My second son is 21 today. There will be cake (of course), breakfast for dinner (per his request) and another dinner at a Brazilian restaurant he wants to try tomorrow night. Birthdays are a big deal in my family and as my kids get older, I trip down memory lane at an alarming rate. You know the drill… “this time 21 years ago, blah, blah, blah…”. I can’t help it. I’ve become that mom. LOL. I want to commemorate every bit of their lives in snapshot moments to pull out at will and remember who they are and where they’ve been. I’m not sure how to do it properly so I’ll try to do through my writing instead. Which brings me to Jeff and Josh.
This chapter of Jeff’s story is a bit emotional for me because there is a part that reminds me of my oldest son coming out just five years ago. I’m not sure I’ve managed to successfully voice my side of his journey yet but this is yet another attempt. And as I write from Jeff’s POV, I’m reminded of the duality of parenthood. The person we are versus the parent we need to be. This story is more complex than a short allows. My three parts have extended to four and suffice to say, this could very easily become a full-length novel. And yes, I may eventually write it. In the meantime… enjoy.
*Part 4 (the final chapter) will be posted by Friday at the latest. And for those who are coming to this later, here are Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t read Leaning Into Touch, you may want to do so first to avoid any spoilers!
Oh… and Happy Birthday to my beautiful, amazing, and wonderful son. I love you to the moon and back a million times over. Love, Mom xoLeaning Into a New Start- Part 3
Lars offered to pick me up Saturday night and take me to a steak house he’d heard great things about in Oakland. But it seemed silly for him to make the trek when I could easily take BART into the city. No doubt he read between the lines and caught on that I needed a little distance between home and my first real date with a man. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate to suggest another venue at his favorite Italian restaurant in North Beach.
I avoided checking out my reflection in the grimy train window as it barreled toward San Francisco. I did the best I could with what I had to work with. Khaki pants, a light blue oxford shirt and a navy sport coat. I looked like I was going on a job interview. I should have asked Kate for a wardrobe suggestion, but I hadn’t wanted to push my luck. It was enough that I had her support. Besides, I knew she’d just tell me to wear blue to match my eyes.
I had to laugh at the sentiment. Did guys even notice that kind of thing about other men? Well… I supposed I did. Lars had beautiful eyes. I couldn’t remember if they matched his clothing but I loved the way they twinkled. He had the most expressive face. So full of humor, intellect and kindness. I’d learned a lot by observing him in his work environment and noting how he interacted with his employees.
He was patient but firm. Understanding but determined. He wasn’t quick to anger or frustration but when something rubbed him the wrong way, he didn’t hesitate to voice his opinion. Vehemently. My cock twitched at the memory of the one-sided conversation I’d overheard yesterday. He’d paced his office with his phone glued to his ear as he gave one of his suppliers a strongly worded message about the unacceptable crap they’d delivered to his jobsite. He ended the call demanding they get their shit together in a stern tone that made me dizzy with desire. How sick was that? I was a mess. A horny one too. I had no idea how I’d make it through an entire dinner without numbers to keep me focused.
It started out pretty well. I knocked over my water and sent my silverware clattering onto the tile floor within five minutes of sitting across from my debonair date. Since the water miraculously didn’t splash either of us and the glass didn’t shatter, I called it a win. And when Lars set his hand over mine after the waiter left us with a promise to return with a refill and the dinner menus, I thought my clumsiness might have been an accidental stroke of genius. I glanced down at our joined hands and cast a clandestine look from side to side before looking into his eyes.
“Relax, Jeff. No one here knows you’re gay.”
“You’re holding my hand. That’s kinda gay,” I deadpanned. When he tried to pull away, I squeezed his fingers. “Don’t. I like it. I’ve never held a man’s hand before.”
Oh fuck. Why did I admit that? He probably guessed it, but still… I sounded like such a dork. I wracked my brain for a sophisticated conversation starter to counteract my lame admission but I came up blank.
He raised his brow then released my hand when the waiter returned with another water and the menus.
Lars ordered a bottle of Cabernet and an appetizer without opening the leather bound then requested some time for us to look over the dinner selections. I admired the way he seamlessly adjusted his tone with the waiter when he spoke. He was respectful and confident. There was no part of him that apologized for being caught with his paws on another man. I wondered how long it would take until I felt as self-assured.
I opened the menu and perused the impressive array of pasta dishes distractedly, knowing I’d stick with spaghetti. It was safe and best of all, I could pronounce it without making a fool of myself. I snapped the leather-bound book shut and pushed it aside.
“What are you going to order?” I asked politely.
“I haven’t decided. Have you?”
Lars raised his brow. “A Bolognese or the seafood special with mussels and scallops?”
I made a “yuck” face and grinned when Lars chuckled at my childish response. “Do you think they have plain meatballs?”
“It never hurts to ask, but if they aren’t on the menu, I highly recommend the Bolognese. You won’t be disappointed. If you like meat, that is.”
“I love meat.” My voice sounded breathy. Like I was attempting seduction via an ode to beef.
“Do you now?” Lars’ eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I didn’t mean—actually, I do but I—” I almost wept with relief when the waiter returned with a bottle of wine. I counted on the uncorking and pouring ritual to bide me some time to get my game face back and my mind out of the gutter.
Lars waited for the server to leave us then lifted his glass in a toast. “To new beginnings.”
“I’ll drink to that.” I smiled then tapped my glass against his and took a sip. Then I waited a beat and blurted. “I told my ex-wife I was meeting you tonight.”
I winced. “That sounded weird, didn’t it? I’m on a roll though. So far I’ve knocked over water, told you I’ve never held hands with a man, and that my ex knows my whereabouts. You’ve probably already guessed that I can’t translate half of this menu so if they don’t actually have spaghetti, just order me something like it but no shellfish. It’s not my thing. And if my candor makes you question my sanity, I won’t be offended if you’d rather cut this short. Because yes, I’m nervous as hell and I don’t know why. I like you. Okay. I’ll shut up now.”
I sat back in my chair, pursed my lips and willed myself to stop talking. It would be nice if Lars said something though. I cocked my head and motioned for him to fill the silence before I did.
“You’re the craziest accountant I’ve ever met,” he said in a serious tone he ruined a moment later with a wink. “And for the record, I like you too. A lot.”
I smiled, loving his breezy tone and friendly nature. “Thanks. I’m just terribly out of practice.”
“In a way, I am too. I don’t go out much. Work is busy and it’s hard to find time to connect with people you actually want to be with. You’re a breath of fresh air and I can assure you I’ve never said that to anyone who’s audited my books before.” He snickered merrily then reached for his wineglass.
“Hmm. Well, you have the advantage of at least being out. I’m an old guy learning new tricks,” I huffed.
“There’s no advantage here. It’s just about accepting yourself so others can learn to do the same.”
“Oh that sounds real easy,” I snarked. “I just told you I’ve never held hands with a man. How do I get to home plate when I’m too afraid to hit the damn ball?”
Lars’ forehead creased in obvious confusion. “So you’ve never been with a man at all?”
“Huh? Oh no. I’ve done it all. Hand jobs, blowjobs—”
“You may want to lower your voice, Cassanova,” he admonished with a smirk.
“Sorry.” I took a big gulp of wine to fortify a renewed bout of butterflies.
Lars reached for my free hand and linked our fingers again. “I don’t mind. In fact, I’m extraordinarily curious about you. But let’s keep it between us. The women at the table to our left look mighty nosy. Don’t look. Just talk.”
“About what? Blow jobs?” I whispered.
He barked a quick laugh and nodded. “Sure but start at the beginning. Why did you come out to your wife?”
“Because our son did.”
“Josh came out to us when he was twenty. I’ll never forget it. He’s our youngest. I think I’ve mentioned that. Jen, Janie then Josh. They’re all amazing people. My daughters are beautiful and brilliant and Josh… He’s the coolest damn guy you’ll ever meet. And the brightest, best man I know. He’s funny but kind and he just lights up a room the moment he walks in.”
“He sounds like his dad,” Lars said gently.
“Thank you. That’s a nicer compliment than you realize. Josh is a happy person. Nothing riles him or gets him down for long. But coming out… that was hard. He showed up at the house looking like a frightened rabbit and scared the hell out of us. He literally stood in the living room shaking. He wouldn’t look at his mom or me. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Joshy, it’s me. Dad. Buddy, you can tell me anything.” He wouldn’t speak. So I started guessing. I threw out wild things to make him crack a smile. “You joined the circus and they signed you up for the high trapeze.” That kind of thing. He started to laugh and then…”
I looked away when the memory overwhelmed me. Tears blurred my vision and my head ached with the effort to keep my emotions under control. Lars squeezed my hand, pulling me back to the surface before I lost myself in a wave of regret.
“It’s okay. Go slow. I’m not going anywhere,” he assured me.
I took a deep breath then continued. “He broke down. I hadn’t heard him cry like that since he was a kid and it was… devastating. He’s my boy. My son. To think he was in that kind of pain rattled me to the core. I held him tight and said… what you just said to me. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” And after a few minutes, he said, “I’m bi.” Can you believe that two tiny words consisting of four measly letters can cause so much pain?”
“Yes. I can.”
“Me too. But at the time, my reaction was just… relief. Holy shit, I thought he was going to tell me he was sick or someone he knew was injured or going through something catastrophic! I never dreamed it was him.” I paused to take a sip of water and pull myself together. “I wished I could tell him then that I knew how he felt but… I’m a coward.”
“You’re not a coward, Jeff,” Lars said kindly.
I scoffed. “You’re right. There are nicer terms for guys like me. I’m a product of my time and my Catholic upbringing. The truth is my parents would have disowned me and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything. I take a measure of pride knowing that my son had no such worries. Kate and I love our children unconditionally. Josh’s revelation surprised us but as we both assured him we loved him and supported him, I realized we’d turned a corner. My child would never live in fear. He would never doubt us or question his place in our family or his worth in this world. He would marry the person he loves and he would live an authentic life. That alone felt like a victorious coming out moment.”
“The first of many.”
“Yes. He came out and something inside me shifted. I couldn’t pretend to be the same. But shedding this weight isn’t easy. I’ve known I was gay since I was a teenager. Over forty years. That’s a long time to keep a secret. But no one could know. Ever.”
“So you got yourself a girlfriend and lived the straight life.”
“Yes. I know that sounds bad but… I love Kate and marrying her wasn’t a punishment. She’s a beautiful person, inside and out. She’s actually the one who suggested we “date” to get my dad off my back. He was a bit of a tyrant and when he started drinking, all bets were off. We were best friends and fake high school sweethearts who upped the ante when things got heated at home. Kate got pregnant, we got married and three kids, numerous pets and a house in the suburb later…I’d become someone my dad could relate to.”
“What changed for you then? Why are you here with me now?” he asked gently.
The waiter returned just then to take our orders. If he was displeased with the interruption, he kept it to himself. Lars slipped on a pair of blue reading glasses and peered at me over the rims.
“Do you mind if I order for us?”
“Please do,” I replied, charmed by his gallantry. When he addressed the waiter in Italian, I nearly fell off my chair. Fuck, that was sexy.
He shot an amused look at me when we were alone again. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like you just found out I’m the lead singer of a boy band.”
“Are you?” I asked, widening my eyes comically.
Lars chuckled. “Yes, Lars and the Lumberjacks. Have you heard of us?”
I burst into laughter. “No, but that sounds hot as hell. Do you wear plaid shirts and work boots?”
“And nothing else,” he said with a straight face.
I gulped. “Oh. Wow.”
He snickered at my dreamy expression then grabbed my hand and pressed his lips to my knuckles. The gesture came across as impulsive, charming and impossibly romantic.
“I can’t believe I haven’t kissed you yet. I hope you don’t mind my honesty but… I want you.”
I opened my mouth and closed it then pointed at my chest. “Me?”
Lars grinned. “Yeah you. But I can’t do anything about it here so keep talking. Tell me what happened after Josh came out.”
“Uh…okay. Um…nothing. I mean—isn’t it your turn to do some talking for a while?”
“I’ll tell you anything you want to know but I’m fascinated by you and your ex who’s your best friend and your bi son. And I want to know how you came to be sitting here sharing a bottle of wine with me when your path was so different not so long ago.”
“There isn’t much more to say. When Josh came out, I asked Kate for a divorce. If my twenty-year old son had the balls to be himself, I figured I should do the same. She understood but…not really. It was a painful time. Everyone was hurt. Kate was upset, the kids were devastated and I was a bona fide mess. But I couldn’t keep living a lie. So I began living half a lie. And here I am eleven years later… a masterful liar by omission,” I huffed sarcastically.
“Hmm. So you live a secret gay life and public straight one, is that right? I’m not judging. I’m only curious,” he added, holding a hand up in surrender.
I shrugged. “I suppose. At first, it was all about sex for me. I’d never been with a man at all and I was desperate to know what it was like.”
“Never?” he asked incredulously.
“No. Thank God for online dating. My first gay kiss happened when I was forty-six. Can you believe that? I waited thirty years to kiss a man.”
“What about the rest?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve done it all. I had a lot of years to make up for.”
“So you’ve had sex with a man?” he whispered.
“Yes. Many times.”
“Have you been in a relationship?”
I sighed. “Not really. I came close a couple of times but I wasn’t ready to come out to my kids for someone I wasn’t sure was the real thing. That’s horrible to say aloud but it’s true.”
“Do you think you’ll ever come all the way out? For yourself. Not someone else.”
“Yes. I want to. I do.”
“Hmm. Good,” he replied.
“Good? That’s all you have to say? I—I’ve never told anyone all this before. My family comes first. Always. They’re sacred. I’m not sure why you’re different but you are. I trust you.”
“Thank you. I don’t take that lightly and I feel the same, Jeff.” He considered me thoughtfully before adding, “I’m not sure why or how, but I think I know you. Sure, we have a lot to learn about each other. You may snore, steal the covers and leave the cap off the toothpaste—”
Lars grinned. “But at this very moment, I’d give my left nut to be the man who knows those things and accepts you as you are.”
*To be continued…