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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance - Chapter 18

By Nickolas James

From the passenger seat of Gerald's 350Z, I couldn't help but feel a sense of importance as we blazed down the interstate at eighty miles an hour. For whatever reason, it seemed like people were moving over for us, and those who didn't make way as we came up from behind were in a perfect spot for us to simply go around them without losing any speed. Not that we were in any kind of a hurry, though.

We were both fresh out of B. Croft and Bull with brand new suits, and before we pulled off, Gerald put the top down so we could enjoy a rare sunny day. I suppose that it could have been a coincidence, but out of nowhere, a loud hip hop song started blaring out of the speakers with maximum base, and I knew that Gerald wanted people to look. I chalked that up to his youth, and to the fact that he'd probably never worn a $600 suit in his life.

To be honest, I never had either, but I didn't attach as much importance to the event as Gerald did. I was just thinking about what we wanted to wear when we got to Massachusetts. It seemed like a really nice idea to be dressed from head to toe in fine wool in the days leading up to our wedding, which was coming up on us faster than I realized. I tried to get my dad to come with us by insisting that he let me buy him a suit, but he wanted nothing to do with it.

I have to admit that I had an ulterior motive that involved not riding in Gerald's car. I knew that if my dad came with us, Gerald's two-seater just wouldn't do. Unfortunately, as soon as my dad said no, I knew what my fate was. I decided to suck it up and just let Gerald have his way, and surprisingly, he didn't drive as crazy as I thought he would on the way to the store. Unfortunately, the ride home was a different story. Still, I was calm and even a little exhilarated as we sped down the interstate in the steel deathtrap that Gerald called his car.

I was very aware of the looks we were getting, too. Gerald looked so impeccable with his hair blowing in the wind and his Rayban's protecting his beautiful eyes. He had a tan, just like I did, from regular trips to the tanning salon, and if the phrase, tall dark and handsome ever applied, it definitely applied at that moment. He looked that good.

We got off the interstate and slowed to a cruising speed until we reached the edge of our neighborhood. Of course, with Gerald, a cruising speed doesn't necessarily mean the speed limit, but it was a definite improvement. When we turned right into the neighborhood, though, he kept it at 25 and below until we pulled into the driveway. I actually felt a little sorry that we were home so soon. Maybe that's because deep down, I can admit that there's a side of me that still loves to be on display. For me, the knowledge that someone is admiring me because of my looks gives me a shallow sense of importance, and even makes my chest swell a little bit.

"I wonder if we're going to have a sunny Christmas or a white one," Gerald lamented as he brought the top back up.

"It's anyone's guess at this point," I shrugged, waiting until the top was in place before I opened my door to get out. Before I could open the door, Gerald reached over and grabbed my arm. I turned to look his way, and with a gorgeous smile, he leaned forward and gave me a kiss.

"I love you babe," he said as our lips parted. "I don't care what the weather looks like outside, because you're my sunshine. I mean that, babe."

"I love you too, sweetie," I said, nuzzling my cheek against his. "I can't think of a Christmas present I could ever get that would mean as much to me as being with you."

To say that things had gotten better between Gerald and I would be an understatement. After dealing with the Peter fiasco, we had to face our issues with each other. That meant confronting the issues each one of us brought to the relationship, and for a while, I'll admit that I was definitely feeling resentful toward Gerald for all of the baggage he was carrying around. Not that it was his fault; not at all. It's just that it seemed like when I was finished sorting out my troubles and was ready to tackle them, he was still wading in a virtual ocean of emotional hang ups and couldn't even begin to start sorting them out.

Eventually, I learned that it was okay for me to help him deal with everything, if he was alright with me doing so. Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case. It was as if he was carrying around a Pandora's box of toxic memories, and he was guarding it from me with his life. I couldn't help but feel hurt by what I perceived as his rejection of my gestures, but I understood.

I also quickly realized that lashing out at him wasn't the answer. We had a particularly bad morning one weekend when I awoke to his sobbing. I wanted to console him, but I also wanted him to open up to me about what was tearing his heart apart, and he shut me out. I finally gave up, let go of our embrace so I could shift gears, and get a little perspective on how he was making me feel and why. As soon as I realized what we were dealing with, I was able to understand that I did the wrong thing by abandoning him in his moment of need.

We spent the better part of that morning with our backs facing each other on the bed while we talked though our anguish. As time passed, I understood that he was dealing with something private that he wasn't ready to let me in on yet, but that didn't decrease my feelings of rejection. I tried to reason with him that if we were going to be a married couple that we had to be willing to let each other in. He just sobbed that I was better off not dealing with his issues, and maybe I'd be happier if we didn't get married.

I'm not going to lie. There was a side of me that almost conceded the point to him that he was right, but I knew that I was dealing with the immediate, not the long term. I knew that in the grand scheme of things, Gerald was the man of my dreams, and that I'd do anything to spend the rest of my life with him. At that moment, though, I almost said something really stupid because I was so frustrated that I wanted to hurt him the way he was hurting me.

Eventually I got up and walked around to his side of the bed so that we'd have to look at each other, then I took the initiative and changed the tone. It definitely wasn't easy, but if my dad has ever been right about anything, it's that what was easy wasn't always what was for the best. I didn't force the situation, but I did everything I could to put myself in a place where he could see that I was by his side.

No matter what.

That would later prove to be a great test of my patience. Not because he resisted my presence, or because he continued to say hurtful things to me. He didn't do any of those things. In fact, he immediately reached out and touched my back, and I took it as a signal to touch him too. Before long, our touching became comfortable rubbing, then a caring embrace and a tender kiss. Did we have sex that day? Absolutely not. The situation didn't call for sex; it called for understanding, love and healing.

Then he dropped the bomb on me.

"I invited my mom and dad to the wedding in the letter I wrote them."

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to conceive in my mind how he could do something so huge without talking to me about it first. Thoughts of his dad starting a fist fight and my ruined wedding day swirled around in my head as I struggled to keep my composure. When I was able to get a grip once more on my emotions, I turned and looked at my fiancé, who I could tell was under immense pressure.

"So that's what was on your mind this morning?" I asked, and he tearfully nodded. "Why didn't you just tell me babe?"

"Because I can tell you're pissed," he cried, and I shook my head in frustration. Frustration at Gerald for throwing this wrench in our plans, and frustration with myself for being such an inconsiderate dick.

"Babe, I'm mad at myself," I said, trying hard not to let on that I wasn't being totally honest. "I didn't want to give you the impression that I didn't want them to come. Of course they're welcome to come."

With that, he let out a long, drawn out cry and shook his head.

"You don't have to worry, Dennis," he said hysterically, then he held up a folded piece of stationary. "I got this yesterday."

I took the stationary from Gerald and unfolded it carefully, and as I read its contents, my eyes moistened. Somewhere, deep down, I wanted to ask Gerald what he thought they would say when he asked them to come to his wedding with another man. Another part of me was boiling over at his parents, wishing with all of my might that they would disappear from our lives for good. From our future, from our present, and from Gerald's past. He deserved so much more than they could ever offer him. His emotional well-being seemed at times to hang on their actions, and it broke my heart that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't protect him from their vicious brand of cruelty.

I simply let the letter drop from my fingers and let it float to a soft landing on the floor as I did as much damage control as I could. I urged him to let it all out, and that's what he did. I cried with him, too. Not because I felt obligated, but because my heart was aching for him. For the things he never got to experience in his life. For the scars he'd always carry with him, no matter how old he got. I had no idea how he'd ever get over the abuse his mom and dad continued to heap on him, even from 2000 miles away.

It didn't matter how many counseling sessions we went to. It didn't matter how much love I gave him, or what my mom and dad did to show him that they loved him and wanted him to be their son. It didn't matter if we moved 10,000 miles away and never told them how to find us. It was all permanent, and it was something that would affect our relationship no matter how many years went by. The wounds on his soul were too deep, the pain too vivid, the bitterness too strong.

All I could do was try to soothe his pain and turn some of the bitterness he was tasting into sweetness. To promise him and myself that I'd never give up on him, on us. I had to.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked with a look that matched his hopeful tone.

"I love it babe," I gushed, a little shocked but genuinely touched by his thoughtfulness in buying an artificial tree and setting it up in the living room. White blinking lights adorned the branches, and right next to it hung two stockings, each one with our names embroidered at the top. I wrapped my arm around him and he gently leaned into my shoulder as we stood back and admired his handy work.

I'll be the first to admit that this was the first time I'd ever seen a Christmas Tree or stockings in my house, and that fact was far from lost on me. I guess I just always figured that the math didn't add up for me. I was a gay man with no plans to marry, and certainly children weren't on the agenda in my lifetime. Of course, that was all before I met my Gerald.

Now, it was all a crapshoot, as far as I was concerned. Nothing, and I literally mean nothing, was out of the question for me anymore. Marriage? A definite. Kids? Why not? A new house? Sure.

If it was something that Gerald and I could ever dream, it was nothing we couldn't achieve. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to have a gaggle of crumb crunchers running around, tracking dirt in my house and leaving the door wide open for flies to come in and to let the cool air from the AC out in the summer. I could just see one of them drinking from the nozzle of my water cooler rather than getting a cup, just because they wanted to be bad.

Hmm, okay, maybe not kids. Not yet, anyway, but who knows? A few short months earlier, I was determined that I would stay a bachelor, happy to bag the prospect before moving on to another trick. Now someone had my heart, and even though some people might say I was trapped, I wouldn't have it any other way. In just a few short months, the dreams I didn't even know I had came true, and I was a happier man for it.

I tightened my grip around Gerald's shoulders and listened closely to his breathing. I could feel his pulse and almost timed every beat of his heart, and as I concentrated on the steady rhythm of his every breath in and out, I knew I was home. Not physically. That went without saying. But emotionally, my ship had come in and I was finally home.

If I were a poet, I could probably write a book of poems to talk about the feeling I had at that moment. It was complete. Nothing else, just complete. And yet, I was so inspired by it that a pen and pad might not contain all of the words that I wanted to shout out loud to the rest of the world.

As it turns out, not everyone had a very Merry Christmas. On December 22nd, just two days before Christmas, officers from the corporation pleaded guilty of a slew of charges. Cooking the books turned out to be the least of their troubles, and an immediate round of terminations resulted from the guilty plea.

Perhaps the most damning condemnation came when they pleaded guilty to bid rigging, price fixing and anti-competitive business practices. They lost every one of their government contracts, and were disqualified from bidding on any government jobs for five years. It was no surprise to me that Peter lost his job, probably because in the end, he refused to perjure himself in court.

There was a part of me that was proud of him for not caving in and cutting his own throat for a group of suits who wouldn't appreciate it. But another part of me felt saddened that our friendship was ruined. When I was new to the corporation, when I had no friends and no clue about who to turn to, Peter was there for me. He invited me to his house for dinner, and made me feel like a part of his family. I'd always appreciate him for that.

But how in the hell could I ever forgive him for taking me through the hellish nightmare I'd just been through? The answer was simple, and I learned it in counseling with Gerald. Because you see, in spite of the threats, the attempt to coerce Gerald and drag him into the fray, and the cold way he terminated me, he was still a man I knew. A man with a family, with bills to pay, and with a conscious. It did my heart good to know that he did the right thing in the end, and avoided any jail time.

One time, when I was in my late twenties, I was overwhelmed with my workload. My staff was a lot thinner at the time, thanks to a round of retirements that came in one blurry two month time frame, and a termination. I was working on finding replacements, but at the same time, I had to see to it that the work normally allotted to the four people I no longer had got finished. Talk about a rat race. I was spending every waking minute buried in receipts, A/R statements and customer invoices that had to be mailed out.

Just when I thought I couldn't take the pressure anymore, Peter called me into his office and sat me down.

"Dennis, you have no business stressing yourself out like this," he admonished me. "You need to spread that work out amongst your staff and concentrate on catching up with your own work. Then you need to hire four people ASAP."

"They aren't going to like the extra work," I countered, and he chuckled at me.

"The ones who matter care, Dennis," he told me. "Everyone can see you're under pressure. If they care about you, they'll help you. If they say no, make them do it anyway, then hire four people who care."

Those words resonated with me, and I held them close. And maybe that's why I was quietly making plans to reach out to my old friend. Because I felt like he mattered, and probably because I wanted to matter, too. After all, if I didn't, why else would I care so much?

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