Marco in the Park

by Nick Brady

Part 24

"So I guess I am an art student now," Marco told me.

"It looks like it," I replied. "How does that feel?"

Marco smiled. "I think it feels pretty good. It feels right."

"You know of course, that the credits you have toward the computer degree don't go away just because you changed majors. You can always return to that at a later time."

"Yeah, I guess that's right. I guess I can shift gears again if I need to."

"Sure you can. But I have a feeling that you made the right decision," I assured him.

"My new classes begin next week. I will be taking Art History, Elementary Drawing and Elementary Design," Marco explained. "I signed up to work for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree which I will have to have if I want to go on to a master's degree. I can't believe I am even thinking about that."

That sounds great, but you already know how to draw," I wondered. "Do you really need that?"

Marco shrugged. "I do for the degree. And to tell you the truth, I have never really studied these things. I probably have a lot to learn about technique and stuff."

"Well, that's true. You're self-taught and draw very well but that doesn't mean you know everything you need to know," I agreed. "Let's see how it goes."

A month into the semester Marco had an update for me when we both got home. "The art courses are really pretty cool," he admitted. "They are talking about a lot of things that I kind of figured out by myself but didn't really understand, like perspective and color theory. I guess I do have a lot to learn. It is for sure not a waste of time."

"Is it difficult?" I asked.

"Oh no. It's fun. I can't believe I am going to get credit for this stuff. I love it, and the art history is all new to me," he admitted.

"And what about your work with Peter Vandergraff, are you going to continue with him?" I wondered.

"We talked about that last Wednesday. He is really pleased that I have shifted to an art major. He told me not to worry that it seems kind of elementary right now. He wants me to continue to work with him a little but said not to let that interfere with the course work. I won't have as much time now that I am taking classes again."

"You do seem to have a talent for keeping busy," I chuckled.

"You know, Peter has really been nice to me. He has spent a lot more time with me than he actually charges me for. I think he is really interested in helping me. He is more than just a teacher, he is like a mentor or something," Marco admitted.

"Do you think his interest in you is more than just professional?" I asked.

Marco frowned. "If you mean does he have the hots for me, the answer is no. He is really a nice man. I have never gotten any vibes like that. He has been very professional."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound that way," I apologized. "Maybe I am a little jealous of anybody who gets too close to you. That isn't fair."

Marco looked away. "You don't ever have to be jealous Marty. Jealousy is a hateful thing. I still feel bad that I got so pissed at you on New Year's Eve. That was stupid."

"No it wasn't. I think I had that coming. It was me who did something stupid and it scared you. I'm glad you snapped my head around and woke me up," I admitted.

Marco leaned over and gave me a kiss. "Don't worry about it, it's over and done with. I love you Marty and I know you love me. We just have to trust each other."

"Thanks Marco. I love you more than I can say."

"Well anyway, Peter has given me some pretty practical advice. He suggested that since my watercolor sketches seem to sell pretty well that I should try to do more of that and see if I can make a little money at it," Marco explained.

"I'm sure your paintings will sell. You are beginning to make a name for yourself," I agreed, and asked, "How are things going with Luigi's? Are you going to have time to stay with that?"

"Sure, I can do that. Luigi has been very nice to me too. I like working there," he assured me. "Some of the regular customers are like my friends now. We look forward to seeing each other. You know, when I stop to think about it, it seems like I have a whole bunch of people who are all trying to help me along. That really feels good."

"Does Luigi know about your painting?" I wondered.

"Yes, I told him about switching to an art major and he thought that was cool. He likes art and music and all that stuff. I mean, he's Italian you know? He likes that stuff," Marco said with a grin.

"Has anybody discouraged you from doing this?" I asked.

Marco shook his head from side to side. "No, nobody. When I talked to my Mom on the phone she just said she knew I always liked to draw, and my father paints stuff in prison. I guess everybody thinks it's a good thing."

"How is your father? Have you heard from him?" I wondered.

"We have exchanged a few short letters. He said he was really glad to know about me and he thought I was a smart kid and all that. He said he hoped I would come see him pretty soon," Marco shrugged. "I feel bad that I haven't been up to see him in awhile, but where is the time? I really need to go visit him again."

I nodded in understanding. "Maybe we can go up this weekend. We need to get away anyway," I suggested.

Marco looked at me with a serious face. "This is a dream, Marty. I'm living a dream. I don't deserve to be this happy."

I wrapped my arms around him. "The hell you don't. If anybody ever deserved to be happy it's you Marco. You have had your share of tough breaks and you are due to have some good times. I think all your stars are lined up and you are making the best of it. Good for you."

Marco smiled at me and laid his head in my lap. I stroked his hair and kissed him on the ear. His position in my lap put his face in an interesting proximity to my crotch and he began to nuzzle me though my trousers. One thing led to another and we ended up making do with the sofa again. It was a little cramped but we made the best of it. By the time we completed that exercise we were both naked and a little winded. We decided that it was too late to think about fixing anything for supper so called out for pizza instead. When the delivery guy knocked on the door he was a little surprised to see Marco standing there wearing nothing but his boxer shorts but handed over the pie and took our money without comment.

"I gave him a nice tip," Marco grinned.

The next Saturday we drove up to the prison in Hominy and Marco went in to visit his dad. When he came back into the lobby from the visiting room he was shaking his head.

"How did it go?" I asked as we drove away.

"I have cousins," he said with a surprised look on his face.

"You have cousins? What do you mean?"

"Billy has a brother living in Owasso. He is married, works for American Airlines and has a family. I have some cousins."

"Wow, that's a shocker. What did Billy say about him?"

"He says that he's a good guy. I guess Billy is kind of the black sheep in the family. He describes his brother as a real steady guy. His name is Eugene."

"Do you think you would like to meet him?" I asked.

Marco shook his head. "I don't know. That's kind of scary. But I would like to meet him and his family I guess. I never even thought about having any cousins my age."

"Do you know how to get in touch with him?"

"No, but Billy said that he would write to him and tell him about me. I guess it depends on if he wants to meet me."

I nodded. "I guess we will just have to see what happens."

When Marco's birthday came around in late October I took him out to dinner at the Polo Grill and we ordered a pair of rib eye steaks. After we had feasted I pulled a small box from my pocket and handed it to him.

"Happy 19th birthday Marco."

He smiled broadly and asked, "What's this?"

"Open it and see."

He pulled the paper off and opened the box to find a really nice Seiko wrist watch. "Wow, this is beautiful. We don't usually exchange birthday gifts," he reminded me. "The dinner would have been plenty."

"Well, I wanted to do something nice for you. You have had a challenging year to say the least."

He put the watch on his wrist and checked it from all angles. "This is really nice Marty. Thank you," he grinned.

I leaned forward and said quietly, "I love you Marco. You make me very proud."

"I love you too," he reached over and took my hand, not caring who was watching.

"This has been a hell of a year for you Marco, and you have carried yourself with pride and honor. I love you and more than that, I respect you. I am the luckiest guy in the world. Thank you Marco."

His eyes filled with tears. "Damn Marty. Don't make me cry right here in public."

I leaned back and laughed. "Well, I mean it. I think you are something else."

We split a big strawberry shortcake and then went home and fucked like bunnies. That part was private.

He told me that he was working on something with Peter that he was excited about but wouldn't say what it was. Near the end of the semester he asked me to come over to Peter's studio to see it.

Peter greeted me warmly. "Hello Marty, it is nice to see you again. Your Marco is doing some very good work here."

"He tells me that you have been working him hard," I replied.

"Oh I think he is working himself hard. I am impressed with his enthusiasm, as well as his talent."

"I wanted Marty to see the thing I have been working on with you," Marco told him, and pointed me towards a large watercolor on an easel.

"Oh, it's your buffalo," I exclaimed.

I recognized the three buffalo that Marty had sketched some time ago when we had visited Woolaroc. There was the large bull standing just to the side of a cow and calf who were lying in the tall grass. The animals were sharply rendered to reveal their rough coats. From a distance they looked quite lifelike, their dark coats touched with what might have been a splash of morning sunlight. The blades of tall grass appeared around them in sharp detail then faded in the background to suggest a bit of light fog. The colors of the field and sky were muted and only suggested with the wash of color. In the distance were what appeared at first to be faint objects of some kind. When I looked more carefully I could see that they were a small group of tepees, only suggested by subtle markings.

As I approached to look at the painting close up I could see that the shaggy coats of the buffalo were indicated by small blotches of color; brown, black, orange, even touches of red, green and tones of purple in the shadows. What appeared so subtle at a distance was rendered with many colors, individually clear and clean.

I hardly knew what to say. "This is wonderful, Marco."

Marco stood smiling. "Do you like it?"

"Oh yes. I think it's, well it's wonderful," I turned to Peter who was standing with his arms crossed, a faint smile on his face.

"You have taught him well, sir," I remarked.

Peter shook his head. "He has learned some things from me, some techniques, some ideas about composition and about color. But I cannot teach him to see, that comes from somewhere inside him. He has a lovely gift, but I did not give it to him."

I nodded and said to Peter, "We saw these buffalo up at Woolaroc and Marco tried to paint the big bull in oil when he was at TCC, but it was nothing like this. This is, I don't know, so fresh, so alive."

Peter nodded. "Yes, well you see Marco likes to work quickly. His hand is very sure and he has a marvelous appreciation for color. Watercolor suits him much better I think."

I looked over at Marco who was standing quietly while we discussed him as if he were not present. He looked very pleased.

"I didn't want you to see this before it was finished. I like this one a lot better than the one in oil," he said.

"What are you going to do with this?" I asked. "Can you bear to part with it?"

Marco laughed. "Oh yes, I can part with it. Peter wants to send it to the gallery in Dallas. He thinks it will get a better price there."

I kept looking at the painting. The more I looked at it the more I saw. I'm surprised you don't want to keep this. I mean, we could put it in the apartment."

Marco laughed. "Do you really like it that much? Let this one go. I will do something just for you, maybe for your birthday, OK?"

"Oh sure, I understand. This isn't a hobby for you Marco. This is what you will be doing for a long time, maybe for your whole life. I am just happy that you seem to love it so much."

"I do," Marco admitted with a smile. "I don't think I could ever feel this way about computer programming."

Marco stepped back, sat down on a stool and sighed. "It's interesting really. I love to paint and it feels really nice when I do something that turns out well. But the pleasure comes in doing the thing. I don't want to keep this stuff, I want somebody to enjoy it. It is like that idea of 'hiding your light under a basket' that Father Hoover preaches about sometimes. The pleasure comes from knowing that someone else loves it enough to want to have it, even to pay good money for it. It's not really about the money as much as for the recognition that I have done something good."

I looked over at Peter who was smiling quietly. There was an understanding between these two. An understanding that I did not share but appreciated.

One evening Marco came home and found a short letter from Billy. He sat down to read it and looked surprised.

"Whoa," he said quietly.

"What's up?" I asked.

"It's Eugene's address and phone number," He said.

"Eugene?"

"Yes, Billy's brother, my uncle I guess. He would like to meet me."

"Are you going to call him?"

Marco exhaled. "I don't know, I guess so."

Marco pulled out his cell phone and called the number of another man who was previously unknown to him. I sat and waited with him for the call to be answered.

"Hello, my name is Marco Montgomery. You don't know me but I think we are related. – Yes my father is Billy Cusco. – He told you about me? – Well sir, I only recently learned that he was my father. – Yes sir, it was a surprise to me too. – Yes, I would like to meet you, thank you. – I am going to school and work weekend evenings but Saturday morning would be fine. Maybe a restaurant would be good. – Yes, I can find that. – I will look forward to meeting you, thank you. – Goodbye."

Marco sat quietly for a moment then said, "He wants to meet me at 11:00 Saturday morning in a restaurant in Owasso and he says he will bring his wife and kids with him. I guess I have more family than I realized."

"How do you feel about that?" I asked.

"Excited, scared, a little confused," Marco said quietly. "I want you to come with me."

"Sure, I wouldn't miss this for the world,' I said. "Life is full of surprises."

Marco looked distressed. "This is all happening too fast."

"How did he sound? What kind of an impression did you get by talking with him?" I asked.

"I don't know. He sounded nice, he was very polite and seemed like he really wanted to meet me."

I hesitated. "Are you sure you want to introduce them to your gay partner?"

Marco looked at me. "Of course. You and I are a couple. Whatever happens I want us to do it together. I'm not ashamed of who I am, and I'm for sure not ashamed of you. If they don't like who we are it will be a short meeting."

"That works for me," I assured him.

We were to meet at a Denny's up in Owasso and left in plenty of time. We arrived a little before 11:00 and waited for a few minutes before going in. Once inside we looked around and spotted a group that Marco knew immediately must be Eugene and his family. We walked towards them and they looked at us with an expression of recognition.

The man stood and said to Marco. "Hi, I'm Eugene. Are you Marco?"

"Yes I am, and this is my partner Marty," Marco said, pointing at me.

"Nice to meet you both," he said. "This is my wife Eunice. Here is my son Jacob, this is Joshua, and this here is my daughter Sarah."

We shook hands all around and they pulled up chairs for us to join them at the big round table. Eugene was dark, thin and looked younger than Billy although the family resemblance was obvious. Marco looked like both of them. They were obviously related.

Jacob, the older boy looked quite a lot like Marco although he wore his hair in a buzz cut. Joshua was lighter skinned and a little heavier. Daughter Sarah was slender and very pretty. They all had black hair. Eunice was very light, maybe not much Indian at all, and sort of plump. She seemed shy but very sweet. I liked them.

There was something of an embarrassed silence for a moment then Eugene said, "Well, I guess this is kind of a surprise for all of us."

Marco nodded. "It is. I just found out who my father was a few months ago, and Billy only told me he had a brother the last time I visited him."

Eugene glanced away for a moment. "I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been over there to see him in a long time. We have sort of lost touch."

"It's a hard situation. I can understand that," Marco said. "Were you close when you were kids?"

"We were when we were younger. Our daddy left us when Billy was 17 and I was 12. It was kind of tough right then. I stayed with Momma and Billy tried to live with Daddy but that didn't work out. He ended up pretty much on his own after that."

"What did he do?" Marco wondered.

Eugene looked thoughtful. "Billy tried to do construction work for awhile. He never finished high school and had trouble finding a job. He went into the Army after a couple of years and got in trouble for drinking. When he got out I sort of lost touch with him. He would talk to Momma sometimes and she would tell me what she knew. We neither one had much to do with him to be honest. Then about a dozen years ago we read where he had got into real trouble and was in prison."

Marco looked sad. "Is your mother OK?"

Eugene looked down. "Well, Momma died five years ago. She had diabetes real bad and it got her."

"I'm sorry. She would have been my grandmother I guess," Marco reflected.

"Yeah, that's right. Momma was good people Marco. You would have liked her."

"Well now I get to meet you guys. I never knew I had any family really, and now I have an uncle, an aunt and three cousins," Marco smiled a little.

He straightened up and said, "I guess I should tell you a little about myself. My mother never told me who my father was. I located Billy by DNA stuff. My mother drank a lot and I left home when I was 16, then I met Marty and we ended up being a couple. We are married actually." That generated some surprised looks.

"I am going to college now at TU and want to be an artist. Marty is a computer programmer. We are happy and I'm doing really good," he looked at his new cousins. Tell me about yourselves. It's kind of cool to have some cousins."

The rest of the family had been listening intently but none had spoken before now.

The oldest boy said, "I'm Jacob and I'm 15 and a sophomore in Owasso. I like to play football and I don't know, that's about it," he managed a little smile.

The younger boy introduced himself, "My name is Joshua and I'm in the 8th grade. I play trumpet in the band," he smiled.

The girl smiled shyly but didn't speak. "This here is Sarah," Eugene told us. "She is 9 and she is our dancer." Sarah giggled.

"We like to do the Powwows," Eugene explained. Eunice makes the costumes and the kids all like to dance."

"Really? That's cool!" Marco exclaimed.

"It's fun," Sarah spoke for the first time.

Having been brought into the conversation, Eunice added, "We love the Powwows. It is a nice family activity and we have made a lot of friends there."

"I have never been to a Powwow. I would really like to see one," Marco admitted.

"There are Powwows every summer all over the state I guess. We like to go to the big one out in Anadarko, and to the Powwow of Champions here in Tulsa. Next time one comes up maybe you would like to go with us," Eugene suggested.

"I would like that, thanks," Marco agreed.

We found we were a very congenial group and chatted long after we finished our lunch. The cousins relaxed and began to talk more. Marco was so pleased to meet these unknown relatives that he was very animated, and by the time we had to leave we all agreed that we wanted to get together again soon. Nothing was made of our status as a gay couple. It was acknowledged and then passed on by. It was a nice first meeting. I joined in with a little talk but was mostly a spectator.

"Well what did you think?" I asked Marco as we drove back to our apartment.

"They are really nice," Marco said.

"Were you comfortable with them?"

"I was. Well maybe not at first, but as soon as I got to know them I was. The kids are nice, and I'm really curious about the Powwows," Marco was enthusiastic.

"A lot of things are changing for you in a hurry," I observed.

"They are," Marco agreed. "But they are good things."

It was a season of new experiences for Marco. He met his mother for lunch every few weeks, and tried to visit his father when he could. His uncle Eugene turned out to be a very decent fellow and invited us up to his house for dinner one evening. Eunice prepared a nice meal and the kids were all very curious to know more about their new cousin.

What struck me was how many things they seemed to have in common – interests and mannerisms. That was not lost on Marco either. There was a family resemblance among him and his cousins and Eugene remarked several times that Marco looked a lot like his father at the same age.

It was noted very briefly that we were a gay couple and accepted without much discussion. Marco was very interested in knowing more about the Powwows and was informed that they included an arts and crafts show. Most of the exhibitors were Native American and Eugene said he knew who to contact if Marco wanted to show some of his paintings. Marco was quietly excited with the prospect.

When it was time for our first anniversary I tried to think of something nice but was not sure what was appropriate. I thought maybe we could do something over the Christmas break but Marco was so busy that I wasn't sure he would have the time to get away. The Sunday before Thanksgiving we were at church as usual and after the service Father Hoover caught us before we walked into the Parish Hall for the usual coffee and doughnuts.

"And how are you two fine gentlemen today?" he asked.

"We are fine Father. How are you?" Marco replied for us.

"I believe this is your wedding anniversary," he observed.

"Yes it is, thank you for remembering," I answered.

"Has it been a good year for you?" he asked.

I wondered why he was making small talk and also why there was not a line of people behind us. "Yes, it has been eventful but we are doing fine."

He glanced behind us as if looking for something and then nodded. "Well, let's go have some coffee," he said.

He turned and we followed him into the great hall and were greeted by a larger than usual after church crowd, all smiling and clapping. There on the table which normally held plates of cookies and snacks was what looked like a small wedding cake and a bowl of punch. The cries of "Happy Anniversary!" came from many of the happy group.

We were stunned. Here was our anniversary party all laid out for us. Our reaction was to laugh and weep at the same time. Our mouths opened but nothing would come out except surprised laughter.

Father Hoover beamed. "Some of your friends wanted to wish you well," he told us. We walked to the table shaking the hands that were extended towards us. It was a moment that we would never forget. We never figured out who had put this together. There were lots of suspects.

By the end of the semester Marco had racked up another string of A's to add to his transcript. In addition he sold 6 of his small watercolors for $2500 at a gallery in Brookside and added that to his bank account. The buffaloes sold for $6000 at a gallery in Dallas. He was paying for his art lessons with the proceeds from his painting which I thought was pretty amazing.

The fall semester rolled into the spring semester. We drove back over to Eureka Springs for a few days over the Christmas Holidays. We stayed at the Cliff View hotel and mostly relaxed, visited a few interesting places and enjoyed some good food. Johnny was pleased to see us. We returned before the New Year and did not visit any night clubs. It was pleasantly uneventful.

We continued to attend St. Jerome's and our friendship with Father Hoover grew closer. Our friendship with David and Wayne declined. There simply was not the time or the inclination to socialize.

Hoover encouraged Marco to become more involved with the church and asked him to become a reader. Marco was reluctant at first, but at Father Hoover's encouragement began to occasionally read one of the scripture lessons that were part of each service. He read well and was pleased that people complimented him on his poise and clarity. He was beginning to consider confirmation and his involvement deepened. I was very proud of him.

One Sunday after church Father Hoover asked if we would speak with him and we joined him in his office. We chatted for a bit and Marco brought him up to date on his mother and father, and told him about his uncle and cousins.

Father Hoover listened with great interest. "It is such a blessing to know your family," he said.

"Yes it is, Marco agreed. "I never knew I had any family and now I have quite a lot."

"I wonder if you have given any thought of some family of your own?" he asked.

"How do you mean?" I asked.

Father Hoover smiled. "I will be direct with you. I have some dealings with the agency that administers foster care. They are in need of families in which to place children of Native American heritage and I think you would make wonderful foster parents."

Marco hesitated. "But we are a gay couple. Besides, we live in a small apartment. Where would we put a kid?"

"Actually, you might be surprised to know that neither of those things are as much of a difficulty as you might think. I can recommend you as worthy foster parents without the slightest hesitation. And one of the members of our parish has a rather nice three bedroom house that is available to rent for a modest price," he explained.

"These are details that can be worked out. The question is if you would be interested in considering the possibility of opening your home to some children who would otherwise not have a home. As for the financial burden, the agency will provide some assistance. Do you think that you might be willing to consider that?"

Marco and I looked at each other. "We have talked about that a little," I admitted. "But we have limited resources and Marco is still going to school."

Father Hoover gave us knowing smile. Would you consider praying about it?"

Marco sat quietly for a moment then replied. "I suppose we could. I kind of like kids and I understand what it's like to be homeless."

"Yes you do," Hoover agreed. "So you will think about it, pray about it?"

Put to us that way is was difficult to say that we would not even consider the idea. We nodded our agreement.

On the way back home Marco shook his head. "It's too fast Marty. Things are changing too fast. I don't know if we could do that or not."

"I know what you mean," I agreed. "But I didn't know how to tell him that we wouldn't even consider it. I mean, we have talked about that a little."

Marco looked over at me. "Marty, I think I would love it. The problem is the timing. Are we ready to do something like that? Do we have the time or the patience to take on some kids?"

We walked into the apartment and sat down on the sofa to talk about the idea.

"What if we were a man and wife who suddenly discovered we were going to have a baby?" I asked. "Don't you think we would have the same questions about how ready we would be to have a family? Your paintings are beginning to sell and I am making a good living, so it's not really about the money. And this would be a foster kid, or kids. A lot of times that's just a temporary situation until the kids can go back home or go live with another relative or something. If it turns out to be impossible I guess we could get out of it."

Marco sat thoughtfully. "But what if the kids liked it here? If we decided it was too much trouble or something, how would that make them feel? I never trusted anybody until I met you. If you had kicked me out it would have killed me."

"I hadn't thought of it that way. I see what you mean," I acknowledged.

Marco went on. "Kids can be a lot of trouble, especially kids from a broken home. If we do this, we should be ready to work through a lot of problems. Are we willing to do that?"

It was my turn to be thoughtful. "How many natural kids have problems? Isn't that part of being a parent?"

Marco laughed. "Parents! Are we really ready to be parents? That's a lot of responsibility."

"That's right," I agreed. "It is different talking about this kind of thing as something in the future. Actually considering if we are ready to do it is something else."

We looked up at Marco's Indian. "What does he say?" I asked.

Marco sighed. "He says to think about it. Hoover says to pray about it. I reckon that's the same thing."

We decided to take a shower and sleep on it.

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