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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Beard - 3. Chapter 3

“You’d tell me if something was going on, right?” Kelley asked as she took another drag off her cigarette. Dale had to crane his neck up to look her in the eyes, which were ice-blue, and even more striking than her long, naturally blond hair. He looked up because even though he didn’t have any interest in them, looking straight ahead would put his gaze at the level of her ample bosom.

“I’d tell you, Kelley.” Dale lied to her and hid his relief when she smiled at him.

“Thank you so much, Dale.” She said. “You’re a good kid. It’s a shame your father had to go and ruin your life along with everyone else’s.”

“No problem, Kelley.” Dale said and pushed down the surge of anger at her words. She took another drag from her cigarette and walked off, to her car. He still found it difficult to believe this tall, statuesque woman who could have been a supermodel was a lesbian.

It was almost as difficult to believe that Kris would cheat on this beautiful woman for a mousy-faced girl like Kim.

“Sorry I’m late.” Cole huffed as he got out of his car. Dale had seen him pull in to the parking lot just as Kelley had asked him if Kris was having an affair, so he hadn’t been able to break free of her right away.

“No problem, I don’t live that far.” Dale said with a sigh. “I can walk home, you know.”

“If I’m going to be your boyfriend, I better be here to pick you up when you get off late at night like this.” Cole answered with his dazzling smile.

“I told you earlier today I was thinking about it, not that I’d agreed.” Dale snapped. It had been a bad day, what with Kris and Kim locking themselves in the office after the mid-shift Manager had left, and having to cover both drive-thru and the counter while the two of them did things in the office he didn’t even want to think about. Poor Jose and Miguel back in the kitchen had probably had more than an earful.

“Yeah, well, who can resist someone as handsome as me?” Cole asked with mock arrogance that brought a smile to Dale’s face.

“Cocky, aren’t we?” Dale asked with a little laugh.

“I’m even more impressive in that department.” Cole said with a smirk.

“Yeah, well, don’t make promises you won’t keep.” Dale’s voice held a little bit of bitterness.

“Oh, c’mon, don’t take it that way.” Cole said quickly. “I was just joking around.”

“I know.” Dale sighed. “Why don’t we just go?”

“Care to stop for some dessert?” Cole asked as soon as they were in the car.

“We’ve got school tomorrow, and if I’m going to get my mom up for the day, I’ve got to be up early.” Dale answered sourly.

“You take care of your mom?” Cole asked. “Isn’t there like a nurse, or your grandparents for that?”

“Grandma can’t lift her, and Grandpa gets all nervous whenever he has to do that.” Dale said with a shrug. “The nurse doesn’t get there until after ten, so if she’s going to be up before that, it’s on me to get her up and going.”

“Oh.” Cole said quietly as he started the car and put it in reverse. “I never knew it was that intense for you.”

“Yeah, well, there’s lots of things you don’t know about me.” Dale said.

“Maybe I’ll learn a few while we’re dating.” Cole pushed gently.

“Why bother? When the election’s over, you won’t have to look at me again.” Dale said sarcastically.

“You should know me better than that by now.” Cole said firmly. “I meant it, when I said I’d like you to be a friend. That’s even if you tell me no on this whole thing. I’d still want you as a friend.”

“Why?” Dale asked.

“If I didn’t know anything else, what I learned tonight would seal the deal on us being friends.” Cole said. “Most people I know would look for any excuse to get out of having to get their disabled mother up in the morning, but you turn down damn good berry pie and lemonade so you can get up early enough to help her. A guy who does stuff like that is worth having as a friend.”

“Yeah, well I don’t know many guys that would pretend to be someone’s boyfriend just to help their dad keep his job.” Dale replied and he knew in that moment that he’d be doing this. Not that he’d let Cole know that, just yet, but Cole wanted this for a good reason, and Dale knew if the situations were reversed, he’d do whatever he could to help his father.

He’d learned his lesson on that years ago, on that damn stupid night.

“What’s wrong?” Cole’s voice was full of concern as he looked over at Dale’s face in the dark car.

“Watch it!” Dale screamed, seeing the old woman with the cart while Cole didn’t because he was looking at the tears glistening on Dale’s cheeks, visible thanks to the reflected light of the street lamps.

“Shit!” Cole cussed as he swerved, surprising Dale who’d expected him to hit the brakes. They missed the woman by mere inches. Dale looked back to see her skirt blowing in the breeze from their passing. “Just what dad needs, his son hitting a homeless woman!”

“You don’t know she’s homeless.” Dale retorted.

“It’s a safe assumption, isn’t it?” Cole retorted and Dale nodded with resignation. He just hated stereotypes. An old woman, out at this hour, pushing an old shopping cart filled with all her possessions and with her dressed in layers of clothing that didn’t match was a fair indication of homelessness.

“Why were you late?” Dale asked as Cole made the turn that would take him home. He was trying to change the subject before Cole filled the car with recriminations of negatively impacting his father’s career. Dale was far too familiar with those types of feelings.

“Had to take Dad to the train station.” Cole said with a sigh. “Break’s over so he has to fly back to D.C. for the next session. He’ll be home a week from Saturday though. That’s when we can tell him we’re going out, if you agree by then.”

“What do you mean tell him we’re going out?” Dale asked. “Aren’t you going to tell him you’re doing it to help his campaign?”

“Hell no.” Cole laughed. “He’d tell me to forget it and he’d never change his position to keep me from doing something like this. I told you, my old man’s a good man. He’s not perfect, and he’s not squeaky clean, but there are some things he just won’t do at all. You won’t find an honest man or woman in politics, but he’s about as honest as they come, really.”

“I wonder why you won’t find an honest person there.” Dale wondered aloud, something he’d always thought whenever he thought about politics at all.

“That’s an easy one.” Cole laughed. “Honest people don’t get elected, because honesty means you’re going to say something that will upset enough people and cause you to lose the election. You have to lie, at least a little bit. The honest ones though, they draw the line at one point or another and they don’t cross that line. Dad’s drawn his line a lot closer to full honesty than most people.”

“But he’s opposed gay rights since the beginning and now he wants to change his positions.” Dale pointed out. Cole was driving slower, prolonging the conversation before they pulled up to the house.

“If you look at his statements in the past, he’s been very specific.” Cole said in a guarded tone. “He’s said things like: ‘I will not vote for gay marriage.’ He’s never said he doesn’t believe in gay rights, or believe that gay people shouldn’t marry. All he’s said is he won’t support those issues.”

“It might as well be lying, to both sides.” Dale said with a shake of his head.

“Or splitting hairs.” Cole said with a shrug. “That’s politics though. You can’t do anything in politics unless you get elected, and that’s the way things have always been. George Washington bribed voters with rum and cigars, now people like dad just speak very, very carefully.”

“You’re kidding!” Dale laughed.

“About what?” Cole asked with a frown of confusion on his face.

“George Washington!” Dale was still laughing. “The guy they say couldn’t tell a lie, getting people drunk and giving them smokes!”

“Well, I guess if they hadn’t outlawed stuff like that, Dad could do it too instead of shading the truth, but, well, I guess even George Washington had to play the game somehow.” Cole said with a shrug and a smile on his face. “You know, not one of my friends would have this conversation with me. They’d have changed the topic and started talking about our chances for next season.”

“Yeah, well you haven’t asked any of them to be your boyfriend, either, have you?” Dale asked as they pulled up in front of the house. The living room light was on, so his grandparents were still up and he let out a sigh.

“No, I haven’t.” Cole answered his rhetorical question calmly, and with a smile. Then he leaned across the car and planted a kiss on Dale’s cheek. When Dale gasped in surprise and stared at him, there was a mischievous look on his face.

“What was that for?” Dale gasped out, his hand going to the spot on his cheek where those warm lips had touched him.

“Practicing.” Cole’s voice was smarmy. “You did say you wanted public displays of affection, right? I figured I better get in some practice now.”

“Yeah, well I haven’t said yes yet.” Dale said as he jerked the handle of the car door and got out.

“Yet.” Dale said with a shit-eating grin on his face as Dale shut the door. This time the tires squealed as he pulled out, and Dale turned around to see his grandfather’s frowning face looking out the living room window. A feeling of recklessness overcame him and he and waved happily at his grandfather.

Cole Pritchard had kissed him on the cheek!

“That boy needs to be more careful before he gets in an accident and those commie media whores attack his father because of him.” His grandfather groused when Dale entered the living room moments later.

“Now, father, be nice.” His grandmother said with a light smile. They’d paused their show when he came in and he shook his head with amusement. His grandparents who hated computers loved the satellite DVR they’d gotten when they’d switched to satellite television. It offered them the best package for Dale’s mom, and they’d learned to control the remote before he had a chance to even touch the thing. “It’s very nice of the boy to pick Dale up and bring him home.”

“How do you know that boy again?” His grandfather asked suspiciously.

“They worked on a project together last semester.” His grandmother answered before Dale’s mouth barely opened. “Honestly, Father, you and your suspicious mind. Dale promised us there’d be none of that funny business here at the house. He’d hardly break his word and bring that boy here if he was like that.”

“I’m going to bed.” Dale said firmly, barely keeping the anger out of his voice. “You have a good night.”

“Check on your mom and see if she needs anything.” His grandmother told him. “She was asking about you an hour ago.”

“I will.” Dale promised, and he did before he even reached his room. His mother’s television was still on, its volume low, but she was long asleep. He didn’t need to see her closed eyes to know that. Her snoring was sign enough.

He normally took a shower at night after getting off work, and he got ready for his shower fairly quickly, putting his dirty uniform in the hamper. It was getting full, and he would ask his grandmother to do a few loads tomorrow so he’d have clean uniforms for the rest of the week. She wouldn’t do it unless he asked, but never complained when he did ask for the help.

After the shower, he was relaxed, having relieved himself of more than just grime and sweat from work. Cole’s warm lips on his cheeks had helped get that relief, but he tried not to let his heart open up. Yes, he was going to do it, and he’d probably tell Cole that after a day or two, but he couldn’t let his heart get involved. Cole was being upfront with him, and Dale wasn’t going to do anyone any good by falling in love.

Something woke him early in the morning, and he struggled out of the darkness and warmth of his bed. He paused just long enough to slip on a pair of shorts before going to his mother’s room. The television was off, but he could hear her whimpering softly.

“Mom?” He asked in a voice that squeaked a bit. She opened her eyes and looked at him with despair and pain evident in them. He flicked on the light so the room was lit by more than the moonlight streaming in the window, and saw that her arms were held tightly over her belly. “Is there something wrong?”

“Cramps.” She gasped out and he rushed to her side. When she’d first been released from the hospital, the medical staff had made sure all of her family members knew how to do the basic things like checking her pulse, her respiration and a great deal of the things that were necessary to keep her healthy.

“Are you feeling any other discomfort?” He asked her after checking her pulse. It was rapid and weak, which wasn’t a good sign.

“Burning, down there.” His mother said as her cheeks blushed from having to discuss those parts of the body with her son. “Get Mom.”

“She’s asleep.” Dale replied. “Let me get the thermometer.” That at least was in the cabinet of medical supplies near her bed and he found it quickly, sticking it in her ear for a moment before it beeped. She had a temperature just over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. “You’ve got a temperature.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” His mom groused and then whimpered again. The temperature, with the burning sensation in her private regions, and the cramps were a sign that something was wrong with the catheter that relieved her bladder. He knew that much because it had happened before.

“You’ve probably got an infection down there.” He murmured softly.

“I know.” She said irritably. “Just call the doctor in the morning and have him give me a prescription.”

“You know what he’s going to want.” Dale reiterated.

“Damn it, I don’t want to go into the hospital again!” She said angrily, and the sounds from his grandparent’s bedroom told him she’d woken at least one of them.

“Mom, it’s better than letting your body get sick.” He argued with her gently, taking her hand in his after setting aside the thermometer. “It will only be for a day or two. They’ll take the catheter out, inject some targeted macro-biotics and then monitor the new catheter before letting you come home”

“I’ll miss my soaps.” She complained. Confined to a wheelchair or her bed, she’d taken to watching television as her main outlet in life. If it wasn’t some celebrity magazine show, it was a soap opera, or the news channels that she watched. “The hospital cable channels suck.”

“We’ll have the DVR record them for you to catch up on when you get back.” He said firmly.

“What’s the matter?” His grandmother asked in the doorway.

“Nothing, mom.” His mother replied.

“She’s got an infection, probably something wrong with the catheter balloon.” Dale answered his grandmother who sighed.

“I’ll call for an ambulance.” She said quietly and turned to go to one of the phones.

“Don’t you dare, Mother!” Dale’s mom nearly shouted. “I’m not going into the damn hospital!”

“You’ll go into the hospital or find yourself some other place to live.” His grandmother said flatly. “We’re more than happy to have you here, and to help you keep yourself healthy, but if you want to ignore this infection and let yourself get worse, you can do it somewhere else, where I don’t have to watch you kill yourself slowly.”

“Fine, Dale, let’s get ready to leave.” His mother huffed angrily.

“I’m not going to watch you let yourself die, either.” Dale said just as flatly, although he had to concentrate to not see those images in his head again. Once was enough for that sort of thing in a lifetime, and he would back his grandmother up on this no matter how mad it made his mother.

“You’re just an ungrateful little brat.” His mother said angrily.

“Sharon, don’t you dare talk to your son like that.” His grandmother snapped at her angrily. “I know you must be in pain from those cramps and uncomfortable as hell from the fever and the burning, but he was the one who woke up and came to you first. He works at that place he hates just so we have enough money to afford things like your satellite television and ten pounds of bacon in the fridge for any time you have a hankering for the stuff. He doesn’t deserve your being so harsh on him.”

“Oh yeah?” His mother snapped angrily and Dale closed his eyes before her tirade got started. It was always like this on the bad days. “I don’t seem to remember you being so supportive of him when we all found out he was a little queer. As I recall, you wanted him out of the house or seeing some counselor that would turn him straight.”

“I still say we should send him to the pastor for prayer.” His grandfather was getting in to the act now, having gotten on a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt that was more dingy gray than white despite repeated bleaching by his grandmother. “Old Foster knows how to use prayer to beat the queer out of the boys.”

“Nice try, mother.” Dale said loudly enough that he broke through whatever was about to be said next. “You have a fever, and an infection. You need medical attention, and you don’t want to go to the hospital. I get that; I understand. The hospital’s a miserable place to be, but the fact is you need the medical attention and distracting your parents with my being gay won’t stop us from calling the hospital, and it won’t drive a wedge between us.”

“Is that what this is about?” His grandfather asked gruffly. “Sharon, you trying to avoid the hospital when you need it?”

“I…” His mother started to answer but hung her head looking sheepish. Then she whimpered again with another cramp.

“Mother, go call the ambulance.” His grandfather said and then he fixed Dale with a sharp look. “You heard her whimpering or something and got up to check on her?”

“Yes, sir.” Dale answered.

“You might be a queer, but at least you’ve got your priorities straight.” His grandfather huffed, shook his head and then went back to bed, mission accomplished. The words he’d given to Dale made him feel grateful and at the same time ashamed as well as angry. It was a flood of emotions that left him wanting to push them down and ignore them because they were so strong.

“I’m sorry.” His mother said gently. “Please Dale, just wait till the nurse gets here today. She can fix the catheter. She’s replaced it before.”

“Yes, but there’s an infection and she’ll tell you the same thing we are.” Dale replied sternly. His mother was at the pleading stage now. “The sooner you go, the sooner the doctors can take care of this and the sooner you can come home. If you wait longer, the infection will just get worse and you’ll end up staying in the hospital longer.”

“Sometimes I wish you didn’t care so much.” His mother said angrily. Good, she wasn’t going to plead for a long time. Now it was time for the comparison argument, and the flattery.

“Yeah, well you’re the one that taught me to care this much, remember?” Dale asked her with a gentle tone that he hoped would soothe her. “You’d never let me get more than a mild temperature without seeing the doctor. I love you Mom, and I don’t want to lose you to something stupid like a little infection.”

“I don’t deserve to have a son like you.” She said gently and there were tears in her eyes as she took her hand out of his and rubbed it along his cheek. “You’re starting to grow a beard.”

“Yeah, I’m shaving like twice a week now.” Dale said with a little grin.

“Your father hated shaving.” She said wistfully and Dale pushed aside the urge to change the topic again. His mother still loved the man, no matter what he’d done and Dale did too, if he could push past all the squeamish memories.

“Yeah, well my skin’s real sensitive so it always burns afterward.” Dale shrugged.

“He used this type of shaving cream that helped with that.” His mother said. “I’ll try and remember what brand it is next time you take me shopping.”

“That’ll be fun.” Dale said softly, not daring to speak louder lest his voice betray him.

“Have you decided what you want for your birthday?” She asked him when they’d remained silent for a full minute.

“You know I don’t like celebrating my birthday.” Dale said flatly as images of that birthday flashed through his mind. Coming home to a house he thought was nearly empty, suspecting there was a surprise party waiting for him.

Well, there had been a surprise waiting, but it was only one person.

“Dale, your father was a good man.” His mother said stridently. “What happened, well he wasn’t himself. You can’t let it ruin your birthday for the rest of your life.”

“Yeah, well, it was kind of a traumatic event.” Dale said with a shrug and then started thinking of how to change the topic.

“How did your lunch go with your new friend?” She asked him, having sensed he wanted to change the topic. Good, she was at the acceptance stage now and wouldn’t fight going to the hospital any more. He might as well let this conversation carry on and keep her in as pleasant a mood as possible.

“Good.” Dale said with a slight smile on his face.

“Uh oh, is your grandfather right?” She asked him. “Is he a… love interest?”

“Mother!” Dale exclaimed.

“Oh get with the program, Dale.” She said with a shake of her head. “Soap Channel’s been showing old broadcasts from that soap with the two gay boys in it, so I’ve started to think that maybe you being gay isn’t the end of the world.”

“What?” Dale asked with surprise, looking at her with wide eyes.

“Did you know we get the Logo channel here?” She asked, waving one of her hands towards the television on her wall. “Some of those shows are pretty good, and I’ve been watching them when I can without Mom or Dad coming in here.”

“You have?” He asked with wide eyes. “I thought they put all those channels on lock out.”

“Not my television.” She laughed. “Just the others in the house.”

“Oh.” Dale said with a shake of his head. He hadn’t thought to ever be having this type of conversation with this mother.

“Dale, I don’t think the fact that you’re gay has ever bothered me all that much.” She said with a look of rue. “Don’t get me wrong, your grandparents are old fashioned and that damn church they go to is one of the most anti-gay places in the state, but they do love you, and I don’t share all their old-fashioned views. Your father certainly didn’t, and I know he’d never have had a problem with this at all. It’s just, overcoming all the things Mom and Dad kept telling me growing up, but that’s part of being an adult, deciding for yourself what you think about the world.”

“I love you, Mom.” Dale said with gratitude.

“So, is this Cole Pritchard a love interest?” She asked him. “I mean, forget about what his father does, I’ve seen the boy and he’s a hotty.”

“Mom!” Dale gasped and his mother smiled.

“Sorry hon, just me channeling too much Debbie.” His mother laughed.

“Who?” Dale asked with a wide-eyed look. He felt like his mother had just hit him over the back of the head.

“Let me tell you about the character.” His mother said and began to explain the show Queer as Folk. He lost track of all the characters and the intertwining of their lives and just listened to her voice. There was still the whimper when a cramp happened, and she was sweating slightly, but there was an animation in her voice that he hadn’t heard in a long time.

When the paramedics came, he stepped outside the room, giving her a kiss before they took her into the ambulance. Then it was time to get ready for the day. The newspaper had arrived, but it sat unheeded on the front porch while he and his grandparents took turns taking showers and getting ready to go the hospital.

Before they left, his grandmother called into the school’s recorder. It was still too early for anyone to be there, but she left a message saying he wouldn’t be in that day due to a family emergency. Sure, he could have gone to school, but his mother would want all of them there while she sat in the E.R. waiting for a room to become available.

This way, all three of them could take turns visiting her one at a time, rotating through so no one got too emotionally drained from the experience. Long months of experience had taught them that this was the best routine. It worked too, with all of them, including his mother, happier for the routine.

By noon she was in a regular hospital room, and a private one at that. The insurance supplement that they had for her helped pay for the private room instead of one of the crowded quartet or even half rooms. His mother seemed to never get along with the other patients at all, so having her in a private room made it better for everyone, including her potential roommates.

It was about a half-hour after school let out that Dale remembered he was supposed to meet Cole at school. He was in his mother’s private room while his grandparents took a break when Cole walked in to the room. The look on Cole’s handsome face made him feel a little guilty.

“What, you don’t even bother to call to tell me your mother’s in the hospital?” Cole demanded angrily and then he looked at Dale’s mother. “Hi, Mrs. Andrews. It’s nice to see you looking so good. Hopefully you won’t be in here long.”

“My, my, what a polite young man.” His mother said in a fake southern drawl. “Dale, aren’t you going to introduce me to your new boyfriend?”

“Mom!” Dale gasped with embarrassed surprise. He couldn’t ignore the look of triumph on Cole’s face, but his mother’s laughter was the most disturbing thing of all.

Copyright © 2012 dkstories; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Dale seems to have a very lonely life. But now it looks as it is going to be a very interesting life, and Cole is playing his part to the hilt. lol

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Haha don't think Dale expected his mother to jump the gun. I'm glad she's changing her opinion of her son.

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Dale's mom is kind of all over the board. One minute she's insulting him and another she's wanting to gossip about boys. Dale is a survivor to persevere with all this drama that surrounds him. Nice chapter, thanks.

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I think Dale's mum is a kick. In spite of being in pain and acting stubborn about going to the hospital. She believes as I do, that a hospital is a place you go to die, not to get well.

Will H.

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