Book 3: The Centre

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Visitation

We invaded the terminal with Argyll leading the way. As we moved in, people flooded out, horns honked, whistles blew to summon cabs.

It was nice getting out for a few hours, even if the terminal was jammed. The kids could be a handful, if they'd been cooped up all day. Walking to restaurants together for dinner was most of their exercise if I didn't get them to the park. We went out to Golden Gate Park for a concert Wednesday night, but it wasn't enough activity for three growing boys. They were remarkably well mannered, staying close to us whenever we were out. I was sure it had to do with a fear of getting separated from us.

I understood their need to feel safe at all times. Once they're initial suspicion of us passed, they discovered an environment where we would protect them. I'd spent so much time with them that I could no longer conceive living without them.

It seemed like I'd always been responsible for them. That responsibility made my journey back to San Francisco a success no matter what else came out of it. It was a simple cop-out that I knew betrayed my purpose, but doing what I set out to do was hard, and the kids were here, occupying most of my time. Father Flannery was still setting up a kitchen where meals would be prepared for street kids, but how we'd get the food to the kids was still a mystery and I hadn't been consulted.

"Here," Argyll said, looking down at a paper he carried.

The kids wanted a soda and Argyll gave me a twenty, thinking it would take half of it to satisfy their thirst. I didn't realize how much things cost at the airport. I came to the conclusion they flew everything in, which accounted for the high prices.

We walked back to where Argyll waited, once the boys were satisfied. Once they started complaining about hunger, they were told dinner would come on the way home. They sat down near the windows to watch the coming and going of planes, keeping one eye on Argyll and me. I stood close to the boys planning to use them as my shields from his father, who I'd concluded was who it was we were meeting.

"You're awful serious," I said to Argyll as he watched the gate.

"Short notice. I like to plan things. Coming to the airport means chaos no matter how much notice you get. I wouldn't do this for just anyone, Joe," he said, as if I was responsible.

"Why the short notice, anyway?" I wanted to know.

"Spur of the moment thing. He wasn't sure he could get away. Once he made his arrangements, he called."

"Must be someone special," I decided, maybe not his father.

"I think so," he said coyly. "Yeah, someone special. You'll see soon. It's time for his flight to be unloading."

I was immediately checking the schedule on the screen to see if I could figure out the most likely flight. Before I got half way through the list another airplane moved to the gate to begin discharging passengers past us. Argyll looked blankly at the people spewing out of the doorway, like he wasn't even certain what he was looking for.

Then, I understood the evasiveness. I wasn't sure if I was seeing things or daydreaming, but it all became clear in a flash.

"Carl!" I screamed, throwing myself at him with enough force to make him step backward when I reached him. "Oh, Carl," I said, hugging myself to him.

His big arms felt like heaven to me. I wanted to kiss him in the worst way, but I cried instead. He moved me back before I embarrassed all of us. My mouth became fixed in a perpetual smile as tears ran. He was beautiful.

"I thought we were picking up someone you knew," Denny observed, picking up on Carl's arm around me.

The three boys stood a few feet away. It wasn't easy to figure what they were thinking.

"Thanks, Argyll," Carl said. "You didn't tell him?"

"No. I never mentioned it was you we were picking up. He was clueless, until he saw you. I love surprises."

Carl was sincere. Argyll seemed fine with allowing Carl to come to join us in what was becoming his crowded residence. The three boys were a bit mystified by yet another man added to the mix. I did wonder if they'd see Carl as a threat.

"You a cop too?" Denny quizzed, checking out Carl's uniform.

"No, I'm in the army," Carl said. "No time to change. I left for the airport as soon as I was off duty. Who are the midgets?"

"Denny, Danny, Donnie," I said, naming each for him.

"You're a big one," Denny said, looking up at Carl with admiration for his size.

"You're a little one," Carl said, and in a flash Denny was across Carl's shoulder, being flipped upside down as he giggled like he was on a roller coaster ride before Carl set him back down.

"Do it again," Denny squealed loudly. "Do it again."

Carl hoisted him up and moved him around behind his neck before setting him carefully back down.

"He's cool," Denny said, giggling out the words and holding onto Carl's arm. "You come to live with us?"

"No, I'm here to see Billie Joe," Carl explained.

Danny seemed open to the latest arrival, but Donnie wasn't buying it. He stood off to one side like he wasn't with us. He watched Argyll, he watched me, but mostly he stared at Carl with a cold recognition in his eyes.

"You've come to take him away from us," Donnie charged vehemently.

"He's just visiting us," I said, wanting to defend the visit.

"We're going to talk about it," Carl said, ignoring my retort, having no feel for Donnie's despair.

It wasn't as much fun seeing Carl at that instant. It was a little like I'd been blindsided. I loved Carl, but I owed my loyalty to the boys. Whatever Carl had in mind for me, he wasn't going to like the outcome.

It all made sense. He took off from work and flew across the country. You don't do that without a reason. It's why I wasn't told he was coming. I glared at Argyll, having no forgiveness for his duplicity.

Argyll knew what the visit meant. He knew the stakes and he was betting Carl was going to leave without me. It's the first time I knew Argyll to be less than forthright with the truth, but I understood his motive. I didn't like it. I didn't like being played. I didn't like that he thought he could win a showdown between Carl and me.

Carl didn't like the living arrangements and he'd come to do something about it. I heard it in his voice the day he called and I was in Argyll's bed. I'd treated his concerns irresponsibly, because I knew they were unfounded. It hadn't been fair to Carl and he had come to see me in response. No matter my love for Carl, I couldn't leave the boys. He'd have to understand that. I'd do anything else he asked or demanded, but not that.

"Don't take him away from us," Donnie pleaded in a little boy's voice.

"I'd like to take him back with me," Carl said, looking at me as he spoke, "but that's not in the cards by the looks of it. He seems to have his hands full at the moment."

I wanted to get my hands full of Carl in spite of the situation, but I couldn't do anything suggestive in front of the kids. What I wanted to suggest included no one but him. I could prove I loved only him if he gave me a chance.

Denny and Danny seemed giddy over Carl's arrival, as he hoisted one and then the other onto his shoulder on the way to the car. Donnie walked well away from the new arrival. He had no interest in being tossed in the air or manhandled. I dropped back to walk beside him, wanting to reassure him, but he picked up his pace and moved up beside Argyll as we left the terminal. Once again Donnie's concern was vetoed by his younger brothers, but this time he wasn't going to be won over so easily.

Argyll remained his level-headed self and seemed happy that I was happy. He looped his arm over Donnie's shoulder as they walked together. Donnie glared up at him at first but decided he couldn't object to his only ally. Our happy little family faced its first crisis. I didn't now how it might turn out.

Denny sat on one side of Carl and Danny sat on the other; Donnie sat next to me on the seat that faced them, keeping his distance. Carl and I didn't touch each other overtly, but Carl's leg rubbed mine as we left the airport. Argyll stayed focused and offered the only plan. At least someone knew where we were going.

"You might want to change before we stop for dinner," Argyll suggested. "You have half-an-hour in this traffic."

Carl opened his gym bag, taking out jeans and a T-shirt with ARMY written across the chest.

"Man, look at his muscles, Donnie," Danny squealed, feeling Carl's chest, once it was revealed. "I want a chest like that when I grow up. You're handsome."

"Thank you," Carl said, as Danny examined more of his muscles once he heard no complaint.

"You are big," Denny said with admiration, using his eyes in favor of Danny's touchy feely approach.

"You might want to put your jeans on," I suggested without explaining. "We might want to save the biology lesson for Ms. Cho."

Carl finished dressing, smoothing his uniform across the seat between Donnie and me. He'd need to be wearing it when he arrived back on base, Monday night. Argyll would probably have it cleaned and pressed if he got a chance, but I didn't suggest it.

Argyll blended off the freeway, turning into a parking lot adjacent to a spaghetti restaurant in Daily City. We were early enough to beat the rush. The boys all ate spaghetti and meatballs. Argyll got an antipasto and spaghetti with pesto sauce. Carl got his with sausage and meatballs, which sounded good to me. The garlic bread kept flowing as did the soda that came in pitchers. It was good eating if not gourmet. It was a bit noisy, but we created a major amount of the din.

"It's on me," Argyll said to Carl, when the bill came.

"I'll leave the tip," Carl replied in his brusque voice.

He tossed a ten dollar bill on the table as we stood up to leave.

It was the first dust up, but I knew it wouldn't be the last. Carl wouldn't accept Argyll's generosity. Argyll could pay and so he did pay. Both were the sweetest guys in the world, but they had the ability to rub one another the wrong way, when it came to boundaries. I'd never been certain where my boundaries were, so unless I got an uneasy feeling I tended to accept the boundaries others set down.

There was a certain amount of tension coming from the fact I lived with Argyll, and Carl needed to see what was going on with that. We'd been away from one another for well over a month and Carl laid out the ground rules before I left Alabama. He'd accept my need to finish what I'd started while he was away in Japan, but he wouldn't accept my becoming involved with anyone he regarded as a threat to our relationship. He hadn't made up his mind about Argyll yet.

The three boys weren't a problem. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Donnie didn't show any interest in Carl, while Denny and Danny couldn't get enough of the new man in town. They wouldn't leave him alone.

Carl was wonderful with the boys. Even when Donnie didn't speak or make his wishes known, Carl tried to include him on his own terms. Donnie paid Carl no mind for reasons he didn't make clear. Except for the initial meeting he didn't have much to go on, but Donnie didn't need much.

Carl had Argyll stop at a super market before we hit the freeway again. He brought back a case of mixed soda along with a variety of candy for the boys and several kinds of ice cream for all of us. Argyll had gone out of his way to see to it the boys had a well balanced diet, keeping them full of the more healthy foods

"They don't need that much junk," Argyll fussed as he drove, listening to the boys celebrate their good luck.

"I do," Carl said without repentance. "They're kids. We need our sugar, don't we," Carl announced with full agreement from those in the back two seats.

A splurge when Uncle Carl visited would become the custom. Argyll didn't so much mind the sweets now and then. He did object to Carl thinking of it first. Argyll did everything as a matter of routine. It helped him to feel like everything was under control.

Carl didn't plan much in advance. He knew what had to be done but he didn't want to be tied to a specific schedule or routine when the Army wasn't insisting upon it. This created a spontaneity that allowed for a change of pace. For Carl, this left time to fit in fun stuff, candy and soda. Argyll had never done the fun stuff and there was some initial resistance to anything that was Carl's idea.

We got out in front of the building, while Argyll went to put the car back in the parking garage under the building.

"Damn," Carl said, looking at me, once he'd seen inside the apartment. "This is a fucking palace. He a Rockefeller or a Rothschild?"

"He's a Fiserelli. His father is an investment banker. He says the place belongs to his father, but I've never seen him."

"If I had a place like this I'd check in now and again," he said, sticking his head in each open door. "Hey, one of you get that ice cream in the freezer before it melts. You, Mr. Joe, show me where you sleep."

Carl closed the door behind us, when I showed him the small bedroom. He didn't say anything else, grabbing me and throwing me on the bed, coming down on top of me, planting his mouth on mine. His weight kept me from shifting, but with our mouth's matching up remarkably well, I wasn't going anywhere.

"You've been lifting weights," I said, acting just like Danny, once I realized how hard he'd become in places that weren't so hard before.

"Nah," he said, rolling onto his back. "I've got a captain that likes us in our skivvies and nothing else. We double time back and forth across base carrying telephone poles over our heads, one squad one pole. He likes to take pictures of 'his boys.'"

"You're hard as a rock," I admired, feeling under the T-shirt.

"Don't let Danny catch you doing that," Carl quipped. "Is that kid gay or what?"

"He's twelve!" I said as an explanation.

"I'm twenty and I've never been felt up like that before, present company excluded."

"He did not 'feel you up,'" I answered, recalling the event. "He likes your muscles."

"I was there, remember? You better put on your jeans? You thought he was going to go for my dick."

"Carl!"

I had an excellent memory, but my mouth became hindered by his tongue. I'd forgotten how completely Carl could remove me from my own reality, absorbing me into his. With both of my hands deep in his pants, my nightly dreams were about to come alive as I opened his pants to make my wish come true.

"You guys need to lock the door if you're going to screw in here," Donnie said, watching us break our clinch. "My brothers don't need to see that stuff."

"I thought I did," Carl said, trying to get his privates tucked away. Embarrassment showed on his face as Donnie's cool eyes stayed on us.

"Donnie, the door was shut. Knock first. Don't simply walk in," I explained. "Whenever Carl is here and that door is closed, walk away."

I was as angry with myself as I was with him, but I knew he knew not to walk in on us. He did it to interrupt or to see what was going on. He shouldn't have seen it either.

"It's my bedroom," he answered. "You sleep with Argyll?" he politely answered with the obligatory glare coming from Carl. "Argyll said to come get you. I did what I was told."

"And you just had to walk in on us?"

"I knew what you were doing. I'm not stupid."

"Knock when Carl's here," I asked more politely.

"Knock on Argyll's door when Carl isn't here?" Donnie threw in for good measure.

"Argyll's door is never closed. You boys sleep in there with us, as I recall."

"I just sleep there to keep an eye on my brothers," he said.

"Yeah, I recall you being the first one who wanted to get in bed with us, Donnie. You need to get your stories straight."

"Or something," Carl said, throwing his arm around Donnie's shoulders once he got to the door. "What does ole' Argyll want, Donnie my man?"

"He's waiting to dish us out some ice cream. He thought, since you bought it, you might want to dish it up. He told me to go see."

"Yeah, ice cream sounds good," Carl said. "Cool things off around here, huh, Joe."

Every time Carl said Joe, I cringed. It was his little dig, because he knew it was what Argyll called me. Carl wasn't beyond getting his own digs in at the appropriate time. I was hot and bothered and he was leaving with Donnie, who had steered clear of Carl until he was taking him away from me. He'd probably waited at the door for us to get going good before opening it to watch. I couldn't believe I thought that.

Donnie was turning out to be far more jaded than I'd suspected. He didn't miss a trick, but of course, I didn't either. I made a point of sitting next to him. It was another reason for me to see to it he had no reason to keep his angry edge. He was trying to prove to himself he couldn't trust us, but I wasn't going to let it happen. I'd keep my word no matter how hard it was.

Sitting at the table, Donnie waited for Carl to fix him the root beer over ice he'd asked for on the way to the kitchen. Carl treated him like he hadn't seen everything there was to see, but Donnie was in the midst of recalibrating where we all stood, and Carl was a distraction he'd use to his advantage if he could. It wasn't Carl he was angry with. It was me.

Carl took orders for ice cream and he dished it out. Denny wanted some of each, Danny wanted a root beer float with chocolate nut fudge ice cream, and they went about trying to finish the ice cream in one sitting. Donnie didn't have much to say and he didn't join in on the frivolity. He was watching me each time I looked to see where he was.

In the middle of a good laugh, coming from Carl threatening bodily harm to Argyll if he didn't eat at least one kind of ice cream, Donnie spoke up.

"You going to leave with him?"

"I'm not going anywhere. I've got you guys to take care of and you come first. Carl knows that and it would be nice if we could show him a good time while he's here. He came a long way."

"That's not the way it looked in the bedroom," Donnie said sharply.

"Donnie, I love Carl. He's my boyfriend, lover, and I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him, after I see to it you three boys are safe and well taken care of. We can wait until that is done."

"That's not what he thinks. He came here to take you back with him. He doesn't like you being here."

"I know," I said. "He understands that the three of you come before the two of us. I won't leave you, Donnie."

"What's wrong with Argyll?" Donnie asked.

"Nothing," I said. "Argyll is great."

"Why aren't you with Argyll instead of Carl? Argyll's a lot closer."

"I met Carl first. I fell in love with him. When that happens, you don't see other people in those terms. I never saw Argyll as anything but a good friend. Ask him. I didn't deceive him or you. I've put my life on hold to take care of you."

"He told me about Carl as soon as he knew I liked him," Argyll said. "I knew I didn't have much of a chance with him when I brought him home. I've been trying to change his mind, but meeting Carl, seeing them together, I'm happy they're happy. It makes me happy knowing Joe is in such good hands."

"Why would you put up with it?" Donnie turned to Carl, understanding all the elements involved but not how it was possible for those elements to fit together without someone being hurt.

"Donnie, I love Billie Joe and you're important to him. If you're important to him, you're important to me," Carl explained. "Yes, I want Billie Joe to come home with me. I understand why he can't."

Argyll took small spoonfuls of the chocolate nut fudge ice cream. He tried not to enjoy it, but the look on his face told another story. Then he ran the spoon over the empty bowl a half dozen times. He looked at the bottom of the empty bowl like he might cry.

I wasn't certain the lack of ice cream was what caused him to look so sad. There were truths that had been spoken and those truths weren't to Argyll's liking. I think he understood he'd set something in motion without realizing he'd be hurt most by the truths revealed, but Argyll wasn't a man to be sad for long.

We'd each listened with different degrees of concern for the answers. Donnie had thought about it longest, drawing his own conclusions before letting his anger with us loose. All three of the adults present had taken great care to calm his fears. Question and answer period ended for the moment, but Donnie would remain unconvinced until Carl flew back home without me. He tried not to show his fear but it was in every word and glance as was his relief when Carl left.

The first time I could corner Carl alone in my bedroom, I threw my arms around him and kissed him passionately, telling him "I love you" over and over again. I knew he wasn't happy, but I was going to change that and I had no doubt about it, but in my haste, I forgot to close the door.

"Excuse me," Argyll said, looking at our embrace. "You guys go ahead and sleep in here. I wanted to let you know that I'd keep the kids out of your hair. Donnie is still going to get between you every chance he gets, but I'll do what I can. He's so damn smart. He reminds me of you, Joe."

Carl grabbed Argyll's arm as he was closing the door to leave us alone at last.

"Thanks, Argyll. Billie Joe said you're a prince," Carl said, giving him a solid hug. "You are something."

"Yes, you are," I said, kissing Argyll's cheek as he blushed from our show of appreciation.

He smiled happily, closing the door as he left.

There was a certain incongruity that the two of them would never resolve. I suppose my being in the middle of them was as responsible as anything else, but they did like one another on a man to man basis with both admiring certain aspects of the other's persona. I loved them both and was satisfied that they loved me enough to trust my judgment. I only wish I did.

Argyll would always remain intimidated by Carl's physical size and strength, while Carl would feel the same way about Argyll's wealth and knowledge. Both picked something that was inalterable about the other to be jealous about. Argyll wanted to stay thin and eat healthy to stay healthy. Carl no more wanted a lot of money than I did. But I began to see that it was nice having money when you needed it.

Having a roof over our head and food in our belly was the most important thing for Carl and me. Living large required more energy than it deserved, and no amount of money makes you happy, and no amount makes a difference if you become deathly ill. The best thing about life was the people in it. I'd found a couple of winners.

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