East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 22

The Takeaway

Dury sat in his office taking notes for what he was going to say in front of the entire Pleasant Valley Community. He was light on his feet and more than capable of wooing a jury of his client's peers. He did it for most of his life.

This jury included everyone who lived in Pleasant Valley. Many of whom were accustomed to being left out. The words not welcome here often applied to them. Now Dury would ask them to open their hearts and welcome the homeless boys who weren't welcome anywhere. They'd found there way to Pleasant Valley. They'd heard it was a place that cared.

Did it care enough to give the boys a home?

Now he either had to ask them, or tell them, ten teenage boys were now Pleasant Valley's responsibility. Like all the people in Pleasant Valley, the boys were looking for a place where they belonged. Some found out about it from friends and some stumbled across it.

No matter how they came, the promise was the same.

"Judge Warren, can you come on Labor Day? Everyone will be here and you can see Pleasant Valley for yourself. OK. I'll see you then," Dury said, handing up. He was glad to get that phone call out of the way.

Judge Warren was the chief judge in Charleston. His father was a judge. Both his brothers and one of his daughters were lawyers. He was old Charleston and if Dury had The Judge on his side, the rest was likely to fall into place.

Dury walked next door. It was early and still quiet. Dury started and ended most days in Lisa's office. They talked over coffee on the days Lisa worked.

"Give me your cup. I'll fill it for you. I was just about to walk over to the kitchen to see what Keith has cooking."

"Good luck. I think he was with Carl last night. They usually don't surface until later on the days after they go out."

"I've never seen Keith so happy," Lisa said. "He has a spring in his step I've never seen before."

"Yes, and it's good to see, but I'm alone way too much. He was a godsend for me. He got me excited about living again. I guess he was bound to going back to having a life of his own."

"We only have a few units left in PV3. I can reserve you a unit if you like, sir," Lisa kidded.

"I did think about moving down here. I'm here all the time, but the house is where my wife was. I don't think I'll ever leave it. Besides, Gary built it for me. I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings, and he comes over fairly often."

Lisa brought back the coffee and sat behind her desk.

"You look like a man with a lot on his mind," Lisa said.

"I'm doing that talk to the residents this weekend. What if they ignore the invitation to meet me in the dining room?"

"Dury, we have two hundred residents. The dining room will seat two fifty without filling it. Since this is the first time you've addressed them, they'll come. You'll be fine. Thee are good people. They won't disappoint you."

"I'm not sure if I need to tell them what I want or ask them to get on board?" Dury said. "It's not what they signed up for, Lisa. There were no strings attached when they signed on."

"They're lucky to be here, and they know it, Dury. They know they're living in a special place. They help make it special. Pleasant Valley isn't so much a place, it's a spirit."

"I'm not feeling it. A jury is made up of 12 of my clients peers and I can take them where I want them to go, but a house full of people might not want to hear what I have to say. It does require their cooperation."

"Be open and honest. Tell it like it is. If Pleasant Valley is going to succeed, we'll need to take care of surprises. You're the father of Pleasant Valley. Act like you're their father and they'll listen to what you have to say."

"You always put me on the right track, Lisa. That's what I'll do," Dury said.

"By the way, Dr. Harvey was here while you were in town yesterday. I showed him his unit beside the AIDS clinic. I'd say by his reaction, he was pleasantly surprised. He didn't say anything but his face said it all. I don't think he was expecting it to be that nice."

"Gary went out of his way to make his unit special. Dr. Harvey treated my sister-in-law when AIDS was just gaining a foothold. He was a kind and gentle man. Barbara really got along well with him. She was forever calling him to ask a question about one of the men we were helping in those early days. Within five minutes he'd be on the phone. He'd stop what he was doing to answer her question," Dury said.

"He always regretted he couldn't save Brenda. Shortly after she died, he was a pioneer in Atlanta. He converted his entire medical practice to treating AIDS before Ronald Reagan ever said the word AIDS, or gave a thought to the tens of thousands of men dead from it. Harvey treated them when they were all looking at a death sentence. That couldn't be an easy thing to do," Dury said. "He knew because of Brenda, AIDS was no gay disease."

"He seemed nice. A bit preoccupied, but nice," Lisa said. "The men in the apartments are excited. I spread the word they're going to like him. Some knew the papers he's written, conferences he attended, and speeches he gave."

"How many HIV+ men do we have now?"

"Thirteen," Lisa said.

"They were all here from before?" Dury asked.

"All but one. We have one new man who is HIV+."

"You know them all. How are they doing, Lisa?"

"They look after each other. Keep each other's spirits up. They make sure everyone is taking their meds as prescribed. I'd say they're doing good compared to how they were doing when they were evicted from here. Like with Keith, we've gotten closer since Pleasant Valley began."

"So with PV3 near capacity, we have two hundred people?"

"Give or take a few. We left a few units open so referrals will have a unit. Having a few open units in each building will gives us flexibility. We are just short of two hundred residents."

"Gary is ready to build PV4."

Lisa paused as she took a drink of coffee. She gave that some thought.

"A PV5?" she asked.

"No. I'm not sure about four. Once I give my talk and once we have the Labor Day celebration with everyone participating, we'll decide then. See how manageable two hundred folks are and if adding fifty or sixty would change the dynamics more than we'd like."

"PV4 doesn't need to be as large as 1 thru 3. A less substantial building. Something that blends in with the scenery might be nice."

"We'll see. I'll see that Gary checks with you before we make anything final. Remind me if we begin to move too fast."

"I'm going to cut my days to one a week in the office, after Labor Day. We're going to be in the Needle Works after lunch each afternoon. There are nine of us at the moment. Two spend mornings at the laundry two days a week and the rest are involved in other activities. The Needle Works makes nine shops, plus the dry cleaners and laundry. There are four shops available after this week."

Dury stood on the platform that gave him a view of the final residents coming in to find a seat. It may not have been a full house, but it was close.

"Thank you for coming. I couldn't see how everyone would fit in here at one time, but Gary assured me you'd fit, and he was right. For those of you I haven't met yet, I'm Dury Lane," Dury said.

The applause began and increased as Dury looked out at the crowd.

"I don't know all of you. I'm the pencil pusher who makes this place run."

"You're the father of Pleasant Valley," Gary said.

There was more applause.

"I haven't done much parenting lately, but I've watched Pleasant Valley become far more than I envisioned. I wanted to create a place where people could live together, helping each other where possible, and money wasn't the first thing on everyone's mind. What I see, and hear, tells me we're doing it so far. The original idea was mine but it took a lot of people and each of you to make Pleasant Valley a reality. I think we did what we set out to do. I think this is a place people are happy to be."

There was more applause.

"I want to thank Lisa. She's the first person most of you see before you move here. There's no thanks that can repay Gary for building this incredible places. Most of all I want to thank Keith. The idea started with him. Keith is the man who keeps us fed, which assures we meet on the paths, trying to walk the last meal off before we sit down for the next."

There were cheer and a lot of applaud. Keith stood to more cheers.

"We don't meet like this often, because you shouldn't have to listen to me as partial payment for living here. I promise to do this only when I need to bring something important to your attention. Since I was faced with our first crisis, I wanted to make sure you knew what I am doing and why I'd doing it,," Dury said, hesitating to look at individual faces.

"As you enter PV1, you'll notice the beautiful neon work Carl has created for us. As beautiful as it is, I want each of you to look at the words written there the next time you come in that way. I, we, the people who developed Pleasant Valley, live by those words. 'Pleasant Valley, where we care about you.' It's no idle phrase. I believe it. I want you to believe it, and now we get to prove it's true," Dury said, pausing again.

"When we came up with the idea of Pleasant Valley, we were thinking about people who aren't always treated well, or fairly in our society. We built a place for people like you. Where you feel like you belong, because you haven't always been made to feel welcome where you have lived. If anyone had told me that it would come to pass even better than we dreamed it, I wouldn't have believed it. I hoped it would be a good place, a decent place. The kind of place that offers a better way to live. It took all of us to bring the dream to life. Thanks for helping."

"Pleasant Valley isn't words. It's people. As much as I thought I knew what kind of people would want to live in such a place, there are always surprises. Lisa was a surprise and all of you know her. You've got to get past her to live here. She's a force of nature and we're lucky to have her."

There was more applause and Lisa beamed.

"Pleasant Valley has had children. I didn't see that coming, but David, the boy who led some homeless kids to the forest near Pleasant Valley, heard about us and he was sure we'd feed them. Keith, having been homeless himself at one time, didn't hesitate. I did. I didn't know what to make of it. I'm a lawyer and things need to be done according to the law. Feeding hungry kids that are homeless breaks more than one ordinance in man locals, I'm sure, but there is an alternative, let them go hungry, but that's not an alternative I like."

There was applause and people nodded their heads in agreement.

"If you'll look at the wheelchairs scattered about, you'll see several young faces parked nearby, ready to assist the wounded warrior they made sure got down here to listen to all this hot air."

People laughed. Some applauded the young men.

"The boys and our soldiers have bonded. There is no more than a couple of years difference in age, so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise, but it surprised me. Keith, Lisa, and Gary all knew what had to be done, and believe me when I say, I had no alternative but to do the right thing if I wanted to keep the peace," Dury said.

He paused to look at the faces again.

"You'll see a wooden frame structure just behind the main gardens on the far side of the lake. Gary put it up to get out boys out of the elements."

People applauded Gary.

"The boys work for their supper, breakfast and lunch too, but it isn't work. They help a soldier who earned that assistance. If they need someone to lean on, the boys have been there for them. When laundry is collected from your doors to go to be washed and dried, it is one of our boys who pick it up and delivery back to you," Dury said, looking up. "They do a lot for their supper."

"I suppose I should have asked you if you approved or not, but I'm afraid they've blended into our community so well that there would be no way to exclude them now. They are here. They are our kids and we will care for them as we care for each other."

"You didn't say anything to me," Joseph said from down in front of Dury.

"No, Joseph, I didn't. We only discussed it among the board. You're a teacher. I can't imagine you having an objection."

"I do, and I am not without experience with these boys that are so helpful to so many. Let me tell you about these young men. They regularly and without mercy beat me badly at ping pong. I'd developed a certain reputation as a man who could hold his own on a ping pong table, and these young men came along and knocked me off my perch. I'm a poor old man who did nothing to them, but I tell you how you can repay me, turn them over to me for two hours a day, together, or in small groups, and I'll drum English and literature into them so they aren't so quick on their feet comes the evening when it's time for ping pong."

Everyone laughed.

"I'm new. I haven't settled in yet. My name is Joyce Brockway. I taught history. I'd be willing to hold classes a few days a week. Count me in and I don't even play ping pong."

"I was a science teacher for years. I'm Glenn Mayhew. I've missed being in the classroom. I'd like to teach the boys about science and the universe in which they live if I might."

There was more applause and more offers to instruct the boys.

"I'm Carl. I helped build Pleasant Valley. I was a soccer coach and a camp instructor at summer camp for teenagers. I'm sure I can be useful in helping the boys stay fit. That grassy patch behind the apartments would make a perfect athletic field. Just saying," Carl said.

"i do have a favor to ask. I need a witness or two for what I want to say. I'd say that this audience qualifies. You've probably seen me with Keith, because I'm with him as often as I can be. I wanted to ask Keith, will you marry me?"

Keith turned pink and then red, holding his hand over his mouth as the audience cheered the proposal.

"Well, that about says it all," Dury said. "Is their a preacher in the house?"

Everyone laughed.

"Keith, you deserve happiness. I'm glad you found it," Dury said. "And you folks take my breath away. I had no idea how you'd react to what I had to say. You prove the words over our door are true," Dury said. "I keep thinking, there's no way we can make Pleasant Valley better than we imagined it could be, but you've made it so. Thank you. I'll get out of here now."

Everyone stood and applauded as they prepared to leave.

Most of Pleasant Valley showed up for the food and fun offered at the Labor Day celebration. There were picnic tables with coffee and snacks to feed the early arrivals until the afternoon picnic and evening wedding feast filled out the day's events, and there were no shortage of volunteers to help make the day a success.

"Carl! Carl! Aren't you a shamed of yourself. A man with your assets should be spreading them around amongst the less fortunate. Like me. A man like you shouldn't limit himself to one man."

"Bobby Lee, I only love one man. What good would I be to you? You'd know my heart belonged to Keith. I'd know it and why would you want to rob yourself of finding a man who has your heart and wants only you to have his?"

"i could suffer through it far a night with you. You really didn't give anyone else much of a chance," Bobby Lee lamented.

"Keith and I came to an understanding the first time we saw each other," Carl said, leaning on the table where some of the men from the apartments sat.

"Love at first sight?" Matt asked.

"I suppose. I don't know what you call it. I've never been in love before and after I saw Keith, no one else appeals to me. He's the man I want to spend the rest of my life with."

"Romance is in the air," Jamee said. "This place never had that kind of atmospherics before you came, Carl."

"I do what I can," Carl said. "There's a man out there waiting for you, Bobby Lee, if you took the time to look for him."

"You've got to be kidding," Jamee said. "Bobby Lee stick with one man? Love is a numbers game for him."

"What do you know?" Bobby Lee said. "I could change my stripes."

Jamee growled like a big cat.

The gay men from the apartments laughed as they considered the proposition.

"Keith, you better get out of here. You're going to make a mess of your tuxedo. You don't work on your wedding day," a plump purple haired woman said, moving Keith away from the many dishes and ingredients for the days meal.

"I can't help it. I worry things won't be right," Keith said.

"Honey, we won't let you down. Go relax. You want to save your energy for your wedding night," another woman said.

The kitchen, as always, was a beehive of activity and laughter.

"What's wrong, Keith?" Lisa asked, you look worried.

"I am, Lisa. What if he decides he doesn't love me? What if he looks at me and sees what I really look like? I'm scared, Lisa. I've never been married. I never thought I'd ever be married. It's a shock to my system. It's all happening so fast."

"It's your right. We all get to marry the one we love now."

"It just seems like yesterday I avoiding mentioning my interest in men, and now I can get married. It wasn't possible two months ago. Now it is."

"Carl is the sweetest man I know, besides you. You're made for each other. My God, he's the catch of all season's, Keith, and he loves you. It don't get no better than that."

"Hello, Judge Warren. Welcome to Pleasant Valley. Thanks for coming."

"Thank you, Dury. How's the happy couple?" Judge Warren said as he got out of his car. "I don't mind telling you I'm nervous about this."

"Judge, I told them I had someone to marry them. They don't know it's the chief judge in Charleston. I didn't want to reveal that surprise."

"I've never officiated at a gay marriage before. I hope I don't screw this up, Dury. When you asked me to come out here, it involved me meeting some teenage boys. Now I'm marrying people and breaking new ground while doing it. Things do move fast in Pleasant Valley. It's a fine looking place, I might add."

"I'm afraid my hand in it was more in the way of ideas. The people who make Pleasant Valley what it is do the work. I want you to meet Lisa first. She interviews the applicants."

"You trying to rent me one of your places, Dury? My wife would never leave the Warren family home. I, on the other hand, might be talked into leaving all that junk she accumulates. I've got to build another house just for her stuff."

"Judge, you do have it rough. I suspect a drink might sooth you a bit before the hard work begins."

Dury and the judge walked arm in arm as they paused to look at the neon on the front of PV1.

"That's quite lovely," the judge said. "Nice sentiment. Dury, I didn't know you had it in you. You've always been all business."

The walked down the hallway to Lisa's office and stopped.

"Lisa, Keith, this is Judge Warren. He'll be marrying you today, Keith," Dury said with delight in his voice.

"I'm afraid I'm marrying Carl, Dury, but he is a handsome judge," Keith managed.

They all had a good laugh.

"Keith, get lost. The judge isn't supposed to see you before he marries you," Dury said.

"That's the groom," Lisa said.

"Him too," Dury said. "Lisa, come on, we're going to have a drink, and you're going to tell Judge Warren about Jimmy Simmons."

"My pleasure," Lisa said. "It's a bit early for a drink."

"That story shouldn't only be told after a drink," Dury said.

"A story?" the judge asked.

"I could tell the story, but it's Lisa's story. She can tell it better."

A few minutes later Judge Warren was back in Dury's office with his second drink in hand.

"What do you want from me, Dury. You've always been my favorite attorney, but I don't do special favors," Judge Warren said. "We need to keep this according to the laws I'm sworn to uphold."

"I'm doing you the favor, Judge. The boys have their own place my contractor built for them. They're going to school with some impressive teachers. They work with our wounded warriors and our seniors. I want you to emancipate them and sanction their relationship with Pleasant Valley. The city of Charleston is off the hook and the boys will have a foundation that will help them succeed in life. You can't do better than that."

"And there will be hell to pay when someone investigate what I've done and finds these boys are around gay men on a daily basis," Judge Warren said.

"You are giving these boys a shot. Think about Jimmy and what he endured while in state custody. The worry being, kids will have sex before they're eighteen. Do you know what teens on the street do in order to eat, Judge? I know you know. I know you know the same way I know. The fear that teenagers will have sex is used to justify all kinds of punishment, and yet sex buys and sells everything in this society. We put kids into jeopardy in a system that isn't prepared to and can't afford to take care of them properly. The sex your system is protecting them from runs rampant. It's forced on weaker boys by the bigger more powerful boys. It's a fact of life in confinement situations."

"It is the system we have," the judge said.

"The system we had denied gay men and woman the right to marry the person they love until now. There was no reason they couldn't marry, just meanness and hate, but here you are, adapting to a system that can change."

"You know about Samuel, my youngest son. Was a time it could be swept under the carpet. We'd known all along. Connie knew. She babied Samuel. He was a special boy. I didn't understand it. South Carolina didn't tolerate it. Samuel was tormented to death. I regret I was too stupid to do anything to save my son. My ignorance helped to kill him, and once they're gone.... "

"I met Samuel one Christmas at your house. Fine looking boy," Dury said, as the judge looked up at Dury's face.

"This morning," he went on. "My wife asked me where I was going. I turned to her and said, 'I'm going to marry two men who love each other today.' She cried. I don't think she's forgiven me yet, but I'm doing the right thing."

Both men drank and thought about it.

"How many of these boys are gay?"

"You know the statistics as well as I do. No way to know. I know men who were in their thirties before they faced the fact they were gay."

"Four or five," Judge Warren said. "Why would parents throw away their kids?"

"They do. We're prepared to take care of these boys. You'd be negligent if you didn't let us do it. Can I guarantee you that none of them will become sexually active before they're eighteen, no I can't. Can you guarantee me a boy you put into your system isn't going to be sexually abused? No you can't. Let's face the facts and give these boys a chance with people and not take the chance with a system we know only too well."

"I can't guarantee a kid will come out of state custody better than when I put him into the state's hands. Odds are he'll be worse for the experience, but it's the system we have. It's the law I'm duty bound to enforce."

"So let us raise these kids in a place where they're cared for and about. We can make their lives better than you can. Our society doesn't have a very good record with folks who live on its fringes. It's time to put the children in the hands of people and let the state do whatever it is the state does."

The judge sat staring into his drink. He heard every word. He knew his answer. He could just say yes.

"Give me a few days to deal with children's protective services. I might want Lisa to come over to the courthouse and talk to them. You're persuasive. I might need you to speak to them if I can't convince them. I'll have Pleasant Valley certified to educate these particular boys. The fact they're working and integrated into the community should count for something. Who knows, your revolutionary ideas might catch on, Dury. I don't mind telling you, you ask a lot of a tired old judge."

"I want what's right. You want what's right. Let's make it happen," Dury said. "If we can't save them all, let's save these boys."

The gazebo was constructed at the edge of the lake and it was covered in white roses and Baby's Breath. The microphone sat near the front, facing two hundred people who still sat at the picnic tables, enjoying the company of friends, and the festive atmosphere.

"I'm back," Dury said, blowing into the microphone to be sure it was on.

People applauded the action.

"Since we've filled Pleasant Valley with you folks, we're giving thought to building PV4 in the sixteen acres beyond PV3. Nothing is final yet but we want to keep you in the loop."

"Keith, who we've run out of the kitchen for the day, has my profound thanks for coming into my life and helping to bring this community to life," Dury said, pausing for the applause. "I just wanted to tell Keith and Gary, my two partners in crime, how they've inspired me and made my life better. I wasn't sure what kind of man I'd become once I retired. I don't mind telling you I was worried for a while. Thank you both and may this only be the beginning of our partnership. I'll turn this over to Lisa."

"Thank you, Dury. You are truly the father of Pleasant Valley. Thanks!"

People stood to applaud.

"I've known Keith for years. He's one of the sweetest men I've known. Seeing him so happy makes me happy," Lisa said as people applauded. "I've known Carl for a few months. It's easy to see Keith and him are made for each other, and with no more delay, His Honor, Judge Warren, who will make the first marriage in Pleasant Valley history official. This will be a short ceremony to make it legal. There will be an exchange of vows during the reception later. Judge Warren, Keith & Carl," Lisa said as the participants moved forward.

"I had a son, Samuel," Judge Warren said. "He didn't live to meet the man he'd fall in love with and marry him. When I got this opportunity to marry Keith and Carl, I thought of my son, and I'm honored to participate in my first gay marriage ceremony. Gentlemen, please face each other."

The judge stood between the two and a few steps back from them.

"We'll be brief so I keep my composure," Judge Warren said. "Nothing I can say here will help these two love each other more. Keith, do you take this man to be your married partner for life?"

"I do," Keith said, and the tears began to flow.

"Carl, do you take this lovely man to be your married partner for life?"

"I do," Carl said.

"Gentlemen, you know what to do. I pronounce you married in the eyes of God, this community, and in accordance with the laws of the State of South Carolina. Congratulations!"

Keith and Carl, dressed in white tuxedos, embraced, kissing as cheers erupted from their Pleasant Valley neighbors.

The sky was a rich azure. it was a perfect Charleston day.

The End

Perhaps, one day, we'll meet in Pleasant Valley.

Rick Beck

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