World War III was exactly what I started by giving Mrs. Adkins the phone number when we got one. I didn’t have to call my father. He called me. It lasted for hours as I sat there and let him tell his version of things and we got know each other. When Tony came in from work and I told him who I was talking to, he shook his head, took a beer from the fridge and went to the porch.
Harold wanted my address. “I agreed to keep paying the child support while you were in school. You’re still in school, Todd. But I never agreed to support Frankie after you were grown and gone. That stops now. What you do with the money is entirely up to you, but I’ve given her all I intend to.
But when he told me the circumstances that led to their divorce, I nearly fell out of the chair. She was in nursing school at the time. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. “Frankie was supposed to meet me at a party after class that night. It was late by time she went home and changed. I was hammered when she got there and started looking around for me. I don’t know how to say this, Todd, but someone pointed her to one of the bedrooms. When she opened the door I was in a very compromising situation. We were both naked… and he was on top of me.”
“He, as in a man? You were both naked and he was on top of you?”
“Yes. His name is Michael. That was nearly seventeen years ago. Our anniversary is coming up at the end of October. I told him yesterday I was going to call you. He said he’d like to meet you. And I’d like nothing more than to see you myself. I know this must be a lot to absorb.”
“You have no idea, Harold. Really, you have no idea. Do you happen to remember the guy who you introduced to mom before you were married? His name was Tony, is Tony. Husband number five. They’re in the process of getting a divorce. We live together here in Manhattan.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Todd. Are you saying as in…”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Frankie has always said I was just like you. I guess about this one thing, even a broken, alcoholic coo-coo clock can be right. I’m gay, always have been. I’m sure there’s a joke in here somewhere about the fruit not falling far from the tree, but I’m not sure I’m in a laughing mood at this point. Though I do appreciate you being honest and candid. You didn’t have to do that, Harold. You could’ve just lied to me like everyone else.”
Todd, I’d never do that. The only reason I never saw you again is because she threatened to ruin everyone if I didn’t stay away. I knew you’d grow up someday and hoped we would get the chance to talk. I don’t fault your mother. She didn’t make me what I am. If I can ask, are you and Tony happy? For the life of me, I can’t place him. Obviously, he’s older than you.”
“He said he only knew you through some mutual friends. And yes, he’s thirteen years older than me. You know Frankie. She still likes them young and well hung.” We got off the phone after promising to talk again soon. I poured Tony a glass of bourbon and carried two beers out to the porch.
“I have a question, Tony. Is there any chance back in the day, you and my dad slept together?”
“No, of course not. Surely he didn’t say that?”
“No. He doesn’t even remember you. But you said you knew each other through mutual friends. What kinds of friends were those? He’s gay, Tony. Did you know that?”
“Absolutely not, Todd. After he and Frankie split up, I heard a rumor that she’d walked in on him at a party with some guy. But it was only a rumor. When she brought the subject up after we got married, I assumed she’d heard the same rumor and was trying to milk it for whatever it was worth.”
“It must’ve been worth milking. He just said his seventeenth anniversary with Michael, the guy in the bed, is coming up in October.”
“I’ll be damned. So it was true? I think I need another drink. Should I bring you one?”
“Bring the bottle and a beer. We can share the glass.”
When Tony came back, he put his hand on my arm and asked if I was okay. “Yes, I suppose so, considering my father I haven’t seen in seventeen years just told me he’s gay. I know it’s funny in a way, and more than a little ironic. But it isn’t every day you hear from your own father that likes sucking cock, too.”
“Did you tell him about us?” Tony asked. It was an honest and understandable question. I still looked at him like he was stupid while I got up to turn on the porch light When I sat back down, he asked, “Why do I feel like I’m on trial here?”
“You’re not. I’m sorry if it comes across that way. My dad didn’t put these questions in my head. I already had them. Far as my sex life goes, I’d tell you about if I had one that wouldn’t fit on a postage stamp, Tony. I blew one guy behind the bleachers in 10th grade. And my other claim to fame is comparing hard cocks with some kid who had buck teeth when I was fourteen. So how about you? Your dick is the only one that’s ever been near my ass. And mine’s never been inside anybody but you.”
“I take it you want to know about my sexual history? It won’t fit on a postage stamp, but it isn’t a novel either, Todd. I’ve slept with maybe four or five women, and probably about that many men. The guys were when I was younger, but I tried to change all that because I thought it would make life easier, not because I was ashamed. I’d always wanted a kid, but had no desire to raise a baby. Your mom came with one built in and you were ten or eleven. By the time I realized you would never be my kid, it was too late. That’s why I told you to never call me your father. I never was. If I’d been allowed to be…”
“We probably wouldn’t be here. So where does that leave us, Tony? Maybe the first time with the Oreos… it was innocent enough. But I doubt even that, especially on my part.” I stood up and slid my hand down the front of his shirt. “That was the first time I ever rubbed your chest. I went to bed that night and jerked off thinking about it.”
“Todd, I could see you were infatuated. I was flattered and thought it was cute. Maybe that was wrong on my part. I don’t know. But what was I supposed to do? Shame you for having a boyhood crush? I had them. There were a few clues that you might be gay, but it didn’t matter to me. I still loved you anyway.”
I was unbuttoning his shirt and playing with his nipples and navel, so it probably was witness tampering, or at least leading them on, but we were already well into the weeds and I didn’t feel in imminent danger of someone calling a mistrial. My Perry Mason turned out to be much better than my Little Joe Cartwright. It might have been unconventional to sit on his lap and badger the witness with my lips, but nobody objected as I asked, “When did you start to see me as something other than the son you would never have?”
“That part’s easy, Todd. It was when you started showing me the man you were becoming. I thought you had balls, a good cool head, a big heart. And you were so handsome, not as handsome as you are now, but with a little more of that freshly fucked look, you could really go places, like to bed when I pick your beautiful ass up after I down this drink, counselor.”
That simple question and his off-the-cuff answer changed the trajectory of our lives, not unlike the other events which began unfolding around us all too quickly. My first semester started. The books had been bought. Tony was settling into the new routine of his job. We chugged along. But for my part, it was something akin to a menstrual period. I was always grumpy or elated, engaged or distracted, swollen with new ideas or starved for attention.
I spoke with my dad again and told him it wouldn’t be the right time for a visit. School, trying to keep house and be a newlywed all at once, my plate felt more than full. It was the first or second day of December, two weeks from finals, I was doing great, even in math. I had solid B’s and by some miracle, one A in defiance of the odds. That was in logic which made no sense whatsoever.
Our house phone rarely rang. That night I didn’t expect Mrs. Adkins to be calling so late. Her lights had always been out by nine o’clock. It was nine thirty. Tony chatted a few minutes like he was talking with an old friend, then handed me the receiver. “Here, it’s Millie across the street. She wants to talk to you.”
“Hey Millie. Don’t tell me the cat’s stuck in the tree again. That would be a bit of a drive. I thought you’d be in bed by now.”
She wasn’t laughing. “Well, Todd, I almost was. I finished washing my hair and was drying it off when someone knocked at the door. It was your mother, and she was in quite a state. Wanted to know how you were doing, and if I’d heard from you. I was in my robe with my hair dripping wet, Todd. I thought she was drunk. Honey, I mean she was, but that isn’t why I’m calling. When I told her you were fine, I didn’t say a word about the checks, only that Tony had brought you everything else. Child, when I mentioned his name, you should’ve seen the look on her face.”
“Don’t worry about it, dear. If she even remembers the conversation tomorrow, we can worry about it then. Go dry your hair off and get some sleep. We’ll talk later in the week.”
“Worry about what?” Tony asked soon as I hung up the phone.
“Those dots you said Frankie could connect… Sounds like she’s connecting a few of them. Bad as I hate to, I guess I should call her. What do you think? You know she’s going to ask. Should I tell her you dropped off the rest of my stuff and left?”
“Obviously you can’t tell her the truth. Do you want me to call? I can make something up. I don’t want you to have to…”
“What? Lie to my mother? That’s the least she deserves. I’ll call her.”
Two days later, she answered on the third attempt. When she asked if I was coming home for Christmas, I said, “Probably not. You told me I could fucking starve if I left you. Guess what, mom? That’s exactly what I’m doing. Money for gas, it isn’t in my budget.”
“Well, if your damned father would send his check on time, I’d give you some money.”
“Thanks. That’s very thoughtful. I’ve been here since the beginning of June. This is December. I guess your checks must’ve gotten lost in the mail like my dad’s.” Tony’s name never came up, not once. It was no great shock a few days later when I got the child support check she was obviously expecting. I thought it was the entirety of her reason for wanting to talk to me. In a rational way, everything about that conversation made sense. Only I wasn’t talking to a rational person. I was talking to my mom, and some part of me still wishes I’d been nicer, even if it meant lying through my teeth.