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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance

Chapter Seventeen

By Nick

"Dennis, things are more black and white than you're willing to accept," my dad said, prompting me to furrow my brow and give him a sideways stare. "What makes you think otherwise?"

"Because it's not there, dad," I argued, and he gave me his own sideways glance. "I've been fighting dealing with this for years. It's the reality I've always been confronted with."

"I think you've been painting your own picture, son," my dad answered, shaking his head at me. "Tell me what you think it is that brought you to this conclusion."

The fact that I was having a man-to-man talk with my dad about my issues with commitment, and my parent's role in helping to foster those issues, was something I didn't see coming. I've always just accepted that my mom and dad had a weird marriage, at best, and a miserable one at worst. Somehow, I always figured they held it together on my account when I was growing up, and as I grew older, I attributed their continued matrimony to age. Simply put, they were old, and there was no moving on anymore.

People have needs, and my parents are no exception to that rule. I'm not talking about sexual needs, either. No, I'm talking about something more primal than the need to engage in carnal relations with another, the need to mate and to find sexual release. This was a need I spent years trying to avoid, and when I finally stopped resisting and gave in to it, I was walloped upside the head. It felt like a jackhammer when it hit me, but at the same time, having that need fulfilled was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

I'm talking about the need to be with someone. The need to go to bed and have someone to hold. Someone to wake up next to in the morning. Someone to think about. Someone to be able to please, to be able to count on for that certain something that no one else can do for you. Someone who you're willing to lay your life on the line for, who you're willing to travel to the ends of the earth to please. To protect. Or just to always be by their side.

It's not so much about love. It's one thing to love someone, or even to be in love with someone. Sometimes, people don't love the person they're with. Other times, they love them dearly, but they can't bring themselves to fall in love with them. But still, both people hang on, perhaps hoping that one day, they'll find that special feeling that they thought was there in the beginning. Sometimes children play a role in the decision to stay or to go. Other times, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. Because it wasn't the kids that kept them together, hanging on for dear life.

It was their need to be with someone. Anyone, regardless of what was brewing under the surface. They were content to be touched, to be held, or even not to be. Just as long as they had someone to be with, to call their own. Long after the kids have left the nest, they struggle. It's a lifetime ticket to misery on the surface, but for the two of them, it's heaven. It's all they know, and venturing away from that familiarity is even scarier than being miserable for the rest of their lives.

I guess that's the box I always saw my parents living in. I viewed their relationship as a three-staged event. They fell in love and got married in stage one. Once stage one had run its course, though, it was too late. I was either born, or was on the way. Stage two was already underway, and now they had to stay married on my account. Eighteen years later, they entered stage three, which was the stage where they had the option of getting a divorce, but neither of them budged because they were too old. It was too hard for a fifty something to start over, I reasoned, so they hung in there. Besides, they were all they had. My dad only knew what life was like with my mom, and my mom only knew what life meant with my dad.

It wasn't really a sad situation, though. It was more fitting than anything, I think. God knows they'd had their fair share of fights, but I made myself believe that they got all of their anger out of their systems. Now it was time for them to grow old together, and become one of those older couples that got on each other's nerves but tolerated things.

And now, here was my father, doing his damnedest to refute my theory and shatter my illusions.

"The memory I have of them fighting is the one that stays with me," I admitted to the counselor. "I could hear my dad shouting, and I thought he was fighting another man."

"That must have been difficult for you," he said thoughtfully.

"Not as bad as what I walked in on," I said, a lump growing in my throat. "My mom had reached out and smacked him pretty hard, and he yanked her by the hair."

Instead of interjecting, the counselor took some notes, then he looked back up at me expectantly, so I went on.

"I can remember things happening in waves," I said. "The worst part was, they would be getting along just fine for weeks at a time, and we'd have some really happy times. Then, one of them would say something to set the other off, and it was a warzone for days.

"My mom and dad would always fight at night. I guess they figured that I was sleeping and couldn't hear them, but my door was opened and I could always see the light coming from their bedroom. The shouting was always so loud, too. I had to will myself to sleep, or make some excuse up in my mind about why I couldn't sleep. I always pretended that there was loud music playing instead of yelling and screaming."

"What do you think changed to make them stop fighting?" I was asked, and I took a deep breath to collect my emotions before I answered.

"I think it was a combination of my getting older, and maybe of them deciding to stopping looking at each other," I said. "To be honest, I felt worse for them after they stopped fighting than when they were at each other's throats."

"So relate what you experienced with your mom and dad to your own relationships over the years," I was instructed, and I had to ponder the thought for an extended moment.

"Well, to be perfectly honest, being with Gerald is the first real relationship I've been in, per se," I admitted. "I've always had flings, and trysts, but there was never anyone special enough to steal my heart the way Gerald has."

With that, Gerald leaned into me and sighed, and I instinctively wrapped my arm around him, wanting to hold him close.

"I love you, babe," I told him with a smile.

"I love you too, sweetie," he answered, offering me his lips for a kiss that I readily accepted.

"Did what you have with Gerald start out as a fling?" I was asked, and I suddenly felt like I was being put on the spot. Luckily, I had the perfect answer for both Gerald and for our counselor.

"I think it started out as something unknown," I reasoned. "I think every type of encounter starts out that way, though. Flings, trysts, and even relationships. You never really know what you're getting into."

"I agree," the counselor said, taking more notes. "Have you considered talking to your mom and dad about what you saw as a child?"

"Not really," I said with a casual shrug. "I don't think it would do me or them any good to rehash something that happened a long time ago."

"I see," was the answer I got, and I watched as the counselor jotted more notes down before addressing the two of us. It was the first time we'd been addressed as a couple throughout the entire session, and believe it or not, the most nerve wracking moment of the entire day for me.

"I have an assignment for each of you," we were told. "Gerald, you're going to sit alone in a room with your picture albums, and you're going to look through them. While you're doing that, I want you to write your parents a letter. Be open and honest, and talk about every feeling that looking through those albums brings your way. Then I want you to bring it to me next week when you come.

"Dennis, I want you to sit down with your parents and talk about everything. You need to get this issue out in the open and cleared up because it's eating you up inside. There's no way this relationship can succeed until both of you get these problems resolved. You'll let me know how it went next week."

I might have scoffed, or even protested out loud, but the last little caveat about our relationship not working out was like a pinch that woke me up from a dream and forced my eyes to open up. I was sitting in an office with the man that I loved, at my own insistence, and the reality of what our counselor was telling us was smacking me in the face. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Gerald, no matter what our fortunes held, and I was willing to do anything to make it work for us.

Anything.

The only reason I was confronting my dad was because my mom was out shopping. I wanted to talk to them together, but I figured that one was better than none at all. Things were definitely uncomfortable in the living room between my dad and I, but I have to give him credit for the way he never backed down and didn't deny the fact that he and my mother had some serious blowouts.

"Dennis, I can't lie to you, son," he said resignedly. "Your mother and I have hit more than our fair share of rough patches in our marriage. But who ever said it was going to be easy?"

"You guys never touch," I told him. "It's like you tolerate each other, you know?"

"No, I don't know," my dad said sadly. "Your mom means the world to me. Along with you, she's the best thing that's ever happened to me. We've worked hard on our marriage, son. It hasn't always been perfect, and Lord knows there were times when I didn't know if we'd make it through the end of the night, much less forty years."

"I saw you pull her hair," I told him, and he looked down, obviously ashamed.

"Not one of my manliest moments," he conceded. "I don't have any excuse for that, son."

"It got a lot harder for me to ignore it the older I got," I told him. "I used to blame you, but when I was probably about nine or ten, I realized that she was just a guilty as you were."

"We had a way of getting under each other's skin," he said ruefully. "But we finally laid it on the line and realized that we had to make a decision. We had to decide whether or not our marriage was worth salvaging or if we were going to walk away. I can tell you right now that we made the right choice. Not the easy choice, but the right one."

"Did you ever regret it?" I asked, and he gave me half a shrug.

"For the first couple of years, it was tough," he said. "Your mom and I are both emotional people, and we like to express that emotion. We tried hiding our anger, but it just made us both spiteful toward each other. Then we tried avoiding each other, but that didn't work either."

"I bet it was more peaceful than fighting all the time," I said, and he shook his head in disagreement.

"Believe it or not, that was the most hurtful time in our marriage," he said. "At least when we were down each other's throats, we were talking. I felt like I'd lost her, because I didn't know what was going through her mind. I actually missed her, even though she was still here."

"What changed things?" I asked, and he smiled warmly.

"We just started to reach out to each other," he said. "Do you know, in all my years of being married to your mom, I've never once looked at another woman? That's because I didn't want to be with anyone else, Dennis. She's always been the love of my life."

I'm not exactly sure why I was so nervous as I sat in the lobby, waiting to be greeted, because I'd honestly committed myself to not getting my hopes up. After all, it wasn't like I was counting on getting the job, but I have to admit that as I drove to my very first job interview since leaving the firm, I gave myself a pep talk that extolled the virtues of my resume. True, I'd had exactly one employer since college, but longevity had to count for something. Besides, if I didn't get the job, it was no big deal anyway. I didn't need the money.

But I knew I was fooling myself. I was going crazy at home, watching every penny like a hawk. Not because I was running low on funds, but because the disciplined accountant in me was fully aware that I had an outflow of cash and no intake. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a wasteful spender. I've always saved my money, and the money I received as a part of my severance package was enough to sustain me for years to come.

My trouble is, I'm too forward thinking. I'm always thinking about the future, even if that future is forty or fifty years away. We have no idea to what blessings or catastrophes might be coming our way in the future, so it's best to err on the side of caution. I'd rather be too thrifty and have more than enough to sustain my lifestyle later in life than to spend blindly and regret it later. Besides, every day brings about a growing deficit, a lower interest rate and a weaker dollar. I feel a lot better about being in a position to absorb inflationary trends in the market than to let them absorb me.

Which is why I found myself on the internet, posting my resume and responding to ads on Craigslist. I really wanted to work from home, but I was getting anxious about the whole no income thing, and quickly realized that I would be willing to take anything I was offered, as long as the money was right. I wasn't going to work for pennies, and my experience wasn't going to come cheap.

As it turns out, a prominent television station was looking for a controller. I emailed my resume, and got a phone call that same day. As I was getting ready, a nervous feeling I hadn't experienced since my interview with Peter and Alana so many years ago swept over me. Luckily, though, I had a good luck charm this time. Gerald did my hair, made sure my coat and pants were creased perfectly, and gave me a good luck kiss on the lips before I left for the interview. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I got a text message on my phone from my sweetie telling me to relax, that he knew I'd do great.

Much to my surprise, he was right. I guess I shouldn't have been too shocked, but I have to say that I wasn't counting my chickens before they hatched. I knew that I wasn't the only person applying for the job, but that I was probably the most experienced. Unfortunately, sometimes, being the most experienced person doesn't mean being the ideal candidate. I happened to know for a fact that a lot of companies hire right out of college, just like I had been, because they can start people at a lower wage and let their raises happen gradually, making their pay commensurable with their experience.

By the time I walked out of the interview, though I felt pretty confident about my odds of being hired. I was asked to come in for a second interview, the following week, and I very smoothly agreed. We set up a time, shook hands, and I was off. By the time I pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic, all of my smoothness was gone, replaced with an almost childish giddiness. Like a kid who just won a shopping spree in a candy store, I couldn't wait to tell Gerald all about it. I called him on the phone and talked his ear off the whole way.

When I got home, we had celebratory drinks, followed by celebratory sex. I knew it was still premature, but I was just happy to have been able to interview so well. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, but after our romp in the bedroom, we collapsed in each other's arms and crashed. When I woke up, it was dark outside and in the room, and Gerald had gotten out of bed. I could smell sautéed onions, and the sizzle of the frying pan was clearly audible from the top of the stairs, which was where I was when I realized that the lights were turned down and that there were candles glowing in the living room.

On the coffee table, Gerald's laptop was opened, and he was playing music. Beautiful, slow, romantic music that matched the setting perfectly. I slowly made my way into the kitchen and walked up from behind my lover, who was standing at the stove, taking two steaks out of the frying pan, laying them in a bed of sautéed onions on a platter. When he was finished, I wrapped him in my arms and planted a soft kiss on his cheek.

"You're up," he said with a contented smile. "I wanted to bring you dinner in bed."

"I should be making you dinner after this afternoon," I said, causing him to giggle and bat his eyes at me.

"The pleasure was all mine," he almost sang into my ear, turning into my embrace. "I love you Dennis Mead."

"I love you too Gerald Ballard," I gushed, tightening my hug around his frame. "May I have this dance?"

"Yes, you may," he purred, taking my right hand into his and wrapping his left arm around my waist. I rested my forehead against his and planted light pecks on his lips over and over again as we swayed to the slow, romantic music, letting the rhythm carry us into the night.

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