Thru the Storm

by Bensiamin

Chapter 3

Jerrod was waiting in his office, for the usual daily meeting he and Troy had after rounds. Once they'd reviewed admissions and discharges, and discussed a couple of patients with challenging conditions, Troy said, "Thanks for last night. It was very nice of you and Roger to put yourselves out and have all the dayshift residents over to your home like that. It was a great evening."

"It was a good time, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was the least I could do after you and your team rose to the occasion last week. You know, a small token of esteem."

Troy smiled at him and nodded. Jerrod went on. "In addition to some personal time with all the residents, I finally got to meet Liam Fitzgerald."

Troy didn't know what to say, so he just replied, "I'm glad. He's a good guy."

Jerrod was looking straight at him. "I have to ask, if he's such a good guy, one you recently spent some time with, why did you treat him almost like you didn't know him last night?"

"What do you mean?"

"Troy, you barely spoke to him. I think I talked to him more than you did. In fact, he spent most of the evening talking with Roger."

"What was I supposed to do? I'm his supervisor. I can't let the others see I'd be treating him favorably."

"You really think this is about favoritism? Or even about fraternization? Troy, you were not on the hospital campus. You were in a private home at a private function, about which the Medical Director went out of his way to tell you he knew nothing about, so there'd be no pressure and it could be enjoyable. And you gave Liam the cold shoulder."

"I did not. I talked to him."

"No more than you had to, or so it appeared to me. However, as I said before, this is your personal relationship, not mine. Far be it from me to tell you what to do. I'll only add that Roger was very impressed with him, and Roger does not suffer fools gladly."

"Liam's a good guy, and like I told you before, I'm trying to do my job, treat everyone the same, play by the rules and regs and not cause any trouble."

"Troy, the rules and regs do not prevent a person from having a personal life. I know you like him, and judging from the pain in his eyes for the few minutes after you arrived, he likes you too. And he was hurt. This is between you two, but you know what, you need to think about this because in my experience you only get a few opportunities for relationships that can make you truly happy. The last thing you want to do is blow it because you're worried about appearances or whatever."

Troy didn't say anything.

"If I stepped over a boundary with what I said, then I apologize," Jerrod added. "But know that I don't just think you're a very good doctor, I like you as a person, as a friend. It seems to me that you're inflicting something on yourself here that I just don't think is healthy. So, if you want me to zip my lip, just tell me."

Troy continued to be quiet, but instead of anger what he was feeling was loss. Finally, he looked up at Jerrod, emotion on his face, and said, "You're one of the few friends I have, so I appreciate that you care enough to tell me what you think. I don't know what to do about it, but I do appreciate it."

Jerrod smiled at him. "Roger's the therapist, not me. Both of us have been down this road before, either in our own lives or with close friends, so I'm not just talking to hear myself talk. I will say, though, that at the bare minimum you need to talk to Liam. If I read it correctly, he was hurt, and you need to make that right for the sake of working together in this program, even if there's nothing more to it than that."

"Okay. I will." Troy took a deep breath. "Is there anything else we need to discuss?"

"Nope. We're good. Thanks for the time." Jerrod turned back to the work on his desk and Troy got up and left.

He was able to catch Liam coming out of the cafeteria at midday and pulled him aside. "About last night, can we get together when we get off shift and talk?"

"There's something to talk about?"

"Liam! Don't say that. You know there is. I was a prick again. I'm sorry. Can we just go and talk, for God's sake?"

Liam stared at him, and Troy thought he saw the pain that Jerrod had told him about. How did he not even see it the night before?


"Okay, just because I'm curious what approach you're going to take this time."

Troy bit his lip and swallowed the witty reply, just saying, "Thanks. Do you just want a coffee or something to eat?"

Liam would have liked to spend some time and enjoy a meal, but he wasn't going to let this turn into something nice. "Coffee's fine. How about the Chugs Coffee shop at the bottom of the hill, on Barbur Blvd.?"

"Okay. We'll both drive there after shift, right?"

Liam nodded and then walked away, asking himself why he was letting himself be put through this.

They both arrived twenty minutes after their shift ended. Time to change out of scrubs, do a quick clean up, get to their cars and down the hill. Liam was waiting just inside the door, checking his phone, when Troy walked in. He nodded and said, "I was just checking in with my mom," to prevent the smile of recognition from appearing on his face, and nodded to the order counter. Troy followed him, and after picking up their coffees they moved to a table against the window near the back.

As they sat down, Liam said, "Okay, we're on neutral ground. What do you want to say?"

"Is that what it takes? Neutral ground?"

"Troy! Listen to yourself. You treated me like I was housekeeping staff last night. Today I was just another resident. You asked to meet someplace off campus, so that means neutral ground where you can presumably be honest about yourself and not worry about being caught out."

Troy said nothing.

"Am I right, or am I being too harsh?"

Troy sipped his coffee and then said, 'No, not too harsh. You're pretty much right on."

"So, what is it you want to say?"

"I want to apologize. Again! I want to apologize for last night. I know it was kind of like our first night together when I was cold and a prick, and I'm sorry."

This time Troy was looking down at his hands holding his coffee cup, rather than into Liam's eyes.

Liam said nothing, and after some seconds, Troy looked up, having nothing more to add, but desperate that Liam would reply.

"So, that's it? You want to apologize again? You, the older and more mature guy. You, the Chief Resident. You, who did this once before. You want to apologize again for being a prick? Is that what I'm hearing you say?"

Troy simply nodded, looking at Liam's face, but unable to face his eyes.

"Tell me why it should be different this time?"

"Maybe because I'm a slow learner," Troy offered hesitantly, "and … " he paused, unable to finish.

"Go on."

"Fuck! Why is this so hard? Because Jerrod told me this morning that I'd acted like a prick and that I'd hurt you and that I owed you an apology."

"Okay. I'll accept that. But are you telling me that you're only doing this because your boss rang your bell and told you to?"

"No. Yes. I mean, NO... but I guess it took him telling me to understand something I hadn't figured out for myself." A flush of emotion swept across Troy's face, and then he went on, " I feel really bad about it, and I'm sorry that I hurt you. I really like you and want to make this work, but I keep fucking up. Can you accept that?"

Liam took his time answering, struck by the emotion Troy had expressed. "Yeah, I can accept that. And I'll say that you need to do some work on self-assessment. You are great at assessing patients, but not so good on assessing yourself."

"What does that mean?"

"Troy, you're a bright guy. You went to university. You graduated med school top of your class. You're asking me what it means?"

"Well, yeah. Tell me what you mean."

"I'm guessing you took a few psych classes along the way. Maybe you've forgotten one of the human behavior maxims: we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions."


"No, not okay. I know you think you're doing the right things, but from here it looks like it's all about your intentions, and you're kind of clueless about the impact of your actions. For the record, it was the actions last night that hurt. You looked at me like I was just another person at the party. Then talked to me no more than you had to. Maybe if it had happened to you, it wouldn't have bothered you, but you know what? I told you I'm not part of this reality you choose to live in."

"So, what does that mean?"

"It means that you need to do some work on yourself, and I'm not going to inflict any more pain on myself knowingly."

"Liam, come on. It's not that bad."

"Troy, what the fuck! I don't know how much pain you've had in your life, but I've had my share. I told you about my dad and sister. It seems like almost all the good things have been destroyed or taken away. That's pain. And, you know what? I'm not doing pain anymore. For sure I'm not going to purposefully inflict it on myself, and until you get your shit sorted out, I'm not going to stand in the line of fire anymore."

Troy couldn't help it and had let his eyes drop back to his coffee cup. He couldn't muster the strength to resist what Liam was telling him. Finally, he said, "Okay, Liam. I hear you. I'm not going to argue with you or try and talk you out of it or anything like that. But just tell me one thing."

"What's that?"

"Did you say until?"

Now it was Liam's turn to be quiet, and finally he said, "I did, but probably what I should have said was until and unless." He stood up and added, "Now, I've got some stuff to do tonight, so I'm going to take off. See you at 0700."

Troy toughed it out the next day, and Liam barely looked at him. He made it through the day, but by the time he got home he was hating life and himself.

The next morning after rounds he headed for his daily meeting with Jerrod. After they were done with the patient status review he said, "Can we talk for a few minutes?"

Jerrod smiled at him and said, "Of course. And, for the record, you look like shit. Did you even sleep last night?"

"Not well."

"What happened?"

"I met with Liam to apologize for hurting him, like you told me I needed to. It didn't go well." Troy then told Jerrod everything they'd discussed.

"Well, you did the right thing, even if it hurt," Jerrod said. "And he left the door slightly ajar, but the good news is he told it to you straight. He was clear about where he's coming from and what he wants and what you need to do."

"He wants me to be out."

"Troy! Is that what you think he said to you? God, for a guy that's so intelligent, you can be damn thick. He wants to be in a relationship with you. A two-way relationship. One between caring partners with open communication. Can't you see that?"

"Well, yeah, but…"

"No buts. You're looking at this the wrong way. Seems to me you've got it framed not just that you've got to be in control, like professional control or something, but that there's some career ending element if you admit to anyone but me that you're gay."

"My sister knows."

"Did you tell her, voluntarily?"

"No, she outed me, meaning she challenged me to deny it."

"So, start there. Why is admitting you're gay and being public about it such an earth-shattering deal?"

Troy was quiet, unable to come up with an answer.

"I'm going to suggest something, and that's because I was there, too. It's your father. My dad was a high-powered attorney in Philadelphia and in high school I couldn't even admit to myself that I was gay because of his position and what I knew he expected and what I thought he'd do. It was so bad I was fucking up my life. I almost got expelled from high school over it. What saved my ass was being sent out here to spend a summer with my uncle who's a psychologist and gay. And that summer I met Roger and between all of that I came to be able to love myself and love him. Without that I would have never sorted it out and would have led a horrible and conflicted life."

"Really? You went through that? You're so together."

"Give me a break, Troy. We're all fucked up one way or the other. I'm going to take another chance here and tell you something. I wasn't able to love other people and be honest and open with them because I didn't love myself. And most of that came from my dad's expectations and bigoted views. How much of that applies to you?"

"A lot, I guess. My dad is a CEO, a big successful businessman, and he's a big wheel in the Mormon church even if he's not part of the clergy or anything. Meaning, no gay son, and father rules the home, all of that. That's what I've grown up with."

"Sounds kind of like what I went through. But you know what? I came out here for a summer and that turned into my senior year in high school. I was here, not there. I finally figured out I was free to be myself and love myself and love Roger."

Troy said nothing, but his brow was furrowed.

"So, Troy. You're here in Portland, not in your hometown. You're out of med school and you're Chief Resident so you're independent. You can be your own person and it's past time you did. I've been out since I started working here my senior year in high school as a volunteer dog handler. Very few people cared then, and none care now. This is Portland after all! I've known Dr. Welch for almost fifteen years. He hired me. Do you think he's going to care if it turns out the Chief Resident is gay? Geez! Get over yourself."

"You think it's that simple?"

"No, it's never that simple. Shit will happen and there'll be bumps along the way, but I meant what I said last week. We get very few chances in this life to connect with people who will make us truly happy. You and Liam clicked personally, and reading between the lines I'm guessing there was some good sex. Even if Liam's not that guy for you, you owe it to yourself to sort this out in your own life."

"So, what do I do now?"

"You decide yes or no. Are you going to be your own man. If you are, then the fact is you're gay, so accept it. You don't want to broadcast it to the world, fine. But it's time to quit denying it."

"Makes sense."

"Here's how much sense. We adopted our kids from the Philippines, and their nanny is Filipino. We want them to stay in touch with their culture, so on Wednesday nights she takes them to Tagalog classes. We want them to be bilingual. So, why don't you come have supper with Roger and me tonight while they're at class. It'll be informal, in the kitchen, no big deal. But Roger has done lots of gay counseling, and maybe you just need to talk a bunch of this out."

"You'd do that for me?"

"Of course. Be there at six o'clock."

The rest of the day was the usual patient care routine, though there were a couple of moments of strained eye contact with Liam. That evening, Troy pulled up to the curb as Roger was walking Imelda and Armando out to their nanny's car. He introduced them to Troy and they watched as she drove off to class.

"Come on inside. Let me pour you a glass of wine and we'll see how much of what Jerrod told me is true." He looked at Troy and grinned.

"He told me that meeting you that summer was part of being able to love himself," Troy said.

"It's true. The bigger part was his uncle who created the environment in which it could happen. And then there was this absolutely amazing dog that broke down his defenses. And the fact that my parents were open and accepting, so that made me open and accepting, and they accepted Jerrod just like that. Funny how dynamics of that sort play such an important role, isn't it?"

It turned out that most of what they discussed over supper was the extent to which society, and especially religions, don't help people discover who they really are, but impose a set of expectations against which many people struggle. It turned out that Jerrod had been correct in his assumption that much of what Troy was struggling with was akin to his own struggle twenty years before.

"Like we've been saying, I had to accept and love myself apart from my parents. Then, in the end my dad had to make a decision. Did he love and accept who I was, who his son was, or not. I was lucky. I had David and Jackson, and living with them created that whole new environment Roger told you about. And I had Roger. That enabled me to make the decision I needed to make. You've got to face the same things and make your own decisions. That's on the being gay side of things. There's the other thing we talked about, the image thing, the being in control business. Seems to me, and I checked with Roger on this, that a lot of the control stuff is a coping mechanism to be able to maintain a certain image, to be able to fulfill certain expectations." He looked at his husband for confirmation.

"That's frequently the case," Roger said. "We're not talking about organizational control like a general on the battlefield, or a CEO running a corporation with thousands of employees. Rather, we're talking about controlling what part of yourself you show the world, and the attempts to control the environment in which you exist in order to maintain that image. Everyone does it to some degree, it's human nature. But it's a different situation when the image being put forward is at odds with the real person inside. Like Jerrod was telling you, once he got to the place where he could love himself and accept that he was loved and was in an environment that enabled it to happen, he could break with the previous behavior patterns."

Troy smiled and rolled his eyes. "You know this is embarrassing. I went to medical school, and listening to you both talk about it makes clear that at one level, it's pretty basic stuff. How could I have lived this much of my life and not sorted it out?"

"Oh, that's easy," Roger quipped. "It's what's known as job security for therapists. Most people don't get enabled and set free when they're young, so they spend most of their adult lives trying to sort it out. It seems like most people spend the first third of their life getting screwed up, and the rest of it trying to sort out their shit. And most of them need therapists to help."

They all had a laugh and then Roger added, "I'm going to clean up the dishes. Jerrod is going to take you into the living room and do something for you. We've discussed it, and I think you'll appreciate it.

Troy was curious, if not a little suspicious, but he gave Jerrod and Roger their due. They were professionals and they seemed to care, so he followed Jerrod into the living room where he was pointed to a chair.

"This isn't a formal thing. It's something we learned from David, and it's simply listening to a song. Specifically, it's listening to the lyrics because one of the magical things about a musical composition is that a song makes you feel a thought. And, a lot of the time you need to feel the thought in order to process it and understand the thought that's in the lyrics. Make sense?"

Troy nodded, a little expectantly.

"Do you know a contemporary alt rock band by the name of The War On Drugs?"

Troy shook his head.

"Okay," Jerrod went on. "It's not required that you know them. Just that you listen. Here's the lyrics, and I'm going to play you the song. He stepped over to the CD player and pushed the play button, and then sat down in the other armchair. "The song is called Occasional Rain , it's about the relationship between two people, and I think you'll like it musically."

Into the mouth of control
Take me down where the river strays
Where it flows outside the lines
Where it's picked apart and thrown away
Now I'm finally feeling free
I'm living down by an old par three
You know I'll be playing

Come around, don't take it hard
Don't let 'em stone you when the comedown starts
You've been moving much too fast
You never know just where it ends
What would I find living this life without you?

I got swept up in a world so strange
One you'd never even recognize
Oh, but I slipped away
Now I'm a stranger and I don't know why
It's killin' me, but your words
They brought me out onto steady ground
When I was wounded and ashamed

And now that my heart is empty
Where should I go?
You've always been a constant
My loathing star, where do I go
Yeah, without you?

Feel the storm coming on
Feel the darkness at your gate
Live the loneliness of life
Keep on moving at your pace
Ain't the sky just shades of gray
Until you seen it from the other side?
Oh, if loving you is the same
It's only some occasional rain

It's only some occasional rain
It's only some occasional rain

Watch the YouTube video of The War On Drugs perform Occasional Rain

When the song stopped, Jerrod turned off the CD player and sat back down. "I'm only going to say one thing about it tonight, and that's about the first verse. The first line has to do with control. I'm asking you to think about what's being discussed associated with that control. That's all. Remember the melody, in fact the song's up on all the streaming platforms, so you can listen to it when you want to. Take the lyrics. Read them a few times. Think about them. Then let's talk some more."

He stopped and after a few seconds Troy looked at him somewhat speechlessly.

"Easy, right? You didn't expect rocket science or something, did you?" Jerrod smiled at him, and then went on. "You probably need to get going. We all have an early morning, and the kids will be coming home soon, and we'll have to quiet them down and get them to sleep."

Troy stood up and acted like he didn't know what to do. Jerrod stepped over to him and pulled him into a hug. "It's okay, man. We're all here for you because others were there for us."

Roger gave him a similar hug before he left and started the drive home wondering what had happened and how he'd been so lucky. It took Troy a long time to fall asleep, the jangled thoughts running through his mind, and they kept coming back to Liam until he finally fell asleep early in the morning.

When Liam walked into the Residents' Lounge the next morning alongside the rest of the residents, he noticed Troy's bloodshot eyes and wondered what the cause was. Maybe he'd been out partying, or gone to a club to hook up with someone so he wouldn't have to deal with his issues. They went through the usual sign-out routine and then the day shift residents got ready for pre-rounds and seeing their patients.

As they headed out Liam caught Troy's eye and couldn't help himself, and said, "Are you okay? You look beat."

Troy gave him a pained smile and said, "Not much sleep last night. I was wrestling with some stuff. Anyway, thanks, but I've got to go see patients and then get ready for rounds." He turned and headed down the hall.

Liam had to admit that he hadn't expected to be greeted warmly after telling Troy what he had, but he hadn't expected the brush off after trying to express some concern. Troy did have issues, but maybe he'd been too hard on him. He felt now like he'd kind of thrown him to the curb after the intimacy and success they'd shared in the last two weeks. He remembered the pain he's seen in Troy's eyes a couple of times. Was he being fair? Maybe he wasn't the only one hurting.

He pulled out his wallet and looked for Roger's business card expecting to call his office. When he turned it over, he saw that Roger had written his mobile number on the back. Liam decided that was both personal and thoughtful and that it'd be better to call him at home in the evening. When Roger answered, he started by apologizing for calling at home. "I know this is an unscheduled call, and I hope you're done with dinner and stuff."

"Yeah, we are. Jerrod's down with the kids helping them with homework. What can I do for you."

"I'd like to get together and talk sometime, if that's okay. I've been thinking about what we discussed the other night at your house. I'd really appreciate it."

"I'm pretty sure I can do that. When do you have in mind?"

"Well, you know hospital schedules. I'm on from seven to seven except for lunch."

"I'm booked solid tomorrow, and the weekend won't work with the kids. I could meet you at noon on Monday. Where?"

Liam described the Chugs Coffee shop on Barbur Blvd. "It's straight down the hill from the hospital, so quick for me. How about you?"

"It'll work. My office isn't that far away. I'll see you there on Monday unless you get called into an emergency or something."

Friday was another day with Troy looking just a shade below miserable, and Liam kind of feeling bad about it but vacillating about whether to say anything. Saturday got off to a busy start due to surgical admissions on Friday, so sign-out for all of them included reviewing the post-surgical care the patients would need. Rounds ran late and Troy left the residents at the cafeteria. As Liam walked in, he realized he'd forgotten his wallet in his Levi's and headed back to his locker in the Residents' Lounge. When he walked in, he saw Troy alone reading charts. He nodded and went to his locker, and on the way back to the door waved his wallet and said, "Needed some money for lunch."

Troy smiled at him. "They won't extend credit based on your good looks?"

Liam grinned back. "You know, maybe I should try that?"

They stared at each other for some seconds, and then Troy said, "I'm taking your advice and trying to work on my issues."


"Yeah, I've met with Jerrod twice and he's helping me understand some things. Again, I'm sorry if I acted clueless and hurt you. I didn't mean to."

Liam stepped to stand next to him and said, "I think we both hurt each other. I think we should stop that. What do you say?"

"Good idea. Do we have to do this apart?" Troy looked at him pleadingly. "Can't we even see each other? We're both off tomorrow. Can we do something? Go to a movie? Something?

"Why not. There's no rule that says we can't. It's early February, so outdoor options are limited." He paused and Troy watched his forehead wrinkle, then he said with a grin, "Do you like to bowl?"

"Bowling? I haven't gone bowling since college, but I'm game. I want to be with you."

Liam wanted to say he did too, but hesitated. "Cool. There's a great bowling alley on the east side that I haven't been to for years. Text me your address and I'll pick you up about twelve thirty. If we get there by one o'clock, I bet it won't be crowded. It'll be fun, and I haven't enjoyed being alone either."

The bowling alley was in the Hollywood district, north of Sellwood. Liam texted Troy when he arrived, and he watched Troy walk down the sidewalk from a small, but nicely kept house in the vicinity of Lewis & Clark University. As he slid in the car and said hi, Troy said, "I don't know where you live, I should have asked before saying yes to you driving."

"It's fine, Troy, my apartment is down the hill north of the hospital, and this is hardly out of the way to get to the bowling alley." They headed down the Palatine Hill, over the Sellwood Bridge, and then north to the Hollywood district.

What started out being a little awkward soon turned into a simple good time, especially when they discovered that they were both equally mediocre and very out of practice and decided the point was to have fun together. After winning a game apiece, Troy went to the lobby and came back with two beers that they sipped as they played the third and last game. Liam won, and they laughed together about dumb luck. After they turned in their rental shoes and walked to the car, Troy said, "That was more fun than I thought it would be. I mean the bowling, not the being with you part."

"I know what you mean, Troy. You don't have to explain. I think we're finding out that even though we're working some stuff out, it's more fun together than apart." Liam paused, and then as they approached his car he turned to Troy and said, "what are you doing the rest of the afternoon?"

"Nothing much. Why?"

"I told my mom I'd stop by and see her this afternoon. She lives north of here."

Troy looked at him, sizing up the offer. "So, it'll save you taking me home and then coming all the way back here. That's fine with me, since it's more efficient. This isn't take the guy home to meet your parents, is it?"

"What? No. That's not what I meant at all. I just thought since we're almost there you might like to meet her. I mean, I've met your folks. If you don't want to, just say."

Troy took Liam's hand, turned his body toward him and leaned him back against the car. "Liam, I'm just giving you shit. I think it'd be nice to meet your mom. After all, she made and raised you."

He stared straight into Liam's blue eyes. Liam didn't avert his gaze, and after a little while they both saw their gazes soften. "Can I kiss you, Liam?"

Liam just nodded, not wanting to blurt anything out. Troy leant forward, and just after their lips met, he thrust his tongue into Liam's mouth. Liam didn't waver, taking it and sucking on it, and then beginning to work his own tongue into the mix.

Troy pulled back, resting his forehead against Liam's and said softly. "That was thanks for inviting me to go bowling, and for the record, it was a good time."

Liam softly whispered, "It was. If we weren't in this parking lot, I'd shove my tongue down your throat and see where it went."

He heard Troy chuckle under his breath, "But then we might not make it to your mom's house."

"Okay, you're right. Come on, let's go."

Liam's mom lived in an older but well-kept neighborhood in north Portland. They pulled up to the curb and parked, and then Liam stepped around to the trunk, opened it, and removed a small box full of books. They walked up the sidewalk, Liam opened the front door, and as they stepped inside, he called, "Hi, Mom. We're here."

They heard a voice from the living room, "I'm in here. By the way, who's 'we?' I didn't know you were bringing anyone with you."

Liam nodded toward the room that the voice had come from, and Troy followed him as he said, "That part's a surprise, Mom. It was a spontaneous decision."

"Spontaneity. There's not enough of that around here."

They stepped into the living room as a woman in her early fifties with black hair that was beginning to show gray grabbed her crutches and made to stand up from her chair.

"No need, Mom. You don't have to get up."

"I'll make those decisions, thank you. If I want to stand up to meet your friend, then I will. Besides, I'm getting a sore butt from sitting so long." She paused as Liam leaned forward to give her a half hug and a kiss, and then continued, "Now, introduce me to your friend. Is this the young man you were telling me about?"

"Mom! You're not supposed to say things like that. This is Troy, and he's not supposed to know I told you anything about him."

"Why the hell not? Is he not supposed to know you like him, or something?" She turned to Troy and extended the hand not holding the crutches. "I'm Kristen, and you'll have to forgive my son his bad manners. Usually, he knows how to introduce people when they first meet one another." She had the same sparkle in her eyes that Liam did, and now Troy knew where it came from.

"Don't be so hard on him. He's usually quite polite with patients and staff at the hospital." He decided to play along just a little, and added, "well, except when it comes to me."

Kristen raised an eyebrow and grinned at him. "I like a man with some spunk." She looked back and forth from her son to Troy and then added, "Are the times a little tense, then?"

"Well, we're working some things out. But Liam took me bowling today and we had a great time and then he asked if I wanted to meet you, so here we are."

"So, I was the afterthought to bowling? I haven't been the main event for years."

"Mom! Stop. This is getting out of control. You're not supposed to embarrass me just because I brought a friend along to meet you. And you know you've been the main event in my life forever."

Troy saw the sparkle in Kristen's eyes as she replied. "You're quite right, Liam. I shouldn't embarrass you, especially in front of your friend. And thank you for the main event comment. Now, is that the box of books you told me about? Why don't you put them on the table over there, and I'll make us something to drink?" She looked at both of them and asked, "Tea or coffee?"

"Tea would be a nice change," Troy said. "It seems like we live on coffee at the hospital."

"Tea it is. I've only got English Breakfast tea, but you can have it with cream or sugar. Give me a few minutes and I'll shout for one of you to bring it in. Make yourselves comfortable."

Liam placed the box of books on the table as Troy looked at him questioningly. "Mom's handicapped from polio, but very self-sufficient. She's a professional editor and runs her own business editing textbooks from home. That's a full-time job, so between that and the crutches, it's hard for her to get to the library. I go and get the books she wants and some videos too." He waved his arm around the room. "This is the house I grew up in."

Troy stepped up to him and said softly, "I like it, and your mom is a very cool woman."

"She is that. Let's go into the kitchen and then we won't have to carry everything in here."

When they walked in, Kristen was leaning on her crutches at the counter between the stove and the sink, putting tea bags into a tea pot. She saw Troy look at her curiously, and said, "Don't tell me you don't know a tea pot when you see one?"

"Now that you mention it, I do know what that is. I just didn't think anyone used them anymore."

"It's much more elegant than throwing the bags in the cup and then everyone has to deal with wet bags and drips."

Troy grinned. "Wet bags and drips would not be a good thing."

"You two sit down," Kristen said and pointed at the tray on the kitchen table that already had teacups, sugar and creamer and some cookies on it. When the kettle boiled, she turned back to it, poured the water into the tea pot and came over and sat at the end of the table. She looked at Liam, "Darling, will you get the pot in a few minutes?"

He nodded and she smiled her thanks, then turned to Troy. "Now, tell me all about the bowling date my son took you on." She paused, as if she couldn't help herself and then added with a glance at Liam, "Wait, let me get my notepad so I can make some notes about how bowling qualifies as the first hot date."

"Mom! You agreed to lighten up."

With a look of pure innocence, Kristen said, "Did I? Oh, you're right I did." She looked from Liam to Troy and said, "So, how was the bowling?"

Troy smiled back at her and said, "Neither of us are any good, but the truth is that it was a lot of fun. I wouldn't have chosen bowling, but that would have been my loss. What we needed was just that, having a little fun with no pressure."

Her expression made clear she was still assessing Troy. "That's a good answer. Liam's a romantic, so bowling is not what I would have expected him to invite you to. More like a risqué movie at the Avalon Theatre, or something."

Troy saw Liam roll his eyes as he stood up to get the tea pot. After picking it up, he turned back to look at Troy and gave him another eye roll and silently mouthed, "I'm sorry."

Kristen was watching Troy's face and said, "Is my son apologizing for my behavior?"

Troy couldn't help it. He simply burst out laughing. Then Kristen started laughing, and finally, as Liam set the tea pot on the table, so did he.

"Liam, will you pour please. That way I won't have to stand up. Help yourself to the cookies. They're raisin with cinnamon that I baked this morning, and there's a box for you to take back to your apartment."

She looked them over again. "Now, tell me about yourselves. I know you met at the hospital. But how did you get together?"

Troy and Liam gave her a quick version of bumping into each other at Mt. Bachelor.

"What a coincidence, but a very nice one. So, it goes without saying that you're gay as well, or my son wouldn't be telling me about you."

Liam expected Troy to flinch, but he didn't. "Yes, I am, though so far I'm only out to a couple of people besides Liam." As he said it, he wondered where the words came from. He felt a chill run through him, and to his surprise it seemed like a little of the weight he always felt had been lifted. He'd never consciously chosen to say that, but this woman and her candor and hospitality totally disarmed him.

"Not a worry, Troy. Liam's no doubt told you he's been out since he was thirteen. We've gone through it all together, so I think I can claim to understand more than most parents. If you're in the process of coming out, then I commend you for it. Depending on the family and social circumstance, I know it can be hard."

Troy looked at Liam and said, "Now I understand how you could say it was so easy and natural for you. Your mom understood you all along, didn't she?"

Liam smiled widely and said, "She did. She understood a lot of it before I did. I told you she was cool."

Kristen sipped her tea and then said, "I'm just an editor, not a scientist, but as far as I'm concerned, society makes all of this way too hard. In my view human sex is just biology with feelings. We're way too hung up on religious and cultural expectations, when what we should be focused on is the education and health of our children, and encouraging them to appreciate and enjoy their natural endowments."

Troy was silent, knowing there was more, and after another sip of her tea, Kristen continued. "When he was taking sex ed classes, it was just me, no dad. So, we talked about it all, and I tried to keep it focused on understanding what was natural, and on health and happiness. I could not believe how the teachers were so inhibited and unable to explain the practical realities of sex." She grinned devilishly. "I couldn't teach him how to masturbate, but I know full well that boys get plenty of help in that area without needing any assistance from their parents."

Liam cringed. "Geez, Mom! Leave the nitty gritty details out, will you. You're embarrassing me, again."

"No need to be embarrassed. You weren't then, why should you be now. Remember when you told me about you and your gay friends practicing oral on bananas? You wanted to be 'ready to go' I think you called it, when the opportunity came along. Anyhow, you came through it all in good form, and turned out to be a pretty good person." She looked over at Troy, and went on, "don't you think?"

Troy smiled back and said, "Yes, I think he's a good person. In a lot of ways, he's better and healthier than me. He's helping me sort through a bunch of my hangups. Maybe there's hope for me yet."

Kristen gave him an appraising eye and then said, "Have a cookie. You haven't had one yet."

They left an hour later, and Kristen had said she hoped to see Troy again soon. As they drove away, Liam said, "Sorry for some of that. I don't think she gets enough visitors. It's like it all gets pent up and has to come out."

"Liam, are you hearing yourself? You have one of the coolest moms I've ever met. My mom couldn't come close to the level of candor and warmth your mom has, to say nothing of how much she loves you."

Liam looked at him like it was new information. "Seriously, she loves you to death, and I'm here to tell you that you're what you are because of her. I can see it in your sense of humor and quick wit," and here Troy paused and reached a hand over and put it on Liam's thigh, "and I can see it in your eyes. You both have the same sparkle, even if your eyes are different colors."

"Well, I guess you're always embarrassed when your mom's talking about you that way."

"You mean about masturbation and learning how to give blow jobs on bananas?" Troy started laughing to himself. "I have to ask. Were the bananas with the skin or were they peeled?"

"They were peeled, Mr. Smarty Pants. I saw something somewhere, about porn stars learning how to give head with bananas. So, I figured why not."

"For real? And your mom went along with it?"

"Sure did. I wasn't some fem boy, I played basketball and ran track, but I knew I was gay and learned early to plan ahead. Mom supported me and I wanted to be ready."

They were pulling up in front of Troy's house. "Well, you were ready. I'm thinking of that night at Mt. Bachelor. You knew exactly what you were doing."

"You did okay yourself," Liam said as he slipped the car into Park. He looked over at Troy who said softly, "Can I give you another kiss? Is that okay? I know we're still sorting things out and haven't had that talk yet, but I really would like to end today…"

Liam pulled him across the console for what turned into a deep kiss. After a couple of minutes of contortions over the center console, he pulled back and said, "Okay, we've got to stop, or we won't stop. Thanks for coming with me. Today was totally great."

"It was. Thanks again." Troy opened the door and stepped out, and then leaned back into the door opening and said, "See you tomorrow at 0700."

On the drive to his apartment Liam wondered it that declaration meant tomorrow would start and end just like every day of the last week had.

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