This story is by Gregory Faraone and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” blares from the television in the bedroom. James gets off the bed, mumbles, “I need a cigarette,” and walks downstairs.
Outside, a man in a black leather jacket and tight denim jeans furiously walks along the moonlit sidewalk towards James’s house, muttering rationalizations back and forth to himself. He passes by a blue and white Oldsmobile Cutlass in the driveway as he slowly approaches the front door. He takes a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself before knocking delicately. His eyes dart around the moonlit cul-de-sac, checking for witnesses. James, lit cigarette in mouth, opens the door slightly and peers through the crack.
“What are you doing here, Michael?” James whispers frantically, almost letting the cigarette fall from his mouth, “Are you nuts? You know you can’t come around here like this.”
“Can I come in?” Michael whispers deliberately.
James’s voice shifts into an angry whisper, “What! No! Are you fucking kidding me? My wife is home; she’s upstairs right now.”
Michael raises his voice sternly, “We have to talk, James. This is serious.”
“Honey, who are you talking to?” calls James’ wife from upstairs over the faint sounds of The Brady Bunch.
“It’s just the neighbor,” James replies. “Jesus Christ, Mike. Keep your goddamn voice down,” James whispers feverishly. “Alright, meet me around back.”
James shuts the door and calls up to his wife, “Hey, Susan. I’ve got to go help Bob with something next door.”
James ashes his cigarette and walks out back. Michael is already waiting in the shadows behind the shed along the back edge of James’s backyard.
“What the fuck? How many times have I told you that you can’t come around here like this. You know–”
Michael interrupts him, “I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep living this lie; I want the world to know who I am, who we are.”
“Not this mess again,” James harps back, “I love you, but you know things are complicated right now.”
“That’s bullshit, and you know it! When are things not complicated? When? Y-you don’t even love her.” Michael’s voice wobbles.
“Stop, please,” James pleads, covering his face in his hand.
“I don’t get it. Are you actually content living this fucking charade, or are you just too chicken shit to stand up to your old man?”
James, vexed by the ‘old man’ comment, removes his hand from his face, glares into Michael’s eyes, and says with a fleeting intention to kill, “Susan is pregnant.”
An overwhelming silence sweeps the yard. The sound of a deer snapping a twig beneath its hoof resonates a similar fracture within Michael. His face reddens as if he were a volcano nearing eruption. “What?” he bellows through the knot in his throat.
The burden of regret weighs his head down. Unable to look his devastated lover in the face, James softly repeats, “Susan is pregnant, Michael.”
“How-how-how long have you known?” Michael stammers in a fatally wounded tone.
James remains silent, still unable to look Michael in the face.
Michael hyperventilates, tears bursting from his eyes as he stumbles back into the wall of the shed. He thrashes his fist back against the shed and slumps down against it into the dirt.
“Listen, Michael, I want to be with you, and I’m going to figure a way for this to all work out, but you’ve got to calm down.” James grabs Michael firmly and pulls him out of the dirt, mustering the strength to look him in the eyes, and says, “I love you, and only you. I know things seem fucked up right now, and I’m sorry for that, they are, but please don’t hate me. I can figure a way to make things right. I’ll do whatever it takes not to lose you,” James starts tearing, “I promise.”
James leans in to kiss Michael, but he pulls away. Michael wipes the tears from his eyes, collecting himself for a moment with a few deep breaths. “James, I want to believe you. I really do, but,” he pauses, “I’ve been fully committed to you the last year and a half, and in return, not only can you not find a way to break it off, but you get her pregnant! I just can’t wait any longer. You’re going to have to make a decision.”
James stands there petrified by Michael’s ultimatum.
“Well?” Michael questions furiously in response to his silence. “With or without you, I can’t hide who I am any longer.”
Michael storms off into the night.
Sleep being a luxury that James hadn’t the emotional capital to afford the night prior, he lay there awake as the sunlight overwhelms the blinds of the bedroom window.
“Good morning, honey,” Susan coos lovingly as she wakes up.
“Morning,” James replies in a groggy and flat tone, torn apart inside by the choice before him.
“Well, somebody’s got a case of the Mondays,” Susan responds playfully and reaches over to tickle his sides. James lays their impenetrable to her attempt to lighten his mood. “What’s the matter, babe?” she asks.
“It’s just,” he pauses, unable to pull the trigger, “Some work stuff, I-I’ll be alright.” He leans over to kiss her forehead, but she pulls him in for some sugar only to be met with an insipid kiss on the lips. “I’m sorry, I-I’m just not in the mood right now.”
Susan pulls back, grips onto James’s hand, and asks, “Do you remember when we first met?”
“Yea, back in first grade at Sunday school; we were both altar servers. I gave you a flower that I picked from the church garden. I thought you were the prettiest girl in all of North Carolina back then.”
“What do you mean back then?” Susan responds jokingly, assuming that he’s teasing her.
“Oh,” he feigns a chuckle and a smile, “I’m just playing.”
“Hey, James. You hear that they just found out Mr. Denzinger, the math teacher at the junior high school, is a homosexual. Canned him real quick. I mean, Jesus Christ, we can’t have one of these unholy perverts teaching children,” gripes James’s father, Joseph, reading a local newspaper at the dinner table later that day. “Abominable is what it is.”
“Did he do something inappropriate?” James perks up, trying to hide his shock and compassion.
“What do you mean, he’s a fruitcake, a sexual deviant. He can’t be trusted!” Joseph clamors.
“They’re just people, Dad. Yes, they may be wired a little different, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad people and have no morals,” James responds.
Joseph lowers his newspaper slowly to reveal a seething glare. “What is this blasphemy you’re talking, boy! I thought I raised you to be a good Catholic man?” Joseph reprimands, “Don’t tell me you’re getting soft on these fairies?”
“Dad, please. Not now,” James fires back sternly, trying to hide the rage percolating inside him.
“Not to mention what kind of example it sets for our children,” Joseph continues, “Do you want your child to be taught by a queer?”
Susan pulls a roasted turkey out of the oven, “Dinners ready, boys.”
“James, why don’t you say grace,” Joseph suggests.
James reaches over to hold hands with his wife and father. They all close their eyes. With his eyes closed, in the moment just as he grips his wife’s hand, he could almost imagine that he were holding hands with Michael, and in that instant, he unearths a fleeting moment of tranquility. This is not the time or company, and far from how he imagined the subject would be broached, but by the time he realized the words flooding out of his mouth weren’t grace it was too late.
“I would like to thank God for making me the way I am. I can’t say I thank him for the way he made you,” opening his eyes, looking at his father, “And for giving me the strength to set myself free.”
“What are you talking about, boy?” Joseph demands.
James turns to Susan, “Susan, I’ve been unfaithful.” Her eyes begin to swell up with tears. Before she can even question him. Michael blurts out, “I’ve been having an affair with Michael Denzinger. I love him, and I’m going to be with him.”
Shouting begins to fill the house. A glass is thrown against the wall, but a gust of pride catches James’s sail and guides him to the door.
He slowly turns the knob and walks outside. He takes a deep breath, looks up at the sunset, and for the first time embraces the weightless feeling of freedom.
Susan runs to the door and scornfully shouts, “I hope you find what you’re looking for in this life, because you certainly won’t in the next!”
The Oldsmobile Cutlass roars to life as James turns his key in the ignition. He pulls out of the driveway and soars off, feeling for the first time in his life like he’s the one in the driver’s seat.