Road Not Taken
We may say to ourselves 'That could never happen to me', or 'I'd never do that', or 'I'll never go there', yet years later we find that those things have happened. We did do those things, and we are precisely where we vowed you would never be. So we are left to wonder what chain of events and what decisions led to this place, and viewed retrospectively, the progression from where we were to where we are often seems natural, logical and inevitable. This is because some decisions place limitations on future choices, so the first few decisions can build a path toward a seemingly inevitable destination.
For me, 'this place' was our class reunion, sixteen years after I left school. When I went away to university I had no intention of ever going back to my old school, and the idea of attending a reunion, a pointless rosy-spectacled trip down memory lane, was totally ludicrous. Let's face it, only losers and those with nothing better to do would go to a school reunion, but people like myself, a successful self-made businessman, have much better ways to spend their time. Yet there I was, sitting at a table in the school's new assembly room, sipping my beer and observing its inhabitants as if they were animals in the wild. While I made my observations, I pondered the unlikely set of coincidences that led to me to that place.
Some weeks earlier, I'd received the usual annual invitation to the class reunion, but on this occasion it was accompanied by a hand written note from Gerard. He informed me that this year he was one of the organisers and added a personal wish that I would attend. Despite the note and my fond memories of Gerard, I immediately threw away the invitation. After all, the last time I saw him was almost fourteen years earlier when we met up for a drink in one of our hometown's many pubs. Although we'd enjoyed our evening together, it had been clear to me that our two years spent at different universities on opposite sides of the country had caused our friendship to fade. We'd just grown up and grown apart.
Then, on the Monday morning in the week before the reunion, I was dictating a letter in my office when the phone rang. As the way it was ringing indicated that the call was from outside the company, I answered with a simple if somewhat brusque 'hello'. This was because I assumed that anyone who had the number to contact me directly and bypass both the switchboard and my secretary should already know to whom they were speaking.
"Steve?" said a gruff voice.
I immediately recognised the voice. My whole body tensed, and I felt a wave of irritation wash over me.
"Dad," I said, keeping my voice cool and controlled as I suppressed my annoyance.
"Your gran's dead," he said bluntly. "You'll need to arrange to come home for the funeral."
As usual, his words were issued in the tone of a command, and in other circumstances I might have told him to sod off, as I'd done so many times since I'd left home, but on this occasion I didn't feel like starting an argument. Gran was Dad's mother, and now that she was dead he was my only living relative. My own mother had died of lung cancer shortly after I went away to university, and I sometimes wondered if she'd deliberately smoked herself to death as a way of escaping my father.
"Oh," I said without emotion. "What happened?"
Such a lack of feeling on my part might be considered strange and possibly reprehensible to most people from 'normal' families. However, I knew there was no point in showing emotion to my father, who would only take it as a sign of weakness that he would exploit if he could.
"It was very quick," he said, matching my tone. "She was found dead in her chair by her housekeeper on Friday morning. She had a stroke."
"And you're just telling me now?" I said, barely able to suppress my annoyance.
"Well there was no point in phoning you until I'd finalised arrangements for the funeral, was there?' he said a if he were scoring a point. "After all, you wouldn't want me bothering you with a whole series of phone calls, would you?"
Yes, he was definitely scoring points. For the last few years I'd made it clear that communications from him were unwelcome, and in my view I was justified in doing so. When I was growing up I had no choice but to suffer his overbearing attitude and occasional episodes of aggressive drunkenness. After I graduated from university and set up my own business, I could escape from the drunkenness, but I still had to tolerate his domineering behaviour because he'd loaned me the money to start up the company. Although his own wealth was inherited, he also owned a few hardware stores in the region round my hometown, so he seemed to think that his dabblings in business had made him an expert. So he'd kept phoning me up to give me 'advice' on how to run my own company. However, as soon as the loan was repaid I'd told him that he should stop interfering.
"So when is the funeral, then?" I asked.
"Next Monday at ten o'clock, but you'll need to be here on Sunday."
"Why?" I asked, irritated at being told what I 'needed' to do.
"That's when I've arranged help to clear out Gran's house," he said with a hint of some emotion, possibly triumph, in his voice. "I know you had some stuff stored at her place, so if you want to make sure it doesn't get thrown away then you'd better be there."
When I was at school and university I'd spent quite a bit of time at Gran's house, mainly to get away from my father, and there were a few things of some sentimental value still there. I knew that Dad's threat to throw away my stuff was just an attempt to exert a little control over me, but I also knew that it was possible that he might carry out that threat, so I agreed to be there on the Sunday. As it would take over three hours to drive there, I arranged to arrive at Dad's house on the Saturday afternoon.
Saturday arrived all too soon, and despite the enjoyment of being in my brand-new BMW, I drove with all the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner walking to the gallows. When I arrived, Dad opened the door with a grunt and then proceeded to try and interrogate me about my business and personal life. After it became clear that I had no intention of answering questions with anything more than barely-polite monosyllables, he lost interest and proceeded to more or less ignore my existence. I'd just finished unpacking my small overnight bag and hanging up my Brioni suit when he announced that he was going out to dinner with friends.
"There's no food in the house," he added with a small smile of satisfaction, "so I'd advise you to do the same. If you had any friends."
"I've got plenty of friends!" I growled, barely controlling my anger. "Just because I don't tell you about them doesn't mean they don't exist."
He smiled again, pleased that he'd managed to provoke me, and I cursed myself for rising to the bait. Obviously, during the recent years of little contact with him, I'd lost some of the skills I'd developed to deal with his provocations.
After he left me alone in the house, it wasn't long before I started to get bored. I didn't feel in the mood to watch TV, and despite the long drive I wasn't at all tired or sleepy. Beside that, I was also beginning to feel hungry, so I considered going out to a pub for some food. At that point I remembered the class reunion, the prospect of which seemed slightly less unattractive than a night alone in a strange pub, especially as the invitation had mentioned a buffet. I looked Gerard up in the little notebook that accompanied me everywhere and, on the off chance that he hadn't moved since the entry was made, I dialed the phone number that was listed by his name.
"Hello. Ged?" I said when a male voice answered.
"It's Steve," I said cheerfully. "I just got into town."
"Steve?" he replied uncertainly.
"Yeah, Steve Kenny. Remember?" I said, a little surprised and almost shocked that he didn't remember me immediately. "You, me and Danny were the Unholy Trinity."
When we were fourteen the three of us had been given that joint nickname by one of the priests who ran the school, probably because we were often getting into trouble. Fortunately for us, we often escaped the heavier punishments, mainly because of our positions in the school. Gerard was a brilliant rugby player and occasionally played in junior international games, Danny was so good at soccer that he was made captain of the school team when he was just fifteen, and I not only got the best academic results the school ever had but I was also the orchestra's star trumpet player. Besides that, my father was a major contributor to the school funds. We were winners in the game of school life, and so could get away with almost anything.
"Steve! Great to hear from you. I hadn't heard from you for so long I thought you'd died or something. When I became a reunion co-coordinator this year I saw the school had an address for you, so I thought I'd use the invitation to get back in touch."
When he paused I stayed silent for a couple seconds, basking in the enthusiasm of his greeting.
"You didn't RSVP did you?" he continued after a brief pause.
"Er, no," I said, slightly embarrassed. "I didn't expect to be able to get here, but there were, erm, family problems, and I had to come back here anyway. So I just wondered if there were any spare places tonight."
I didn't want to tell him about my gran's death and funeral in case he thought me odd for wanting to go out socialising under such circumstances or, worse still, in case he started offering sympathy and condolences.
"Well, we had a couple of last minute cancellations. Are you on your own?" he said. Then, in a semi-joking tone, he added, "No girlfriend, wife, mistress or whatever?"
"Nah. You know me. I've always been too busy, and I'm not the type to settle down with just one woman!"
My tone was light and bantering, but what I didn't tell him, what I'd never told anyone, was that I wasn't interested in women that way and I never had been. I'm gay, and the 'too-busy-working-and-playing-the-field' ploy was one I used on everyone, even my closest friends. Ever since I was fifteen I'd been camouflaging myself by occasionally dating females, but as soon as things looked like they might get physical, I found an excuse to dump them and continue 'playing the field'. Of course, at the ripe old age of thirty-three, some people might have suspicions about my prolonged bachelor status, but as far as I knew they never voiced any such suspicions.
Over the years I'd had many brief and discreet physical liaisons with other males, but they were never serious, mainly because I was much happier without emotional involvement. I enjoyed 'playing the field' and didn't want to be tied down to just one guy. Because I could see no point in exposing my sexuality to the world, I was quite content to stay in the closet, especially as I could find plenty of sexual partners without outing myself.
I knew that in my father's eyes there was nothing worse than being queer, and when I first realised that I was gay I was determined that at any cost I had to prevent my father discovering that fact. Living under his domineering control was bad enough without giving him even more excuses to denigrate me. Also, while I was still financially dependant on him, I couldn't risk him throwing me out or disowning me. Furthermore, at my Catholic school, my anti-gay education continued. So, by the time I'd learned that there was nothing wrong with being gay, I'd grown into my habit of secrecy, and that habit had become a comfortable way of life.
The reunion was being held in the school assembly room, and as soon as I entered I noticed an odour that evoked many memories. Despite the overlaid scents of cologne, perfume, food and alcohol, I could also detect a smell that in my mind was forever associated with school. It was strange, I thought, that the smell should be the same even though I'd not been here for sixteen years and despite the fact that this assembly hall had been built long after I left the place.
Gerard did his best to make me welcome, and he pointed out a few people he thought I might remember. I nodded politely, though I'd totally forgotten most of them. Obviously, those attending the reunion were not a truly random selection of our classmates, but even so I was surprised to learn that such a high proportion of them still lived in the same boring little town. Even among the few classmates I remembered, I barely recognised most of them. Gerard himself was recognisable, though his bulky muscles had become flabby and his face had acquired a double chin. It was with a pleased smugness that I realised that I'd kept myself in much better condition than most of my classmates.
When I asked if Danny were coming, he informed me that the third member of our Unholy Trinity had died after being stabbed in a pub fight. That news made me genuinely sad, and after briefly recalling some shared memories of Danny, Gerard went to greet some late arrivals.
With nothing better to do, I found an empty table where I could sit and sip my beer while I looked around the room. There were about eighty people there, some dancing in the centre under the coloured lights, some sitting at tables around the edge, but most standing around and moving from one group to another. Most of my ex-classmates appeared to have brought wives or some other category of female companion, and it was amusing to see how quickly I could work out which male was with which female. It was while I was playing that little game that I saw him.
Because both Gerard and the other 'greeter' were busy chatting to other people, this new arrival made directly for the bar, and as he walked across the room I noticed the elegance with which he moved his tall slender body. My heart leapt when I got a better look at his handsome face, which was topped by dark, curly hair, and I was sure that I recognised him. It was John Locke, the only person I'd ever fallen in love with. Following closely behind him was a pleasant looking man who was casting nervous glances around the room.
When the two of them reached the bar, John gave his companion a reassuring smile and gently touched him on the shoulder before turning to the barman and ordering their drinks. Even at that distance I could tell that there was an emotional bond between them and that they were more than just friends. Then I wondered if that was just my gaydar that enabled me to deduce that or if others in the room might have noticed it as well. However, a quick look around told me that if anyone else had noticed the affection between the two men, then they were ignoring it. After getting their drinks they went to sit at an empty table just a few yards from me.
John gave no indication that he'd seen me, and again my heart beat harder and faster as I tried to decide if I should go and speak to him or wait for him to notice me and maybe speak to me. I thought it might be nice to see how he was doing and maybe to let him know what a success I'd made of my life. However, bearing in mind what happened the last time we spoke to one another, I decided to wait.
One reason I didn't go and speak to him immediately was that, mainly due to me, most of my classmates believed he was gay. Of course, I felt a little guilty that I was responsible for his reputation, but I was also concerned that there was a risk that if I took the initiative and went to talk to him then people might become suspicious about my own sexuality. So, as I waited to see if he would notice me and recognise me, I recalled our past.
When we'd been at school together, I'd been in the popular crowd of 'winners', and although John hadn't really been a 'loser', he wasn't particularly popular and had just blended in with the majority of ordinary students. Unlike Gerard, Danny and myself, John had no special abilities and came from a poorer part of town, so for the first couple of years at the school he fell below my metaphorical radar. Then, when I was fourteen, I found out that he had an unusual kindness and gentleness, combined with an amazing sensitivity to the feelings of others. These qualities, together with his discretion and lack of friends made him an ideal wank-buddy. Yes, that's right, while having to share a changing cubicle on a school trip to the local swimming pool, we discovered the joys of mutual masturbation.
That was another instance of how fate conspires to send us down a path we might not otherwise have chosen. If we hadn't been forced by circumstances to share that changing cubicle, we might never even have spoken to one another, much less become physically intimate. Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing one another naked, or our mutual horniness, or his exceptional boldness, or maybe it was a combination of all of those. Whatever the reason, for the next three years we were secret wank-buddies.
Of course I never admitted to him that I was gay and I never asked him if he was. Indeed, for the first year of this clandestine 'relationship' most of our verbal interactions involved me swearing him to absolute secrecy and threatening him with dire consequences if he ever let anyone know about us. For the most part it was I who decided when and where it was safe to meet, and I was always in charge, which was only right bearing in mind that I was a member of the famous Unholy Trinity and he was just a nobody. However, at least in my eyes, he was a very attractive nobody
After about a year of this purely physical interaction, we began to have conversations, and I learned that he was amusing and clever, as well as being a wonderful wanker. However, all those conversations were in private, and in public we exchanged only brief greetings on those rare occasions when I acknowledged his existence at all. Then one day he suggested we try oral sex, and although I let him suck me off a few times, at first I refused to reciprocate because that might imply that I was gay. However, I did eventually start to suck him off as well, provided that he first agreed with me that it wasn't queer as long as we were just guys helping one another out. Another few months went by with frequent hand-jobs and occasional blowjobs until one day, just after I'd sucked him off, he kissed me on the lips.
"What the fuck!" I shouted in anger and panic, pushing him away. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"It was just a kiss!" he said defiantly, although he was cowering back.
"Boys kissing boys is queer," I growled at him. "Do you think I'm queer?"
"I'm not a boy," he said, maintaining his defiant tone and ignoring my question. "I'm sixteen now."
"That just makes it worse!" I hissed, pulling up my trousers.
He didn't respond, and instead, looking like a whipped puppy, he pulled up his own trousers and began fastening his belt. Seeing his expression, I felt sorry for him and regretted the violence of my reaction, though for both our sakes I felt that I needed to make him see sense.
"Look," I said gently and reasonably, "we're not queer. We're just helping each other out, having fun until we can get the real thing. If you mess things up with queer stuff like kissing... well, then I can't do this with you anymore. You understand that, don't you?"
From his expression and especially the look in his eyes I had the feeling that he didn't understand, but he did nod his head in agreement.
"I don't want to stop doing this," he said, sounding defeated. "If I promise not to try any kissing stuff, we can keep on, can't we?"
"Yeah, of course we can," I agreed happily, relieved that the crisis was over.
All went smoothly for a few more months, and although we never went beyond oral sex, we did occasionally manage to spend an hour or two completely naked in bed together. On the last of those occasions, one afternoon when we were in his bed, he dropped a bombshell on me.
"I love you," he whispered as he snuggled up to me.
He nuzzled my chest, and in my post-orgasmic glow I very nearly admitted that I felt the same about him, but then I came to my senses and just froze. After a moment of frantic thought I decided that the best course of action was to pretend that I hadn't heard him. After all, it was probably just the after-effects of his own orgasm, and he probably didn't really mean it. Then he ruined everything.
"Did ya hear me?" he said, looking up into my eyes with a hint of defiance. "I love you."
"But that's queer!" I moaned as my contentment dissolved.
"And I'm gay," he said, emphasising the word that he'd substituted for 'queer'. Then he continued, "And what we've been doing is gay..."
"No it isn't!" I protested, rolling away from him. "And even if it is, then it doesn't mean that I am!"
Of course there was no logic in my assertions, but I wasn't thinking logically, and among my many churning emotions, the uppermost was fear. Deep down I already knew that I was gay, but the prospect of losing my status at school and maybe being kicked out of my home by my father was too terrifying to contemplate. Getting off the bed, I dressed while he just lay there looking at me, his face expressing several emotions, sometimes sequentially and sometimes together. The main emotion I read in him was sadness but I think that there was also more than a hint of pity.
"That's it, then," I said, overcome with a sense of loss. "We can never do this again. It's over."
"Why?" he said, tears forming in his eyes. "We can still keep it secret."
"No we can't," I said, deliberately hardening my heart against my own feelings of love and loss. Then, for no logical reason, I added, "We're too old for this now."
"But I know you feel the same about me," he said, the tears now flowing down his cheeks. "I know it. I can feel it."
I wanted to deny it, scream at him that he was wrong, but I couldn't, so I just finished getting dressed and left without another word. After that we never had any further contact outside school, and in school I ignored him completely, though my heart almost broke when he gave me one of his sad, shy smiles.
My last real interaction with John was the saddest of all and happened just a couple of months before we left school. One afternoon after classes had ended, I'd been in the music room practicing for the end of year concert, and when I'd had enough I made my way out of the building along a deserted corridor. Just as I was passing the narrower corridor that led to a storeroom, a quiet voice surprised me, making me jump.
"Hi," John said.
"Hi," I replied, stopping and looking around to make sure no one was in sight.
"Ya know we're going to be leaving school soon," he said, so quietly that it was barely audible. "Then we may never see one another again."
"Yeah. So?" I replied, pretending indifference and suppressing the sadness evoked by his words.
"So I've got one favour to ask, just one favour for all the good times we had together. Do you think you'd do just one little thing for me?"
I was totally confused, unsure what to do, and still feeling bad about the time that he said he loved me. My emotions were all mixed up. and I wasn't really thinking clearly.
"I s'pose," I said cautiously. "Maybe. What is it?"
"I want you to let me kiss you properly before we say goodbye for the last time."
"But why?" I asked, unsettled by his request.
"That way I'll know," he said. "I'll know what it's like to kiss you and I'll know how you really feel about me."
"But not here," I said. Only after the words left my mouth did I relise that I was implying agreement.
"Yes," he replied, "here and now, cos it's probably the only chance I'll get."
To this day I don't know why I agreed, why I took such a risk after being so careful for so many years. Maybe guilt played a part or maybe it was temporary insanity. Didn't someone once say that being in love is a form of temporary insanity? Whatever the reason, I moved to join him in the small side corridor. There I stood, waiting for him to kiss me. Leaning forward, he placed his lips on mine and I felt his tongue tentatively brush my lips then push between them into my mouth. There I was, almost eighteen years old, having my first real tongue-in-mouth kiss, and it took my breath away. Eventually I could breath again, and without any conscious thought I responded, copying the actions of his mouth and tongue.
Then I heard footsteps behind me in the main corridor and I panicked, pushing John away from me as I spun around to see two of the boys from the music room.
"What's going on, Steve?" the taller one, who was my age, said.
My panic grew until I could hardly breath, and I asked myself if they'd reached the junction of the corridors before or after I'd pushed John away. Had they seen the kiss? As I couldn't be sure, I had to assume the worst, and I had to do something, anything to protect myself.
"There's just this queer boy skulking down here," I said, pretending disgust. "He's trying to get normal guys to kiss him."
To emphasise my point I turned back to John, who just stood there looking stunned, and I pushed him so hard that he fell to the ground.
"Bloody poof!" the smaller boy behind me said. "Shall we give him a good kicking?"
Inwardly I breathed a sigh of relief because those words indicated that he believed my almost incredible assertion.
"Nah," I said, looking down at John, hoping he could read the regret in my eyes. "He's not worth it. No point in us risking getting into trouble. He's leaving the school soon, anyway."
As I turned my back on John and began to shepherd the other boys away from him, I heard him speak very quietly from the floor.
"I was right," he said with a strange mixture of sadness and triumph."
After that incident John and I never spoke to one another again, and never even exchanged glances. When school finished he disappeared from my life, but despite my efforts he didn't disappear from my memories. Those special memories were kept locked away in the secret places of my heart.
Now there he was at the reunion, grown a little bigger and even more attractive, sitting just a few yards from me. Then, to my amazement, Gerard went over to John and started chatting with him and his companion as if they were his friends. To add to my discomfort Gerard nodded his head in my direction before going back to his wife. Although I was trying to pretend that I wasn't looking at them, I saw that John and the man next to him seemed to be engaged in a heated conversation. Then they both stood up and walked over to my table, and as they approached I began to feel more than a little nervous.
"Hi Steve," John said "It's good to see you at one of these things. I've often wondered how you were doing."
Bearing in mind what had happened between us, I was a little surprised that he seemed so genuinely happy to see me and that he didn't appear to harbour any resentment or ill-will toward me.
"Hi, John," I replied cheerfully, hoping that he didn't detect my nervousness.
"I'm glad to see you recognise me after all these years," he said, giving me a big grin. "This is my partner, Adam. Mind if we join you for a bit?"
Without waiting for my reply, they both sat down at the table. Adam, who appeared to be a couple of years younger than John, was a slim man with light brown hair. I presumed he was attending as John's spouse/companion/partner as it had been written on the invitations. From the hard looks he was giving me, it seemed that Adam wasn't particularly happy to see me, and I wondered if John had told him anything about our history.
Adam sat on the sidelines looking somewhat sulky while John and I talked. At first the conversation was slightly stilted, but John seemed determined to put me at ease, and we were soon chatting almost comfortably and catching up on our lives since we left school. However, we never once mentioning our time at school. Although he made no secret of his sexuality and the fact that he and Adam had been together for almost four years, I was relieved that he made no reference to my sexuality and that he never asked me about my relationships.
Quite early on in our conversation he'd mentioned that he'd recently been promoted from being the manager of a retail store to become deputy manager for the whole regional group. When he told me that, I noticed a sparkle in his eyes and a slight smile on his lips, and I'd assumed these were signs of his pride in his accomplishments. Of course, my own success and wealth were much greater than his. However, unusually for me, I refrained from pointing this out because it suddenly became very important that I avoid hurting his feelings. Anyway, when he next spoke, I guessed the real reason for the sparkle and the smile.
"Last month," he said, "the company chairman hosted a lunch for senior managers, and afterwards we had a long chat. He told me he's so impressed with my work that I can expect more promotion soon, and he asked if I'd like to be interested in joining the board of directors."
"Wow!" I said, surprising myself by being genuinely impressed. "Your boss must like you a lot."
"Yes," he replied with a huge grin. "Mr Kenny's been really nice to me."
After saying that, he paused to study my face, clearly expecting some reaction from me. He wasn't disappointed. I let out an audible gasp, and the look on my face made even the previously dour Adam smile.
"Not, not as in Kenny's Hardware?" I stuttered.
"Yes," he said, pretending innocence. "Didn't I mention that?"
"So you work for my dad?" I said, stating the obvious, but just wanting to make absolutely sure.
"That's right," he replied, obviously enjoying himself.
At this point I noticed the look of surprise on Adam's face, so it became clear that until then he hadn't known that I was the son of his boyfriend's boss. Adam recovered from the surprise before I did, and his expression resolved into one of slightly concerned amusement. Meanwhile, I was still trying to work out the implications of this revelation.
"I guess he doesn't know, then... that you're gay?" I said eventually, adding that last part in an almost-whisper.
"Of course he does!" John laughed. "Adam comes along to most of the work social events, and last Christmas, just before my recent promotion, he had quite a pleasant chat with your dad. Didn't you, Adam?"
Adam nodded his head in agreement.
"But. But my dad hates gays!" I stuttered.
"No he doesn't, "John said with conviction. "At least not now, and I doubt he ever really did."
"But all the horrible things he used to say..."
"Once you get to know him," John said with a little smile, "you find that his bark was much worse than his bite. And now even the bark has gone."
Then I wondered if John was lying about working for my dad, just winding me up as a way of getting some sort of revenge. On the other hand, it had been obvious from Adam's reactions that he hadn't been aware of any plot against me, and he'd quickly agreed that he'd had a pleasant chat with my dad. So on balance I felt that John was telling me the truth.
"Okay," I said, my mind racing. "But I still don't understand how he didn't fire you when he first found out about you."
"Well, I s'pose the first couple of years I was so low down in the company that he didn't even notice me. Then by the time he did he couldn't just fire me for without a reason, and he knew he couldn't get away with firing me for just for being gay. Anyway, by then he knew how good I was at my job."
He paused, and I shook my head as I tried to assimilate this information. Then he continued, "I will admit that when he first found out he made some snide comments, tried to overload me with work, and that sort of thing. I knew one of us would have to give in and that it wasn't going to be me. And, like I said, his bark is much worse than his bite. Actually, I think he respects people who stand up to him."
While I was still trying to get my head around all this, Adam pointed out to John that it was getting late and that they'd arranged to meet some friends in town. They stood up to leave, and I found myself, without any forethought, handing John one of my business cards and asking him to keep in touch. That little gesture seemed to annoy Adam, though it clearly pleased John, who smiled and took the card.
Although I was glad to see that John was happy and that he was doing well, I had an uncomfortable nagging feeling at the back of my mind. It was only after they left the room that I was able to identify the little nagging feeling as envy, an emotion I rarely experienced. The poor, scruffy John from school had grown into a happy, handsome, confident man. Although he certainly wasn't as wealthy as I was, he certainly wasn't poor. He'd carved himself a comfortable niche in life and found someone to return his love. I had to admit that he'd definitely become a 'winner' in life, and he'd even won over my dad.
After that, I didn't feel like hanging around any longer so I phoned for a taxi. While I waited for it to arrive, I thought about the unlikely combination of events that had brought me to this reunion and my meeting with John. Almost reluctantly, I wondered how changed my life would now be if some of my early decisions had been different. I asked myself if Dad might have accepted my sexuality if I'd had the courage to let him know and to stand up for myself. After all, he'd accepted John, who wasn't even his son. I wondered what might have happened if I hadn't rejected John's love and if I'd allowed myself to express my love for him. Would I now have been a winner or a loser? Of course I would never know the answers to any of those questions.
Later, during the taxi journey back to Dad's house, a line from a poem I'd learned at school rose into my mind.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]