I got completely wasted at the Hole after Alex left. I called the server over to my table and told him to keep the drinks coming. I gave him my credit card and told him to leave the tab open. The boy, who looked barely old enough to serve drinks there, took the card and brought the drinks.
At first he was quiet, just setting one in front of me and taking my empty away, but then he started talking at me.
“Are you sure you want another one? I can bring you a coffee or something.”
“Shjust get an’ther a th’green onesh.”
When he gave me the drink, he said, “Hey, I don’t know why you’re determined to give yourself alcohol poisoning, but maybe you should slow down.”
I pounded the drink, glaring at him as it slid down my throat like fire. “’Nother.”
“It’s almost closing time,” the boy told me. He handed me a mug of coffee. “Mick at the bar says you can’t drive home…which is pretty obvious. He says I have to take your keys.”
“Mmmm,” I murmured, really unable to formulate a real word. I fumbled for my keys in my pocket, but couldn’t make my fingers work properly. “Pket.”
“Jeez, you want me to get them out of your pocket? You really are drunk.” The boy looked at me nervously. “Don’t hit me if I accidently touch something that’s not your keys, okay. I mean, I’m not making a pass.”
“Jshhhhdit,” I tried to tell him to just do it.
The boy sort of inched toward me and slipped an hand into my pocket. He grabbed the keys and pulled them out. His hand did brush against my thigh and through my drunkenness, I recognized that I sort of liked his touch.
“Mrllygay,” I mumbled, admitting that I must be gay.
“No need to insult me, buddy,” the server glared at me. “I might be gay, but I wasn’t trying anything. Just trying to keep you safe.” He put my keys in his apron pocket. “I’ll tell Mick that you’re ready to go. You can get your keys tomorrow.”
I put my head down on my table. I could no longer support it. Later, I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Time to get up big guy. Cab’s here.”
The boy managed to lift me out of my chair. He was so slight, I didn’t think he’d be able to hold me, but he was stronger than he looked. He escorted me out of the Watering Hole and put me in the cab. He handed the cabby some money to cover my fair.
“We’ll charge it to your card Mr. Fields. You can settle up tomorrow when you come for your truck.”
The cab dropped me off at my house. I have no idea how he knew where to go. It must have been something they figured out from looking up my card information. I tried to pay the guy, but I couldn’t get my wallet out of my pocket. The guy reminded me that he’d already been paid.
“Go sleep it off, buddy,” the cab driver said. I tried to nod that I would, but that sent the world spinning around me. It was all I could do to keep standing as the cab pulled away.
I have no memory of getting into the house. I don’t remember falling over the garbage can outside and waking up my brother and his wife. I don’t remember TJ carrying me to the sofa where he left me to sleep off my drunkenness.
I woke up there feeling like I’d ran over myself with my own truck. I was still a little out of it because the room sort of spun around me when I tried to sit. I felt my stomach turn. I barely made it to the bathroom before I was heaving up whatever alcohol was left in my system.
I hadn’t slept very long. No one else was up, so after I forced myself to drink some water, I stumbled down to the basement and fell onto my bed. I didn’t get up again until nearly noon.
“Wild night?” TJ asked when I surfaced. I went to the fridge for some bread and jam. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure if I could.
“Roselyn said you met Alex at the Hole. Did he get this drunk, too?”
“Surprising. You seem pissed. What did Alex do? Did he hit on you?”
I looked up sharply at my brother, who only looked amused. “How’d you know?”
“That Alex was gay? Hell, pretty much everyone suspected when we were in school together. I heard he met some hot French guy but then came home when it didn’t work out.”
“Fuckin’ rumors,” I grumbled as I ate my bread. I hoped that it wouldn’t cause me to make another trip to the toilet.
TJ laughed. “Seriously, GC. I am surprised you didn’t know. But why would finding out that Alex is gay make you get drunker than anyone I’ve ever seen?”
“That wasn’t it,” I said, swallowing another bite. “I knew about Alex.”
“Oh, then why the angry drinking binge?” TJ looked genuinely concerned. What would he say if I told him the truth? Did I want to find out?
“Teej,” I said, “Alex did make a pass at me, just not last night. It was a few weeks ago.” I looked at my brother, trying to see what he thought about that.
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t let that stop you from being friends,” TJ said. I sighed.
“No. But….um….last night…” I let my voice trail off. I couldn’t say it. How was this sort of thing usually done? How had Alex told his family?
“What the hell happened last night?” TJ asked, “Should I go find Alex and kick his ass? Did he take advantage of you getting drunk?”
“No! No! Nothing like that. Shit, Teej. It wasn’t Alex. It was me!”
“You? You what?”
“I made a pass,” I ran a hand through my hair, which hurt with the pounding hangover headache that seemed to be taking over my brain. “I told Alex I was gay,” I said.
TJ stood up from the table abruptly, pushing his chair out so hard that it nearly fell over. “You did what?”
“I told Alex that I was gay.” I couldn’t look into my brother’s eyes. His reaction seemed to be everything I had ever feared.
TJ pulled his chair back and sat again. “How do you know?” he finally asked. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said. Why were people always asking if I was sure? “Why would I put myself through this shit if I wasn’t sure?”
“But how do you know? Maybe you’re just confused?”
“Teej. Fuck. I know I’m confused, but I also know I’m gay. Okay? I look at Alex and I think of him naked. I want to kiss him, touch him, all that shit! Believe me, I’d like it not to be true, but it is.”
“But you and Becky…” TJ left the end of that statement hanging out there.
“Yeah.” I acknowledged.
“How could you…with her…if you…?”
“I just could. I don’t know.” I shrugged. “But I’ve totally fucked up. Alex knows about me and Becky. And Becky knows about me and Alex. She hates me and I think he does, too. I’m such a fucking bastard!”
I stood to put my plate in the sink. “I’ve screwed things up so bad, Teej. I don’t know what to do.”
TJ tried to comfort me. “GC, it will be ok. Becky loves you, so she’ll forgive you. And if Alex is any sort of friend, he’ll forgive you, too.”
“I don’t think so, Teej. I called Alex’s name while I was with Becky. And last night, I told Alex what happened.”
“Oh man. You’re so fucked.”
Yep. After TJ and I talked, I took a shower, trying to wash some of the alcohol out of my system. I came back upstairs to see Roselyn with Theo.
“Where’s TJ?” I asked. I was hoping my brother could take me to the Hole to get my truck.
“He got called into the station. Another arson fire, he thinks.”
“Shit! Why didn’t he get me?” I started looking around for the phone so I could call a cab to take me to the station.
“GC, wait. TJ told me to tell you to stay home. You’re still a mess, he said.”
“I’m fine. I should be helping.”
“TJ told me what happened, GC,” my sister-in-law said. I stopped what I was doing, looking at her to see how she took the news. “I’m sorry that you did what you did. TJ thinks that Becky will forgive you, but I don’t agree.”
“I know, Ros. I know. I was the worst sort of jerk.”
“Yeah. She loved you.”
“GC, I always wondered about you. You never seemed to be that into the girls that you went out with. I could tell that you were just sort of going through the motions.”
“So you suspected?”
“No, but I wondered. What are you going to do now? Are you going to tell your folks? your sisters?”
I sat at the table. “I just don’t know.”
“Do it. You know that they’ll feel better if you tell them instead of finding it out later. TJ isn’t upset about it. He’s surprised, but he loves you, no matter what.”
“I know. It’s hard, though.”
“Life is hard GC. Be a man and admit what you are. Who you are. You’ve already admitted to what you did wrong. If you have any hope of salvaging those friendships, you have to pretty much come clean with everything.”
Roselyn was right. The best I could do now was live my life honestly. I doubted that Becky or Alex would forgive me, but I needed to forgive and accept myself. That made me remember what Alex had said to me in the Hole the first night we went there. He said that he’d accepted himself but his family hadn’t accepted him. I thought at the time that he might have been wrong. Now I knew that he really had accepted himself. I needed to do the same.
I went to my parents’ house instead of going to the station. Mom was there alone. Laura was at the hospital, she said, and Dad had been called in to the scene of the fire.
“Why aren’t you there, GC?” Mom asked me. “I thought everyone had been called in.”
“I had a bad night last night,” I admitted. “I wasn’t in any shape to be a help today.”
“Oh,” she looked worried for me. “Want to talk about it?”
“Yeah.” So I told her everything. I admitted to prom night. I told her about what I’d done to Becky in my apartment. I left out the details, but I explained what happened.
“GC! Why would you do that?” Mom asked me. She seemed as angry as Becky had been and for the same reason. She didn’t appear upset at all that I liked a guy.
“I was confused Mom,” I said. “I know that’s a poor excuse, but that’s what happened. I wasn’t thinking. I was using Becky to try and hide who I really was because I didn’t want to be that guy.”
“You did a terrible thing to Becky,” Mom said. “But I want you to know that your dad and I love you and will always love you. No matter what you do wrong.”
“So you don’t mind that I’m…gay?”
“GC, why would that be something that bothered us? Why is it bothering you so much?”
“I don’t know.” I started to cry. Man, I thought, as my mother gathered me into her arms, I was crying like a girl. Being gay was making me soft. And after I had that thought, I gave myself a mental slap. No, letting myself cry and taking comfort from my mother wasn’t “gay”. It was just me. I needed to let these emotions out. Who better to tell them to than my mother?
When I stopped crying, I continued to let my mom hold me and rub my back. I hugged her, too. She was getting more frail, I noticed. I was glad that she was still with me to help me through this time in my life. What would I have done if she hadn’t been there?
“Do you mind if I stay here until Dad gets home and Laura so I can tell them?” I asked. Mom said no, so I waited. We talked about the fire a bit. Mom said it was in the stadium. There’d been a Llama’s game and the arsonist had started the fire in one of the supply closets.
“There were a lot of chemicals,” Mom said. “That’s why so many people were called in. So many people and so much potential for harm. I don’t know when your dad will be back.”
He still hadn’t come home when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. “Hello?” I asked, when I answered.
“Hi. Is this George Fields?”
“Um, yeah?” I hesitated. No one calls me George. “This is GC Fields.”
“Oh, Mr. Fields, this is Jake at the Watering Hole?” the voice sort of cracked and I vaguely remembered my server from the night before.
“We were wondering when you were coming by to get your truck and settle your tab,” Jake’s voice took on more of an air of authority as he spoke.
“Um…sorry,” I said. “I will be there in a little bit.” I hung up and told my mom what I had done the night before. I’d left it out of my original confession as unimportant to the central problem of using Becky and saying Alex’s name. And being gay, of course.
Mom told me to go get my truck. I could come back and see if Dad was home later. I gave her a kiss and another hug and headed out to the cab she called for me.
The Hole was not a busy place when I went in. There was practically no one there. “Man, it’s dead tonight,” I said to the mixologist as I sat down at the bar.
“Everyone is out gawking at the fire at the stadium. The idiots think that kind of thing is entertaining,” the man said.
“Aw, fire seems to do that to people.” I looked around for the boy who had served me the previous night, but he wasn’t there. “Um…I’m here to get my keys and truck. Jake called me?”
“Right. I’m Mick. Jake’s my brother. He’s out back putting out the trash. Got to keep busy even when no one’s drinking.”
“Gotcha. Do I need to sign something or pay or something?”
Mick walked to the end of the bar and opened a locked drawer. “Here we go.” He pulled out my keys and my card. “You just need to sign here,” he handed me a tab. I looked at the total and gulped. Shit. I’d really had a lot to drink.
“Shit!” I said aloud. “I’m so sorry.” I apologized again and signed the bill.
“You were pretty wasted,” Mick said conversationally. “Drowning your sorrows?”
“Something like that.” I turned to leave. “Thanks for not letting me drive home,” I said.
“Hey wait!” This time it wasn’t Mick speaking to me, but the kid, Jake. I turned back.
“Uh, I’m sorry I let your tab get so high,” he gulped. I watched his Adam’s apple bob. “I hope it wasn’t too much.”
“No problem. It was my fault. I should have stopped.”
“Are you ok today? I mean, you were pretty messed up.”
“I feel like the ass end of a horse,” I said, grinning sheepishly, “but I managed to eat something and right now the headache is like a small hammer instead of a jackhammer.”
“Oh, good. Good. And what about your friend?” The boy looked uncomfortable. “You know, the one who left you there to get drunk like that?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t want to talk to me.”
“Ah. Well, be safe, ok. Don’t drink like that again.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“See you around,” Jake said. I nodded, but I knew that it would be awhile before I came into the Hole again. No more drinking for me.
Drinking was the last thing on my mind, really. I went back to mom’s to wait on Dad. I was there when Mom got a call from Laura.
“What’s wrong? Who is it?” I asked when I heard my mom break down sobbing. “Mom!” She dropped the phone and I picked it up.
“This is GC. Who is this?”
“GC!” I recognized Laura’s voice. “GC. I’m so glad you’re there. Get mom to the hospital. Now.”
“What? Shit, what’s up Laura?”
“It’s Dad. GC, he went into the stadium after the firemen put out the blaze and a burned beam fell on him.”
“Oh god! Is he ok?”
“Yeah, but get Mom here. Hurry, GC.”
Dad was in critical condition at the hospital. The beam knocked him to the ground, pinning him. The other cops got it off of him right away, but it had broken his ribs and punctured a lung. Because of his age, they weren’t sure Dad would make it.
“I told him he needed to retire!” Mom alternately screamed in frustrated anger and grief, saying, “He better not die, or I will kill him!”
“He’ll be fine,” I said, but I didn’t believe it. Dad had already suffered this sort of thing once. It was luck he’d survived then. Somehow, I knew that Dad wouldn’t make it this time. Once again, I felt like this was all my fault. If I had been at the stadium, maybe Dad wouldn’t have gone in when it was still unsafe.
Of course, TJ blamed himself. “I didn’t know that they were going to start investigating right then. I told the Chief it wasn’t safe.”
“You did all you could,” Laura comforted him.
Really, the accident could have happened to anyone else and not been lethal. As I suspected, Dad didn’t make it through the night. The best I could say was that he woke a little and saw Mom and us in his room—Barbara showed up soon after Mom and me. He smiled and said he was too tough to die. He was wrong.
Dad’s funeral was the second worst experience of my life. Mom tried to make it a celebration, but the fact that he died so tragically cast a pall on everything. Everyone gave her comfort as much as we could, especially my uncles, Malcolm and Julian. Afterwards, she declared she couldn’t live in her house anymore. Since Laura was living there with Trevor, who was now her fiancé, Mom gave her the deed and moved in with Barbara.
“I’ll be there for the baby,” Mom told Barbara, who was now visibly pregnant. “It will give me something to live for now that your dad is…” she couldn’t finish.
“Mom,” I tried to console her, “you have a lot to live for. There’s Theo and the new baby and Laura’s wedding.”
“I know GC. I know. But it’s hard being a widow.” I wished that I could have sad something that would make her feel better, but Mom knew what it was like to live without a husband. She was a widow for the second time.
I felt helpless in all of this, but at least dealing with Dad’s death made me forget my own problems. I still hadn’t seen Becky or Alex since the day I’d gotten drunk at the Watering Hole. I thought they might come to the funeral, but neither had. Mom had really only invited family.
After the funeral, I tried to get back to my normal life. TJ and I went to work. We fought fires and averted disasters around town…none of them on the scale of the Stadium Disaster. The arsonist seemed to be quiet.
“I don’t think it’s over,” TJ said and I agreed. “I talked to Uncle Julian the other day.” Julian was still chief of police.
“What does he think?”
“He agrees. He says they have leads now, though, that they didn’t have before.”
“Do they still think it’s a woman?”
“They don’t know. The Stadium fire started in a supply closet.”
“Julian wonders if there’s something he’s missing…a connection between these larger fires and some of the smaller ones.”
“Well, they think the arsonist started at the school, right. After that, it was just community buildings…nothing too serious….like practice.” TJ nodded, so I went on. “The theatre was the first big fire and then the stadium.”
“Where’s the connection?”
“Fuck if I know. What do the school, the theatre and the stadium have in common?”
“Nothing except being buildings here in Twinbrook.”
“There has to be something!” Of course there did, but I didn’t know what anymore than TJ did.
“Julian will figure this out, Geese. I guess that’s why we’re not cops.”
TJ changed the subject. “So, it’s been a few weeks. Have you spoken to Alex or Becky yet?” I shook my head no. “Well, you should call them. Either of them. Apologize to Becky and get Alex to work out with you or something so you can be friends.”
“I don’t think it will happen,” I said. “Becky hates me with good reason and Alex told me he doesn’t want to see me.”
“Just try it GC! I’m sick of seeing you moping around here.”
But I didn’t call either of them. Instead I ran into Alex at the gym. I was on the treadmill and he got on the machine next to me. Unlike when I confronted him, he didn’t say anything to me. Just ignored me.
We ran for several miles like that. Finally, I had enough. I slowed my pace to a walk. “I wanted to call you,” I said.
“You didn’t, though.”
“I was afraid to. You asked me for some distance.”
“I heard about your dad.” Alex stopped his machine. “I thought you’d call me after…that you might want to talk about it.”
I stopped my machine. “I wanted to, but TJ and the girls and my mom were with me. We got through it together.”
“I’m really sorry, GC.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I grabbed my towel and headed to the locker rooms to shower up.
“Hey, GC? Want to go get a beer?” I turned to Alex, who was standing expectantly by his treadmill. He looked hopeful, but unsure of my answer.
“Sure,” I said.
And so I found myself once again sitting across from Alex at the Hole. I ordered one drink. When Jake handed it to me, I smiled and said, “This is it for me. No matter what I say.” He smiled back, gave Alex his drink and then served his next table.
“You know that kid?”
“Yeah, he poured me into my cab the night you left me here. I decided I’d drown myself in alcohol for being such a fuck up idiot.”
“You were an idiot,” Alex agreed. He still seemed a bit bitter about it. We drank in silence for awhile. I didn’t know how to bring back our easy camaraderie.
“Want to play shuffleboard?” I finally broke the silence. Something had to give.
“Still think you can win if I’m not drunk?” Alex asked. I scoffed at him. “Of course. I rock this game.”
But I didn’t. Alex wiped the table with me. I knew he would. I hadn’t practiced at all since our last game. Playing the game, though, brought us back to the way we had been before I confessed what I had done to Becky and the feelings I had for Alex. This time, as we played, I noticed that a lot of Alex’s teasing had a sexual undertone to it. I didn’t know if his flirting was just the way he was or if he was trying to send me some sort of signal that he accepted and welcomed my attentions. Regardless, I found myself flirting back.
When the game was over and I lost, Alex said, “I win! Haha! Now pay up!”
“What was the bet again? I didn’t know we’d bet anything,” I laughed.
“We didn’t, but a loss such as that demands some sort of payment. A tribute. You should bow down and kiss my feet, thanking me for teaching you how the game is really played!” Alex pointed at his shoes.
“What if I don’t want to kiss your nasty toes? Would some other sort of payment do?” I thought of all of the other ways I could kiss Alex. I licked my lips, hoping he’d catch on to my invitation and pick one of them.
He did, but instead of continuing his flirtatious banter, Alex stepped back, shocked. “GC.”
Crap. I’d misread his intentions. He’d been messing with me. “Sorry. Alex. Too much, right?” I looked away, embarrassed.
“No,” Alex put his hand on my shoulder. “I just didn’t think you still…I mean, I thought maybe you would have realized that what you were feeling before wasn’t…” he trailed off.
“Wasn’t real?” I shook my head. “No. I told you that I wasn’t confused about my feelings. I am attracted to you.”
“Yeah. I’d kiss you now, if you’d let me.”
“Because I won?”
I shook my head again. “Because I want to.”
“Oh,” Alex turned away from me. He wasn’t going to let me kiss him, but when he dropped his hand from my shoulder, he let it run down my arm. I took that as a good sign.
We left the Hole and got into my truck. I was going to drive Alex back to his car at the gym. I kept stealing glances at Alex, who’d been pretty quiet ever since I admitted that I still liked him.
“Are you still mad at me?” I finally asked.
“Sometimes. Mostly I just want to…”
“Let you kiss me.”
I wanted to lean over and kiss him right then. I didn’t care if it would cause a car accident, but I knew there was more, so I said, “But?”
“But then I remember Becky.” Alex looked over at me, his expression was serious and concerned. “She’s acting strange. At first she cried a lot. We were both angry with you. Now she hardly ever talks. Something’s wrong.”
“Should I talk to her?” I asked, but I didn’t know what I’d say to her. I was pretty sure that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t be the right thing. I couldn’t love her, and that’s what she wanted to hear.
“No, GC. I don’t think she’d talk to you. I’ll keep trying. But I don’t think I can be with you until Becky accepts it.”
“That might never happen!”
“I know.” Alex’s answer was resigned. I knew he meant it.
I didn’t hear from Alex again for several days. And at work, we went about the daily routines of firemen in a medium sized city, but we were all just waiting for the arsonist to strike again. It felt a little like my life was in a holding pattern. Something had to give.
When it did, it wasn’t what I expected. I was at the station when someone walked in. I was working on the engine again when I heard TJ shout, “GC! Visitor.”
I nearly dropped my wrench when I saw Becky. “Can we talk privately?” she asked, looking around. She’d never been in the station before.
I led her to the office. “I didn’t think you’d speak to me again,” I said, not really knowing what else to say. “I figured you’d hate me forever.”
“I did. I do,” Becky said. “If I didn’t have to talk to you, I certainly wouldn’t.” She paced the office. I could see that she was angry.
“Go ahead and yell at me, Becky. I deserve it.”
“Oh, that’d make you feel better, wouldn’t it?” Becky glared at me. “If I yell at you, then you get what you deserve. Well, I’m not going to do that. I think you deserve a lot more than me yelling at you.”
“Well, if you won’t yell at me, then at least let me explain and apologize. I feel awful about what I did. I know you hate me right now and I wish I could take it all back. I should have just told you what was going on with me…I was in denial. I was really messed up.”
Becky glared at me.“I don’t accept your apology, GC, and I don’t want to hear you explain. I get it. You’re gay. Alex explained how confusing that can be.”
“But I shouldn’t have hurt you like I did. I really am sorry about it, Beks. I’d do anything to make it up to you.”
Becky looked at me assessing if my words were sincere. They were. I didn’t know how to make her believe them. “Anything?” she asked.
“Whatever it takes. You are my best friend.”
“Would you marry me, GC?”