Monday, October 24, 2011
Falling Apart Again - Part 2
“Yeah son?” I asked, answering the 7 year old’s bellowed demand.
“Mom just got a call, and has to take off for France for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be here.”
“Okay,” I replied with a smile.
Brandon had his own room in my house, of course. Even when his mom was home from her many business trips, he spent more than half of his time with me. He had grown up with two houses and two rooms, and so it was nothing for him to suddenly decide that he wanted to sleep at my house.
Also, Andrea was an international business consultant, and often left for Europe on business. Occasionally, she brought Brandon with her, but most often she honored his choice to stay home. He honestly had very little fun tagging along with her since she was so busy working.
Brandon ran out of the house to play in the yard, but then ran right back in. “Hey dad!”
“Yeah son?” Didn’t we just do this?
“Mom says she thinks she loves some guy in France. She says that if things work out the way she wants, she might even get married soon,” Brandon informed me, and then ran off to play.
I felt my heart sink. If Andrea married a man from France, did she plan to live there, and if so, did she plan to take Brandon with her? That was currently my worst nightmare. I located my cellphone, and called Andrea.
“Hi Josh. Sorry to rush off like this, but they insist I’m the only one who can handle this situation,” Andrea immediately launched into a detailed explanation of the situation, but I cut her off.
“Is it true that you plan to marry some guy in France and take Brandon there to live with you?” I questioned her.
She laughed. “The possibly getting married part is true, but I would never just take Brandon from you. I went through that, remember?”
I sighed in relief.
She continued. “I figured that we would simply continue to share custody if I suddenly moved to France. It would be harder, sure, but I think it could be done. You would probably keep him during the school year, and I would get him during the summer, and a week or two here and there.”
“How likely is it that you might get married?” I wondered.
She was silent for a few moments. “Well, that depends on how he feels about me. If he wants to marry me, then I plan for it to happen fairly soon. I do think he wants to marry me…”
I nodded though she couldn’t see it. “Then it would probably be for the best if I officially homeschool him. That way, he can visit you whenever you want.”
We had been debating it back and forth for years. Currently, he was half homeschooled and half attending a private school. The school kept pushing us to make up our minds already – they wanted the full amount of tuition, of course – but if Andrea really got married, then the demanding schedule would be a bad thing.
“If you think that’s for the best, then I agree. What about your clients?” She wondered.
I had long ago opened my own physical therapy practice – sharing a building with a chiropractor and a trio of massage therapists. Between us, there was never a shortage of work, but we all prioritized our families first. So, we had varied schedules, and tended to focus on a few loyal clients rather than a large variety of new ones.
Plus… I didn’t really need to work. I honestly liked to work, but I had no problem working around Brandon’s needs. It sounded like an all around good idea.
“Don’t worry about that, I will manage just fine, I’m sure,” I said with a smile.
“You could always find a man to share your life with too, you know,” Andrea murmured.
I snorted. “I’m 40 now. I really don’t think there’s going to be another great love in my life… Aside from Brandon.”
“Okay,” she replied with a sigh. “Talk to you later, love you.”
“Love you too, later,” I responded automatically. We had long ago decided that since we were always going to be family, we would talk to each other like family members do. Therefore, we weren’t confessing romantic love to each other. That had been an interesting subject to explain to Brandon when he was 5 and asked us why we didn’t live in the same house like other mommies and daddies did.
He had also heard his mother and I discuss the relative hotness of the men we saw while out and about. So, I’m pretty sure he knew that I liked men, but to be honest, I hadn’t brought the subject up to him directly. I wasn’t trying to avoid it; I just figured there was no point in explaining something that wasn’t happening. I hadn’t had a boyfriend at all since Randy died. Just a series of one night stands.
“Hey dad!” Brandon shouted out excitedly as he burst through the door.
Again? “Yeah son?”
“Our new neighbor across the street just started moving in, and I went over there to help.”
“Okay,” I acknowledged, wondering why this was big news. I was also secretly proud to bursting that he was such a helpful kid.
“He’s a single dad, just like you… sorta. And he has two little girls around my age. They asked if my parents had just gotten divorced too, and I told them that my mom and dad live next door to each other. That my mom was going to marry some guy in France, and that my dad was gay.”
I had unfortunately decided to take a sip of coffee just as he announced that, and I spit it all out in astonishment. “What?!”
“Yep, and he said we sound like interesting people, but he didn’t sound like he meant it. Why wouldn’t he mean it?” Brandon wondered.
“Um…” I wasn’t sure how to explain this. “Most people don’t understand gay men. I’m sure he was just trying to be polite.”
“Anyway, his girls are so cute! They both have blond hair, and are kind of quiet. I think we should invite them over for dinner. I’m going to go invite them over, so go fire up the grill, and make something tasty. Ok?” He half ordered, half asked, and rushed off before I could reply.
“Brandon wait!” I called out after him, but he was already too far away to hear me. I sighed. I was planning to BBQ some ribs tonight anyway, and had enough that there would be leftovers – even if Andrea had come to dinner. Therefore, I should have enough if they decided to accept Brandon’s invitation.
Wait a minute! Did Brandon just call those girls cute? He’s only 7! He can’t possibly be thinking about girls yet… Can he?
I decided not to freak out just yet, and pulled the marinating ribs out of the fridge. I also gathered up some potatoes and ears of corn, and then decided to chop up the potatoes so I could grill them in tinfoil smothered in butter and seasoned with salt and dill weed. The unshucked corn I just placed on the top rack of the grill. After I lit it up.
It was a gas grill, and took about five seconds to get ready for the food. I tossed the veggies on to cook for a bit, and sat in a lawn chair to think about the ramifications of my son’s innocent description of our family.
Without really knowing what he had said, he could have already made an enemy of the new neighbor. I sincerely hoped that we wouldn’t end up in some sort of neighborly feud. It’s not like I bring home a wide variety of men on a nightly basis.
When the potatoes started to smell delicious, I tossed the ribs on the grill. They’d probably need to cook for at least 10 minutes on each side, and my mouth started to water in anticipation. They already smelled so good!
“Hey dad!” Brandon called out loudly from inside the house. I have got to teach that kid a better way to get my attention!
“Yeah son?” I shouted in return.
“He’s out here,” Brandon informed someone, and I looked up to see a man and two little girls follow my son into the back yard. He was downright gorgeous in my opinion, and I quickly looked away to hide my sudden interest. I was unexpectedly very glad that they had accepted my son’s kind invitation.
“Hello,” I greeted as I inspected the meat to see how well it was cooking.
“Sorry to barge in like this,” the man apologized. “I’m your new neighbor, Harrison, and before you ask, yes.” He chuckled in slight embarrassment. “I am named after Harrison Ford. My mom was a huge fan.”
I laughed. “Nice to meet you, I’m Josh Black.” Randy had changed my last name to his once upon a time ago – our way of solidifying our commitment at the time.
“And I’m Andrea Black,” Andrea announced. I looked at her in astonishment. She burst into an explanation. “You think you’re surprised to see me here! I was checking into the airport when I was informed that there is a huge storm – hurricane really – over the Atlantic ocean, and that my flight is delayed until tomorrow at the earliest.” She kissed me lightly on my cheek – also a gesture of family. We both thought it was important to make sure that our son knew that showing affection was ok.
She held out her hand to Harrison. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Brandon’s mom. I hope you like living in our neighborhood.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Harrison shook her hand and returned the greeting.
“Hey mom?” Brandon asked.
“Yeah?” Andrea responded.
“I forgot to tell you to buy me some of that fancy French cheese again,” Brandon stated, and Andrea laughed.
“Sorry baby, they won’t let that through customs. If you want some, you’ll have to come with me.”
“Nuh-uh!” Brandon exclaimed and shook his head. “France is too boring!”
Andrea laughed harder. “Anyway, I’m going to go change out of this pantsuit. May I join you two for dinner tonight?”
I surveyed the amount of food I had made. It should be enough for everyone. “Yeah, if you want.”
“I’ll be back in a few,” she said with a smile, and answered her ringing phone. “Oui, Ms. Black parlant.” She rapidly disappeared through the connecting gate in the fence between our yards.
“You seem to get along pretty well with your ex-wife.” Harrison observed.
“Oh… we were never married,” I explained.
“But you have the same last name,” Harrison protested in confusion. His girls were busy inspecting the playground equipment in our yard.
“That’s because of grandpa,” Brandon stated.
“I didn’t know you knew that,” I said as I gave my son a questioning look.
“Mom told me all about it. I asked her why you two don’t just get married, and she said it’s because you were already married to grandpa.”
I smiled at the irony. Out of the mouths of babes. “I guess you could say that, but two men can’t actually get married. It’s illegal… but I did take on his last name.”
“I wish grandpa hadn’t died in an accident,” Brandon sighed.
I exhaled in melancholy, and smiled sadly. “You and me both kiddo.”
“I miss him too,” Andrea replied unexpectedly, having returned from changing into a stylish yet casual dress. “However,” she squatted demurely in order to look our son in the eyes. “Your father and I were both so sad when he died that we created you. If he hadn’t died, you would never have been born, and I would not wish that ever.”
“Sometimes, I think you tell him too much,” I muttered.
“I’m just being honest,” Andrea shrugged. I nodded, unable to deny that she was a bluntly honest person.
Andrea stood, and focused her attention on Harrison. “I’m sorry to be airing all our dirty laundry before you on your first day in the neighborhood. I hope you aren’t offended by the way our lives have turned out.”
Harrison took a deep breath, and then exhaled it slowly. “You know, recently, I have learned that life rarely turns out the way it is supposed to. I’m really not one to talk. My… ex wife… she had a really bad drinking problem and often abused our daughters. I had no idea what she was doing to them until a short time ago, and now...” He hesitated, as if it were too painful to talk about.
I was about to assure him that he needn’t say a word when he finished his sentence. “We’re divorced, and I have full custody of the girls. …I fell in love with her knowing that she had a drinking problem. I thought I could help her… Anyway… I guess you can say that I know full well that you can’t help who you love, and that life likes to throw a wrench in the works every so often.”
Andrea lightly placed a hand on his arm, and smiled sympathetically. “Well, it looks like you have come to the right neighborhood.” She turned to me. “Now! Let me help you dish everyone up!”
Now that we all knew each other’s past, we were able to chat like old friends, and dinner was an unexpectedly delightful event. I finally felt like I had a friend again. One that understands and accepts me for who I am.
Eventually, Harrison insisted that he needed to finish unpacking, and stood to leave.
“Please, don’t be a stranger,” I told him. “Considering that the last people to own your house were an elderly couple, I highly doubt that they had a playground in the back yard. Feel free to let your girls come play over here anytime.”
“Thank you,” Harrison accepted my offer with a grin.
Andrea’s cell rang, and she looked at the caller ID. “It’s him!” She announced happily, and rushed home to have a private conversation with her would-be husband.
I asked Brandon to help me clean up, and silently brooded over my new neighbor. He was very good looking, and so my type, but… he was most likely straight, and I didn’t want to risk offending and alienating him for what would probably be a one night stand. I sighed.
Every night for the next week, Brandon insisted that Harrison and his girls come over for dinner, and Harrison confessed that he agreed each time because I made real food, and he had no idea how to cook. That, and he was so busy unpacking still. He honestly didn’t have time to do much more than toss some fishsticks in the oven at lunchtime, or microwave a burrito.
I laughed. “No problem! Just pitch in for groceries, and I’ll make dinner for you all the time,” I offered, grinning.
“Is that…” he hesitated.
“What?” I wondered curiously.
“Is cooking and being generous a gay thing?” He blurted out. “Or are you doing those for me because…”
I figured he was going to ask me this at some point, and so I had an answer prepared. “Yes, it’s a gay thing. Don’t read too much into it,” I informed him with a chuckle. Please don’t notice that I’m lying!
“Ah! Good!” Harrison smiled, and I could tell he was relieved. “Then I would love to take you up on your offer, but are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Nah! If I’m going to be cooking for me and Brandon anyway, it’s no trouble to make enough to feed everyone,” I assured him.
“Great! I have to go back to work starting Monday, and I was not looking forward to working full-time, and figuring out how to cook for the girls. They go to school, so, I don’t have to worry about them eating lunch,” he stopped rambling when I snorted over that.
“Sorry,” I apologized rather than go into my views on public school lunch. “Please, continue.”
He sighed, and shook his head. I think he realized that he was babbling, and opted not to continue. He tilted his head to look at me curiously.
“What do you do? Now that I think about it, you seem to be home all day.”
I smiled. “I’m a physical therapist, and I own my own shop, so I get to set my hours. I like to limit my clients to only a few per week, and tend to bundle them all into one day so that I’m not too busy the rest of the week.”
“So, you’re almost like a stay at home dad?” He clarified.
“Yeah, kinda,” I nodded my head and grinned.
I was a bit bummed that he always seemed so interested in my son’s mother, but he was straight after all. “She’s an international business consultant.”
“That sounds like she makes a lot of money. I wonder why she lives in such a small house?” Harrison murmured.
I assumed that he meant small compared to a mansion, because both our houses were good sized for having only two bedrooms. I shrugged. “Just because a person can live in a huge house, doesn’t mean they should.”
“That’s true, and I bet she prefers to be near her son when she’s home,” Harrison remarked, nearly finished with the food on his plate. I glanced at his girls, who were both still very shy and quiet most of the time. I felt bad whenever I thought of their mother mistreating them.
My housekeeper entered the kitchen. She normally cleaned my house for an hour or two each morning, but had called earlier to request tomorrow off. In exchange, she was here now. “Buenas tardes, Senor Black. Voy a trabajar ahora.”
“Si Senora Garcia, muchas gracias,” I thanked her. She was such a nice woman, and seemed to genuinely love my son. She was an official citizen of the US, but had only been here about a year.
Brandon chattered on excitedly in Spanish with her, telling her all about his day. I only knew enough Spanish to understand about one word in three, but I smiled as I listened to them.
Harrison gave me a funny look. “Must be nice.”
“What?” I wondered.
“To have a maid,” he clarified.
“A housekeeper actually, and I only hired her because I am lousy at cleaning. That she took the time to teach my son her language, and makes him breakfast in the mornings… Well, it’s a definite bonus!” I grinned. “She’s worth her weight in gold.”
“Si, estoy,” Sra. Garcia grinned in response. Her English skills were enough that she could understand far more than she could speak, but she was learning pretty quickly.
Another week passed, and I felt like Harrison and I were close enough to be best friends. At first, I found it strange that we got along so well even though he is only 32, but then I realized that the 8 year difference in our age was tiny compared to the nearly 20 year difference between me and Randy. After that, I had to firmly remind myself that there was nothing between Harrison and myself, and that there never will be.
Such a depressing thought, sigh…
Andrea stretched her trip out to last a full month as opposed to the two weeks it was supposed to be, but eventually, she returned. She had excellent timing as ever, showing up just as I was cooking dinner. Brandon and the girls were playing in the back yard, but Harrison had just arrived for dinner with a bottle of wine.
“He proposed!” Andrea squealed happily, not bothering to say hi. I don’t think she even noticed my guest. She threw her arms around me, and we squeezed each other tight. “He even let me set the date for the end of next month!”
“Isn’t that a bit soon?” I questioned. “At least half of your guests are American, and we’ll need to book a flight, and shop for a gift, and -”
She cut me off. “Shop! You absolutely must help me pick out a dress! I want you and Brandon to come to France with me next week and stay to help me prepare for the wedding.”
“Then – again – I must point out that you’ve set the date too soon. I’ll definitely need more time if I’m going to be planning anything!” I chuckled. She was still in my arms, and her cheek rested on my chest.
“Oh hell no! I am not waiting a moment longer than necessary! The only thing I care about is that my dress be perfect. Besides, Remy is taking care of the caterers, and he’s having a well known designer decorate his chateau, and oh! He has a brother…” She paused for dramatic effect. “I just know you’ll get along fabulously with Henri.” Which was pronounced On-ree.
I laughed. “Will I?”
She nodded with a suggestive look. “Yes… he likes both sides of the fence, and indicated interest when I showed him your picture.”
I smirked, and ruffled her hair. “Stop trying to set me up on dates. I can manage on my own, thank you very much.”
“Sure you can,” she drawled almost insultingly, and then kissed me lightly. “Anyway, I’m going to run next door and change, and then I’m going to go out to eat with RJ and Amelia to tell them the good news. Unless you’d rather I invite them here?”
“Nah, I don’t have enough for three more people. Go on and enjoy your dinner,” I bade.
“And congratulations,” Harrison said, breaking his unusual silence. He had been watching us from across the kitchen, and even I had almost forgotten he was there.
“Harrison!” Andrea greeted joyously. “I didn’t see you there!” She rushed to his side to hug him, and then kiss each of his cheeks in a very French manner. “Thank you!”
Harrison blushed lightly. “I bet you’ll make a beautiful bride.”
Andrea smiled, glanced at me, and then nodded lightly. “Of course! Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to be late, and while I’m sure my brother won’t care, my sister gets so impatient.”
Andrea hugged me once more to cover the fact that she wanted to whisper in my ear. “I see… never mind about Henri.” Then she laughed, and left.
I was confused, and stared at her with an expression of “What do you see?!” as she left.
“Well, she sure is a ball of energy!” Harrison chuckled. “Every time I see her, I feel exhausted.”
I laughed heartily, and nodded in agreement. Speaking off balls of energy, my son burst into the kitchen as if the hounds of hell were hot on his trail.
I could tell by his excitement that he wasn’t injured or upset. I held up my hands. “Calm down.”
He exaggeratedly inhaled and then exhaled to prove to me he was calm. I grinned, and rolled my eyes.
“What?” I asked mildly.
He started explaining at top speed. “They announced on the radio; there’s a cross country bike ride at the end of next month to raise money for cancer or something, and I want to join!”
I paused to decipher his statement. “That’s a wonderful idea… However, your mom’s getting married then. You should go talk to her before she leaves for dinner with your aunt and uncle.”
Brandon looked crushed. “But… but I want to bike across country…”
“No problem,” I informed him. “I think that’s a great idea too. We can do that after we get back from France.”
“Really?” Brandon asked hopefully. I nodded in confirmation. “Woohoo!” He shouted in joy, and then raced off yelling, “Mommommommommommom!” all the way to his mother’s bedroom, I’m sure.
I placed two fingers on my forehead, and shook my head, slightly embarrassed. Seriously, I have got to work on his enthusiasm, or at least how he expresses it.
Harrison smiled. “He’s a good kid, and I only hope my girls can one day be as happy as he is.”
“They will be,” I stated confidently. “I’ve already seen them start to smile while they play.”
“Does Andrea seriously want you to go to France starting next week, and stay there until after her wedding at the end of next month?” Harrison asked.
“I’m sure she does,” I shrugged.
“Damn!” Harrison muttered. “That means I’m going to have to learn how to cook.”
That made me laugh. “It’s probably for the best,” I tried to pretend seriousness. “After all, Andrea seems determined to hook me up with her future brother-in-law. I’m sure it would be the best possible scenario for her if we all moved to -”
Harrison prevented me from finishing my sentence by kissing me. I was shocked! He’s straight! Why’s he kissing me?
After our lips separated, he stared at me shyly. I was speechless. I stuttered as I tried to think of something to say.
“Um… Thank you?” I finally responded, uncertainly.
“I don’t know why I find you so fascinating, but the thought of you moving to France actually hurts. I don’t want you to go,” Harrison said, not looking at me.
“I don’t know what to say,” I told him honestly. I busied myself dishing up our food now that it was ready to serve. A thought occurred to me. “Are you trying to say that you’ll do anything to make me stay here?”
He looked at the ceiling as he considered this. I could tell that he was conflicted. Finally, he answered my question. “Yes… I guess I would.”
My heart skipped a beat, and I smiled a bit sadly. “You don’t have to go that far. I’ve already had one great love in my life. At this point, I honestly would settle for just being good friends.”
“Good enough friends that you would resist falling for the guy in France?” Harrison wondered, holding my wrist in his hand to prevent me from walking away.
I looked out the window to see that Brandon was playing with Alexa and Alison again, so I knew they weren’t likely to come inside before we called them in to eat.
“Do you know what it sounds like you’re asking?” I inquired. To me, it sounded a lot like he was offering to hop in bed with me out of fear that if he didn’t, I’d leave him alone. He wasn’t confident in his solitary parenting skills, and saw me as some sort of security blanket. I didn’t like this theory at all, and decided to get him to admit the truth.
“Oh really?” I demanded, a little more than a bit upset now. I grabbed him, and kissed him forcefully. I used my thumb to press on his chin so that his lips parted, and then licked the roof of his mouth. I intended to repulse him, but my natural skill in kissing took over, and I found myself practically making love to him with my mouth and tongue.
When I realized what was happening, I pushed him away, and turned to face anything but him. I was breathing heavily, and had to take a few deep breaths before I could speak. I decided to avoid the entire subject for now.
“I should call the kids in to eat before our food gets cold,” I finally managed to say.
“Fine… we’ll talk about this later tonight. I’ll come over after the girls fall asleep.”
I still couldn’t look at him, so I nodded, and walked to sliding glass door that overlooked the backyard. I subtly adjusted a certain piece of my anatomy so that it wasn’t quite so obvious in my pants. I wasn’t looking at Harrison, but even so, I think he noticed my action and smirked.
Dinner was slightly awkward for the two of us, but the kids didn’t seem to notice. I couldn’t help but overanalyze the situation. If I could just figure out his true motivation, I could assess things more accurately.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur, and I felt jittery as I waited for Harrison to return. As 10PM neared, I forced myself to admit that he wasn’t coming back. I needed to cool down, and decided to hop in the shower.
I was tempted to waste a massive amount of time in the shower – ahem – thinking about him, but resisted the urge. I turned off the water once I was clean, and wrapped a towel around my lower half. My bed called, and I hoped I could fall asleep before I tossed and turned all night.
“Wow, you’re still in pretty good shape,” Harrison observed. He was sitting on a chair in my bedroom, waiting for me.
I sighed in barely contained anticipation. “Why are you here?”
Harrison snorted softly in self-derision. “Good question. I’m not really sure, but I…” He kissed me, and I was so startled that I accidently dropped my towel. “I want to find out.”
“I can live with that,” I murmured, wrapping my arms around him so I could explore his mouth once more.
Please don’t let this ruin our friendship!
The next morning, I woke up to find him staring at me. I tried not to grin like an idiot. I wonder if he realizes just how incredibly happy he’s made me. It’s strange; I really never thought I’d fall in love again.
“So… about France…” Harrison began.
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m only going to attend her wedding. I won’t be gone for more than a couple of days.”
“Good,” he stated with a smile.
I knew that a relationship between us would be complicated – we both had kids to consider after all – but I was hopeful. Things might work out. I thought of my first love with a fond, reminiscent smile. You’d want me to be happy again, right?
A wind blew in through a window I hadn’t realized I’d left open, and caused the sheer inner portion of my drapes to get caught on a picture in an ornate frame on the small table next to my bed. It was of Randy, and I took this to be his answer. I had his blessings.
I scrutinized Harrison’s face. “Have you ever ridden your bike across country?”
“No, but I think it sounds interesting. It’s something to keep in mind for after school lets out in a couple of months,” he answered.I nodded. He’s already planning to spend time with me! “I can’t wait!”