Edited for grammar and punctuation on 16 December 2017.
I never like using a reader's input in my stories without giving proper credit. Nathan offered some serious insights to this chapter, which I incorporated. There is a part that relates an experience of Doc, a six-year-old boy. It is from a comedy routine from an Irish comedian, Dave Allen. I like to think he would have been flattered to know part of his routine lives on.
Jeff was hardly surprised by the number of texts and missed calls on his phone. He would have slept into the afternoon if Sam had not pounded on their bedroom door insisting that he call his Aunt Mellie through FaceTime so she could see he and Paul were unharmed. Uncle Joe, Raymond, and Ilya had been satisfied with Sam’s report of the previous evening's events. But, Mellie wanted to see their faces before she would be convinced they had not been harmed. She had already grilled Sam and insisted on seeing Dave’s bandaged arm.
Jeff had no qualms about calling his Aunt Mellie from the bed. Once she was reassured that her boys were well, she reminded them to call later and speak to Maria, the Princess didn't know about the shooting, she just missed her Daddies. Once a bleary-eyed Paul entered her view and offered greetings, Mellie became somewhat flustered and hastily ended the call. Paul said, “Do you think it only just occurred to her we might be naked after she realized we were in bed together”?
Jeff chuckled, “I think she would have chatted with us both with massive erections on display if it meant that she could know we were both unharmed. As to naked, in bed together… now that’s definitely a winning combination.”
What started out as two young horney men coming together, built in intensity with an unspoken, but shared the awareness that, again, they had been in a potentially deadly situation and come away unscathed.
After both men collapsed in complete surrender, Jeff asked, “Do you think we have enough security? I mean, since we met, we’ve been in more dangerous situations than most career policemen ever experience.”
“Cowboy, If you think about it, we’ve met threats that could have been disastrous for each of us. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that we’re pretty well protected as we are. Sam, Dave, and Fred are like extended family. Adding more to the mix probably comes under the law of diminishing returns. More doesn't always mean better. We have Tink and Ilya and their guys in reserve. I just don't see how we could be better prepared for any contingency. We could discuss it with Uncle Joe, Raymond and Ilya if it would make you feel better. I think securing the ranch and keeping our guys within reaching distance is about the best we can do. I refuse to become some Howard Hughes recluse. Though the thought of being sequestered in a Las Vegas hotel with only a bunch of hunky Mormons as bodyguards could offer a certain appeal. If, I didn't have you.” With an affirming peck on Jeff's lips, he continued, “I want Maria to have as normal a life as possible with school and friends. As it is, she accepts our guys as family. She may be the only kid who has a “manny” picking her up and dropping her off at school, but I want us to try and make her growing up as uneventful as possible. I think we just need to maintain a heightened level of awareness, just like every gay man in America should. I worry more about Maria suffering for having two dads than being the victim of a kidnapping for ransom.”
Jeff smiled as a random thought crossed his mind. He pictured Paul tearfully bidding their daughter farewell as she left for college. The smile faded as he realized he would be right there beside him, most likely, just as tearful. Clearing his throat, he offered, “I don't want her to be isolated because of money. She needs to learn, just as I did, the value of friendship without dollar signs. I don't like the idea of sending our kids to private schools. Like my Mother, I think we should be actively involved with our children's education and not just throw money at it. I have no problem with hiring tutors to fill in any discernible shortfalls, but, personally, I look forward to helping out with homework and science fair projects.”
Paul grinned, “You have all the makings of a great Dad. As to money, not many people know the extent of the Adams family wealth. I certainly didn't, and I’ve known Joe and Mellie for about two years.”
Jeff grinned unabashedly at the sincere compliment. “All that might change with Uncle Joe running for office. I’m not sure how much he has to reveal about his finances when he runs. Then again, his 'trumpiness' hasn't released his tax returns.”
Paul frowned at the mention of the president. “Well, we can't live in a cocoon. We already have more security than most families. I really think this discussion should be held in company with the experts. When we get home, let’s set up a meeting to discuss personal and family security.”
Jeff agreed and together they showered, dressed and went to seek coffee. Not only was there freshly made coffee, but a selection of breakfast sandwiches and pastries awaited them. After brunch, Jeff gave Sam and Dave time off to sightsee until tomorrow afternoon, at which time they would leave for the airport.
Shortly after noon, Jeff answered his phone. After a short discussion, he asked Paul, “Well champ, you ready for round two? Seems, Jackson, the guy you punched out last night is wanting to see you.” With that, came a firm knock at the door. Sam opened it to reveal a short, slight man with blonde hair and a bandaged nose. Paul’s first thought was, ‘Oh my god! I punched a kid in the face! He looked so much bigger last night.’
Almost as if he were standing on a stage, in the footlights and casting a huge shadow, Jackson was dwarfed from behind by Mark Bennington, one of Jeff’s Chicago security guards. The bandaged man’s persona was not what Paul expected from a “big city” attorney, certainly not comparable to either Jeff, Raymond or Bradley. He was obviously meek and apparently easily intimidated as he kept glancing over his shoulder at the massive bodyguard. Given the relative size difference, Paul didn't really blame him. Still, it was difficult to reconcile the man/boy before him with the sexual predator he had punched in the face the night before. Paul certainly didn't feel threatened by this guy, physically or otherwise. He couldn't imagine this guy forcing himself on any man… He was totally intrigued.
He insisted Jackson come into the living room and have some coffee. Once they were seated, Jeff asked, “Jackson, why are you here”?
Jackson, seated across from the couple, glanced at their casually clasped hands, then met Jeff’s gaze. “I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. I’ve always known you were out of my league. I get really nervous being alone in social situations and I got really intoxicated and, well, uh, there you were.”
Jeff asked, “Do you make a habit of sucking cocks in public washrooms”?
Jackson looked appalled, “Of course not! I’ve only su…, uh, serviced four men in my life.”
Paul could sense there was more, “Jackson, what you did was wrong. But, I shouldn't have hit you. I am sorry I punched you.” After a pause and a sip of coffee, he continued, “I get the impression there is something you are not telling us. What were you thinking”?
Meeting Paul’s steady gaze, Jackson sighed, “For the last three years, I was in a relationship with, ah, a fellow employee.” He eyed Jeff as if expecting condemnation. “Often times he would text me to join him in the men’s room and I would, uh, suck him off. Pretty much the way I tried with you last night.
“I did most all of his work for him and he took all the credit. I thought he lo… felt something for me. I should have known. We never went out together. He only came to my place to spend time, no, he came over to use me for sex. I was never invited to his apartment, but he had his own key to my place. He would sometimes show up in the middle of the night, drunk and demanding sex. The few times I went out with my friends he would get very angry. I found out yesterday, he has accepted a job with a New York firm. He didn't even say goodbye. What’s worse is, he’s taking his live-in girlfriend with him. I suppose she didn't know about me, just like I didn't know about her. But, that’s no excuse for what I did. I’m sorry.”
Paul’s gaze met Jeff’s. Jeff asked, “Jackson, why were you closeted at work? Being gay there is not a problem. Being gay is a non-issue there, so why hide it”?
Jackson swallowed hard. “I knew it was a gay-friendly place before my initial interview. By the time I passed the bar and felt safe in my job, I began seeing him. We both specialized in tax law. He spent a lot of time with me, at least at work. We had lunch together a couple of times and then one night he gave me a ride home...” The pause implied Jackson was not simply dropped off.
He continued, “At first, I thought he was out. But then he insisted I not let anyone know I was gay. He ranted he was not a “fag” and people would think he was gay if they knew I was. Though, I never understood his assertion, given the things we did together. Some things he only let me do if he was really drunk. Jackson blushed as if he had shared too much. “He refused to talk about our sexual activities when he wasn't drunk or horney.”
As the afternoon wore on Jeff and Paul listened as Jackson shared his history. Raised by an unwed mother, he had been closeted but accused in high school. Coming out in college was a great relief. Freshman year, he began a relationship with his roommate that lasted through undergraduate school. Their senior year, the roommate fell in love, only not with Jackson. In law school, he met a fellow student whom he was sure was the one. Things were going great until that guy was killed in a boating accident the summer before their final year. It was the first time they had been apart more than a few days since they had met. Not long after joining the firm, he met his latest and last “entanglement”.
As Jackson was finishing his tale Jeff got a call from Doc. Jeff excused himself and moved to his bedroom to take the call. Doc was inviting Jeff and Paul to dinner at Doc’s place. Doc and Bradley were going to fix a light supper and thought they all would enjoy some quiet conversation in “a more casual, less stimulating environment”. After a short discussion with Bradley, followed by a discussion with Paul and Jackson, Jeff accepted the invitation, which was quickly expanded to include Jackson.
Jeff drove his Tesla and the car impressed both Paul and Jackson. Paul was also impressed with their security team. He knew they were being protected, but it was not obvious. He missed the camaraderie he felt with Sam and Dave. He silently wondered if that was how close-knit bonds developed in combat, learning that you could trust someone with your life?
The apartment looked like a comfortable family dwelling which happened to be perched atop a skyscraper. The view was breathtaking. Paul was not comfortable getting too close to the floor to ceiling wall of glass. He did, however, rib Jeff at every chance over Doc’s magnificent view. His first volley was, “Oh look, Jeff, you can actually see the lake.” Before Jeff could respond, Paul chortled, “Almost all of it.” Jeff blushed, Doc, Bradley, and Jackson chuckled.
Doc explained that his two sons were visiting friends overnight. “The boys will be upset they missed meeting “real live cowboys”. Bradley assured everyone that even though Doc’s housekeeper had the night off, Doc was an excellent cook. Doc explained that dinner was to be simply a Caesar salad, lasagna, and garlic bread. He stated the sauce was his maternal grandmother’s recipe. “She insisted I learn to cook and speak Italian. That meant I sailed through at least one language class and impressed a few young ladies.”
Bradley was, at first, cool toward Jackson. Jackson was anything but relaxed. Doc, sensing the discomfort, said, “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to move things along in the kitchen.” Paul decided to join him.
Sharing cocktails in front of a gas fireplace Jeff prodded Jackson to, again, share his story. By the time Jackson had shared his story, Bradley was comforting the younger man with a warm embrace. Bradley was patting Jackson on the back. “You know Jackson, your division head, Calvin, was getting suspicious of your friend’s work. He told me the man did excellent work, his research was impeccable. He just wasn't as comfortable or as knowledgeable with the information as he should have been. I wouldn't be surprised if the bastard didn't quit because he knew he was about to be found out and fired. I think you and I should have a talk with Calvin. I suspect he will be pleased that the bastard is gone and even more that you are the one to be valued.
“You did nothing wrong. You were simply helping a coworker. I personally think you exercised poor judgment, but everyone makes mistakes. I don't think gay people are any more or less trusting or loving than straight people. I think the lesson I learned from watching Jeff is that there is really no difference in people based on sexual orientation. Like all humans, we do our best and hope that our mistakes aren't too extreme and that we learn from and don't repeat those same mistakes.”
Soon everyone gathered around the dinner table. The conversation was convivial. Bradley offered, “Jackson, I certainly hope you consider coming out at work. I have discussed it with my significant other and we intend to announce our engagement as soon as my divorce is final.” Doc extended his hand and a loving smile to his fiancé.
Jackson swallowed hard. “I intend to come out to my coworkers first thing, well, right after I change the lock on my apartment door.” That got laughter around the table.
Jackson continued, “Seeing the four of you together gives me hope. I think I had become so desperate for love. I was willing to accept crumbs at the banquet. I struggle enough as it is.” As he looked at all the concerned faces. “I, I, I’m not on drugs or anything. I meant I struggle with not believing… in god. All my life I felt unworthy of god’s love. As a child, I accepted all the usual childhood myths, like the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and of course Santa Claus. I have never understood why my Mother perpetuated those fairy tales. The person I trusted most framed my childhood with some really big lies. At least to a child they were big.
“As I grew up, I realized that my faith actually condemned me for being different, for being gay. It didn't matter how good I was, I was doomed to hell. I began to study the Bible so much my Mother thought I intended to become a priest. I was actually looking for an explanation as to why I was gay, and what I could do to change. I wanted to learn why god made me, only to condemn me. I never “chose” to be gay. The more I learned, the more disenchanted I became. I think the reason law appeals to me is because the rules are more clearly defined. I learned that in Christianity, the rules are based on archaic fables that most often are adopted from earlier or even then concurrently existing religions. Certainly, all the major holidays are stolen from “pagan” religions that were still viable in the early days of Christianity.
“The spread of Christianity just like the spread of Islam was more dependent upon conquest by man, than by the hand of god. I think the attitude of most conquerors was religion was just a tool. I sometimes wonder… at what point does a priest or preacher realize it is all a farce. Does one have to become Pope to realize the only answer to any prayer is the echo in your head?
“I’m convinced that god is a made up construct that was and is used to better control the masses. If those in power don't like something they let god condemn it. My struggle is coming to terms with the fact that my individuality is based on genetics. Kind of like adding whatever is handy to make a pot of stew. I am, because people sexually reproduce, just as they always have. Not because some made up entity took a rib from his creation and invented intercourse. Whatever made me, made me gay. My struggle is in realizing I am perfectly capable of being a morally “good man” without any outside motivation or ulterior motive. Without god’s condemnation or the promise of eternal life.”
Jackson took a deep breath, he suddenly realized what he had said. “I’m sorry. I think I offended you or your beliefs. I didn't want you to think I was a drug addict or alcoholic or anything. I don't usually spout off like that. But, you guys seemed so accepting. I haven't experienced that in a long time and I just got carried away.” Everyone assured Jackson they were not offended.
Bradley took up the religious thread. “Religion never really bothered me. I just went along with the idea that I would eventually get to the point where god had more relevance in my life. I attended the family’s Episcopal church when I went home. Our particular church was not very accepting of gays. The mother of my two daughters was a frequent attendee and so my children have some religious instruction. I've always encouraged them to question the church’s dogma.
“As to the existence of god? That was a discussion I had on occasion and seemed more in keeping with college-aged philosophical discussions. That was until Doc shared his own complete lack of faith. I’ve known Doc for twenty years. I don't know a better man. I realized I always had, and still have, more faith and trust in him than I ever did in god. I began to question, not my beliefs, but my lack of commitment to my “professed” beliefs. I used to laugh at those TV evangelists with their “hair” and private jets. I remember thinking, ‘only a fool would accept him to be a spokesman for god. I’m glad my church does not have clergy like him’. At the same time, I held in some reverence a man who dresses in drag and condemns others who do. He also has a private jet… and his own country.
“Once I accepted that I was actually gay and especially after Doc and I became more than friends. I asked myself why I never got serious about my faith. I mean if heaven is the goal, why not live a “Christian” life? The answer is, I didn't really have any faith in religion. I just never examined my relationship with god closely enough to reject or accept his existence. I think it was easier to do whatever my family and friends were doing. I think if you asked the average guy on the street, his beliefs would reflect more of what his spouse, his family, his friends and those around him believed rather than what he had decided based on reason or personal experiences.
“If people actually practiced the basic tenants of their religion the world would be a much better place. It’s because people use religion primarily as an element of control.
"The advances in learning and science religions can claim, are far outweighed by the atrocities that history and the nightly world news lay at their feet. It actually staggers the imagination to consider how far advanced medicine might be, if not for religion insisting physical existence is just some kind of waypoint on our journey to heaven. Heaven is a place where we spend eternity doing nothing but going to more church.”
With a big wink at Paul, and in a surprisingly good imitation Jeff uttered, “Inconceivable!” Everyone laughed at the "The Princess Bride” reference. That seemed to end the topic and the discussion turned to lighter fare.
After dinner, Doc insisted the dishes be left for later, they adjourned to the den. The conversation became a sharing your history exercise. Doc was the last to share. “I think my parents did me a great disservice in not denouncing religion in my youth. I know that we all have different beliefs and experiences and I respect that. My Mom was a born-again fanatic. To me, god was a very real, malevolent spirit just waiting for an excuse to send me into everlasting hellfire. I never feared the devil. Even today I can’t conceive of Satan, he was always a myth to me. I feared my mother and god, not necessarily in that order. Much of my childhood was spent being punished to make me worthy of “god’s love”. I never experienced or ever believed in “god’s love”. To me, he was vengeful, mean and just waiting to punish me for any and every imperfection. If my mother and her church had realized I was gay, I am pretty sure I would have been labeled an abomination and most likely just disappeared. They would have probably claimed that I went to live with a distant relative.
“When I was five or six, a few years before my mother became a zealot who condemned the Pope as Satan incarnate, I attended my first funeral. It was a distant relative and I remember people gathered around the casket, suspended above the grave. The priest prayed and the last thing he said was, “In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost,” At which time, the casket was lowered into the hole. For many years I was convinced that each time a Catholic made the sign of the cross they were saying, “in the name of the father, and of the son, and in the hole, he goes.” That got a chuckle from everyone.
“I knew at an early age that I was different. Looking back, I think it was not some innate awareness of my being gay, it was my awareness that I was a unique individual. I wanted to be like everyone else, just a sheep within the flock. Like the people who knew they were going to heaven. I felt at a very young age, I was doomed to hell. The Christians I knew spent more time condemning those who didn't believe as they did than they focused on their own fate in the afterlife. It was as though by vocally condemning others, they were more likely to enter the pearly gates. Almost like it was a competition in disparaging others like some very intense and extreme sibling rivalry.
“When I was in primary school, I had a classmate who had an imaginary friend. Now, I imagined all sorts of things as a child. In fact, I still do. But this kid imagined his “friend” was with him all the time, whereas, my imaginings dissipated when reality intervened, such as a call to dinner or bath time or when I put down whatever book I was reading. His friend was constantly present. I asked this kid, years later, whatever happened to his “friend”. He said it ended when he was climbing a tree in his backyard with his imaginary friend. He fell from the tree and lay injured. He asked his friend to go and get his mother. It was then the “friend” just disappeared. He finally made his way back to his house with a broken arm. He never saw his “friend” again.
“That conversation came back to haunt me as a teenager. It was as my grandmother lay dying while my mother begged god for help. I think she believed that if she prayed harder, god wouldn't dare take my grandmother, who was suffering miserably. I remembered wondering why my mother would want to keep my grandmother from entering heaven and concluding that her imaginary friend was no more helpful than the one who had witnessed my classmate's broken arm, God just has better PR.
“I have heard of “miracles”. I put them in the same category as UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Medical miracles just display our incomplete knowledge and understanding of science and medicine. Just like ancient man made the gods responsible for the weather, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Our current lack of understanding of science still allows for some idiots to postulate creationism in the form of “intelligent design”. My belief is that intelligent design does not necessarily prove the existence of a deity who is interested in our day to day activities. Cataclysmic events are not the result of his direct intervention. There is absolutely no proof god exists, yet we cite or call upon our imaginary friend as if he were right there watching us fall from a tree or die from cancer or suffer the effects of a tsunami or a hurricane. There may be some positive aspects of religion, but from my perspective, I see it as more of an impediment to progress.
“The first five of the Ten Commandments are intended to cement the need for the priesthood. The last five are just common sense rules to live by if you want to function in any given society. Preachers and politicians who profess their “Christian values” are like leeches feeding on society with no more loftier goals than self-promotion and greed. Most preachers live better than their congregants and most politicians are more concerned with their reelection than their “public service”.
“Accepting my atheism was a struggle for me almost as much as accepting my homosexuality. I had a lot of baggage to contend with, not to mention my family. Today, I honestly don't know which is more reviled in this world, atheists or homosexuals. We don't hear much about atheists being victims of hate crimes, but then most hate crimes were ignored or covered up a generation ago. Most leaders give a nod to religion because it contributes to their own ends. That's why I truly fear men like the current Vice President who professes to be an ardent, committed believer. I consider him just another “opportunistic Bible scholar”. Someone who cites the Bible enough to support their opinion and disregards the rest. That man thinks he has god on his side and so acts with fervor to achieve his own and thereby his perceived “god’s will”. Folks like that refuse to accept any contrary "proof" that might challenge their beliefs.
After a few moments of contemplative silence, Jeff looked at Paul and began, “I think I was raised differently. My folks went to church because my mother had always belonged to that denomination. I think religion was like the ranch, it was just always part of my life. When I came out, my father refused to attend my mother’s church any longer. My mother agreed to attend the church my Aunt Mellie attended, which was accepting of gay people. After my parents died, I simply distanced myself further from the church and never much thought about it. I gave up praying once I accepted I was gay. I think I always felt something beyond myself. Even now, I feel like I shouldn't let go of my belief in some nebulous, ill-defined, divine entity. It’s almost like when I was a kid learning to swim. But, just like seeing other kids swimming and being comfortable in the deep end doesn't mean I was ready to join them. I think I still need to hold onto the edge of the pool. I heard all your viewpoints. I can't argue against them. Not at all. I like to think there is some kind of higher power. He smiled weakly at his lover."
Paul took that as his cue. “Christmas was always a disappointment for me. I try hard to make sure my, er, our daughter is never disappointed in Santa Claus. Being poor is never made more clear than at the celebration of Christ’s birthday. Isn't that the height of irony? It should be an oxymoron. Instead, it’s widely accepted, with a shrug, as simply a fact of life. Just like massive edifices of worship where people of wealth go to worship one who eschewed wealth. Many of these same “Christians” ignore the homeless and hungry on a daily basis. Yet act as though attending church will get them into heaven. They financially support their church but fight tooth and nail against taxes that might aid those less fortunate with food, shelter, and healthcare. Most “Christians” are like closeted gays. They pretend to believe so no one will see them as being “different”. I agree. Atheists are almost as reviled as gays in our society. I have always distanced myself from those who want to persuade me into believing as they do. In the end, I don't think it matters what an individual believes. I think it’s how you live your life. There're good people in any religion just as there are good people who are agnostic or atheists. I avoid church when I can. But, I admit it, I understand why people go. It strengthens our sense of belonging and fellowship. If I see someone I know from church, even in a strange setting, I feel more comfortable. However, Religion, as a whole, tends to isolate rather than to embrace any diversity. History shows religion embraces only true believers, tolerates converts and condemns or, in most cases, tries to subjugate or annihilate nonbelievers. As to heaven or hell? I believe death is just sleep without dreams… and that is the most restful kind.”
Silence settled over the group. After a few minutes Doc stood, gentlemen I can’t recall a more interesting of enlightening conversation. I feel as though we have shared a most delightful and somehow intimate evening. I think last night’s life-altering event has more to do with this evening's conversation than we realize. In any event, I ask you to join me in a toast.” Everyone stood and raised their glass. “To friendships, old and new. And to the New Year, may it bring us time with our friends and more friends in time.”
In spite of Doc’s protests, the kitchen was left spotless. As they were leaving Jeff arranged for his security team to see Jackson home. He noticed that Mark Bennington, who was looming over Jackson in the doorway earlier, was quick to volunteer. He also saw Jackson respond with a blush and a shy smile.
Some people have reacted negatively to this chapter. Some offered to pray for me. Please don't disturb your imaginary friend on my account. Least you feel personally offended by that remark, just know that ALL gods, spirits, ghosts, angels, demons, and pagan deities, et al, fall into the "imaginary friend" category.
Some said I was using this story and my characters as a way to push my beliefs. To those I say, have you never had a discussion concerning religion or one that questioned the existence of god? If not, why not, for heaven's sake. Are you too afraid of offending your imaginary friend? Or are you too afraid you might actually have to really evaluate your own beliefs?
Certainly believing as I do allowed me to better explore the experiences and perspectives of each character. I don't think a devout believer, without fearing eternal damnation, could write from such viewpoints.
I respect everyone's right to believe and worship, or not, as they see fit. If you can't allow me the same, I really don't care.