged version starting with him and Mike taking me in. He gave him the circumstances and reasons why and ended by telling him that I would have my hours reduced to weekends.

I was so thankful he didn't bring up the gay thing. I don't think I could have looked Halpern in the eye if he had. Steve said I had some trouble back in Plaquemines without revealing the true nature of things. I could have hugged him then and there.

Mr. Halpern told Steve, that if I wanted to work, the proper procedure was to obtain a work permit from the office since I was under eighteen. That way, everything would be on the up and up. Before we left, Steve thanked him then said to call anytime. We stood and shook hands as we said goodbye then left.

As we walked toward the exit, Steve put his arm over my shoulder saying, "Well, Sport, it looks like you won't be working as many hours."

I put my arm around him and said, "It's okay, Steve. I was trying to get my bank account to ten thousand but it was killing me. I'm so damn tired all the time. All I want to do is sleep."

"Money is a nice thing to have but it isn't everything. You have to strike a balance between work and leisure. You'll have a hard time making a go of relationships if you spend too much time chasing the almighty buck."

I knew he was right and I also knew something he didn't. I knew what it was like to be poor. Steve came from a family that gave him whatever he needed when he was young. That was something I could only imagine. I was too tired to make my point so I said, "Yeah, you're right."

"You aren't working tonight. We'll have Mike call Roger and work it out."

"Steve, can you ask Mike to explain it so Roger doesn't think I'm in high school. I don't know if you remember but I showed him the fake ID to get the job."

"We'll let Mike figure it out, okay?"

"Sounds good, Steve."

We exited the building then stopped a few paces beyond the front door. I parked in the student lot and Steve was out front. We stood on the sidewalk for a minute talking. While we chatted, a friend from homeroom walked up and slapped me on the shoulder. "Hey," he said. "How come you're hanging around? Usually you're outta here when the bell rings."

"Oh hi, CK," I said. "I had to go to the counselor's office. Hey, CK, this is my dad, Steve. Steve, this is CK."

They said hello to each other, shaking hands. Cal preferred going by his initials, C.K. I knew that and called him Cal occasionally or tiny Tim because he was so small, to tease him. When they finished, Steve turned to me and said, "See you at home, Sport," then he reached for my head and I ducked away.

"Okay, Steve," I said. Geez, he was definitely hanging around Mike too much.

We watched him walk toward his car then CK asked, "How come you call your dad by his first name? That's weird."

"No it isn't. That's his name. What's weird about that?" I said.

CK looked at me as if I were from outer space but I didn't care. I was proud to have Steve for a dad. He cared enough to come to school and see Halpern with me. What wasn't to be proud of? I wouldn't admit it to just anybody, but the truth was, I loved Steve and all that he and Mike did for me. They would always be my dads, as long as I could draw a breath ... and then some.

"I would never think to call my dad by his first name," CK said. "Steve's young, too. How old is he?"

"Old enough to know better," I said. Then I turned to go. "See ya Monday, Cal." Then I headed for the student parking lot with a smirk on my face. I could only imagine the look on his face.

"Hey, wait up, Val," he said then hustled to catch up.

We walked together carrying our backpacks. CK shifted his pack from one shoulder to the other. He was shorter and had to walk faster to keep up. It made me smile watching him scurry to maintain the pace. He was smaller than most everyone in our class because he skipped a year and took a fair amount of grief for it. He was a smart kid with a quick mind. I actually liked him but he was so damn inquisitive. I spent as little time around him as possible because he had a million questions. He was like a little black hole, for Christ sake; he had to know everything and the reason for it. The sooner I could distance myself from him, the better or maybe I should say, the safer.

"Where do you live?" CK asked.

"In town."

"Where in town?"

"On Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. CK, did you ever think it might be impolite to ask personal questions of people all the time?"

"Asking someone where they live isn't a personal question," he said. "Where are you going to college?"

I stopped and looked down at him, "Cal!" I said with emphasis.

"Okay, forget it, you old grouch," he said in a huff. "Just forget I even tried to be your friend. It's not like you have them coming out of your ears or anything." Then he turned and started walking away.

That made me feel lousy so I hurried to catch him. I pulled him to a stop by the arm then said, "CK, wait a minute. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."

"Well, you were, but I forgive you. How about a ride home?"

Geez, and I felt guilty? What a mistake that was. I forgot to mention the little shit was manipulative, too.

I sighed, "Okay, I suppose you're gonna say you live on the West Bank or something."

"No, I live in Kenner and I missed the bus because of you."

"What? You're crazy you know that? I should cut my losses and let you walk home."

He looked dejected after I said that, so I added, "Come on, tiny Tim; the last bus to Kenner is leaving now." Then I turned and started walking toward my car with a smile on my face.

He caught up alongside me and said, "And don't call me tiny Tim, either; I hate that. The name is CK, okay?"

"Whatever," I said, rolling my eyes while making a mental note.

I unlocked the door with the remote then fished my phone out of my pack to call Mark. He answered after one ring asking where I was. I told him, then added the part about being tricked into giving CK a ride home. I was looking at him when I said it, which made him smile. I told Mark we would pick him up on the way since Kenner was on the other side of Metairie.

On the way to Mark's house, I tuned the radio to a station with good jams and raised the volume a little too loud to discourage CK and his inquisitive mind. Well, I probably couldn't stop his mind but I could certainly try to overpower his mouth. Half way to Mark's house, CK reached out and turned the volume down. From my peripheral vision, I could see him glance at me then he said, "So, how do you know Mark?"

I brought my hand to my forehead and massaged my temple as if to ease a headache. I needed time to think and he was getting dangerously close to something extremely sensitive. I didn't want a careless slip of the tongue to turn into a catastrophe. He was in his black hole mode and a royal pain in the butt; not at all the kind I wanted.

"He works at the yacht club where Mom's fiancÚ, Bill, is a member."

"Oh," he said. "So Steve and your mom are divorced? I'm sorry to hear that."

Grrr, the kid was relentless. I decided to keep my mouth shut. Further explanation could only lead to further questioning and he already knew too much.

I turned off the highway into Mark's neighborhood. A couple turns later and I pulled into the driveway.

I put the car in park then said, "I'll be right back," then I got out and made my way to Mark's front door. I rang the bell and waited for my man. I smiled inwardly at the thought. Mark opened the door saying, "Hi, sexy."

That threw me off track. "Ah, hi," I said. "Listen, be careful around CK over there. He asks a ton of questions. He's nosy as hell and doesn't know about me and you, okay?"

"Sure, I can handle him."

"Good, let's get going then."

As we walked toward the car, I noticed CK studying Mark's every move. As far as I was concerned, it was better for Mark to be scrutinized than me. That way, I could relax and give my defenses a rest.

We climbed into the car then I introduced them. As they got acquainted, I backed out of the driveway and headed for the interstate.

Mark kept CK occupied while I drove. When I exited the freeway where CK indicated, he gave me directions to his house. He lived close to Theo and Mattie so the houses were nice, more or less equivalent. I pulled in the driveway and put the car in park.

"Nice pad," Mark said.

"Thanks," CK replied. "You guys want to come in for a while?"

"I don't know," I said. "Mark has to get to work." Then I looked at him in the rearview mirror.

"We have time," Mark said. "We can't stay long though."

I turned the car off wanting to slug Mark in the arm for agreeing to stay. CK's conversation with Mark had been superficial, so his true nature was still virtuous as far as Mark was aware.

We went inside, then CK led us to the kitchen to get something to drink. His older brother was there snacking on cookies and milk.

"Hi, twerp," he said to CK. "Don't tell me you actually have friends."

That didn't sit well with me. It sounded mean and malicious; not at all the way an older brother should act. He should be protective of his younger brother. Especially CK, since he was small for his age, a late bloomer I guessed. I wasn't sure how much older his brother was but he definitely couldn't take Mark and Mark was on our side. I felt the need to stick up for CK.

"That doesn't sound very brotherly," I said.

"Who asked you?" he replied.

The conversation was off to a bad start so I did my best to change course.

I stepped up to him extending my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Val and this is my friend Mark."

He took my hand and said, "I'm Brian."

We shook hands and I felt much better about things. Still, his opening comment was demeaning and rude but maybe I overstepped a little, too, so I let it go.

"Tell them your real name," Brian said to CK. "It's Calhoun." Then he laughed a mocking laugh.

I looked at Brian who had a smirk on his face. CK's last name was Kelly so I said, "Calhoun Kelly?" on an upscale note.

Fuck me! I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. I couldn't stand up straight. I was choking and coughing, too, and the sound of Mark laughing was making it even funnier. I straightened up after a minute or so unable to look at Calhoun for fear of cracking up again. I looked at Mark and he looked away not wanting to lose it again but we couldn't help giggling.

Finally, I was able to seize control of myself and make those thoughts go away; they were images that the name Calhoun Kelly inspired. Thoughts like a gangster, or a Mr. Bo jangles kind of character, and then there was the one that conjured an image of a tobacco chewing, whiskey-drinking gunslinger in the old west; man, what a name! It spoke volumes with all that it brought to mind.

I felt bad for having a laugh at CK's expense. We began to apologize profusely and did our best to assure CK that it was nothing personal. He was acting a little dejected and I supposed it wasn't the first time his name was the brunt of a joke. I wasn't anyone to make fun of names either but give me a break; Calhoun Kelly? We couldn't pass that one up.

"Come up to my room," CK said. He was looking down, tracing a pattern with his toe on the floor.

Brian said, "Who would want to go to your room, nerd-stick?"

Mark flipped him the bird and said, "Lighten up, asshole, if you know what's good for you."

I was happy as hell to see him do that, in fact delighted. Sure we laughed at CK's real name, it wasn't his fault though. If Brian wanted to make something of it, well, he could do his best against Mark and good luck. I felt sorry for CK and decided not to call him Cal or tiny Tim again. He took enough shit from his brother and some of the kids at school. The last thing he needed was more teasing. What he needed most was a friend.

We were more than happy to follow him upstairs and get the hell out of there. Aside from being funny, it was somewhat embarrassing, too. I admit to feeling a little remorse at our outburst but I really didn't think we were at fault.

Before we took the first step, I put my arm around CK and gave him a firm squeeze then I said, "I'm sorry, CK. I didn't mean to make fun of your name. My name is weird, too."

On the way upstairs, CK said, "Thanks, you guys. You don't know how good that makes me feel. He's always picking on me and poking fun. It's good to see someone shut him up for a change."

"No problem," Mark said. "How come your mother gave you that name? Didn't she know people would make fun of it?"

"It was her father's name. He was from Ireland. In Gaelic, it means `hero warrior of the forest'."

"Oh," was all Mark said.

"I was named after my grandfather, too," I said. "He was French."

I couldn't help thinking how CK was a warrior in his own right with the abuse he fielded at school and home. He had to be one tough little dude to shoulder that on a daily basis. How he managed to stay upbeat was beyond me. He may have been small, but in my eyes, he stood tall among his peers.

I sat at the computer in his room and turned it on. I thought I would log onto World of Warcraft and kill something or duel another player if I could pick a fight. While I waited for the computer to boot up, I said, "Hey Mark. Guess what our new friends name is?"

We laughed again.


Thanks again to Wayne and Chris for their generous help and support.