Brad’s Search : Part 49


I pull up to Willie’s house. Wow! If you thought James’s house was impressive, this place puts even the Portland hotel to shame. Why didn’t I go to law school?

I get out and walk up to the front door. I can feel my heart beating faster and stronger as I get closer. I really don’t know what to expect. Will Paul like me? What have the three of them talked about so far? What are they going to do about Paul’s kids?

I feel myself starting to turn into an ice cube. I ring the bell.

James answers the door. “Oh good, you’re here. Dinner’s almost ready.”

“Dinner?”

“Yeah, I decided to cook for all of us. Red beans and rice.”

I step inside and he shuts the door. “A Southern dish?”

“That’s right. Paul at one time got in with some Baptists in the South and fell in love with it.”

“The Baptists or the red beans and rice?”

“Well, both at first. I’m sure you can figure out which one he tossed aside.”

“Doesn’t take a genius.”

He pinches my cheek. “Even if it did, you’d still get it right.”

Well, it sounds like things are going well so far...

We walk into the kitchen, which is almost the same size as my old apartment. James tends to the pots and pans on the stove, and I notice Paul and Willie sitting at a high-top table. As soon as Willie sees me, he stands up. I walk toward him and shake his hand.

Paul stands up next and shakes my hand. “You must be James’s boyfriend. I’m Paul.”

“Hi Paul. It’s great to finally meet you. James has told me a lot about you.”

An awkward silence fills the room for a few seconds until Paul continues. “I’m sure he has. He’s told me a lot about you, too. You seem like a great guy.”

“Thanks. James is a great guy, too.”

“I know. I’m glad you have each other in your lives.”

Willie pats me on the shoulder. “Take a load off, Brad. You’ve been working hard. What can I get you to drink?”

Before I can even open my mouth, James turns to us from the stove. “I’ll get it, Dad.” With a swift motion that can only come about from years of practice in the kitchen, he gives one final stir to the beans, places a lid on the pot, shuts off the heat, then grabs a martini glass and things to make a Lemon Drop.

I take a seat across from Paul as he speaks up. “James, you remind me so much of Mom with the way you move around the kitchen.”

James begins pouring the ingredients into a shaker. “And you remind me of Mom for other reasons.”

“Boys,” Willie growls, a stern expression on his face.

James takes a deep breath, shakes the ingredients rather vigorously, then pours the resulting concoction in the glass and hands it to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much froth on a drink before.

“Thanks, babe.”

He forces a smile. “You’re welcome.” He looks up at the others. “Dinner is ready.”

We all serve ourselves a portion of red beans and rice and sit back down at the table. James and I sit on one side while Willie and Paul sit across from us.

Paul takes a bite and lets out a satisfying, “Mmm! James, this is delicious!”

James doesn’t respond.

The next few minutes are tensely silent as we continue eating. That always seems to be the case anytime James and his father get together to eat, at least whenever I’m around. I glance up and share quick looks with both Paul and Willie. We can all tell that James is trying his best to be civil, but it’s impossible to erase years and years of pain.

Willie finally breaks the silence. “So Brad, how are things going with your project?”

“Pretty well, actually. We’re still ahead of schedule, and our client will be coming in about a week-and-a-half for a demo.”

“That’s wonderful!”

“It is, but that just means we’ll start on the next project that much sooner.”

“I would want nothing less than a long vacation after that sort of thing! You and James still planning to go to Denver afterwards?”

“Yes, as long as the roads are clear by then.”

Paul speaks up. “You’re not flying?”

“It’s almost the same cost to drive as it is for two plane tickets. Plus, we’re planning on taking some side trips along the way.”

Paul continues, “So what’s in Denver?”

“My mom lives there.”

“And your dad?”

“He, er, died a few years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s OK. He was in the military, and even though I didn’t get to see him very often, we were as close as we could be.”

“And your mom’s doing all right?”

“She is. She was actually up here just a couple months ago. She’s a very strong woman, in every way you can imagine.”

“Well, it seems like she did a wonderful job with you.”

I feel myself start to blush. “Thanks.”

James looks up at Paul. “You do realize he’s already with someone, right?”

Paul gets a puzzled expression on his face. “What do you mean? I’m just trying to have a nice conversation.”

“That’s fine, as long as that doesn’t involve flirting with my boyfriend.”

“I wasn’t flirting; I was just paying him a compliment.”

“Well, find someone else for you to pay your compliments.”

Willie looks at me with an I’m-so-sorry-you-have-to-witness-this expression, and then turns to Paul and James. “Stop it, both of you. Brad is sitting right there. How dare you pick a fight over him? James, Paul is well aware that you and Brad are together, and he is not trying to steal him away from you. He’s just trying to be nice, something you should try for a change.

“You boys have been stuck in this pattern ever since James came out. Time and even space apart has not changed anything.” He looks straight at James. “It took Brad to get you to call Paul. No matter how hard I tried, nothing convinced you, but I’m so thankful that Brad was finally able to talk some sense into you. I never thought I would see my two boys together again, never thought anything could have been done to fix things.

“Without Brad, you two would not be here right now, and might have never seen or spoken to each other again. I should be on my fucking hands and knees thanking him, and you should be, too. You and Paul are brothers. You’re family. We’re family. Brad included. Whether he likes that or not right now, he’s a part of this just as I am and just as you and Paul are.

“Paul knows that he said some pretty awful things to you in the past, but that was fifteen years ago. He’s willing to try to make things better. Give him a chance and stop being so hostile. He’s not the same as he was fifteen years ago, and neither are you. Stop treating this like you’re both back in high school. You’re both grown up now; start acting like it.

“I am so sick of sitting back and being the nice guy. That’s what got our family into this fucking mess in the first place. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it get worse, but if it does, at least it’s not because I’ve sat back and done nothing about it.

“I love you boys. James, I know you love Brad. Why can’t you find it in your heart to love Paul, too? How can you have such a warm heart toward Brad and a cold heart toward Paul? How is that possible? I don’t think I will ever understand that. You boys loved each other when you were younger. Please, whatever we have to do, let’s just go back to that. You boys are all I have left. Mom died when you two weren’t even speaking to each other. Please don’t let it be the same for me. Find some way to fix this between you two.”

I had my head down the entire time Willie was giving his speech. I glance up and see him shaking. He looks at me with the most desperate expression I’ve ever seen on anyone, and then gets up and walks out of the kitchen, leaving me with James and Paul. That part he said about ‘whether or not liking being a part of this’? Right now - not a huge fan.

Forever seems to pass until I hear Paul speak up. “James, as much as I’d like to, I can’t undo the past. I made some horrible decisions, but I didn’t know any better back then. I thought I was doing the right thing.”

“Doing the right thing? By basically condemning me to Hell for what you thought was a sinful life?”

“Yes. I was so mistaken, so manipulated, so brainwashed. I’ve realized that, and-”

James cuts him off. “You think you can just come back home and expect everything to be back to normal? Back to what it was like before?”

“It can be, if we can just agree to be civil-”

James cuts him off again and begins getting more aggressive. “Fuck civil! You don’t get to come back here and tell me everything is OK. After what you put me through? It took years for me to finally accept myself. Do you have any idea how hard it is to do that when your family doesn’t support you?”

“I do now.”

“Well, it’s a lot harder when you’re younger.”

“Excuse me? You have no idea how hard my situation is. I know I didn’t make things easier for you when we were younger, but I’m trying to tell you I understand how it feels and that I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.”

“Well at least I’m not trying to make your situation any more difficult.”

“But you are! I have nowhere else to turn. All I have are you and Dad. And you are the only one who really understands me - the real me. No one else comes close. Can’t you see that? I need you right now.”

James pushes his chair back and stands up, which startles me. “You need me? WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I NEEDED YOU?!”

“Nowhere. I was scared. I ran away.”

“For fifteen years! My older brother - the guy I looked up to since as far back as I can remember, the guy I shared so many good memories with. You left me with no closure! Nothing! I had to spend all this time learning how to accept myself and convince myself that it was OK to be gay.”

“I know that. I’m sorry. But I wanted to come back now.”

“WHY, THEN? WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU BACK NOW?!”

“Because I still love you, James, and I want to see you happy. I have never stopped loving you.”

“I NEVER STOPPED LOVING YOU, EITHER. CAN’T YOU SEE THAT’S WHY I’M HURTING SO MUCH?! YOU ABANDONED ME. FOR FIFTEEN YEARS! AND NOW YOU EXPECT EVERYTHING TO GO BACK TO HOW IT WAS? IT’S NOT THAT GOD DAMNED EASY!”

James walks over to the counter and faces away from us. He leans forward against the counter and takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself. I think about going over to him to comfort him, but think twice and keep my distance.

Paul takes a deep breath and stands up. “You’re right, James. It’s not easy. It hasn’t been easy for you or for me. And this isn’t going to be easy for any of us.

“I can’t take back the past fifteen years. I’d give anything to do that if I could. But I can’t. The only thing I can do is tell you that I love you, and that I finally understand how you feel and what you’ve gone through.

“I came clean, and my wife left me. Took the kids right with her. It finally clicked for me. I had no one. My one and only source of support was gone. Believe it or not, she kept me grounded. Grounded in an illusion, but still grounded.

“I realized I did the same for you - I was your support - up until you came clean to me. And my wife abandoned me just like I did to you fifteen years earlier. It finally hit me. It really did. The morning she left with the kids, I didn’t know when they’d be back. I tried calling, over and over. Nothing.

“I kept convincing myself that she’d be back and that everything would be all right. That lasted almost two weeks, and then it broke. I broke. I broke down bad. I had been lying to myself, trying to hold this illusion up for such a long time, since before you even came out. Yes, I’ve known myself to be gay for that long. I tried so hard to bury it when I was younger and was doing a pretty good job of it. Hell, a wife and two kids later, I thought I was doing a pretty fucking fantastic job. But every once in a while I faltered and needed to feel a man’s touch. I convinced myself as long as it didn’t happen too often and I always went back to my wife and kids, I could keep this secret hidden and that my marriage would survive.

“So yes, even though it took me years longer and I got myself involved in a lot more shit than you did, I understand. We’ve both gone through the same struggles, experienced the same hardships, gotten tossed around by people we love, and were left with only ourselves to pick up the pieces. The only difference is you were always a loving brother to me while I failed you. I left you to fend for yourself when you needed me the most. I can’t take back the past. The only thing I can do is try to make things better now. But I can’t do that alone. I can’t do that if you keep shutting me out of your life.

“Please don’t make the same mistake I did. I feel horrible for that, and I know I don’t deserve your love or your forgiveness, but I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me anyway.”

Minutes pass. The room is so quiet, so still, that I can feel my own heart beating. And it’s pounding.

James finally turns around, tears in his eyes. “I just want to stop hurting, Paul.”

“Then be done hurting, and start loving.”

James takes a deep breath, then walks over to Paul and throws his arms around him and pulls him into a tight hug. “I never stopped loving.”

Paul hugs James back. “Me neither.”

My own waterworks start, and I catch a glimpse of Willie. He must have seen the whole scene from a distance. He walks into the kitchen and wraps his arms around his two sons, and the three spend a long time holding each other. I stand by patiently as we all take this moment in - something I think all of us deep down wanted - needed - to have happen.