It was quiet all Sunday afternoon. Mom and Anne Marie were in the kitchen, making hamburgers and gossiping about people I didn't know. The old man was in his recliner, his eyes on a baseball game. And Aaron and I sat on the front porch, watching Danny and Gorcey race around the yard, chasing each other.
Tomorrow we'd be off, on our way to Indiana. Another phase of our lives beginning. Another phase ending. That's how it felt.
"Shea," said Aaron. "I'm sorry I brought up that thing about having kids. It was just a thought. You know me -- I say the first thing that comes into my head. I was looking at Danny and, face it, he's cute!"
"Aar, you never say anything that just comes into your head. That's not the way your mind works. And Danny is a cute little boy. But it takes more than that to make a family, especially for two men. Be realistic."
"I'm trying to be," he replied. "I'm trying to figure out what will make things work between us again. What will make everything the way it was. That's all I want."
I stared out at the street. I must have sat on that porch for countless hours when I was a kid. Escaping from what was going on inside. Reading. Doing my homework. Watching. Always just watching. Watching people go by, walking their dogs. Kids riding their bikes. Couples holding hands. Old ladies coming home from the store, pulling their shopping carts. Everyone passing by. Passing me by.
A car drove up the street. There was a man with dark blond hair in the driver's seat, his arm leaning on the open window. He glanced at the house as he drove by, then looked away quickly.
I only had a few friends as a kid. I was shy and gawky, all arms and legs. Gym class and organized sports, those bastions of budding masculinity, were a constant trial. I hung out with some of the girls on the street and also followed my older sisters around, but Marianne and Anne Marie saw me as a pest they only barely tolerated. They were six years older and couldn't be bothered with a little brother when they had important teenage girl things to do.
There was one boy who I called my friend. Greg Keeley. He lived on our street, Thomas Avenue, but farther down, near Detroit Avenue (we lived on the Madison Avenue end). We were the same age and had grown up together in the same class at St. Clement's, but he never paid any attention to me until my father forced me to join Little League. He said it would teach me about teamwork. He said I would make lots of friends. He said Little League was exactly what I needed.
I hated it from the first day. I couldn't hit and I couldn't catch, so they put me in right field where I wouldn't do too much damage. But every time a ball did fly in my direction, I panicked -- I dropped my glove and covered my head, terrified it would hit me. Then the ball would sail past and bounce on the ground while the coach and all the other boys screamed at me.
Greg Keeley was the only one who didn't scream at me. He was the star of our Little League team, the Tara's Throne Red Sox (Tara's Throne was an Irish bar on Madison). Greg was tall and blond; when we were 12 he looked more like he was 15. He could play any sport, but he wasn't stuck up about it. And, for some strange reason, he used to encourage me, the team misfit.
"Try it, Shea. It's easy," he'd say. "Just watch the ball and as it comes down, reach out and catch it."
And when Greg threw the ball at me, I could catch it. Well, most of the time.
"See? You can do it!" And then he'd pat me on the rump and smile at me. That made me feel better than anything else in the world. Like I really could do it.
But when we were actually playing the game, it was a different story. It would be hot and the sun would be shining and birds singing and I'd start thinking about other things. About what television shows were on that night. About the book I was reading. About going to the mall on Saturday. And about Greg's ass. I thought about that a lot. It was usually right in front of me as he stood in center field. His uniform was tight and he bent over a lot. He also scratched his ass and adjusted his dick a lot. Sometimes he'd turn around and wink at me or give me the thumbs up. And if someone from the other team hit the ball in our direction, he'd almost always catch it. That way it never came near me.
After the game we'd go out for ice cream at Dairy Queen. He always had a chocolate cone and I always had vanilla. Sometimes he'd ask me it I wanted a lick. Oh, yes, I did! And I'd give him a lick of mine.
I thought about quitting the team a million times, but Greg always talked me out of it.
"You're not a quitter, are you, Shea?"
"But I stink! Everyone knows I'm the worst one on the team!" I felt like crying because that day I'd let a ball go by me and the other team got the winning run.
"But we'll win the championship," Greg said confidently. "Today was only one run and one game. We've got the whole season! With me on our team, we're a cinch!"
And he was right. With Greg on the team we did win the championship. We had our picture taken and put in the 'Lakewood Penny Saver,' the tavern that sponsored us got a big trophy to display behind the bar, and we all got little plastic trophies to take home. Greg was voted the Most Valuable Player in the league. And the coach treated us all to a day at Geauga Lake, a local amusement park.
"You want to go on the roller coaster with me?" Greg asked. "Or the Scrambler?"
"Sure!" I said.
We ended up going on all the rides together. On the roller coaster when we put our hands on the bar, Greg put his right up against mine, so they touched. That gave me a thrill stronger than the one from the going up and down the iron hills.
We spent the rest of the summer together, sitting in his room or on my front porch and dreaming the days away, or camping in a makeshift tent in his backyard, our sleeping bags side by side. Our parents couldn't understand what he saw in me. Why would popular and athletic Greg hang out with skinny and awkward Shea?
There was one good reason why.
"Your lips are soft," said Greg, running a finger over my lower lip. "As soft as a girl's."
"Is that good?"
"It is if you like to do this," he replied. And then he kissed me. "See? You like that?"
I nodded. I couldn't speak.
"I've kissed lots of girls!" he boasted. "What about you?"
I shook my head. "Never!"
Greg frowned. "Not even one? Not even Jennifer Kirby?" He named a girl on our street who I hung around with. We both really liked Shawn Cassidy and had posters of him on our walls.
"No!" The thought of kissing Jennifer seemed weird. Gross.
"Here. Try this." He opened his mouth and invited my tongue inside. That was the start of it.
"Shit," I said to Aaron. "That guy who just drove by."
"Who?" Aaron was leafing through the 'Sunday Plain Dealer.'
"He just drove by. Greg Keeley. His parents live on this street." I craned my neck, but the car had turned down Madison.
"Is that one of the guys who used to kick your ass in high school?" Aaron had heard all my adolescent horror stories. This was one aspect of gay life we didn't share. In high school he'd been a AV nerd, but he'd also been determinedly straight.
"Eventually," I answered.
And it was true. By the time we reached high school, Greg understood that the things we did together in the privacy of his bedroom were not things a straight boy could keep doing and remain a straight boy. When he turned on me, and he did, it was sudden and furious. Shortly after that betrayal I started hanging out with some of the local burn-outs and low-lives. They didn't care that I was the neighborhood fag; they were too stoned to care.
"He lives in Lakewood. He's married and has a couple of kids." My mother kept me apprised of my old classmates. Most of their parents still lived in the same houses and many of them remained nearby. Ties to family and the neighborhood were still strong in that part of Lakewood. Mom told me that Jennifer Kirby was married, too, and her kids now attended St. Clement's, our old school; they saw each other at Mass every week.
"What do you care?" said Aaron. "As long as he doesn't come around here."
"Oh, he won't," I promised.
Aaron and I cooked the hamburgers my mother and sister made on the gas grill. Mom also had some potato salad and corn she'd bought at Giant Eagle. It was a half-hearted Sunday meal, but typical of Desmond holiday fare. After dinner Anne Marie and Danny went home, my old man went back to his recliner, Aaron plugged in his laptop and went online, and I helped my mother clean up.
"Shea, I need to ask you something." She seemed tentative.
"What's up, Mom?"
"I know you're not going to want to do this, but..."
This already sounded like trouble.
"Just tell me."
"I was wondering if you could stay for a few extra days? I mean, before you go on to Indiana."
I sighed. "Mom, you know we're moving into a new house. We need to drive there tomorrow. The moving men are coming on Tuesday morning."
"I know, honey. And I wouldn't ask, except that your father... he's seeing a new doctor on Thursday and he wants you to go with him."
"Me?" That was a new one. My father hadn't spent more than ten minutes alone with me since I'd left the house at 16. "Why me?"
"Well..." said Mom. "I usually go with him, but I get so nervous that I make him nervous, too. Then your sister Anne Marie tried taking him to his appointments, but they'd always get into a big fight. And Marianne is so busy with Mike, and her kids, and her parties..." She paused and wiped her hands on a dish towel. "He asked me to ask you. He wants you to go with him. He really does."
"But why? He doesn't even like me!"
My mother stared at me like she had no idea what I was talking about. "Don't be silly! Your father loves you! He's so proud of everything you've accomplished! You should hear him telling people about his son, the professor. Dr. Desmond -- he loves saying that: Dr. John Shea Desmond!"
"I'm not a doctor, Mom! I'm a Ph. D. And I'm not even a professor. Not yet, anyway."
"And when you and Aaron went to Hollywood and were at the Academy Awards he couldn't stop talking about it!"
They had shown Aaron, with me sitting next to him, for exactly three seconds on the Oscar broadcast when they announced the nominees for Best Documentary Feature, but my parents were still dining out on that fleeting moment of fame.
My mother squeezed my arm. "Shea, your father is having some new cancer tests done and he wants someone there he can trust. Someone who knows the right questions to ask. Someone who isn't intimidated by the doctors and all their fancy talk."
"And he thinks that person is me?"
"Of course," she said. "Who else? You're the smartest person in the family. You're the most level-headed."
"Why not Aunt Mary-Pat? Or Aunt Sally?" I mentioned the two sisters closest to him.
"He wants you," she insisted. "He's afraid, Shea. He's really afraid this time. If you could be with him, it would make a huge difference. I know it would."
I left the kitchen and went upstairs to my old room. Aaron had his laptop on the bed, plugged into the phone jack.
"Your father wants what?" Aaron said in disbelief after I'd recounted my conversation with my mother.
"You heard me."
"But why you?"
"That's what I asked her. I know it's crazy, but the bottom line is... I think I should do it."
Aaron rubbed his forehead. "Shea, you don't owe these people anything! When you needed them, they kicked you in the teeth!"
"Except they're my fucking parents! This is the first time my old man has ever acted like he needed me for anything. I think it might be an opportunity for me to... to change things between us. Maybe get rid of some of the baggage I'm still feeling about everything that happened."
"He's taking advantage of you," Aaron grumbled.
"Probably," I said. "But I still think I should do it."
"What about the new house? I'll have to unpack all that stuff and set up everything by myself!" he complained.
I raised my eyebrows. "You're a big boy, Aaron. You can open a cardboard box all by yourself."
"I suppose." He shut his laptop with a snap. "Okay. One week. Then you can fly into Indianapolis and I'll pick you up and take you back to Hastings. Deal?"
"Come over here."
I climbed on the bed, taking care not to knock his laptop onto the floor.
"Don't forget that I love you, Baby. First, last, and always."
"How could I forget? I have that phrase tattooed on my ass," I joked.
"Hey! That's a good idea," Aaron purred. "A very good idea. But I have an even better one for right now."
Since he'd be leaving in the morning, Aaron and I made the most of the rest of that night.