The Dinner Conversation
A not-so-short, short story
Fortie Andrews closed his eyes, pulled the warm Monday afternoon LA air slowly through his nostrils, expanded his chest to its fullest, held it for two seconds, then let it slowly escape through his thinly parted lips.
Two seconds of calm. A good start.
He felt a gentle squeeze of his left hand.
“You can do this. Just march right in there and let it rip. That’s what I did. ‘It’s who I am, deal with it.’”
“You’re such a twink,” Fortie said as he smiled and returned the squeeze of Gabriel Rameriz’ hand. They had become fast friends at Rhode Island School of Design. Gabby had taken an immediate interest in the junior transfer from LA by way of Harvard. “The fish out of water in more ways than one, “ Gabby had called him, a reference Fortie didn’t understand at the time. But 18 months later? He couldn’t believe how much he had come to understand about the real world and himself. For Fortie, leaving the path his family had originally set for him led him to discovering his true home...that place where he had finally understood and embraced who he truly was.
And now he sat at the curb in his best friend’s car in front of his family home.
“Don’t take this the wrong way – I love you and all, but I’ve got people to see. You’ve got to do this. You’re determined to do this, so do it!”
Gabby popped the trunk open. “Now grab that fabulous Jack Spade bag and get this done!”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Yes I am – always and every time.”
Gabby sped off as Fortie swung his leather duffle bag over his shoulder and stepped haltingly to the front gate. He couldn’t believe how different it all looked. This was his childhood home, the only place he remembered growing up, but now he couldn’t even recognize it. The Monterey style estate on June Drive in LA’s historic Hancock Park had always welcomed strangers, visitors and friends with what seemed like an acre of lush, green grass. Now that was hidden behind an eight-foot tall, smooth plastered, steel reinforced concrete-block wall. Dark chocolate stained carved teak double doors provided passage to the front yard of his memories.
He stopped and faced a brushed stainless steel panel that surrounded a keypad, camera lens and 6-inch video monitor. He pressed what was labeled “Call Button.”
“OH MY GOD!”. The exclamation preceded the image of his mother’s excited smile on the video monitor. “Is that you, Fortie? We weren’t expecting you until Wednesday. What a wonderful surprise.”
“I wanted to surprise you. How do I get through?”
“That’s right – you haven’t seen this yet. Let me buzz you in. Gawd, that sounds so unwelcoming.”
Fortie stepped through the right side gate and there it was, the “acre” of meticulously groomed grass he knew so well. His given name was Chandler Owen Andrews, IV, with his dad being #III. The Fortie moniker came along almost by accident. When he was around four, a visitor to the family estate – a US Senator he later found out – asked him his name,
“Chandler Owen Andrews, Four V,” he had replied, not quite understanding the roman numeral that had always accompanied is name. Older brother Morgan over heard the exchange, thought it the funniest and stupidest thing he had ever heard in his 12 years of life. He must have repeated “FourV” a thousand times that afternoon, each followed with riotous laughter.
FourV quickly became Fortie and, since the nickname was determined to make perfect sense by mom, Nancy, it stuck. It proved to be much more acceptable to all family members than “Chandy” or “Chandler.
His dad had even remarked, “I never had a nickname I liked, so its always been just Chandler for me. Seemed so formal. I’m actually a bit jealous, Fortie. I quite like it.”
And that made it set in stone, so much so, there was a time in high school when he had almost forgotten his given name. A good many of his friends and classmates only knew him as Fortie, which suited him fine. Chandler, III was practically a living legend in more than a few circles. Fortie preferred to let the light shine on his dad and stay out of the shadow.
“What do you think?” Nancy shouted as she stepped from the front of the long colonnade that ran along the side of the front court yard.
“Makes it all so private, like your own little world,” Fortie offered as he walked up the path that bisected the front lawn. “Not sure this path helps out during football games.”
Fortie dropped his duffle to the side, embraced his mom.
“This is such a wonderful surprise. It’s so good to see you. This will give us time to catch up before Morgan and Blair get here.”
“So it’s a full house for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure Morgan could get away.”
“He called this morning and said he was flying in early Thursday afternoon and staying the weekend. Blair’s coming Wednesday night. It’ll be like old times, only different since you’re all grown up now.”
Fortie felt his stomach tumble, fizz. His knees almost buckled.
They hadn’t all been together for Thanksgiving since his junior year of high school.
Should he hold off, save it for another time, more controlled?
No. It needed to be now. Tonight -- just as he had planned. Never a better time than now. That’s what everyone had told him. Once the moment of resolve happened, it had to be done.
He put his arm around his mother’s shoulders as she led him to the kitchen.
“What’s Rosa making that smells so good?”
“We gave her the holidays off to be with her family. Her father is recovering in La Paz from back surgery, so that’s my pot roast, thank you very much.”
“Which has always been my favorite! With all the veggies and potatoes mixed in?”
“There’s no other way for Momma Nancy.”
Comfort food. Perfect. He could do this.
“We’re eating dinner early, so you’re just in time. Your father spent the day writing on the boat and has a meeting with some trustees tonight. Nothing big, he assured me. He promised to be back by 11.”
Fortie took a deep breath.
“It doesn’t start until 8. He just wanted to relax after dinner and have time to clean up. He didn’t want to be rushed.”
Damn, thought Fortie. But these things are never smooth, there’s always something. There’s nothing like now....
“So what’s this new position he’s taken?”
“He’s the head of the “American Way Foundation,” the think tank. They’ve taken a back seat for the last couple of election cycles to the more conservative and fundamental factions of the Party. They’ve always been just right of center. Since your father’s books have been selling more and more, they invited him – actually begged him – to become their new face.”
“So his dedication to ‘fair & balanced’ continues –“
“Why, of course, Fortie, it’s in his blood...only he’s had to stop phrasing it as such with Fox News making such a mockery of the concept. One of the few times I’ve ever seen your dad get angry.”
“Guess he can’t even fall back to ‘compassionate conservatism.’
“Don’t get him started on that one, even though it was his to begin with, too.”
Fortie was relieved his father’s new added exposure in the conservative political machine hadn’t caused him to re-structure his fundamental beliefs. It was one of the things he most admired in #III – his commitment to balance. See the situation, weigh the facts, get the broadest picture possible, then plot the course. It made for a lot of calm in his household growing up and helped make him and his siblings thoughtful, rational, independent individuals. He felt his stomach settle, his legs strengthen, his shoulder muscles relax.
“I’m sure dad is reveling in the experience. How’s it for you?”
“You mean, beyond the security wall and cameras?”
“There are cameras?”
“Yeah, twenty throughout the grounds. There’s not an inch that isn’t covered. Monitors in the study, the game room, our room and here.” Nancy pointed to the 22” flat screen on the wall in the kitchen. “I said no to cameras in the house.”
“Wow – I thought that was just a new TV.”
“It’s that, too, but it will also cycle through the grounds. There’s a security company watching at all times. That’s why I stopped the inside cameras.”
“So this job is really a big, big deal.”
“Let’s just say your father is stepping out of his position of whispering into ears and becoming the owner of the ear. He’s going to be highly visible, if the plans for the Foundations new direction work out. Visibility means target in some circles. Everyone just wanted to be proactive.”
Nancy opened the door of the SubZero and started pulling out the ingredients for a salad. “You still an avocado fan?”
“Fan? I’m deprived. Living in Rhode Island – it’s not like they’re a local commodity.” Fortie pulled out a stool and sat at the breakfast bar overlooking the main food prep area. It had been his usual perch during high school, though his conversations were mostly with Rosa. When Mom cooked, it made for a special time for them both. “You still haven’t answered my question. What’s all this mean for you?”
Nancy plopped the salad ingredients in the vegetable sink, squirted them with vegetable cleanser, turned on the faucet, pulled out the sprayer from the nozzle, rinsed.
“I’ve delegated a lot of my responsibilities. The exchange practically runs itself, anyway. Your father’s entertaining and being entertained more – and we do enjoy those activities much more together. I’m enjoying the change...and it gives us much more time together.
“The sailing and volleyball?”
“Oh, your father can never give those up. He’d die if he couldn’t do them.”
“So it’s Nancy Nurse to the rescue.”
“C’mon, aren’t you sacrificing your career for his?”
“Not at all. I’ve still got the exchange, I’m just not involved in the day-to-day anymore, which is actually a relief and at worst a welcomed change. Besides, your father has always relied on me in the political scene –“
“To keep him balanced,” Fortie finished.
“Exactly. He knows I’m a bit more liberal than he, so we actually help keep each other balanced.”
“I’ve always wondered about that.”
“Now don’t go thinking I’ve run to the other side –“
“How do you think dad would react if, you know, I switched to the other team?”
Nancy shut the water off, began cracking off leaves of romaine and red leaf lettuce. “Fortie, you’re not trying to tell us something, are you?”
“What, that I’ve registered as a Democrat?”
“You know, it wouldn’t come as a surprise, what with you in art school. All your father would want to hear is your reasoning and how solid your beliefs were. You know we’ve respected differing opinions. He’d actually look forward to some spirited discussions.”
“You know you’ve always been free to speak your mind and have your own opinions. Your father and I both have always encouraged all three of you to make your own choices, but to make them your own, not based on following others. Your father had to spend a lot of time as a fringe player in the political world, but he stuck to his beliefs. You remember what it was like in the Clinton years – people began taking sides. They sidelined him, practically locked him in a closet. But a core group is starting to look ahead. They’ve seen fanatical partisanship as a divider, not a uniter, at least, to the depth needed to be more inclusive and stronger” – she paused as she reached for the French knife. “Listen to me run on. Take your bag to your room and wash up. Your dad will be home very soon. He’ll be so excited to see you.”
“Actually I could use a shower.” Fortie reached for his duffle bag on the floor.
“Then make it a quick one. Rosa put out fresh towels before she left.”
Fortie walked up the back stairs to the second floor. Nancy yelled after him. “You can tell us anything, Fortie, except registering as an independent. That would really raise your dad’s ire.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he shouted in reply.
“He would even understand you voting Green Party if it supported your convictions.”
Fortie walked down the long hall of the “kid’s wing.” The house was just over 9500 square feet but under the magical 10,000 square feet mark that would have qualified it for mansion status. Six bedrooms for the kids and guests in the wing. The master suite was on the other side of the main foyer and stairway. At 1500 square feet for sleeping, bath and closet space, it was his parents’ own oasis – far from the kids’ side.
For some reason, the thought just hit him – even the house he grew up in was balanced. Four of the rooms were exactly the same size, each with its own bathroom. The remaining two were exactly half the size of the others and shared a bathroom off to the side of the back stairs. Those rooms had been used as activity spaces, one for Morgan and Fortie, one for Blair. In practice, the split was more for Morgan and Blair. They were two years apart. Fortie was the youngest by six years. Morgan had taken over the space as a teen, locking Fortie out most of the time, leaving him to spend play time with Blair, though more often than not, he would spend his time drawing, painting, making free form sculptures from found objects and, as he got older, photography.
The walls of his room were still covered with paintings and cherished photographs from his senior year. It was more like a shrine. Everything was in exactly the same place as it had been the day he left for his freshman year at Harvard. If he had had the foresight to take a photograph the day he left, he was certain everything would be exactly the same. He tossed his bag onto the bed, stepped back and peeked into the other bedrooms. Yup, they hadn’t been touched either. Just as Morgan and Blair had left them, though Blair’s had been updated since she had stayed with her parents for a year after law school to help save money while she built her practice. Apartment or super-nice office? In her mind, there was no choice. She had to look established, right from day one – especially having turned down a half dozen associate positions at prestigious firms. But the Andrews offspring had always been known for their confident self-reliance – especially Blair.
The only room that had changed was the guest room. Though the pencil post bed and matching dresser and side tables were the same, the linens and duvet cover were the latest style and colors. The pair of reading chairs had been fitted with contrasting slipcovers. The carpet had been removed years before, but the hardwood floors looked to have been recently refinished. And the area rugs had been updated. Fortie had to hand it to his parents. They might be die-hard Republicans, but they were anything but stodgy. They kept up on trends in both personal and home fashions and weren’t afraid to shake things up with a little refresh every now and then.
He took comfort in this, as he stripped off his clothes and headed to the shower. He pulled back the curtain. Spotless. As he closed his eyes and luxuriated in the warm water washing over his body, he realized he could be any age he wanted to be at this moment, be any Fortie he wanted to be, past, present or future. He could always come here and feel grounded, connected to who he was and what made him who he was. Regardless, he decided to be the Fortie of the future, the man he was becoming, the man he knew he had to be to have any chance of authentic happiness and fulfillment. Yup, he decided as the warm water continued to wash over him, tonight had to be the night. Now was the time to set things right for the future and no setting was more appropriate than the place where he had learned the importance of being his own person.
Chandler Owen Andrews, III drove his Cadillac CTS-V Coupe past the gate and up the long drive to the garage at the back of the house, the typical placement for garages in Hancock Park. It was a carryover from earlier times when the horse stables were built in the back of the house. Horse stable, horseless-carriage garage. In 1925, they were close enough to being the same thing so they both were relegated to the back of the house.
Chandler enjoyed the coupe and its sibling SUV that Nancy drove, though he still begrudged Ford for selling off its luxury premium vehicles. He did enjoy his Aston Martin and Range Rover – and enjoyed using Fords ownership of some of the most revered vehicles on the planet as a prime example of America’s business prowess. He was a firm believer that brand management was just as important as product manufacturing and that it benefitted US economic strength and status to have control over such highly visible, respected luxury names as Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin.
Those times were over, but not his penchant for prestigious vehicles. Since he had always been a strong proponent of “Buy American,” he switched to the only remaining US-owned and built luxury brand: Cadillac. Fortunately, they were building cars that were finally world-class competitors. And he appreciated their non-mainstream styling. It seemed a fitting symbol of his own beliefs....
He tooted the horn as he passed the kitchen window.
Fortie heard the honk of a car horn and knew what it meant. He shut off the shower water, leaned his forehead on the marble tile. He took another deep cleansing breath, stood upright, threw his shoulders back, reached for the bath towel. This was going to go all right, he thought. Dinner at the Andrews house had always been the time for getting caught up and, most importantly, the free exchange of ideas. No topic had ever been forbidden, only weak argument and unsubstantiated opinions. As far as he could remember, there were no sacred cows, no taboo topics. You just had to make sure you stood on solid ground. And it wasn’t that weak opinions were put down, the discussion just never got going. Chandler, III would pause, smile, then switch the subject. Family or guest, it didn’t matter.
Fortie dried off and started dressing. The initial shock would fade to discussion, then acceptance. Would it really be a surprise? Probably. Though he had expressed his “sensitive side” quite publicly through his art and photography, he was still an Andrews which meant he was expected to carry on the family’s tradition of athleticism. His jock status in high school masked his orientation – and, indeed, helped mask it to himself. The thrill of masculine interaction, the admiration of teammates, team hugs, embracing a teammate after a great play – that was what built team spirit and camaraderie. That’s what his father always told him. It was only since his junior transfer that he finally understood his reactions and feelings were fueled by a much deeper well of visceral emotion.
“Wow! That smells great,” Chandler declared as he threw open the kitchen door with his normal boyish exuberance.
“Pot roast with all the fixings,” Nancy responded, turning her cheek to her husband as he rounded the prep island and gave her a peck and a hug. “Is that all I get after slaving all afternoon in the kitchen?”
Chandler slipped his hand tighter around his wife’s trim waist and gave her a kiss on the lips. She pressed her body into his. “Much more acceptable,” she observed. “Everything’s ready when you are.”
“Great,” replied Chandler as he stepped to the powder room next to the pantry. “I’ll just get some relief and wash up first. I’m starving.”
Nancy pulled out three salad and dinner plates, grabbed the appropriate utensils. Chandler stepped back into the kitchen and dried his hands on the kitchen towel.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“I know, but its so much easier since I’m coming back here. It’s more of a straight line.”
“You’re such a guy,” she chuckled. She picked up the plates.
“There’s a surprise for you upstairs and we’ll be eating in the dining room, not at the bar.” She gestured with her head toward the dining room as she carried the dinnerware.
Chandler stood like a pole in the kitchen.
“Psst!” she hissed, “come here.”
Chandler bobbed his shoulders, turned and hustled into the dining room. He grabbed a place setting as it was handed to him.
“Which one is it?”
“Fortie! What a surprise – is everything all right? Wasn’t he coming in Wednesday afternoon?”
“He’s fine – but I do think there’s something he wants to tell us,” Nancy said with a slight smirk on her face.
“Mother’s intuition?” Chandler placed the plates and utensils at the chair to the left of his.
“Perhaps, but I think I know what it is and I want you to be extra patient.” Nancy put her hands on the chair at the head of the table.
“I think he’s being extremely considerate and thoughtful, given the circumstances....”
“Sounds normal for him, so what circumstances?”
“Look, he took a shower. He’ll be down any second. I think he’s decided to be a democrat and given your new position, he may be concerned how it would reflect on you.”
“Wow, that would be a wrinkle to consider. Is he thinking of being an activist? Taking a high profile?” Chandler was more intrigued than concerned.
“I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it. I just got a feeling from something we touched on briefly. He only got here about an hour before you.”
“Then I guess this is going to be a very interesting dinner conversation. We’ve always taught the kids to be independent thinkers. And with his going off to Rhode Island, I’m not a bit surprised.”
“Not a bit surprised about what?” Fortie asked as he stepped into the dining room, buttoning his shirt.
“Fortie!” Chandler yelped as he stepped over, gave his youngest son a firm shoulder hug.
“Your mother and I were just talking.”
“I’ll get the salad.” Nancy trotted to the kitchen.
“About you, if you must know.” Chandler was never one to dance around an issue. He preferred the head-on approach. “Take a seat.” He gestured to the one on his left as Fortie was walking to it. Chandler took his seat at the head of the table. He paused, looked at his son. “What a great surprise this is. What a great surprise.” He put his elbows on the table, rubbed this hands together.
Fortie knew this sign all too well. He waited for his dad to speak.
“Look, your mother thinks you’ve got something you want to tell us and we want you to understand you can tell us anything and the fact that you’re concerned about how it might reflect on me – especially with this new position – just shows what a considerate and thoughtful person you are and, frankly, it’ll take some time for me to wrap my mind around it but you’re my son and I will always love and respect you no matter what.”
“Dad? Wrap your mind around what?”
“Look, your mom thinks she knows what you want to tell us and gave me the heads up.”
Nancy walked toward the dining room with the salad bowl.
“Gave you the heads up?” Fortie felt his palms sweating, his shoulder muscles tense.
“Yes, Fortie, you know you can’t hide anything from Momma Nancy. And like I said, I’m going to be able to get a handle on this. It’s going to be easier than you ever expected.”
“Seriously?” Fortie looked at his father, then his mother. “Mom, really? You told dad you thought I wanted to say I was gay?”
“Oh God!” Nancy dropped the salad bowl on the table, her right hand covered her mouth.
Chandler reached for the salad tongs. He stuck out his left hand for Fortie’s salad plate. “Don’t be ridiculous. Where would your mother get an idea like that? A democrat, Fortie. Your mom thinks you want to tell us you’ve become a democrat.”
“A Democrat?” Fortie shouted.
“Look, son, it’s not like it’s ever been a dirty word. Lord knows there have been plenty of times I’ve suspected your mother was rooting for the other team more than she would let on. If that’s the choice you want to make, you know the rules. You’d just better have some good thought behind it. Now give me your salad plate and let’s get this discussion started.”
Fortie instinctively passed his plate.
Nancy slowly pulled out her chair and sat down, her eyes fixed on Fortie.
“Dad? Mom?” pleaded Fortie, “I didn’t come here to tell you I’m a Democrat, though, come to think of it, that’s probably the more comfortable party for guys like me” –
“So this is about art school...” Chandler queried.
“Is what about art school?” Fortie’s heart knocked hard and fast against his ribs. His mouth ran dry.
“I’ll get you some water – get us some water.” Nancy jumped up, dashed to the kitchen.
“Actually none of this is about art school, I mean it is and it isn’t but it’s really all about me.” Fortie’s tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth. He stretched out his right arm. “Mom! Hurry!”
Nancy dashed back, carrying three water glasses, water lapping onto her blouse. She put the glasses on the table, handed the first to Fortie. He took two big gulps. She placed the second glass in front of her husband, took a sip from the third, set it down, dabbed her blouse with a napkin, all the while watching Fortie intently. She sat down, silent.
“What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so flustered.” Chandler placed a tong-ful of salad on his son’s plate.
“I’m not flustered. I’m panicked. You’re not getting it. I didn’t come here to tell you I’m a democrat. I came here to tell you I’m gay. There, I said it. Cats out of the bag. I’m gay.”
Chandler dropped a second serving of salad on the plate and handed it back to Fortie. The tongs clattered against the side of the wooden bowl.
“Thank you, Dad,” Fortie whispered as he put it in front of him.
“Nancy, your plate please.” Chandler held out his right hand. Nancy automatically handed him her plate. He transferred it to his left hand, grabbed the salad tongs, filled her plate, handed it back. She grabbed it with both hands, set it front of her. Chandler filled his plate as it sat in front of him. Two tongs-ful.
He picked up his salad fork, poked it into the salad, took a bite.
Nancy and Fortie stared at him.
“What?” Chandler blurted before swallowing his bite. “Eat. I’m hungry. You’re hungry.”
“Chandler.” Nancy spoke softly. “Our son – your namesake – has just announced he’s gay and you’re eating salad?”
Chandler slowly, deliberately put his fork to the side of his plate.
“What would you have me say?” He remained looking at his salad.
“Anything, just say anything.” She reached for the glass of water. “This has obviously been a huge weight that Fortie’s carried and he’s thought a lot about this moment and it was very courageous of him.” She took a quick gulp of water. “I’ve never seen you so detached like this.”
“Thank you, Mom,” Fortie mouthed.
Chandler slowly set both elbows on the table, cupped his left hand over his right, under his nose.
He took a measured breath. “Okay, you’ve announced you’re gay. Does this mean you’re gay gay or is this an art school thing?”
“Dad! Being gay is not a phase. And what’s gay-gay?”
“But what about that time I walked in on you and Katie Henderson, you know...” Nancy queried, awkwardly.
“Every time we did it, I was fantasizing about someone else,” Fortie blurted.
“Son, everyone fantasizes,” Chandler offered in his fatherly voice.
“But not about Tom Fredricks.”
“The quarterback that went on to UCLA?” Nancy asked.
“And if not him, some of my other teammates.”
“So what does this mean? Are you going to start talking and acting like a girl? Were you sneaking into Blair’s room trying on her clothes?”
“Dad!” Fortie yelled.
“How could you say something like that?” Fortie felt suddenly calm. He grabbed onto his inner convictions. It gave him strength. “My God, Dad, do you think we all sashay around, flail our hands and say, ‘You go girl’ to each other? I can’t believe you’re buying into that Hollywood, over-hyped stereotype. You of all people.”
“I’m just trying to get a handle on this, Fortie. This is a bit more than becoming a Democrat. I wasn’t prepared for this. So what does this mean about you?”
“Dad, nothing’s changed about me. I’m still me. I still love sports. I’m still the artsy one. I’m just not the one chasing girls. I prefer the company of men -- and not in that team and competition sense you always talked with us about. Don’t get me wrong, I like women – as people. But my emotional attraction is for men. When I think sex, I think men. Okay?”
Nancy and Chandler sat in silence, looking at their son.
“C’mon. Didn’t you have at least a slight clue?”
Nancy broke the silence. “Honestly? Not really. I just thought you preferred art and sports. You were so popular in school and then you hooked up with Katie your junior and senior year. You broke her heart when you went to Harvard.”
“I didn’t have it sorted out at all during that time. I just did what was expected of me. And the gay guys in high school were so gay-gay. There, Dad, I said it, too. Okay?”
“Fortie, honey, I’m so glad you wanted to tell your father and me and you did tell us. Do Morgan and Blair know?”
“No, I was going to tell them one on one. You two needed to know first.”
“This is going to be some weekend for you. But I want you to know, your father and I love you and always will and we stand behind you and will always be here for you. Isn’t that right, Chandler.”
Chandler sat upright in his chair, a forearm resting on each side of the salad plate, staring at his salad.
Nancy looked over at him. “Isn’t that right.”
He sat in silence.
Fortie looked at his mom, to his dad, back to his mom.
“Chandler?” She reached over to touch his right hand. He moved it quickly to his lap, picked up the napkin and dropped it on the table. He slid his chair back.
“This is too close. I’m sorry.” His breathing turned shallow and rapid. He stood up. “This is too close.” He bolted down the short hall to the kitchen. “I’ll grab something on my way home. I’ve got to get to my meeting.”
The kitchen door opened, slammed shut.
Nancy jumped from the table and ran to the door. Fortie was three steps behind.
The Cadillac zipped by the back door. “Chandler!” Nancy screamed. She jumped into the driveway, her eyes blinded by the headlights.
“Dad!” Fortie shouted. He ran to his mother, put his arm around her. Her palms pressed tightly into her cheeks. Tears flooded her eyes as the headlight glare receded.
The Cadillac barely slowed for the opening gate, screeched to a halt in the middle of the street, turned, sped off.
“What was that?” Fortie asked.
“I’ve never seen your father act like that.”
They stood clinging to each other in the darkness.
Chandler had never felt such panic. He glanced at the speedometer as he crossed 3rd Street. 60. He pressed the brake pedal firmly, dropped his speed by half. Had he really just crossed 3rd Street at 6:30 without so much as a glance sideways?
He didn’t have an answer. He just had to flee. His hands gripped the steering wheel as though he were choking an assailant.
What was this?
He slammed the gas pedal to the floor, made the yellow at 6th Street. The honking horns during his right-turn drift onto Wilshire Boulevard snapped him back into the moment. He pulled up to the red light at Crenshaw in the left turn lane. He dropped his head forward on the steering wheel, his chest heaving.
“Get a grip,” he whispered.
The blaring horn from behind brought him back to the moment, again. He turned onto Crenshaw. His arms were shaking. He felt them go limp. “I can’t drive like this.” Finally – a clear thought in the fog. He pulled the CTS-V over to the curb, stretched out his arms, threw his head back against the headrest.
Fortie had been having sex with a girl but thinking about a guy. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember the girl, but he sure remembered Tom Fredricks. He was a solid quarterback, did well at UCLA, had a toned, lithe body as he recalled Fortie’s 18th birthday party around the pool. Young Tom rough-housing with another boy had caught his eye as he flipped burgers and sausages.
Fantasies during sex. He had them all the time, especially after a vigorous volleyball match or a particularly thrilling sailing victory. He and Nancy always had sex after his sporting events. The smell of sweat, the clashing of bodies blocking shots, victory hugs – they always energized and aroused him. And the fantasies they fueled as his wife swallowed his manhood – they were his fantasies, fueled by team camaraderie. They were just random thoughts fanned by the flames of ecstacy. He loved his wife, her support, her intellect, the way she helped keep him in balance....
That’s what he had to do. Balance. Get back to his safe ground. A curve ball, that’s what had happened. Fortie had served him a curve ball. It looked like it was coming straight at him, but curved away. He’d seen it a thousand times. A little extra spin – poof – it’s off to the left when you were expecting it on the right.
Fortie a Democrat? He was ready to set that one. Fortie gay? Sweat broke out on his forehead. He dug a Kleenex out of the console, wiped his brow, cracked the driver’s side window for some cool, November night air.
Why did that thought send waves of panic over him? Log Cabin Republicans – they had come to him before they had a name. They respected his willingness to be more inclusive when it came to non-mainstream thought. He had helped sell the Party brass on giving them more than lip service, to allow them at least some visibility as they stood at the left fringe of the Party.
A gay son. The son who shared his name, whose identity had been most shaped by him. He reached up to loosen the tie around his collar that wasn’t there.
Why did this thought throw him so far out of balance? But he couldn’t focus on that right now. The solution right now was to get himself back in balance.
He wished it were a v-ball game tonight, not a trustee meeting. He could burn off some energy. The panic was just feelings, emotions from the curve ball thrown at him by Fortie.
He thought of the exhilaration he felt playing hard with teammates. The sweat, the crashing bodies, the team work. Victorious embraces after a hard fought win. The fantasies afterward.
Fortie is Gay. Chandler Owen Andrews, IV is having sweaty, body-slapping sex with men. Chandler felt a shudder ripple through his body. His pulse quickened, palms started sweating. He felt a stirring in his loins. Maybe he could find a pick-up game after the meeting. He’d heard of late night games at the downtown Y.
But right now, he had to pull it together. After all, he was the new poster boy for the sensibility movement within what was going to become the new GOP. This was a short meeting to get introduced to the final two trustees whom he hadn’t met. The American Way Foundation had big plans and high hopes. And he was at the center of them – and they at the center of his. For too long, he had been a lone voice of thoughtful reason within the Party. Now that voice was becoming a chorus and he its soloist. Fortie’s announcement would just help give his voice a little more depth and volume.
Maybe it wasn’t too close, after all. Maybe there was room for a gay son in his house, just as there was room for gay Republicans in his political house. Perhaps that was what the panic was all about – the need to make room for a gay son in his house.
That had to be it, he reasoned, as he flipped on the left turn indicator, glanced over his left shoulder, eased the CTS-V coupe from the curb.
That had to be it. Fantasies were fantasies. And Fortie was acting exactly how he had been raised – independent and fulfilling who he was to the best of his ability.
He could cut the trustee meet and greet short, stop by the Y for a quick game. He’d call Nancy, get things settled. And he knew Fortie would understand. There had always been a connection between them, something that went deeper than the name. He had attributed it to the art – he the writer, Fortie the painter/photographer. But tonight he learned they also shared something else: fantasies.
Chandler felt the cold breath of panic on the back of his neck. He swatted it away as though a fly had landed on him. He ran his fingers through his hair, put everything in place. Balance was where he lived and thrived. Balance would keep him on his path.