Dancing With Tears In My Eyes Ch. 01byvelvetpie©
Shawn Anderson pulled the sheet up over the lifeless body and bit his lip, fighting back tears of hollow anger and bitter frustration. Damn this disease! Yet another victim of the relentless, uncaring infection known as AIDS. Someone’s father, someone’s son. This one was Alan Dunlop, a locally famous photographer who had introduced him to the beauty of Robert Mapplethorpe. Dunlop had been positive for thirteen years but three years ago, the sleeping virus had awakened into full-blown AIDS, ravaging his already thin frame and finally, robbing him of his life.
He knew that he shouldn’t feel so deeply but he couldn’t help it. AIDS wore many faces but it predominantly preyed on gay men and being gay himself, he took it personally. Years ago, when he’d first started practicing medicine, he was a starry-eyed intern, bent on finding the cure and ridding the world of AIDS, but the coldness of clinical trials and clean labs didn’t fit his ideal of conquering the seemingly unconquerable.
Shawn had learned long ago that human contact had to be part of his practice. It was part of the reason that he had become a doctor. To feel. To remind him of how important it was to feel. To give a hug and silently support tears. To clasp a hand and ease the way into death.
He thought about how thin Alan’s fingers were as they were intertwined with his. Shawn had tried to will his strength into the failing man, ignoring the death-rattle in his breaths and the putrid smell that emanated from his ruined body. He had only seen the clear lucidity in the professor’s hazel eyes and the pain-pinched smile on his quivering lips. Then the long, silent sigh as the photographer gave up his fight.
He looked down again at the snow-white sheet, his heart beating in his hollow chest. Sometimes, there was nothing that could fix the pain, especially the pain of losing a friend. Daphne’s hand on his shoulder jarred him back into reality and he accepted her heartfelt embrace, tears pricking his eyes. “Go home, Shawn. You’ve been here too long.”
Shawn laughed shakily, wiping his eyes and not bothering to contradict her. She was right. When he’d known that Professor Dunlop was near the end, he had spent every moment he could with the man, recalling the brilliance that he had learned in his classes and the grateful friendship that they had strengthened during the illness. It had been a long time since he’d wielded his Pentax, but the bit of craftsmanship that he possessed had come from Dunlop. “Do I look that bad?”
Daphne took a few steps back, cocking her blonde head to one side and scrutinizing him with dark brown eyes. “In a word, yes.”
“You wound me, friend.”
She cracked a smile, shoving her stethoscope into her pocket and looping an arm through his as her attention was drawn to the sheet. “He was so proud of you.” She gave him a gentle squeeze. “He said that he knew you were the one that left groceries on his doorstep.” Shawn couldn’t help the tears from falling at his friend’s words. “After everyone found out that he was positive and he lost clients, he said that your friendship was the only thing that kept him going.”
“He was very special to me.”
“I know.” Daphne whispered. “But he’s at rest now. And it’s time that you get some rest of your own.”
Shawn nodded. “I have to call the next of kin first.”
“Don’t bother.” Daphne opened the file, shoving the steel-encased chart holder into his hands. “He listed you.”
“Yes. He did it when he first came in years ago. He never changed it. Probably should have, but didn’t.” She paused. “Besides you, there was only one other person that ever came to visit him.”
“His son, Conor.”
Shawn left the hospital and was on automatic pilot for most of the ride home, including the usual rush hour traffic and Tommy Barone hogging the road on his new electric scooter. He didn’t remember pulling into his driveway. He didn’t remember activating the garage door and pulling inside. He only remembered lifting his head and noticing that he had been sitting in the car for nearly an hour and that his face and shirt were wet with tears.
His cellphone chirped in the beverage cup holder and he cleared his throat a few times before trusting his voice to answer. “Hello?”
“This is Conor Dunlop.” It was a voice that would have projected strength in the best of times. Today, it was strained, riddled with tears and emotion. “My father … “
“Professor Dunlop, I know. I’m very sorry.” The person known as Conor Dunlop burst into tears on the other end of the connection and Shawn took a deep breath, steeling himself against his own tears. “I didn’t mean … “
“I’m sorry, doctor.” Conor snuffled. “I … it’s just … “
“Listen, I’m at home. Why don’t you come over here and we can talk about Alan over some pizza?”
“I don’t think I can eat.”
“Well, just come over anyway.” Shawn rattled off the address and gave him directions. “See you in a few.”
An hour and a half later, the doorbell rang and Shawn opened the door to a handsome young man. He could tell that Conor was Alan’s son; they shared the same lanky frame, the same dark blond hair and the same dazzling hazel eyes. Except where Alan’s eyes were always filled with joy and hope, Conor’s were flat and blank with pain and confusion. A spear of pain shot through Shawn’s innards as their eyes met.
“Yes, come on in.” Shawn watched the tall young man step into the house and offered his hand. “And it’s Shawn. Please.”
Shawn noticed his red eyes and quickly shut the door. “Come up here.” He led Conor into the heart of his split-level home, taking the bag he held and aiming him towards a bar stool on the other side of the counter. The man sat woodenly, his glazed eyes filling with tears again. “Here. Drink this.”
Conor took the shot of Cabo Wabo tequila without questioning the contents and swallowed it, wincing at the slight fire that followed. “I’m really sorry, Dr. Anderson. I meant to introduce myself weeks ago but … “
“It’s okay, Conor. I understand.”
“I went to see Dad’s lawyer and when he told me that you were Dad’s executor, I had to come see you.”
Shawn dropped a Warsteiner into Conor’s hand and perched on a stool opposite him, shaking his head. “I honestly don’t know how that happened, Conor.”
“I do.” Conor took a long swill of beer. “He adored you.”
“But … “
“No buts, Shawn. When you took that photographic course from him, he thought that you should always have been a photographer. He was surprised to find out that you were a doctor.”
“But I’m not his son.”
Shawn watched Conor’s handsome features wrinkle in sadness. “He didn’t know I was his son until a few weeks ago.”
Conor sighed shakily. “Can I have another shot?”
Shawn watched as the younger man poured a hefty slug of tequila and tossed it back. He was surprised to find himself committing the details to memory. The way his lips touched the edge of the shot glass, the silky motion of his Adam’s apple sliding up and down sheathed in golden skin, the tiny blond hairs that fluttered on that skin. It had been a long time since he’d been attracted to anyone.
“My mother kidnapped me when I was three. I guess Dad told her that he wanted a divorce because he had realized that he was gay so she took me away to prevent me from being ‘turned into a queer’.” Conor wiped his tears away, accompanied by a shaky laugh. “I turned into one any way.”
Shawn’s heart leaped at his admission but he tried to ignore the feelings, instead concentrating on the young man’s words and the honest feelings they expressed. “And Alan never knew where you were.”
Conor shook his head. “No. My mother … “ He spat the word out like a globule of foul-smelling phlegm. “She wouldn’t tell him. When I was eighteen, I started looking for him, but she gave me a false name to look for. It took me three years before I found out who he was.” Tears threatened to crest his thick eyelashes again. “And not enough time to repair her damage.”
“I’m sure he knew you loved him.”
Silence followed Shawn’s words and the sound of Conor’s snuffling touched his heart. Without a second thought, he enfolded the young man in his arms, allowing himself to cry as Conor released his own years of lost memories and irretrievable moments. A man that he hadn’t had a chance to know, the man who had helped to create him was gone and there was no chance to mend those bridges. No birthday parties, no Christmas carols. Just a cold rose marble slab that would proclaim where his father lay.
The feeling of Shawn’s arms around him felt so natural that he didn’t have a chance to think about the fact that a stranger was holding him. The heart beating under his ear was strong, almost as strong as the arms that surrounded him and for a few long minutes, he allowed himself to crumble, to give someone else control. And then he heard something else. Muffled sobs coming from the doctor. Did Shawn love his father as much as he did?
That thought sobered him and he sat up, breaking Shawn’s hold and hastily wiped his eyes again, standing and heading for the door. “I need to go.”
“You don’t have to, Conor. You can stay here if you want.”
Conor shook his head, watching Shawn wipe his eyes and wondering how he felt about that. Had Shawn been his father’s lover? Was that why his father had made Shawn the executor of his will? It was too much to think about. Especially because Conor was finding himself attracted to the handsome but tired-looking doctor. He couldn’t handle it if Shawn had been his father’s last lover.
“No.” He faked a smile and knew by the lack of change on Shawn’s face that it hadn’t convinced the doctor. “I – I’d better go.”
Shawn followed Conor to the door and stood in the doorway as he let himself out and skipped down the concrete steps. “I’ll be here if you want to talk.”
Conor had no words to say. His heart was much too heavy.
***** The funeral of a well-known artist such as Alan Dunlop should have been teeming with people. Unfortunately, the chapel at St. Peter’s stood largely empty, except for a handful of the professor’s faithful followers. A mixture of university students, gay men and family members crowded together on a few pews, gazing at the 20’ X 30’ photo gracing an easel at the head of the polished casket and murmuring prayers or curses. Shawn had arrived early, wanting to make sure that everything was in order and had been surprised to find Conor there, kneeling at his father’s side, touching his cold, dead flesh and talking to him.
Conor couldn’t help himself. He felt compelled to talk to his father, to touch the silvery strands of gray at his temples and to smooth the lines away from his eyes. His conversation had begun simply enough but had quickly grown into a confession of sorts. He’d never told his father that he was gay. He was sure that his father would have had a heart attack if he knew that he was following in his footsteps. He had just wanted his father to be happy. And that’s what he strived for with each subsequent visit.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you, Dad.” Conor loosened his father’s tie and proceeded to tie a proper Windsor knot. “I just didn’t want you to worry about me.” He flattened the silky fabric down, tucking it under the lapels of his dark blue jacket. “Jesus, if you were alive, you’d hate this outfit. You’d probably jump up and down screaming. You look like a fucking lawyer!” He laughed, tears creasing his cheeks. “I wish we’d had time, Dad. I wish that bitch that you married had told me who you were the first time. I wish that I could have carried your cameras and loaded film for you.” His fingertips traced the unfeeling flesh of his father’s hand. “Did I tell you that I’m a photographer, too?”
Shawn stopped in the center of the aisle, feeling as if he was interrupting something private. It was obvious that Conor had come early to be alone and express himself to his father. Just as he turned to leave, he heard something that made him stop.
“Did you send him to me?” The breath caught in Shawn’s throat when he heard the childlike quality in Conor’s voice. “Don’t pretend that you don’t know who I’m talking about. That’s why you made him executor, didn’t you? You wanted me to meet him.”
Conor thought about what he was saying and was instantly disgusted with himself as his cock hardened. The doctor was handsome, there was no doubt about that. Conor couldn’t help remembering the man’s strong arms around him nor the beauty of his weary-bright eyes. He had fought against himself as he left, admonishing himself against the feelings that he had, thinking about his father. But he knew that his father would not want him to grieve too long and his father would never want him to pass up a chance at maybe … love?
“You always talked about him.” Shawn heard Conor continue, longingly watching him rearrange his father’s bangs with the caring fingers of a child. “Do you really think he has your soul?”
Shawn gasped before he realized that he had and Conor shot up, his gaze falling upon the doctor’s shaded eyes. “I – I’m sorry. I was just leaving.”
“That’s okay.” Conor whispered, pressing a kiss to his father’s forehead. “You just startled me. I thought I was alone.”
“I just got here.” Shawn joined him beside the casket, looking down at the man with whom he’d shared a long friendship.
“Do you miss him?”
“Yes.” Shawn smiled wistfully. “He was such a pistol before he got sick and he was always a great listener. And he always had great stories about his shoots.”
“I would have liked to have heard them.”
Shawn extracted a manila envelope from his pocket. “He wanted you to have this.” A beautifully bound leather volume slid out into Conor’s trembling hands. “I helped him write some of it because he … he didn’t have much motor control near the end.” Shawn fought the urge to push the hair out of Conor’s eyes. “He really treasured the time you two had together, even though it was so little.”
Conor just stared at the journal, his face dissolving into a mask of tears. “Thank you.”
Just then, the first of the attendees came in. “We’ll talk later.” The service went smoothly and most of the people attended the interment. Soon, it was just Shawn and Conor at the graveside, both wracked with tears, trying to contain the grief that so obviously spilled from their hearts. It was Shawn that moved next to Conor and it was Conor that reached for the doctor’s hand.
Shawn stood, coaxing the sobbing son into movement and both walked to the side of the grave. “Goodbye, Mr. Dunlop. Thank you for everything.” The single calla lily gently swayed down, landing atop the shining wood and delicately balanced on the lid for a moment, before sliding into the dark recesses of the grave.
Conor dropped his simple bouquet of lilacs and daffodils, his sight blurred with tears. “’Bye,” His voice broke, escaping in a whisper. “Dad.”