“Daddy, can I have my bedroom where Uncle Sean used to sleep?”
Sidney could only smile at the request.He and Clay had been touring the rectory at St. Anselm’s when he asked if he could call Sean.Sean, of course, said he would be there shortly.They had been staying with Sean on this visit to Philadelphia.The visit had started because of an unexpected telephone call.
“Father Hofler, this is Samantha Smith at St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, PA.We are in the search process for a new rector, and your name was given to me by a former rector here.”
“Yes, Ms. Smith.How may I help you?”
“Well, we have been in a long interim period.It has gone on much longer than anticipated, but we all know that in God’s time, the right candidate would come along.In fact, we suspended the search for a year, and now we are back looking at viable candidates.It has been suggested that you might be a good candidate.”
“Can you tell me why you suspended your search for a year?”
“Well, our last rector was here for thirty years.It is difficult after such a long relationship to just jump into a new one.Our Bishop told us to take our time.When we interviewed people, the candidates fell into two camps.The first group of candidates was not interested in an inner-city church.The second group of candidates we thought were viable somehow were rejected by at least one committee member.We had agreed that the perfect candidate would need unanimous approval.”
“None of them received unanimous approval.”
“Did you consider that your bar might have been set too high?”
“Some of us said that, but our consultant was clear that we needed to be in accordance.So, one of our committee members contacted Father Thomas Raverly and asked if he would consider coming back as an interim while we continued our search.He said absolutely not.”She chuckled when she said that.
“He did say that he knew someone young and full of energy.He said the person reminded him of himself when he was young.He gave me your telephone number.”
“Gosh, I am flattered.Father Thomas said nothing to me.”
“I just spoke with him last night and I am calling you today.”
“You are aware that I am fairly new in my parish.I was ordained last year.I don’t have a lot of experience and am not actually looking.Gosh, this has caught me by surprise.”
“Would you mind sending me your resume?”
“I haven’t updated it since I started here.Give me an email address, and you will have it be the end of the day.”
“That is great.We also need to schedule a visit for you to come to visit.”
“I understood the process was that you would send a team here to visit, hear me preach, and observe me in the parish.”
“With the recommendation we received, we are revising our protocol.”
“Okay.I am still in shock.You will have my paperwork later today.”
They both hung up the telephone, and Sidney sat in his office in a state of shock.
He then picked up and his telephone and made a call to Hillsborough.
“What the hell are you doing?”
This question was met with a chuckle.
“Thomas, what are you doing?”
“Sending you to a parish where you can make a huge impact on people in need.”
“I am too new to be searching for a parish.I have been at my parish for less than a year.You are my mentor, you know that.The Bishop will be furious.I don’t know what to do.Why me?”
“Because you are young and smart.You have a lot to offer.You need to move out of that little town where you live.Once you and Clay are settled into the rectory, you can invite us to come to visit.”
“Perhaps, I will ask you to preach!”
“Nope, that is unfair to you because then they will want me to return because I will bring familiarity.They need someone new to lead them.No returning to the past.Joe and I will sit in the back and cheer you on.”
“You could have warned me.I felt like a bumbling idiot.”
“I very much doubt that.I wasn’t sure if they would call, and I didn’t want to raise your anxiety level.Calm down and send them your resume.You and Clay can stay with Sean while you are in Philadelphia.Take a couple of days to enjoy the city.Joe can give you the name of the café where he used to go on Saturday mornings for breakfast.It is still there and is in the center of the gay neighborhood.”
“I have Clay to care for.I don’t need a boyfriend.Jesus and Clay are all I can deal with.”
Thomas laughed.“Yep, Jesus can be a hunk, but you need a live man.It is too easy to love someone who is dead, idealized, and perfect.You need a man with human frailties who can love you back.Also, someone to provide some balance in your life so that you don’t devote all of your energies to the church and Clay.You need someone who will love you.”
“Okay, enough of this talking about a man and me.I will send off the resume though I have my doubts.”
“Good.Doubting is always good.Remember, I am named Doubting Thomas.”
They both laughed and hung up the telephone. Sidney then called his Bishop.He didn’t want the Bishop to be caught unaware.The call brought him back to reality when the Bishop graciously pointed out all of the reasons why Sidney should not follow-up with the church.Sidney understood each one and nodded his head as the Bishop talked.
“There is one more reason why I don’t want you to do this.I see great things for you in this diocese, and I am greedy.” The Bishop sighed. “Of course, you should pursue this.Just keep your eyes open and think clearly.Think strategically for your sake and Clay’s.You don’t want to get a reputation for jumping church to church.Let me know how the trip goes.By the way, this is confidential.I am not putting any notes in your record here in my office that we even had this telephone conversation.Call me when you get back.”
Sidney pulled up his resume on the computer and updated it.Should he list Clay as his son?Foster son.Damn, he would need to call Millie Tilly if he decided to take Clay with him.Traveling out of state with a foster child required court permission.He couldn’t not take him.Sidney finished the edits.He typed a short cover letter that was attached to the email and hit send.He caught his breath afterward.Had that really happened?
That night at dinner he was distracted.Clay noticed the distraction and spent time trying to get his dad’s attention.It was only after he had bathed Clay and put him to bed that Sidney sat on the sofa and started thinking about St. Anselm’s.He pulled up their website on his laptop.Gosh, it was a beautiful and imposing church.There were pictures of the Church Close with the ancient gravestones and benches.There were two new sections in the Close.One was an AIDS Memorial Garden and Columbarium.There was a dedication plaque to Steven “Bugboy” Bridges, a parish member and who had funded the fountain and plantings in the garden.There was also a section dedicated to those who died of gun violence in Philadelphia.Sidney had tears in his eyes.He continued to look at the website, which indicated it was a vibrant inner-city church that had ministries to help the poor and needy.When Sidney looked at the weekly calendar, he was amazed at the variety of offerings available to church members and the community.He was impressed.There were exterior pictures of the rectory.Also, there was a plat of the city block indicating where each building was located.Accepting this call would be a huge step up from his suburban parish in Mooresville, NC.He and Clay could move out of the apartment into a large home.He decided he wouldn’t just believe what was on the website but would ask questions and seek proof while he was there.
The telephone call came the next day from Samantha Smith. Yes, they were interested.Her call was to schedule a visit, and Sidney was prepared as he looked at his calendar.Sidney had decided not to disclose the visit to anyone in his current parish.He waited until two days before the trip and told the Senior Warden his brother had an emergency, and he was needed in Philadelphia immediately.It was a white lie, and he decided he would ask forgiveness later.Sidney called a supply clergyman and confirmed he would be available that Sunday.The Senior Warden was solicitous and wished him well on his journey.Sidney and Clay flew out of Raleigh Durham International Airport with a direct flight to Philadelphia.Sidney had checked Clay’s car seat to use in Sean’s car.Such was one of the challenges of traveling in today’s world.
Sean was waiting for them at the airport on that Friday afternoon.
“Uncle Sean, Uncle Sean.”Clay was running through people to get to Sean.Sean picked him up and twirled him around.Clay grabbed Sean’s face and kissed him on the lips.“I missed you, Uncle Sean.Daddy and I love you.”
“And I love you too.”At that point, Sidney wrapped both Sean and Clay in his arms.Sean leaned in and kissed Sidney.They both grinned, and then Sidney returned the kiss.
“Let me grab our stuff.I brought the car seat and minimum clothes.It is easy when you are clergy.Black slacks and clerical shirts.I did bring a couple of polo shirts.”
After both men struggled to install the car seat, they got Clay situated and made their way through the city traffic until they arrived at Sean’s house.Sidney gawked at the impressive structure.
“Remember, this was left to me by my grandparents.They were quite generous.I ramble around in it.Some months I think I keep the electric and oil companies in business because of the bills.Somehow, it would feel disrespectful for me to sell it.As long as I stay in Philadelphia, I will live here.”
Sean had prepared a light seafood dinner.Clay was quickly tired from walking up and down the steps of the house.Like the rectory, it was three stories with a full basement.Most of the rooms were filled with antiques.The den was like an English Gentleman’s library.There was even a pipe stand and humidor on the side table.Sean had tried to recreate Thomas’ library in the rectory.It was Thomas and Joe’s favorite room.Clay could barely keep his eyes open during dinner, and as soon as he finished, Sidney bathed him and put him to bed.Sidney and Sean sat on the Chesterfield Sofa with their tumblers of scotch.They chuckled that they were so much alike.
“If I were gay, you would be my perfect partner.Well, except for the fact that I am almost old enough to be your father.”
“You would be the perfect mate.Are you sure you aren’t just a little bit gay?”
“Hmmm, I don’t think so.”
“But you aren’t married.”
There was silence.Sidney knew that he had bought up a touchy subject and didn’t know how to retreat.
“I couldn’t do that to anyone.I am surprised that I am even still alive.Sometimes I think I make myself stay alive because it would kill Daddy Joe if I died.He is the kindest, soft-hearted man in the entire world.He devoted himself to me after I came into their lives.I mean, he loves Thomas immensely, but he loves me more than life itself.I am not bragging, as I know it to be true.Papa is the stronger of the two.When I die, it will hurt Papa tremendously but he will survive.I am not so sure about Daddy.”
“Well, we will need to keep you alive then.”Sidney took Sean’s hand.“If something would happen to you, I, too, would die inside.I waited my entire life for a brother, and I have finally found him. It is totally unfair, but I need for you to stay alive for as long as you possibly can.”
Sean jumped up from the sofa.He had tears in his eyes.“We have gotten too maudlin.I am going to the gent’s, and then we are going to talk about something more uplifting.”
When Sean came out of the toilet that was tucked under the stairway, Sidney was waiting for his turn.Sean turned and kissed Sidney again before retreating to the library.“You know, I fell in love with you as soon as we met.”
“It was mutual, you handsome devil.Now go and let me piss in peace.”
They both chuckled at the alliteration.
When Sidney returned, he noticed that Sean was lying back snoring.Sidney shook his shoulder and told him it was time for bed.Sean said he wasn’t used to drinking, and it didn’t take a lot to make him woozy and snoozy.Sidney reached out his hands and pulled Sean to an upright position.They walked hand in hand up the stairs.When they reached his bedroom, Sean asked if Sidney would sleep in his bed.Sidney was unsure about the motivation for the request, but smiled and said sure.Sidney thought about his pajamas being in his suitcase in the other room and decided he would get them if Sean put on a pair.Instead, Sean stripped completely.Sidney swallowed hard and did the same.They appraised each other, and the mood was broken when Sean laughed and said it was good he wasn’t gay.They both laughed.
“Where did you get all of that hair?No disrespect, but you are a slim fellow who isn’t too tall, and you look sort of wimpy.Yet under those clothes, you are a hairy beast.I would never have guessed.And, I don’t mean to embarrass either of us, but you are packing.”
Sidney let out a howl of laughter.“Well, you sure know the lingo.You aren’t too bad looking yourself.You can be the beauty and I will be the beast.”
They each tried to settle, but each kept shifting in the bed.Finally, Sean spoke.
“Do you mind holding me?I am feeling very insecure tonight for some reason.It must be the liquor.Sometimes I get very afraid in this big house all by myself.I need a brother who will love me and take care of me.”
Sidney could hear the tears in Sean’s voice.He pulled his brother in tight and kissed the back of his neck.
“Go to sleep.Know that I will always take care of you.”
Sometime during the night, Sidney was aware of someone crawling into the bed with them.He opened his eyes and saw Clay at the foot of the bed.He pulled the covers back and Clay grinned and crawled until he was settled between Sean and Sidney.When they awoke the next morning, both Sean and Sidney were facing each other with Clay between them.Their eyes opened at the same time.Sean grinned and said, “Race you to the toilet.I have got to pee really bad.”Sidney grinned and pulled the covers back, then he jumped out of bed and raced to the bathroom, his hard-on leading the way.”
“Damn brother, you could hurt somebody with that thing.”
Sidney laughed while trying to focus on peeing.They heard Clay call out that he needed to pee also.They turned and saw him running across the bedroom floor, and then he was peeing everywhere.Sean grabbed him and stood him on the front edge of the toilet.
“Point it down in the bowl, little fellow.Good.That’s it.Pee until it is all finished.”
Sidney had grabbed a towel and was on his hands and knees, cleaning up Clay’s urine from the hardwood floor.Sean grabbed Clay and set him on Sidney’s back.
“Ride the pony, ride the pony.”
Clay hadn’t finished peeing, and all of a sudden, let loose with a torrent that went into Sidney’s hair.Sean was bent double with laughter.
“I think we all need a shower.”
The three of them got into the shower and washed each other.Clay reminded them that he had not gotten a good morning kiss.Sidney picked him up and held him between him and Sean while he kissed him.Sean had his arms around Clay and Sidney, pulling them tight.Sean then leaned in and kissed Sidney.
“Good morning, handsome.”
When they separated, Sidney noticed that Sean had a hard-on.Sean was trying to hide it and blushed when Sidney said, “Look who’s packing now.”Sidney laughed and said he was hungry.
They dressed, and Sean drove them to the corner café where Daddy Joe always ate his Saturday breakfasts.They were each dressed in their polo shirts, and the hair poured out of the neck of Sidney’s shirt.Clay sat between them as they chose what they wanted to eat.Sidney noticed that there were only men at the café and then had the realization it was a gay restaurant.He looked around and received many inviting looks.
“Daddy, daddy, I want pancakes.With blueberries and whipped cream.”
“Uncle Sean, what are you eating?”
“I haven’t decided.What do you want me to eat?”
“You and daddy eat the same thing.”
Both men blushed as Clay had announced that to the world.
“Order for me, Uncle Sean.”Sidney laughed as he said that.
Sean did just that.He ordered a lumberman’s breakfast with an extra side of bacon.He ordered two coffees and two grapefruit juices.When the food arrived, Sean and Sidney ate off the same plate and grabbed bites of Clay’s pancakes.Clay loved bacon hence the extra side.They spent the majority of the morning at the café, people watching, nibbling at food, and reading the newspapers.Sean went inside to a paper rack and brought Sidney a copy of the Philadelphia Gay News, the local gay newspaper.When he handed the paper to Sidney, he leaned in and kissed him.
“That is to let all of these men who are prowling around you know that you are not available today.You will be very busy for the next two days and don’t have time for their antics.”
Sidney let out a loud laugh.Clay didn’t know why his daddy was laughing but joined in.When Clay said he had to use the toilet, Sidney took him inside while Sean surveyed the men sitting around the patio area.He was judging which ones were worthy of dating his brother.The men thought Sean was cruising while his lover was inside with their child.Sean chuckled when he understood the dynamic.
When Sidney and Clay returned, Sean said to give him a minute, and then they would be ready to leave.Sidney looked around and saw a group of handsome men.Sure, there were handsome men in the Raleigh area, but it was so nice to sit out here on a Saturday morning and socialize like it was the most normal thing in the world.He was beginning to like this town.