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    Mac Rountree
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Discovering Home - 11. The Smell of Salt Air

“I’m feeling useless. I am sick of being at home. Everyone has moved away, and there is nothing to do. I am bored. I pray for life to be exciting.”

Joe laughed at Thomas.

“It is called retirement, my dear husband. Can you learn to relax?”

“I don’t know, Joe. I am just so sad.”

“Why don’t we go to the ocean to spend a few days.”

“They have shut down the fucking ocean.”

Joe could only laugh at Thomas’ statement.

“How, exactly, do you shut down an ocean?”

Thomas glared at Joe and stormed out of the house. Joe heard some comment about him knowing exactly what was meant and that he was just trying to be difficult. Joe pondered what to do. This problem was more than semantics.

When Thomas returned at lunchtime, he was in a sheepish mood. He apologized and said he didn’t know what had gotten into him.

“I think it is called the empty nest syndrome. Mark and the kids are gone. Sean is in Philadelphia. Sidney and Clay have left to join Sean. They are making new homes, forging new relationships, they are on their own pilgrimages, and we are stuck in Hillsborough. We can’t even go to Sidney’s installation because it wouldn’t be fair to him. People would be making comparisons. We need to create a new life.”

Thomas’ snarkiness level shot through the roof.

“I thought we had. Then it was all ripped away. I can’t go to my office at either university, the churches are closed, and there is absofuckinglutely nothing for me to do.”

Joe had never seen Thomas like this. Thomas was not given to profane language, but it had recently become part of his everyday vocabulary.

“Perhaps now is a good time to start writing that book to which you always allude.”

“Are you intentionally trying to pick a fight with me?”

Joe got up from his chair, walked out of the door, and intentionally slammed it while muttering that his husband had gone off the deep end.

It was near on dusk when Joe finally appeared through the sheet of haze to find Thomas sleeping in the hammock. Joe climbed in and held his husband. Joe could feel Thomas cling to him while telling him that he loved him so very much. Joe looked and Thomas’ eyes were filled with tears.

“I don’t know what has come over me. I really don’t.”

“You need to be grounded. There are touchstones in your life that help define you and make your existence have meaning. All of those have now been removed, and you are like a boat when the sails have gone slack.”

They went to bed and Joe made love to his husband. It was slow and sensual. When they both were complete, Thomas lay in Joe’s arms.

“That was wonderful. I didn’t think old men like us were supposed to be able to do it so well. Making love gets better with time. You were majestico furioso. A real tiger.”

Joe chuckled at Thomas’ ability to make up words when English didn’t have the words to describe something. For Joe, it was sweet and sublime as he met his husband’s needs. The men fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The next morning, Joe told Thomas to pack a bag because they were getting out of town. When Thomas started to object, Joe was quick to say neither had anything on their calendars that required their immediate attention. Joe slapped Thomas on the butt and grinned when Thomas jumped.

“You still have it in you. Slapping me on the butt, ordering me around, taking charge of our lives.” Thomas smiled. “I like it. I love you so much.”

Joe could only grin at the man he had loved for thirty years.

“We’ll stop at Bojangles for biscuits and coffee, so don’t bother dirtying the kitchen. We are turning off our phones, and it is all about being with each other.”

Within thirty minutes, they had showered, packed, and loaded bags into the truck. Joe turned the key and the engine cranked to life. They drove through town and Joe turned onto South Churton Street. There was a line of vehicles at the drive-through at Bojangles, but neither cared. They purchased their food, then drove south for another two miles before pulling onto Interstate 40 east. The morning traffic was not as bad as they expected, and by the time they finished their food, they were southeast of Raleigh. Thomas gathered the papers and cups and put them into the empty bag. Joe kept an immaculate truck, so Thomas was cleaning up crumbs. Neither could stand litter, and there was no thought of tossing the bag out of the window. They would stop at a rest area where Thomas would dispose of the bag. They were both on medicines that contained diuretics and couldn’t go long before they needed a pissoir. They chuckled about the consequences of getting older and then gave thanks that they have lived through the plague years. They didn’t spend too much time reflecting on that time because it always led to tears.

As they approached Wilmington, Thomas opened the window and stuck his head out.

“Nope, not yet.”

He was trying to smell the ocean. It was an intoxicating smell that was also healing. Nothing cured Thomas better than the smell of salt air. They crossed over the Cape Fear River, and Joe headed to Southport. He decided they would eat lunch in the quaint town. It was the main tourist season, but they knew business was off because of Covid19, so they hoped they could find a table in one of the restaurants.

 

When they finished lunch, Joe wanted to walk around the town. They looked at the houses and Joe commented on the style, whether the additions were architecturally appropriate for the age of the house, and the construction techniques used with repairs and additions. Joe was a stickler for historical accuracy. Thomas saw a for-sale sign on a property and pulled out his cell phone. He was turning it on to make a call.

“No, my husband, no. We don’t need another house.”

“Please, Joe. I want to see it. Please.”

Joe grinned and nodded his head. The realtor said she would be at the house in thirty minutes. The men sat on a bench while waiting for her. Southport was a quaint town, much like Hillsborough, and they enjoyed the hot, lazy afternoon. The realtor pulled up in her Jeep. She was a little taken aback by seeing two older men, who were obviously a couple, looking at the house. She was southern gracious but didn’t push the property. Joe and Thomas recognized her implicit homophobia. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Thomas asked Margaret Rose for her business card. Normally, a realtor would be pushing cards in their hands. Margaret Rose talked about how Southport was a FAMILY community. Thomas nodded his head in understanding.

“We are retired. We have a son who lives in Philadelphia. His brother and son have just moved to Philadelphia so that they can be close together. Another son and his family now live in Paris and Algiers. It feels funny not to have our children and grandchildren with us.”

Margaret Rose gave them a jaundiced look.

“You have three sons?”

“Yes, all grown and moving on with their lives. We live in a large home in Hillsborough, but I am thinking a place near the coast might suit us better.”

“Have you listed your home in Hillsborough?”

“Nope, Joe and I took off this morning to go on a drive, and we ended up here. There are two homes on our property in Hillsborough, and we haven’t thought about selling them until now. I don’t know if we can get all of the furniture in this house. I inherited quite a collection of southern furniture from my parents when they died. In Charleston. Joe and I lived up north and decided that the plantation should be sold. We certainly couldn’t keep it when we lived so far away.”

“What kind of work did you do?”

Thomas smiled.

“Joe is a restoration expert for historic homes. He is now a consultant for Duke University. I am an Episcopal priest and am also on faculty at Duke and Chapel Hill.”

Hook, line, and sinker.

“Anyway, thank you for letting us take up your time for the afternoon. I love this house – maybe as a weekend get-away. Joe could easily make the necessary repairs. I can see my grandmother’s chifforobe in the bedroom. I am concerned that the dining room is not big enough. Our dining table seats twelve, and we would have to store table leaves and some of the chairs if we bought the house. Well, enough of that, thank you, Margaret Rose, for your time. We will be in touch if we want to pursue this property. We are headed to Charleston and then Johns Island.”

Margaret Rose’s head was twirling. She had seriously misjudged these two men. Children? Maybe they were brothers? Had she killed the sale without knowing what she had done? Sometimes her mouth got ahead of her brain.

Joe chuckled as he and Thomas headed to the truck.

“You know how to wind them up when they get all uppity. You are the biggest snob in the world. Grandmother’s chifforobe, my ass. She was rather homophobic, though. I need to live somewhere we can be ourselves; we have never hidden our relationship.”

“Well, we could live here and walk in the gay pride parade. If they don’t have one, we could start it. Can you imagine the fun Belinda would have putting on airs? She would drive these people up the wall.” They both laughed. “I miss them, Joe, I really miss them.”

“More than Sean?”

“No, it is a different kind of missing, but it is still intense given what we have been through with them over the past year. Who knew that a trip to the Farmer’s Market would change our lives in such a dramatic way?”

“God’s plan, my priest husband. God’s plan. Let’s get into South Carolina to spend the night.”

They drove along the coast road. Thomas’s shoulders relaxed each mile they drove. His worries were being lifted and removed. In the outskirts of Myrtle Beach, they found a mom and pop motel that was open for business with a vacancy sign lit. There was only one room available – the Honeymoon Suite. Joe laughed when Mrs. Pridgette told him the price. Joe didn’t care about the price; he and Thomas would spend the night in the Honeymoon Suite. It opened onto the beach, so after unpacking, the two men walked down the moonlit beach. It was very romantic for both. Thomas’ mood had cheered considerably. He was the aggressor that night and made sure that Joe would feel every bump in the road the next day. Thomas happily rode Joe most of the night and into the morning. They barely made the 11 a.m. checkout. They were giggly and stupid acting, but they didn’t care. This time away was exactly what they needed.

They got in the truck and headed south on Route 17. There was nothing on their agenda except for some lunch. An oceanfront restaurant was open, and Joe easily wheeled the truck into the parking lot. Joe asked for an oceanfront table. They enjoyed the seafood feast. When dessert was offered, Joe smiled and said he ate his dessert earlier that morning. The cute waiter blushed and said, “lucky you,” while looking at Thomas. All three laughed. The waiter received an extra-large tip.

They reached Charleston, the Holy City, late in the afternoon.

“Let’s try to find a place on Johns Island. I love Charleston, but I want something a little more primitive than the Mills House. Plus, no chain hotels. I would love a cabin. Maybe it could be close to the docks so we can see the fishing boats returning. It has to be clean, though.”

Joe reached across and put his hand across Thomas’ mouth. They both laughed.

“I love you, Saint Joseph.”

“I love you, Doubting Thomas.”

“It was divine intervention that brought us together. We are the luckiest men in the world.”

Copyright © 2020 Mac Rountree; All Rights Reserved.
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I think we've all felt somewhat adrift this past year.  What a good idea to find new touchstones and experiences to keep us centred whilst the world rights itself again.

 

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Yes it's been a strange strange year!  We are a very social culture so it has been difficult for most people and especially for owners of the small and medium size businesses. They have taken a huge hit!!  Heck, even larger chains have hit the dirt!! My husband and I have taken a couple of road trips from Florida up to the Carolinas and meeting up with friends - it does help!  I love Joe and Thomas!! I especially enjoyed the love scene between them !!!  Who says love is just for the young!  Wonderful story Mac - thank you! 

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KayDeeMac,

Joe and Thomas are eternal.  I love those guys.

Like Thomas, I need to smell the salt air.  I spent many summers on the Outer Banks and there is nothing like crossing the bridge and smelling the salt air.  It is still that way.  I went to Nags Head for Thanksgiving and walked the beach.  It feeds my soul.

Thanks for reading.

Mac

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