SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is the final chapter. I hope you've enjoyed the story. I've put up a couple of posts at my blog you may want to look at if you're interested in knowing what comes next. You can find them here, here, and here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to read it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story. LIke I said, I hope you've enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 51, Andy is stunned by news reports that a compromise is in the works regarding the McPherson amendment. He learns that the Speaker of the House of Representatives has invited Happy Jack to a meeting in his office and asked him to bring Andy along. At that meeting, the Speaker encourages Congressman McPherson to consider compromising in order to avoid damaging the President and her agenda. He asks Happy Jack and Harlen Lane from the White House to negotiate an agreement both can live with. Happy Jack agrees to consider compromise, but notes how difficult it will be and insists that it must be genuine. He also delegates the responsibility for negotiating a compromise to Andy. With Wade Walker, the Speaker’s floor general, present to serve as an observer, the two sides meet for hours in an effort to come to some kind of agreement. However, it’s quickly apparent the White House isn’t serious about compromise and no real progress is made. Harlen makes a veiled threat against Andy, but Wade Walker lets him know the Speaker will not tolerate any personal vendetta against the young staffer. The meeting ends without an agreement and both sides head back to the Speaker’s office where they had earlier agreed to reconvene.
Part V - Something Worthy
It was a little before 5 p.m. when Happy Jack finally wandered over to the Speaker’s office. I pulled him aside and briefed him quickly on how negotiations with the White House had gone. Although I was convinced I had done my best to find some basis for compromise, I was also worried the Congressman would be disappointed with me for failing to reach an agreement.
But Happy Jack quickly dispelled that notion.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all. I figured Harlen would try to run over you like a ten ton truck.”
“And having tried to do that once or twice myself,” he added, his wrinkled face suddenly dissolving into a grin, “I was pretty sure what would happen.”
“So you’re not disappointed in me, sir?” I asked, still concerned I had let the man down.
“I’m disappointed a compromise wasn’t possible,” he replied. “I don’t like having to fight my own President. But I’m not surprised at the outcome and I certainly don’t blame you, Andy. This latest bunch at the White House is arrogant, just like all the rest of them. It must be something in the water they drink over there.”
I was relieved to hear I was off the hook with Happy Jack, but still nervous about what would happen when the Speaker reconvened his meeting. He didn’t actually get around to doing that until 5:25 p.m. and I remember agonizing the whole time about whether I would get the blame for our failure to forge a compromise. But once the Speaker did reconvene the meeting, it didn’t actually last very long.
“Well, I’m glad everyone was able to make it back this afternoon,” the Speaker intoned, looking around the room. “I appreciate it very much. Wade has filled me on what happened in the negotiations and I’m sorry to report we haven’t been able to come up with a compromise after all.”
“That happens sometimes. Everyone tries their best to reach an agreement, at least most people do,” he added, looking over at Harlen, “but sometimes the issues are so compelling and so principled that no compromise is really possible. It looks like this is one of these issues and I guess I’m not really surprised by that all that much.”
“Now I’ve talked to the Leader here,” the Speaker continued, nodding at the Majority Leader, “and we’re agreed we’ll bring up defense appropriations for consideration next Wednesday.”
“Jack, I’ll be instructing the Committee on Rules to make your amendment in order; and because it’s such an important amendment and one that so many members will want to speak on, we’re going to set aside eight hours for debate on the amendment. I don’t have to tell you just how unusual that is, Jack, but this war needs a thorough airing before we move on to something else around here.”
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker,” the Congressman interjected. “I appreciate it.”
“Now don’t get the wrong idea, Jack,” the Speaker continued. “As much as we wish we could be with you on this, the Leader here and the Whip and I are going to do our best to beat you fair and square,” he added, a smile creasing his craggy face; “or perhaps even otherwise if necessary.”
“Wade tells me Andy there did make a genuine effort to compromise. You have a good legislative assistant, Jack, so I might have to come after him once all of this is over. You best treat him good in the meantime.”
“Just like I’m sure everyone else will,” he added, looking over at Harlen, “at least if they have a lick of sense anymore. I don’t get mad very often, but there are some things I just won’t tolerate and everyone best keep that in mind.”
And then, without another word said, the meeting was over.
The Congressman and I walked back to the Rayburn building. When we got to the office, he motioned for me to come in and join him.
“You heard what the Speaker said, son,” Happy Jack began. “They’re going to come after us with everything they’ve got. The thing is, I want to beat them, Andy. You keep doing what you’re doing, but you need to put me to work more than you have, son, because I do want to beat them. And who knows? Maybe we even can. But for now I’ve got a press conference.”
“Here’s a little statement I drafted up to begin it with while you were over there talking to Harlan Lane. What do you think of it, son?”
I looked at the document he handed me.
I want to thank everyone for attending this press conference tonight. There’s been a lot of speculation today that I was thinking about not pursuing my amendment to end funding for the war in Burkistan. That isn’t true. It’s a rumor put out by people who are pretty desperate to defeat my amendment and who know they can’t do that fair and square, on the merits.
I did meet with the Speaker of the House today just like a lot of these reports suggested I would. But the Speaker and I are old friends and we were discussing the terms under which my amendment will be considered. The Speaker has set aside __ [and here he had scribbled in the number 8] hours for debate on my amendment and we’re going to use every one of the minutes available to our side to explain to the American people why my amendment should pass.
I’ll take any questions you have, but the bottom line is that all these rumors you’ve been hearing today are wrong, just completely and totally wrong. So now it’s on to the floor and may the best man win. I know we’re on the right side of this issue and so do the American people.
I remember being surprised at just how good it was and wondering whether Happy Jack had known all along that our efforts to compromise would fail.
“I think it’s perfect, sir,” I said, smiling and handing it back to him.
“Oh, gosh, that’s pretty high praise coming from someone like you, Andy,” Happy Jack replied. “But I guess it’s not too bad for an old man like me.”
“Not very bad at all,” I responded. “And you’re not old, sir; you get better and better every day, just like a fine wine.”
The next week was totally crazy. The days just seemed to merge into one another non-stop. It was a hard time, both personally and professionally. The President went on national television and denounced the amendment. From there the rhetoric only escalated. But as far as I could tell, her words had fallen on deaf ears. Everyone seemed to be holding firm.
At a personal level, the vote couldn’t have been scheduled for a worse time. I was getting into the office early every morning and staying until midnight or later in the evening. Being away from Tommy like that was tough. But I told him what was happening and he forgave me.
Better still, he was there for me in the evenings when I got home and the two of us made love every night. Maybe it was because we had just started living together, but for me those evening sessions together never got old. Tommy had learned a lot about sex over the years and now, as he translated what he had learned into love, I was the beneficiary. I couldn’t get enough of him.
I remember telling him late one evening he must be a spy for the White House, trying to deprive me of some needed sleep in an effort to tire me out. But when he took it seriously and offered to forego sex for the duration, I told him no. I was willing to do just about anything to pass the McPherson amendment, but there was no way in hell I was giving up our time making love together to do it.
When I woke up first thing in the morning that final week before the vote, I would take a couple of moments to just lay there staring at Tommy. He would still be asleep, of course, curled up on his side. To me he looked so peaceful and innocent, the sheets wrapped around his hips, his upper body exposed to my glance. I had always thought Tommy had a beautiful body and now staring at it every morning like that made it hard to climb out of bed.
But eventually I did and then I would shower and shave; and once I had finished all of that, I would give him a kiss on his cheek before I headed off to work. My body would shudder just from the touch every time I did.
I was surprised Wednesday morning when I found him awake and already dressed.
“What are you doing up at this god forsaken hour?” I asked.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you go off this morning without giving you a kiss and wishing you good luck, did you?” he responded; “no way, no how, forget about it!”
The two of us embraced and he whispered good luck in my ear.
And then, surprising me, he was down on his knees and opening my zipper and beginning a labor of love.
I tried to tell him he didn’t need to do that, but quickly abandoned my protest. The truth is I was unusually tense that morning and what he was doing was exactly what was needed to help me relax. I just stood there and let myself enjoy what he was doing.
When he finished, he stood up and we kissed. Then he walked me down to the parking garage beneath the building. No one was around so I reached over and embraced him. He wished me the best of luck again and I said thanks. Then I kissed him and held him momentarily. I didn’t want to let go, but I had to.
“I’ll probably be late, as usual,” I said. “It’s going to take forever to get through the debate on the amendment and finish the vote; and then after that we’re going to meet with our friends and supporters to thank them.”
“Yeah, sure, tell me about it,” he replied, grinning. “I think you must have something going on the side,” he added, joking. “But I guess I can put up with it for one more night. Come home when you can. I’ll be waiting for you.”
The drive to the office was much quicker and easier now that I lived in the city, and I could tell from the silence as I walked the corridor to our office that I had arrived earlier than just about everyone else.
I began by pulling together all the documents and paper we would need as the day progressed. Then I spent a long time double-checking our last whip count with a fine-toothed comb. Later I met with our friends and supporters from the Hill to make sure everyone was clear on their assignments for the day. A similar meeting followed with the outside groups supporting our amendment. Then it was back to the office where I sat down and drafted two different versions of the statement we would need at the end of the day.
Finally, I took one last look at Happy Jack’s floor statement in support of the amendment. I had put a lot of time and energy into drafting it and he had only made a couple of small changes. I was proud of it, but I was surprised when he commended me for the fine job I had done. He hardly ever praised anyone like that.
Given everything that needed to be done, the morning had passed quickly. Finally, about thirty minutes before the House was scheduled to convene, Happy Jack and I headed over to the Capitol. We wandered up to the press gallery above the floor of the House and took a peek in. Just seeing Happy Jack’s smiling face set off a stampede among the media. Soon enough they were following us around and an impromptu press conference was underway.
“What do you think of your chances today, Happy Jack?” the reporter for the Associated Press shouted.
He had covered the House for years and knew being first and loud counted a lot when it came to gathering the news.
“That’s hard to say exactly, Bill,” Happy Jack replied. “I hear those fellows from the White House are dangling some mighty pretty trinkets in front of some of the Members these days; bridges, roads, and a lot more from what I hear. You know how hard it is for us Congress critters to resist that kind of temptation, Bill.”
“But I’ll tell you this. If the Members vote their consciences rather than their interests today, I think our chances are excellent.”
And that’s how it went for the next thirty minutes or so. The questions came rapidly, but Happy Jack handled them easily and in a way that left the press corps admiring the man. I knew their stories later that day would reflect that.
I had nothing to do while all of this was going on, of course, so I kept my eyes on the floor of the House.
When no one is present, the House chamber brims with majesty and tradition and can leave you just standing there in awe of the place. But now the House had been called into session. In sharp contrast with the slower pace and quieter atmosphere of the Senate, the chamber was coming alive with activity and the noise level was rapidly rising.
While the young boys and girls who serve as pages scurried around the floor delivering messages to the Members, I just stood there watching as the daily routines – the prayer, the approval of the Journal, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and more – were played out.
Eventually the time set aside for one minute speeches arrived and, as we had prearranged, a number of our friends and supporters spoke in support of the amendment. A smaller number, mostly Republicans, spoke against it.
Finally, the defense appropriations bill was called up for consideration and I knew it was time for Happy Jack and me to head down to the floor.
For me, being on the floor was a privilege. It wasn’t something that happened every day and that made it special. I was only on the floor now because Happy Jack was the author of the most important amendment about to be considered. He wanted me there because I knew where everyone stood on the last whip count, the one that had shown us winning 219 to 213.
Everyone who ever visits the floor of the House comes away with some visual image of the place they’ll still be able to recall years later.
For some it’s the large American flag behind the rostrum, the podium from which the Speaker or his designated representative presides when the House is in session, or the large portraits of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette that frame the rostrum. Other eyes are drawn to the small marble bas-reliefs of the twenty-three lawgivers like Lycurgus and Hammurabi that hang on the walls above the floor.
But for me it was something much smaller, an injunction from Daniel Webster engraved in marble that I had always thought should set the tone for the place.
“Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.”
I remember wondering momentarily whether anything I did on the floor today would be worthy of being remembered. But then the debate on our amendment began and I turned my attention to more pressing matters.
Happy Jack kicked off the debate for our side with the statement I had prepared for him. Ordinarily, he was pretty low keyed when it came to addressing his colleagues. But today he spoke passionately and with an eloquence I had never seen before from the man. Even though I knew it wouldn’t change any votes, I was impressed.
As the author of the amendment, Happy Jack also controlled the four hours of debate allocated to our side. You had to give everyone who wanted to speak in favor of the amendment some time, of course. At the same time, everyone knew some Members spoke more powerfully and eloquently than others.
Consequently, Happy Jack and I had spent a long time together deciding who would speak, in what order, and for how long. Part of my job was making sure that the different Members got to the floor at the right time.
Another part of the job was listening carefully to those who spoke against the amendment. As they spoke, I scribbled notes that Happy Jack or some of our friends and supporters could use later in the debate to rebut what was being said. A lot of it was nonsense or just a mindless appeal to the kind of false patriotism that had damaged the country so badly in recent years. But you had to respond no matter how absurd the point being made might be.
And so that’s how it had gone for the next eight hours, the two opposing sides alternating time and making their case for the historical record as well as for the American people.
I had been right to warn Tommy. The debate seemed to drag on forever. But eventually the pleading voices fell silent and now a different atmosphere began to take hold on the floor as the voting commenced and then moved relentlessly toward its final climax.
And now we were counting down the last few minutes of the roll call vote on the amendment that had consumed the last three years of my life. There were less than two minutes left and we were ahead by three votes.
I remember glancing up at the electronic tally board and then looking around frantically to see whether any of those who hadn’t voted were on the floor. But by then it was obvious the leadership was corralling every Member as they entered the chamber and taking them over to the Speaker’s office for a final personal pitch.
Precisely because I knew just how little we could do in these waning moments of the vote, my stomach was churning. Everything about the process favored the Administration. The White House staff was out in full force, as were all the usual suspects from the military-industrial complex. They couldn’t afford to lose this vote. There was still too much money to be made off of the war and they were determined to extract every last dime they could.
No one entering the chamber could escape their pleas. The pleas were made on the merits largely, but everyone knew campaign contributions were also at stake. And yet the real effort was being played out in the Speaker’s office. I knew the Speaker was over there making the final pitch himself, and he had Harlan Lane there as well to offer whatever inducements might be needed to bring a recalcitrant Member around.
We had people outside the doors making our case as well, but the Members were paying less attention to us. Most of our friends and supporters were from groups that didn’t have serious campaign money to spread around. The truth is, there was nothing much we could offer the Members and everyone knew that. In this case, virtue was going to have to be its own reward.
Roll call votes like the one underway are normally taken by electronic device in the House. A number of vote stations are positioned around the chamber and the Members vote by inserting their personal voting cards into a slot and then pressing the appropriate button to indicate whether they wish to vote yea, nay or present.
Usually Members leave the floor quickly after casting their vote. But today a lot of the Members were milling about in small groups talking to one another. There was a chance history was about to be made and they wanted to be there if it was.
Others were just staring up at the electronic tally board. Like spectators at a horse race, they were waiting to catch any surprises that might take place. But today there hadn’t been any surprises so far and that was welcome from my point of view.
Still, it was the very closeness of the vote that was holding the attention of the Members. It was holding mine as well. I kept staring up at the board as the final votes were cast. We had squirreled away some of our votes for precisely this situation. Every time the Democratic leadership produced one new vote against our amendment, we countered with one in its favor.
And now it was down to twenty seconds, fifteen, ten, and then it was over. I looked up at the board and smiled. There were 216 votes in favor of our amendment and 213 opposed. That was very close to the 219 votes our whip count had predicted for the amendment. We had won!
Or at least I thought we had won. I kept waiting for the vote to be announced. But no announcement was forthcoming and finally it dawned on me. The House leadership was holding the vote open in a desperate final effort to turn our victory into defeat. It didn’t happen very often, but there was a lot at stake on this vote and the leadership was determined to use every power at their command.
I walked over to Happy Jack.
“They’re holding the vote open, sir,” I said.
Then I berated myself for being so stupid. He knew what was happening. He didn’t need me to tell him.
“I know, Andy,” he replied. “There’s nothing we can do about that except hope our supporters hold firm.”
Happy Jack was right about that, of course, but it worried me nonetheless. We knew two members were absent that evening. They had been paired, one in favor and one opposed to our amendment. We also knew there was still one vacancy waiting to be filled as a result of a death. That left three Members missing in action and I knew who they were: Barnwell, Fisher, and Graham.
Each of their staffs had claimed they were with us, but I had my doubts, at least about Barnwell. The guy just couldn’t be trusted and everyone knew it. Fisher and Graham were publicly on record back in their districts in support of our amendment so I couldn’t fathom why they hadn’t voted yet. Both of them had reputations for being principled and both of their districts were solidly opposed to the war.
Graham had repeatedly told Happy Jack personally he was with us so I wasn’t too worried about him. Even if the leadership persuaded him not to vote and Barnwell and Fisher voted against us, we would still win.
As the minutes passed, the whole thing began to wear on my nerves. I made my way over to Wade Walker, who was just standing there near the rostrum, arms folded, looking bemused.
“This is wrong, Wade,” I told him. “You know it and I know it. This is a travesty. We won fair and square. Announce the vote for Christ’s sake!”
“You know what they say, Andy,” Wade replied, smiling at me. “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings.”
“Screw you, Wade,” I replied, trying unsuccessfully to restrain my anger. It wasn’t his fault after all.
“Holding a vote open to beat the Republicans? I could understand that. But holding it open to beat a majority of your own party? That’s about as low as it gets, Wade. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
Then I just turned and walked away.
I knew I shouldn’t have been that harsh on Wade. I tried to remind myself it wasn’t his call. But I had to get it off of my chest and I knew Wade wouldn’t take it personally. He was used to being berated by someone or other. It was part of his job.
As the minutes continued to tick off, I reflected on the past couple of months. So much had happened and it was all kind of confusing. I had met Tommy just as spring was making its appearance in Washington and now we were finally living together. I sensed he hadn’t opened up emotionally to me all the way yet. But he was trying. He really was. I couldn’t ask for more from the kid and I loved him.
All of this and more flashed through my mind. Then I looked up and saw the three Members I had been searching for walk through the door and head over to separate voting machines to insert their cards. I looked over at the clock. They had held the vote open for fifty minutes. Fifty freaking minutes! It was obscene.
I looked up and saw three lights flash red simultaneously. And then the presiding officer was speaking immediately.
“On this vote, the yeas are 216, the nays are 216, and the amendment is not agreed to.”
The Leader moved quickly to lay a motion to reconsider on the table.
And that was it. It was over. We had lost on a tied vote fifty minutes after the time allowed for voting had expired! To me the whole thing was incredible.
I looked over at Happy Jack. He just nodded at me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t, of course, so I just walked over to him.
“As you know, sir, I reserved the Cannon Caucus Room as a place where all of our friends and supporters could meet after the vote,” I told him. “You need to come over with me and thank all the Members and staff and outside groups for all the hard work they put in on this. I’ve drafted a few remarks for you, sir.”
Then I handed him the second sheet of paper I had drafted that morning, the one with remarks in the event we lost. I had already tossed the other sheet away. We didn’t need it any more. Happy Jack looked over the remarks quickly and then just nodded at me again. With that the two of walked out of the chamber, down the steps of the Capitol, and across the street to the Cannon House Office Building.
The Caucus Room was mobbed by then. People were literally pushing and shoving in an effort to get into the room, but it was already completely filled and people were packed together inside like sardines. If you know the place, you know just how many people were there. But somehow they made room for Happy Jack to pass through to the podium we had improvised for him and I just followed along behind.
I stepped up to the podium and introduced the Congressman. He pretty much used the remarks I had prepared for him. Then he was gone, exiting out the back way. I think it had gotten to him as much as it had to me. I could hear it in his voice as he thanked everyone for their help and assistance.
By then people were crying and hugging each other. No one could believe what had just happened.
I stepped up to the podium again.
“Except for my personal thanks, I don’t really have anything to add to what the Congressman just told you,” I said, trying my best to remain calm. “I just want you to know we’ll be holding our regular meetings for House staff and for our non-governmental friends and supporters next Tuesday.”
“We may have lost the battle today, but the fight continues; the dream of a better America never dies. We need to start preparing for next year when we’ll be offering our amendment again. Thanks for all your help and support. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
Then I stepped down from the podium and started to walk toward the front door.
It came as a surprise when they started clapping and it was too much for me to handle just then in any event. I was having a hard time holding back the tears so I stepped up my pace and walked out of the room as quickly as possible. As I walked toward the circular door that led out to Independence Avenue, I could still hear the applause.
It didn’t help.
I had just started walking down the street toward the Rayburn building when I saw him approaching. I started running to get away, but he caught up with me and grabbed my arm.
“Hold on, Andy,” Wade said. “I want to congratulate you.”
“For what?” I responded. “For fighting the good fight? Is that what you’re about to tell me, Wade? That we fought the good fight and can be proud of ourselves? We lost, Wade. You won. And now more kids are going to needlessly die or be crippled for life because you won,” I added, only a little ashamed of myself for trying to make him feel guilty.
“You’re wrong about that, Andy,” Wade replied. “You didn’t lose today. You won. I know you don’t believe it right now, but you will soon enough. There’s no way the President can continue this war after that kind of vote.”
“I mean, we put it off for more than three months for Christ’s sake. Both the White House and the leadership worked the Members hard for the entire three months. We provided so many inducements to so many Members the budget won’t be balanced for the next century, Andy. And after all of that and holding the vote open for fifty minutes, we won on a tie vote.”
“She’s a smart politician, Andy,” Wade continued, “a lot smarter than either of us. She can read the handwriting on the wall. You won’t have to offer that amendment of yours next year because she’ll find a way to change course once again.”
“Count on it, Andy,” he said, releasing his grip on my arm and smiling at me. “Now go home and have some fun for a change.”
I thought about all of that on the walk back to the office, wondering whether it was wishful thinking or whether Wade could possibly be right after all. At first I thought maybe he was right. President Clay was pretty savvy, no doubt about it. It wouldn’t surprise me if she found a way to change her position again.
But the more I thought about it, the more I decided Wade was wrong. Oh yeah, sure, maybe President Clay would get us out of Burkistan; but there would be another foreign adventure waiting to replace it soon enough.
Perhaps it would be Iran. If not, those we called leaders but weren’t would pick some other god forsaken nation that needed America’s enlightenment and guidance. Maybe it would take a month, a year, or a bit longer. But deep down inside I knew there would be another foreign adventure soon enough.
There always was.
The imperial itch had become much too strong. America would need to scratch it again and again, and probably a lot sooner than anyone would guess. It was a cancer eating away at the country and not many people understood that or cared. If they ever understood, it would be much later, long after the chickens had come home to roost.
When I got back to the office, I looked through my messages. Then I set them aside. It was after 10 p.m. and I remember laughing when I told myself I was going to take the rest of the day off. As I walked out the door, I could see two solitary figures approaching. It turned out to be Nolan and Josh.
“We’re sorry, Andy,” Nolan said, “really sorry. Both of us were over in the gallery today listening to the debate and then over at the Cannon Caucus Room. I don’t know exactly how, but both of us want you to know we’re going to do our best to help out next year with the amendment. In the meantime, Josh and I are heading over to Bullfeathers for a late dinner. I imagine you didn’t get to eat today and we thought you might like to join us.”
“Not tonight, Nolan,” I said. “Maybe we could get together this weekend and do something fun for a change. I think Tommy would like that; and I would too.”
“Sure, I understand,” Nolan replied. “I’ll give you a call later this week.”
While he was saying all of this, Josh had wrapped his arms around me and given me a hug.
“Keep hope alive,” he whispered.
And then they were gone and I was on my way down to the garage.
I’m not really sure how I got back to our place that evening. The car must have driven itself because my mind was somewhere else entirely. I remember parking the car and taking the private elevator up to the penthouse level we shared. Just as he promised, Tommy was there waiting for me.
I was a little surprised when I looked around the place. The television was turned to C-SPAN and it was obvious he had been there all day watching the whole thing, all eight hours of debate and then the vote we had lost. From the look of things, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Sean and Teddy had been there as well. If so, they were gone now, leaving Tommy and me alone.
I looked at him and then abandoned my effort to hold them back any longer. The tears started flowing, just silently, without any sobbing.
Tommy walked over and hugged me.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Later, after I had seemingly cried myself out, he took my hand and led me up to the bedroom. We lay down on the bed together and he continued to hug me for what seemed like forever. Eventually his lips pressed against mine, but gently, very gently.
I had been thinking about how I had failed all those beautiful boys like Jesse again so it came as a surprise when I looked down and saw I was completely naked. I should have known better with Tommy, but it always surprised me.
He tore open the wrapper, then rolled over and looked into my eyes. Before I even knew he had done it, the condom was on me and Tommy had rolled over on to his back.
It took a moment for it to sink in.
Tommy was offering me something he had never offered before and now I had to decide whether to accept the gift he was willing to share with me.
“No, Tommy, I can’t do this,” I started to protest. “You’re a . . .”
He placed a finger over my lips until I fell silent.
“Tonight I want to experience that intimacy thing you keep talking about, Andy. I’ve been looking for the right person for this all my life, just like I’ve been waiting my whole life to say this to someone.”
“I love you, Andy.”