Always and Forever

by David Lee

Chapter 9

Healing and Peace at the last

Alan and Brad were a little sleepy on Tuesday morning. Both wore nothing but big smiles as they climbed out of bed and threw on their shorts to hide their manly attributes before scurrying to the bathroom. Just as they got there, Susan came out in her robe. Both boys blushed knowing that she could see the evidence of their morning wood. Susan smiled.

"Glad to see you're both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning."

Then she realized the other meaning that could be construed and it was her turn to blush.

"M-o-o-o-m!" Alan was shocked.

"Well, I didn't mean it THAT way. But I guess I can't call you my LITTLE boy anymore," Susan snickered.

After a hearty breakfast, the guys went off in Brad's car to the parks department where they met with the supervisor. He assigned them their jobs for the day. They would be mowing and trimming in Sandler Park today, and tomorrow they would clear brush in Ogden Park. They rode to the site along with other city employees in the back of a pickup which towed a trailer full of equipment. The work was not too taxing, physically, but the warmth of the day coupled with the steady pace made them hot and thirsty.

The foreman on the job knew how to lead a crew, and there were enough water breaks to keep the workers from over-heating. Brad and Alan shed their shirts like the others, and smeared each other with sun lotion. Being less seasoned than the regulars, they were more susceptible to sunburn. The older men, even the super straight ones, couldn't help but appreciate the fine young bodies working beside them, clad only in shorts and high-top shoes.

Most of the men had brought coolers of food and drink for lunch. Susan had helped the boys pack a comparable, substantial meal. She had intended to have them make it themselves the night before, but it had gotten late with Travis's being there and it hadn't gotten done.

After eating, several guys took a short nap in the shade. Brad and Alan were among those.

The day passed quickly, and the outdoor activity didn't tire the boys excessively, or so they thought. They were still ready for a swim in Brad's pool before dinner. Tonight, they would stay at Brad's house. They had decided to alternate houses and spend as many nights sleeping together as they could.

After the full day, the swim, and a large meal, the guys found that their energy level was not what they had thought it would be. At 9:00 o'clock, Brad locked the door to his room. The boys stripped and climbed into bed together. They had hoped for a repeat of last night's love-making but found that it was comfortable just to cuddle. Sleep overtook them as they held each other's semi-hard cock like a security blanket.

Tuesday afternoon, Liz was at the hospital again. Jerry and Dennis were still at her house, but she felt that she should visit Mary Fischer. She would look in on Mary's nephew again, in the unlikely event he was still alive. Liz had prayed for both of them daily, but she knew that God did not always answer the way people wanted. Knowing that if Derek Matthews lived, he might be doomed to do so in a vegetative state, Liz could not ask for him to linger like that. So, for him, she had ended her prayers with, "Thy will be done."

Liz arrived at St. Luke's to find that Mary had been discharged earlier that day. Derek had not regained consciousness, but he was holding his own. The nurses told her that the odds of his surviving improved greatly every day he held on. The doctors were somewhat concerned about possible brain damage but were not overly worried that he had not regained consciousness. Being in a comatose state helped suppress pain, and thus enabled healing to take place.

As she had done before, Liz took his hand in hers and talked to Derek. She told him lots of things that were happening in town and church, just to have something to talk about. She had heard that people can often understand what's being told to them even when they're not able to respond. It was thought that talking to them stimulated their brains. Well, she could do that. Besides, despite his bruises, he was a very good-looking young man.

Courtney had awakened feeling groggy from the sleeping pill she had taken, and she had done almost nothing all morning. Now, in the afternoon, she was seated in a comfortable recliner talking to her psychiatrist.

Dr. Newton was a pleasant middle-aged lady who had put Courtney at ease almost immediately. This was Courtney's fourth session since the "incident" as her mother called it. Why couldn't Cynthia call it what it was? It was RAPE and ASSAULT! Thank God Lois Newton was willing to call a spade a spade.

Somehow, Courtney didn't feel like she was seeing a shrink. She could say whatever was on her mind without fear of censure or disapproval. The conversations they had were good. Yes, there was some probing of her feelings, but at the end, she felt better. It was sort of like using a needle on a zit to relieve the pressure.

During this session, Courtney found herself confessing that she had considered taking the whole bottle of sleeping pills. Lois, as Dr. Newton preferred to be called, didn't act overly alarmed. She said that thoughts of suicide often followed in the wake of rape, especially if the woman blamed herself. Lois asked Courtney to have someone in her family keep the pills and only allow her to take the prescribed dosage. Courtney agreed. However, she was sure that she couldn't let her mother know how she felt. She could talk to her father, but he couldn't keep anything from Cynthia. Finally, she decided that her younger brother, Cory, was the logical person. He might be only 16, but he could be trusted. Courtney was beginning to have hope for the first time since "the incident."

Liz had been feeling pretty good about the recent forum at her church until the meeting with the elders on Thursday night. When she got to the place on the agenda for new business, Sam Gorman spoke up.

"When the Session approved the forums, we didn't expect that you would be promoting homosexuality. Some of our members are angry and are going to leave the church. You need to meet with them and tell them that you are against this fag stuff!"

Pastor Liz was dumbfounded. Everyone she has talked to had either agreed with her point of view or at least said that the topic of gay and lesbian relationships should be open to discussion. She took a couple of deep breaths to compose herself before she spoke. Her first impulse was to hit him over the head with the large Bible from the lectern. The mental image helped her keep her cool.

"Doesn't this city have a policy about treating people fairly regardless of race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation, Lieutenant Gorman?"

"Yes, Reverend Thornton. What's your point?"

"Well, as an employee of this city, I should think that you would avoid using deprecating words like 'fag.' All that aside, isn't the church supposed to reach out to those whom no one else loves? Didn't Jesus minister to the Samaritan woman at the well? Didn't he mix with the poor and misunderstood instead of the religions leaders of the day?"

Sam was flustered. He was used to bellowing and having people fall in line with his way of thinking instead of challenging him.

He replied, "That was different! He was the Son of God and he could do those things."

"Aren't we all the children of God? Aren't we supposed to follow his example? Did any of you recite the statement of faith after the sermon on Sunday? Let me refresh your memories!"

She pulled out a copy of the bulletin and continued.

"In part it read: 'We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling ALL to repent and believe the gospel.'

"Our faith is for everyone! It is not limited to the heterosexual or the rich or the saints or the leaders. It is meant for poor humble people like you and me as well."

Sam didn't like her response, but he shut his mouth and the meeting continued its intended course.

Summer was a time of healing for several people in the community, but not all things can be healed on this earth. Judith Jenkins found her strength waning. She had been able to keep up a pretty good appearance, but the cancer that would ultimately take her was sapping her energy. Despite that, Judith decided to host a picnic for the 4th of July.

She had a large yard with several old trees to provide shade. Her garage was spotless and could serve as a dining area in case of rain. She had contacted a caterer who could provide food up to her standards and now she was making a guest list.

The people present at Judith's party represented a wide range. There were people she had known in school, people from her church, the few shirttail relatives that were still in the area, and a small number of persons that she hardly knew or didn't know at all. Judith had invited Susan and Alan and had told them they were welcome to each bring along a friend.

Therefore, Tony and Brad were there. Judith had also invited Travis. That meant that Don and Tom were in attendance too.

Tom had not wanted to come, but now found that he was pleased to be there. No one knew about his past. The psychological scars were fading along with the physical ones. People he met commented on what a fine young man he was, and how lucky Don was to have him for a son. Judith treated him as one of her grandson's buddies.

Judith played the grand hostess, mixing with everyone and introducing her daughter and grandson to many who had never known she had either. She also proudly introduced Alan's father. This brought a tear to Travis's eye when he thought about how much Judith had hated him years before. What in the world could have wrought such a transformation?

As the party was breaking up later in the evening, and only her descendants and their two friends remained, Judith slumped in her chair. She had wanted to hold out until all had left, but her body failed her. It was almost like someone had flipped a switch.

"Mother, what's wrong? Did you eat something that disagreed with you?"

"What would dare to disagree with Judith Jenkins?" The older woman quipped.

Finally, Judith came clean about her condition and prognosis. The doctors had given her six months to live. That had been seven months ago. They were amazed that she had remained stable for the past six weeks, slowing the downward spiral of the earlier months. Judith was not amazed. She knew her life had been extended by the appearance of her daughter and grandson.

As the reality of Judith's condition soaked in, Tony took Susan's hand and held it in his own hand. Brad did the same to Alan. The gestures were natural and comforting. Judith noticed both. She never did miss much.

For Derek, July 4th was a time of celebration. He was alive and feeling relatively good, all things considered! Tomorrow he would be transported to a rehabilitation facility closer to his parents. He had not been out of the coma very long, but he had made remarkable progress. He was able to function well mentally at least. The physicians had determined that no permanent brain damage had occurred. That was something to celebrate.

Though his legs still refused to respond, he did have feeling in them. And, he could make a living with his mind and his hands. As a computer-systems engineer, he needed his brain most of all.

It was strange; Derek could remember bits and pieces of things from when he was in the coma. They were like celluloid movie clips on the floor of an old-fashioned editing room. Sometimes he could see himself as if he were looking down from above. He had heard of out-of-body experiences, but he had largely discounted them. Maybe they were real.

Derek had visions of being visited by an angel. Funny thing was that he had always imagined angels with blond hair and this one definitely had dark hair. He wondered if his dreams had been hallucinations. The wondering ceased when she walked into his room.

"Hi, I'm Pastor Liz from First Pres. I've been on vacation, so I didn't know you had decided to wake up."

"I know you! You're my angel! You were the one who was here touching me and talking to me when I just wanted to let go and float away. Your voice gave me a reason to stay. How did you happen to come to see me in the first place?"

Liz related the story of how his Aunt Mary had begged her to see him and how she had visited him several times. Derek told her about the flashes of images in his memory. They had visited for about an hour when Liz realized she was over-staying her usual time.

"I'm sorry, I lost track of time. You must be tired. I'll leave and let you rest."

"No, please stay awhile longer. My parents are great, but I have had nobody my age to see except for maybe a doctor or nurse. Let's talk more, that is, if you can spare the time."

Liz could and did.

In some ways, Tom was a changed person. Initially, he had resented the counseling sessions with the psychiatrist and Pastor Liz. The former were mandated by the social worker and the latter by Don who thought some religious training couldn't hurt. Tom wasn't sold on the religion part! But now Tom was beginning to look forward to talking with both Lois and Liz.

He still had bouts of depression and self-doubt. He still found that he was occasionally angry for no apparent reason. Sometimes the old Tom came to the surface and he would snap at someone. But those times were lessening. And he always felt sorry afterward. He had even learned to apologize to the ones he hurt. For the most part, Tom felt pretty good about himself and his world.

He especially loved Don and Travis. They were kind of like dads (or maybe older brothers) to him. They took him places, bought him things he needed, and helped him with his art.

Since both Tom and Travis had summer jobs, only the weekends were devoted to sketching and painting out of doors. Other than church, the three spent most Sundays, when the weather cooperated, out in the country concentrating on landscape in pastel or charcoal. On Saturdays they tried to do some work in the pottery studio that Don had set up in his basement. During the week, Tom often painted abstractly and expressively trying to give form to the disturbing dreams and nightmares that had long haunted him. It was satisfying and therapeutic – a kind of catharsis. And it was producing a quantity of excellent art.

Sacking groceries was a mindless job, and Tom found that he had lots of time to think. He had decided to try to go to art school after he graduated next year. Don was sure that he would be eligible for a needs-based scholarship and was confident that he could get a merit one as well. Tom liked the idea of going into a profession that would allow him to express himself. Don had been particularly complimentary of Tom's "dreams and nightmares" series when they critiqued them together.

Tom's mind wandered to other things as well. Being a healthy male on the verge of 18, his thoughts often turned to more erotic subjects. He thought back to Amy's party. He had felt hot and cold at the same time being around Amy. Sure, he'd had a few girls since he started high school. Some were happy to get it on with a big stud like him, but two had been coerced into having sex and his actions had bordered on assault.

Once he had made sure he would get "caught" by his father so the old man would quit calling him a fag. It had helped. For a while the man had shown grudging respect for him.

The girls Tom had been with were generally known as "easy" and there had been little feeling past the satisfaction of conquest and pleasure of sexual release. But Amy was different. She was genuine. She acted like a friend and actually seemed to care about him. She made him feel strong and weak simultaneously. He had even chanced going to juvenile court by hitting Barry when he had insulted and shoved her. She was special.

His mind wandered back to their first date.

Tom had finally got up the nerve to ask her to a movie. They had had a great time and when he took her home; she gave him a polite kiss and turned to go. Tom pulled her back and went into a passionate kiss that left them both out of breath. He slipped his hand under her top and felt her soft full breasts.

"No, Tom. I don't want it to be like this!"

Rebuffed, Tom felt his world crashing. He ran toward Don's car and Amy hurried after him.

"Come back, please," Amy pleaded softly. "Tom, I like you a lot. I'm not ready to go that far with any guy yet. If I were, it would surely be with you"

"Amy, I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so horny and you're so pretty. I like you a lot and I want you so much. I thought you wanted this too. I guess you're too good for me."

"Tom, no one is too good for you! You can't go around putting yourself down. If I led you on, I didn't mean to. I'm not that kind of girl. If you really care for me, you won't try to force me."

"Okay. I know you're not easy. I'm sorry. I do care for you."

Tom had never backed away from getting what he wanted from any girl. Why would he do that now? He realized that he cared too much for Amy to risk losing her even if his balls were turning blue. Why was he feeling this way about her? Did he love her?

Travis knew what love was and he was thinking about his lover at the moment. His job in house construction left his mind relatively uncluttered. Besides, he could keep several ideas and projects going at the same time which is one of the things that made him a good teacher. Travis considered himself lucky. Though he had to work hard now to pay off his college loans, he looked forward to having most of next summer free. The physical labor of construction kept him fit and energetic. He would be more than ready for Don when he slept over next weekend. Thank God he had found his lover again. This time he would not screw it up. This time was for keeps!

The call came to Susan's desk at Penney's on Friday afternoon later in July. Judith was dying and wanted to see her daughter and grandson one last time. Tony saw the tears and inquired about them. He insisted on driving Susan and Alan to the Quad Cities that evening.

"I suppose that your son will want his boyfriend as well. You'll probably want to talk with Brad's mom."

Susan was startled by Tony's remark. It had been said sensitively and matter-of-factly. But Susan had never brought up the subject of Alan's sexuality. In fact, she was dreading how Tony would react when he found out.


"Yeah, well, I assumed that they were a couple. If they aren't, I'm sorry for the mistake."

"How did you know?"

"Well, the way Brad comforted him at your mother's made me feel that they were more than just friends. It was kind of like you and me."

"What are you saying about us?"

"I know this is an awkward time to bring it up, but I do care for you deeply. I've always been afraid of commitment or use the 'L' word, but I'm ready now. Susan, I love you."

Interrupted for the umpteenth time while revising her sermon, Liz was ready to consign the phone to the eternal flames. What now? she thought. But her mood mellowed immediately at the sound of Mary Fischer's sweet voice.

"My dear, I have just come from seeing Derek. That 80-mile roundtrip drive is still possible for an old bird like me who has about that number of years under her belt," the old lady cackled.

"Derek is much improved. He credits his recovery to his 'angel'. He can't stop talking about you. I know he'd love to see you, but he's afraid to call. Without the use of his legs, he doesn't feel like a man. Do you think you could go with me next week to see him? I might be 'too tired' to drive myself."

Liz laughed inwardly. Why you old match-making reprobate. Too tired indeed! Outwardly, she said that she would be happy to drive Mary to visit Derek.

Judith's sudden relapse had a ripple effect. Tony had openly acknowledged his love for Susan and his awareness of Alan and Brad's relationship. Tom's camping trip with Alan and Brad had been postponed. Therefore, Travis figured he shouldn't stay over with Don. Oh well, thought Travis, to parody old Robert Burns: the best planned lays of mice and men are often gang astray!

Don was feeling sad too. He had looked forward to a weekend of uninhibited sex with Travis. He wanted to wake up in his lover's arms. He wanted to romp naked through the house. Man was he horny!

Tom noticed Don's mood the minute he came into the house. Don told Tom about the call he had received and that the camping trip would have to take place another weekend. Tom was crest-fallen too. Then, he began to understand why Don was sad. He was neither a virgin nor a fool. So, he formed a plan.

"Don, do you know me well enough to trust me?"

"Of course, Tom, you've never given me a reason not to."

"Well, I was thinking. I could use a little time alone and so could you guys. Why don't I stay at Travis's place and you guys stay here? I could use the pool and hot tub. People at the complex have seen me enough that no one will question why I'm there. Then you guys can have the honeymoon you have been wanting."

"Damn, Tom, sometimes you amaze me. How did you know?"

"Hey, I'm a guy. I recognize horny when I see it. I may not swing the same way you do, but I know you guys are definitely in love. I want you to fuck each other senseless this weekend. Then, I want you to invite Travis to sleep over any time you guys want to. If you're embarrassed by me being around, you can send me to his place. But unless you're doing it on the sofa in front of me, I think I'm old enough to handle it. Come to think of it, that might make an interesting sketch. You know, 'action life drawing'."

"Watch your mouth boy," Don grinned, as he spontaneously gave his foster son a big hug.

Tom melted into his arms.

Susan and the three main men in her life sped toward the hospital. They had hurriedly packed a few clothes and toiletries for an overnight stay. They dreaded the thought that they might be too late.

When they arrived at St. Francis Hospital, they found that Judith had bounced back. She was sitting up in bed, alert and talkative. Just before visiting hours were over, she asked to speak to her daughter alone for a few minutes.

After the others were out of earshot, Judith took Susan's hand and spoke.

"When you get to the house, you'll find a box in my room with the clothes I want to be laid out in. Please take them to the funeral home. I look pretty good tonight, but there isn't much time. You and Alan have extended my stay on this earth and made me happier than I've been in a very long time. I don't want you to worry about what's happening to me. Death is not the end. It is only the door to the Other Side.

"You don't have to worry about what I leave on this side either. I have a pretty good nest egg despite the medical bills. I want you to know that I've provided for both of you. There's a special fund for Alan's college tuition. He will want for nothing. He'll be able to go to the university with his boyfriend if he likes."

Susan's eyes widened.

"Dear, I may be old, but I'm not stupid. Alan is just like his father, except that today society will give him a better chance. He knows how to pick a great guy, and so do you, by the way. I hope you'll have wonderful lives. You deserve it. Most of all, I thank you for forgiving me. I was a very foolish and selfish woman. I hope my Maker will forgive me too. I'm going to meet Him very soon. Now, send in that lovely boy of mine."

Judith took Alan's hand and told him that she was leaving him money for college and that she wished him the best since he was a fine, upstanding young man. Alan swallowed and felt he had to level with Grandma.

"Grandma, I appreciate it, but you may not want to do all this for me when I tell you what I have to. I'm gay. Your church may not think I am upstanding, and you may not either. I'm sorry."

"Sorry? Why should you be sorry? Did you ask to have hazel eyes? Did you ask for blond hair? Did you choose to be different; to be gay?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Then, my fine upstanding grandson, walk tall and don't apologize! Don't wear tinted contacts to change the color of your eyes and don't date girls to pretend you're something that you're not. Incidentally, I told your mother that you and she have very good taste in men. Those are a couple of hunks if I'm any judge.

"Oh, and since I won't be around for your birthday, I want you to have your present tonight. It's in the room with the double bed. I assume Brad won't mind sleeping there with you."

Alan blushed at his grandmother's boldness and brushed back a tear as he kissed her sunken face.

With cheery, but tearful goodnights, the visitors left for Judith's home knowing that they might not see her alive again. The ride to the house was a quiet one.

Alan and Brad found the boxes with a new state-of-the-art laptop, printer, and additional software in the bedroom they were sharing. Alan was overwhelmed at the quality of the equipment his grandmother had purchased for him. The boys talked far into the night. Alan told about the tuition money and how they could be together for college as they had hoped.

Both boys were horny but felt that it was out of place to enjoy sexual pleasure while Alan's grandmother lay dying, so they contented themselves with cuddling.

In another bedroom, Susan lay in Tony's arms. They too felt reticent about enjoying the pleasures of the flesh at that particular moment, but Susan had not wanted to be alone. She had found the things her mother had put aside to take to the mortuary. She had both laughed and cried when she saw the brand-new underwear. At the moment, she needed Tony's touch more than anything else in the world.

"Since I have a teenage son, I'm obviously not a virgin. Thank you for not taking advantage of me when I'm vulnerable, Tony. I love you a lot and I feel that you love me too. You've shown that by being here for me and by being willing just to hold me."

"Susan, you're a very attractive woman and I'm crazy about you. I'd be lying if I said that I'm not tempted to make love to you. But I can wait because I'm in this for the long haul. It's not about tonight or just sex for that matter. I'm truly in love with you. I want this to last the rest of our lives."

After Susan had fallen asleep, Tony crept out silently and crawled into the little bed in the sewing room. He knew that it would be hard for him to live up to his noble words if he spent the night in bed with Susan. And that was where the boys found him when they went to awaken him in the morning.

The dreaded call from the hospital had awakened Susan about 7:00. Judith would suffer no more.

Brad had held his weeping boyfriend tightly until there were no more tears left. Alan's feelings were at the surface. He had barely known his grandmother and now he had lost her. She had disowned him most of his life through no fault of his own, but she had tried to make amends in the past few weeks. The ups and downs were like a microcosm of the emotional roller coaster he had ridden much of his junior year. Now, his tears spent for the moment, he lay peacefully against the warm bare chest of his lover. It was comforting. It was not an overtly sexual feeling, though sex was always just beneath the surface for them. What was important was that he loved, and knew that he was loved in return.

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