The Human Condition Ch. 10byjfinn©
I was finishing up the dishes when I looked through the window over the sink and saw Joe in the backyard. He was tugging on the new tire swing I'd attached to the old maple tree in the back yard as a surprise. He looked concerned, as he tentatively leaned his weight against it, and I chuckled to myself at his unease. I ducked my head and watched as he stepped gingerly into the center until he was standing on the rim, his hands firmly grasping the thick nylon rope that attached the old truck tire to the branch some 20 feet above his head. The tree limb groaned slightly, but I knew it was solid enough to hold both of us at the same time.
This was too good to pass up. I threw down the rag I'd just wiped the table with, then quietly tiptoed out the back door and stepped into the yard. Joe was too busy testing the rope's strength by hopping up and down to hear me approach.
"You scaredy-cat!" I said, loudly enough to make him jump again. "I'd have thought for sure that by now, you'd have stopped worrying about the thing breaking!"
He twisted in the wind until he was facing me. He was grinning, but it was that 'naughty boy' smile he used when he was secretly a little embarrassed.
"Yeah, well, I just wanted to make sure," he said. "There are some pretty big kids around here, and I don't want to risk any lawsuits."
He flexed his arms and lifted his legs out of the center hole, then widened them and pulled them around until he was straddling the top of the tire where he settled his weight. I grabbed his knees and pulled him, and the tire, to me until his face and mine were even.
"Sweetheart," I whispered and watched the heat of my words spot his cheeks, "After what we did with this thing last night, I'd think you'd realize there isn't a kid alive big enough to get this thing to fall; no matter how hard they tried."
"Yeah," he laughed. "You have a point. That was something else again. I didn't think it would work."
"I told you, you could trust me," I reminded him. "Trying new things can be an exciting experience."
"Just keep reminding me of that," he said, as he leaned over and kissed me.
I grinned. "Haven't I always?"
"Oh yeah," he whispered as he rested his forehead on mine. "And I've always been so glad you did."
And so was I, I thought to myself. Though there had been times when I hadn't been sure at all of the outcome...
July 24th, 1989
It had been a really shitty day. Two of the younger associates at work had started it off by screaming at me because the research wasn't done on a case they had to present at a pre-trial meeting to the partners. Never mind the fact that they hadn't even given me the assignment until a mere twenty-four hours before.
Then, one of the bigwigs came in and handed me a list of precedents he needed yesterday. And another one wanted to know why I hadn't found time to write up a motion he'd given me a couple of days ago, conveniently forgetting that he'd said there was no hurry, and to 'work at it at my own speed.'
Between this and all the other bullshit I had to deal with, I didn't get out of there until well after eight, which meant I'd been sitting on my ass staring at a computer for the better part of twelve hours. Pen had taken pity on me and had shared her lunch of fruit and yogurt, but otherwise I'd had nothing in my stomach all day except coffee. At least it was Friday, and I didn't have to be back in that hellhole for another two whole days.
Okay - maybe not a hellhole - not really. All things considered, it was still a pretty good place to work and leagues above what most students had for employment. The problem really wasn't work; it was me. I just wasn't in the mood for office politics.
Of course, there wasn't much I was in the mood for lately. It'd been a month since my disastrous phone call to Joe. We hadn't spoken since. I'd written twice and started a dozen more, and Joe had sent me a few postcards showing the sights he wasn't seeing in Rome and saying, in as few words as possible, that he was okay. But it wasn't nearly enough to make me feel better about the whole fiasco.
I could manage to shove it to the back of my mind for only so long anymore. I'd be working or running an errand or just kicking back... And suddenly, I'd get this sinking sensation in my stomach that usually meant my brain was reminding me I'd forgotten to do something important. But in this case, it meant that somehow my internal clock was telling me that time was running out - that the longer Joe stayed away, the less chance there was that he'd ever come back.
I tried to tell myself I was just being paranoid. Even if Joe did decide that we could never be friends again, I didn't think he'd do that by cutting me off without a word. But as the days turned into weeks, it was getting harder and harder to convince myself of that.
In my darkest hours, I imagined him in Rome, surrounded by a new circle of jet-setting friends and laughing, forgetting all about me, or maybe turning us into an amusing anecdote complete with shrugs and self-deprecating banter. He'd finish his tale, and the beautiful girl by his side would kiss his cheek and assure him that as funny as the story was, she was sure he was making it the whole thing up. Especially in light of what had happened between them the night before in his bed.
This was nothing more than self-indulgent pity on my part, and I knew it. In fact, I had gotten news from Rome that assured me that the reality of Joe's life there was quite different than my perverse daydreams were making it out to be.
Josh had made good on his promise to call me after he got back from his gig as personal slave to a Vatican dignitary. And he'd wasted no time either in assuring me that he thought that his brother Joe was totally nuts - but not fatally so, and that he'd come around eventually. It was a sentiment I was most grateful for. But it was sometimes hard to remember that, late at night when I was alone in the dark.
I have to admit, I was kind of surprised that this was Josh's attitude. Obviously, I knew he was aware I was gay, so it didn't shock me that Joe had told him what had gone on between us. Even though the twins had drifted apart over the years, I figured Joe would have to have shared something this big with his brother. Hell, that was undoubtedly the reason he'd gone to Rome in the first place.
What did amaze me was Josh's acceptance of the whole situation. He didn't seem in the least bit surprised that Joe was grappling with the issue of his bisexuality. To me, that seemed to be a pretty big thing to be blasé about.
"Look," he said, "Joe has always been a little more interested in guys than he'd have most people believe. I've known that since we were kids."
"You trying to tell me something?" I was joking when I said it, but the silence on the other end of the phone went on little two long and I realized that maybe I'd inadvertently struck a chord.
This was an interesting development. I waited for a minute, hoping that Josh would add to his little revelation. But if there was a story to be told, it didn't look like I was going to hear it from him today. I decided to let him off the hook.
"On second thought," I drawled. "I think we can just leave that topic alone." He chuckled self-consciously and I grinned to myself. Oh yes, I thought, there was a story...
"Yeah well," he finally continued. "Let's just say you know stuff about your twin you might otherwise miss with another sibling. At least, I do. So it didn't exactly come as a shock to me when he finally admitted his feelings for you. Actually, I've sort of expected it."
I was stunned. "You're kidding!" I said. Though I realized he wasn't. But what did bother me was why this had apparently been so clear to everybody except for the two of people who were most involved.
"You want the honest truth?" Josh went on, oblivious to my internal thoughts. "I was less surprised by that than I was when he announced his engagement to that girl Betsy. In fact, I think in the long run, this is something that was bound to happen. Especially since the day he met you."
I sighed and shook my head. "Too bad Joe isn't as thrilled about it as you are."
"Listen Mike," he said. "I know my brother. He wouldn't be miserable if he realized that what he really wanted was you. And trust me," Josh continued, laughing. "He's the most miserable son-of-a-bitch on the face of the earth right now."
"Sorry, but that doesn't exactly make me feel better." I responded dryly.
"Oh, hell! I don't mean that the way it sounded," he apologized. "But look at it from his point of view: for most of his life, Joe's been one of those guys who always had it easy, and he got used to things going exactly the way he thought they should. You've been a real shock to his system. And, I think maybe that's not such a bad thing."
Josh went on from there in his very logical Jesuit manner. By the end of the conversation, I was feeling pretty good. That lasted about as long as it took me to get ready for bed. Much as it was nice to hear his words of encouragement, it didn't mean squat if Joe didn't agree with his assessment.
But I am nothing if not stubborn. I'd promised myself to not give up until Joe actually told me himself it was hopeless. So I got up the next morning, and all the other mornings after that and I went to work and planned for the day when Joe and I finally would talk again face-to-face. But I'd be lying if I told you it was easy. And as the days grew into weeks, I was beginning to think that even my pigheaded optimism wasn't going to last longer than Joe's indecision.
That morning, I'd taken my car into the shop for some repairs, so I'd ridden my bike to work. What had seemed like a great idea in the cool of early hours had now turned into a test of endurance. July in Ann Arbor is like July in my home state: hot, muggy, and miserable. The day had been a scorcher, and it showed no signs of letting up. By the time I got home, I was dripping with sweat and filthy with the grit and exhaust residue of a hundred cars and trucks from the seven-mile trek from downtown. All I wanted to do was take a long shower and veg in front of the TV with a beer and the bag of tacos I'd picked up on the way home.
The light on my answering machine was blinking when I walked through the living room, but I ignored it. I didn't even think about it again until I was getting ready for bed. With a yawn, I punched the listen button, ready to hear the spiel of some telemarketer. Instead, I froze as a very familiar voice spoke from the box.
"Mike, it's Joe. I guess you're still at work, or maybe you went out. I wanted to talk to you, but it's probably better that we wait and do it in person."
In person - had he really said that? I stopped the machine and rewound the message. That's what he said all right. I listened to the rest with my eyes shut in concentration, my heart pounding like a jackhammer in my chest.
"I'm coming home. The flight number is 734 on Northwestern. I'll be landing at Metro at 12:40 AM tonight - or I should say, tomorrow. Anyway, I could really use a ride, but if you can't make it... well, I'll understand."
There was a long silence then a sigh.
"Still, I'd really like to see you."
There was a click and the phone went dead. I looked at my clock. Shit! It was already 11:55 and I was car-less. It didn't matter; if I had to use a skateboard, I was going to get to that airport! I grabbed some clothes and threw them on. My fingers shook as I buttoned the fly on my jeans. I was down the steps and banging at Lucy's door in under 60 seconds. She was still up, but not very happy to see me at first.
"There had better be a damned good reason for this, young man," she said, raising an eyebrow in irritation.
"Can I borrow your car?" I asked, breathlessly. "It's kind of an emergency."
I knew the Caddy was her baby. And I was half expecting her to say no, but the look on my face must have convinced her that this was no late night run for beer.
"Of course." She said, looking at me closely. "Come in while I get you the keys."
I stood in her kitchen, first on one foot, then the other. My mouth was dry and my heart was pounding. Lucy came back into the room with a set of keys in her hand.
"Are you okay, Michael? Would you like me to come with you?" she asked with concern.
I shook my head. "I'm fine," I said. "I have to go to the airport and pick somebody up."
I didn't want to get into some long discussion, so I deliberately omitted saying Joe's name - but she knew. She smiled, then raised her tiny hand to my face and softly stroked my cheek.
"Things usually have a way of working out for the best," she said quietly. "Even if it doesn't seem that way at the time, Michael. If you need to talk later, I'll be here - anytime, day or night."
She pulled me down and kissed me, quite firmly, on the forehead, then pointed towards the door.
"Now, get out of here and don't worry."
"I love you, Lucy." The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
"Of course you do," she said calmly, "I'm irresistible! Now hurry, and take care you don't hurt my car."
I practically ran to the garage and jumped into the big, comfy gas-guzzler. I glanced at the dimly lit dashboard clock - it was now 12:10. I silently cursed as I gunned the engine and tore off down the street. There was no way I could make the drive in a half an hour, but I was counting on baggage and customs to slow Joe down. Thank God, traffic was light for a Friday night, and I made good time.
At first, I was too absorbed in the driving to think of much else, but after I got on the freeway, I started to wonder how this was going to go. The nervousness I'd lost in the initial act of plotting the quickest route out of Ann Arbor returned with a vengeance.
By the time I pulled into the front of Northwestern's Terminal, I was a basket case. I wasn't even sure where I should meet him. There was no way I could park without having to walk about a mile, and I was too afraid to do that in case I missed him. At least my thoughts kept me from facing what I was really worried about. What was I going to say to Joe when I saw him? And more importantly, what was he going to say to me?
I glanced at the dashboard. It was after 1 AM. The concourse was a madhouse, and my heart sank when I didn't see him. Because of the traffic, I couldn't stop and take a good look, but had to keep endlessly circling, craning my neck as I avoided an ocean of pedestrians, cabs, cars, and shuttles. On my fifth go-round, a spot in the loading area miraculously opened up. I grabbed it and carefully pulled the Caddy up to the curb. I took a quick look around, and decided to risk a ticket and go into the terminal. Suddenly, a shape detached itself from the shadows and stepped into the light.
It was Joe. He didn't appear to recognize the car, but then, he was probably expecting my old Duster. I watched him for a minute as he stood there looking into the gloom beyond the streetlights. He looked so... alone.
I caught my breath as my emotions surged. It was only then that I realized a part of me had truly believed I'd never see him again. My hands were shaking. I gripped the steering wheel and steadied myself. Whatever the rest of this night would bring, I assured myself, it had to be better than the waiting I'd endured in the last few months. After tonight, I would be getting on with my life - one-way or the other.
I shut off the engine and got out on legs I weren't sure would hold me. Joe looked up just as the door slammed.
You know how in all those corny romantic stories the two lovers stare at each other and everything else slows down and disappears? Well, that didn't happen. I was acutely aware of the lights, the sounds of traffic, a porter checking in a young girl's bags. No romantic music, no swelling orchestra - just two, long-lost friends staring at each other from forty feet away, each filled with anxiety.
But I was aware of Joe. He stood in a pool of light and the glow sharpened the edges of his outline. I could see he needed a shave, and there were hollows in his cheeks that hadn't been there a couple of months ago. The eyes that met mine were shadowed with a weariness that wasn't caused by jet lag.
A man in a hurry bumped into him, but Joe didn't notice. He never moved, just continued to stare at me. I walked around the car and stepped onto the pavement next to him. I wanted to touch him - to hold him, to comfort him like a lost child. Instead, I picked up the bags that sat at his feet.
"Is this all your luggage?" I asked.
He seemed distracted. "Yes," he said.
"Okay. I'll put 'em in the trunk."
I suited my actions to my words. Joe continued to stand motionless. His shoulders sagged.
"Why don't you get in the car?" I said quietly.
Silently, he did. I got into the driver's seat and buckled up, then cranked the engine. I looked over at Joe.
He obeyed me, and then lay his head back on the seat and drew in a long breath and closed his eyes. I stared at him worriedly. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this.
"Take me home, Mike," he whispered. He spoke so softly, I barely heard him.
I wanted to say something, but I didn't have a clue what that would be, so I kept my mouth shut. We drove to Ann Arbor in silence. It had started to rain and the only sound in the car was the steady womp-womp of the wipers. Joe's eyes were still closed, but I don't think he was sleeping.
There was a light on in Lucy's kitchen as we pulled up to the house. I put the car in park and turned it off. Joe never moved. I leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey - you awake?" I whispered.
He turned to me slowly and we had another long stare. I could feel his heat radiate from my hand where I touched him. It traveled the long arc of my arm and entered my heart. I smiled at him. His hand stretched out and pulled me towards him. Slowly our arms tightened until we were holding each other in a fierce, tight embrace. His head was on my shoulder and he buried his nose in my t-shirt and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"I've missed your smell." He whispered. "Sometimes I'd catch a whiff of something, someone who would remind me of you, and I'd follow..." He trailed off and took another deep breath then he trembled.
"Oh, God, Mike... I'm so scared."
My heart pounded and my hands were around his back stroking him softly. The swelling in my cock was an intrusion I wanted to go away. This was not the time for sex; it was love we were talking about. Joe had made his decision. My heart soared with that realization at the same time my bowels turned to water because of the fear that gripped me. I rubbed the top of his head with my cheek.
"So am I, Joe." I replied as softly as he. "So am I. But we'll figure this out. I love you."
He raised his head and smiled a little.
"That's why I came home. You love me, and I finally realized that's the only thing that matters in my life." He shook his head in wonderment. "Who'da thunk it?"
"Well, apparently, not the two of us," I added dryly, "considering it only took us four years and the help of a bunch of people pointing it out for us to realize it."
We were silent for a few minutes just holding each other and breathing in each other's scent. It was amazing how right it felt to have Joe in my arms. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be completely content. Hell, I was ready to take up residency in that car. I wondered idly if Lucy would mind if I told her she couldn't have it back. But all good things must come to an end. Both my legs were going to sleep from the awkward position I was in.
Joe must have been getting a little uncomfortable too, because he finally broke the silence. "We should probably go upstairs," he said, nodding his head towards the entrance.