Chapter Twenty-six"I know you think I am pretty dense, and I certainly can be, but I hope you don't think that your announcement comes as a complete surprise. I've had an inkling there was something between you two for a long time."
"You might at least have told us," Justin said. "We could have been making love for ages.""Figured when you decided you could handle it and had the guts to make a move was the right time," Clarisa said. "Also thought you'd have plenty of time for the grief this bigoted burg is going to dish out. Babies, that's what's got me worried. You know it's not going to be like other romances in Elizabethton. Just a couple young lovers talking about getting married; engagement announcement probably won't even make the 'Elizabethton Towncrier's' society page.
"I could see it coming over a year ago. That's when I really got interested in HIV/AIDS. Then Justin's mama, bless her heart, ended up with it. You two using protection? Been tested? Have any partners before each other?""No, no, no... for both of us, Clarisa," I responded.
"Not needed yet, not needed, not wanted," Justin said."What do you mean, not needed? Sure route to trouble," Clarisa was like a bird dog on a scent.
"Clarisa, we've done nothing that carries more than a slight risk of infection and so there's no need to get tested. We were both virgins when we went bed together to play rather than sleep," Justin said."Really? I guess Marc can claim to be a virgin even though that nasty girl got his weenie in her mouth. Justin, you got tested for HIV/AIDS after your mama died, didn't you?"
Justin turned very pale and said, barely above a whisper, "Oh, my God!No-one even suggested it. I didn't think about it."
"Well, not likely either of you got infected with anything, but tests for HIV and hep vaccinations starting Monday. No more hanky-panky until you've been tested. Mama Clarisa's orders." Needless to say, Clarisa's reaction knocked us for a loop, but certainly not in the way we anticipated.
"Promise?""Promise," Justin said.
"Promise.""You know I do hope my babies are happy and have long happy lives."
I'm sure Justin breathed a sigh of relief, I know I did, when the only flak we got from Clarisa was over disease and the need for protection and that was not a worry. Well, maybe a small one because of Justin's mama, but we'd take care of that."Well, this black lady needs to get started on a nice dinner for you two," Clarisa said, breaking the mood, which had become pretty heavy.
"Oh, no, you don't Miss Clarisa," I said."Yeah, Miss Clarisa, you promised to tell us what you have been up to."
"We'll have another cup of tea and a cookie, if you have made enough, while you tell us about your week," I said as I went for the cookie jar which, of course, had more fresh cookies inside, while Justin grabbed the kettle and refilled our cups. "No cooking tonight either. We'll go to the club for dinner. I'll call right now.""Marc, honey, you know some of them folks don't like people of the darker persuasion, and especially servants, at the club."
"Clarisa, some of them folks don't like gay men showing up there either.""Honey, you can hide being gay. No way I can hide being black or, for that matter, being the Porcher's Clarisa in this town."
"Clarisa, I guess being a servant is a matter of mind as much as work.I've never really thought of you as my servant. Anyway, if I have, I apologize and will adopt you if that helps. So what did you do while we were in Florida getting it on?"
"Baby, I do love your car! I had to beat the men off every time I stopped. They just couldn't resist this sweet brown sugar in that car," Clarisa said in her great "black girl" voice as she shook her booty."Girl, you know that right! Where you been girl?" Justin could, and did, sound exactly like Clarisa when she decided to talk black. "Bet you have covered the ground."
"Oh, Baby, I did, I did! You two told me to get out of here and do something. Thought about it after I went to bed and remembered my Auntie Hattie used to say, 'For heaven's sakes, every black lady from Murphy to Manteo* know dat,' whatever dat was. So I said to myself, 'Girl, you at the wrong end, but I bet Manteo to Murphy'll work just fine. When y'all left for school, I packed a suitcase, grabbed my cell phone, climbed in that sexy car and headed for Manteo, on my way by the time you were half through your first class. "Got to Manteo and took in the Festival Park. Got on the Elizabeth II which was covered up with a bunch of fifth graders. Man told me to come back in fifteen minutes and they would be gone. He showed me all about that ship. Didn't look big enough for five people, but he said over a hundred came over with the Roanoke colony. Half that number of fifth graders made it too crowded for me."While I was having lunch, I decided I needed to do a little planning and looked at a map. Looked like I could make Raleigh by night, so I called ahead for a motel reservation and left Manteo at 1:30, headed for Raleigh. When I got to Rocky Mount, stopped for the ladies' room and decided to fill up the tank since it wasn't full when I left Elizabeth City." Clarisa started giggling like crazy. "Decided, since I'd be in Raleigh, I'd visit the senator. I called Senator Porcher's office and said I was visiting the capitol and would like to talk with the senator.
"Finally got through to the man himself and said, 'Senator, Clarisa. I'm in Raleigh and thought you'd like to show me around.' He, of course, told me how busy he was. I suggested, since he was so busy, I could just drop by his place for a drink after work. I said, 'Just give me the address and I'll find my way.' Decided there was no way he was going to just ignore me."He, of course, had an important dinner meeting, so I suggested breakfast. 'Clarisa, I'm leaving town for the weekend after the dinner.
Tomorrow is Saturday so there'll be no-one in the office, otherwise I'd love to see you.' I was hoping when the lightening struck him, it'd not come through the phone! 'Sorry, I didn't know your constituents had to come during the week to see you.' He immediately took another tack and said he could arrange for someone to show me the town. I thanked him and said that would be very nice, and gave him the name of my motel in Raleigh and said I'd expect someone at 9:00 Saturday morning."Promptly at 9:00 the next morning, a nice young lady showed up at the motel and showed me around until we had a late lunch -- she said the senator was treating both of us -- and I headed for Winston-Salem. Explored there and drove to Asheville.
"Sunday morning, I went to All Souls' Cathedral and, after the service, a nice young woman showed me around and told me the architect was the same as the one who had done Biltmore House. She assumed I knew what she was talking about and when she found out I didn't, assured me I'd find it worthwhile. I did, but it was expensive."Monday, I drove to Murphy and decided I'd drive the extra ten miles and get all the way to Tennessee. Nothing special about that trip!
Well, the mountains are just now getting spring color and they are beautiful. Just turned around and headed back, taking a different route from Murphy. Got on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Balsam and drove back to Asheville. This girl does not like those mountains. You can fall off!"I found a bed and breakfast in Asheville I liked, and reserved a room for Sunday until Tuesday. When I came in, beat, Monday night, the owner asked if I was interested in cooking and I said I was. He told me about an ethnic cooking seminar taking place Tuesday through Wednesday noon, so I stayed on and did it. We'll be having some special nights while I try out what I have learned.
"Wednesday by 1:30 I was headed for home. Spent the night in Rocky Mount and beat you home by three or four hours.""You didn't spend the $500 on cooking classes, did you?"
"I spent household money on that. The $500 I spent on massages and beauty treatments at a spa, some perfume that doesn't yell -- it whispers softly -- and a new church hat.""Way to go, Girl!" Justin exclaimed and gave Clarisa a high five.
Although Clarisa hadn't mentioned it, we knew she had taken a ton of pictures, but probably hadn't had time to do more than download them with any corrections she felt needed to be done later. No doubt the rough photos -- which were always better than my doctored ones -- were on a disk which could be viewed as slides. She had always made pictures by the bushel and was a lot better than good at it. Last fall she had expressed interest in digital cameras and was "putting aside" money to buy a good one. I talked to her about recommending a good digital for me and found out what she really wanted and Mom gave her one for Christmas. Knowing there were pictures, Justin said, "Ok, Clarisa, where's the pictures?"Clarisa laughed and we went into the library where the TV could be used to show Clarisa's photos on the big screen. While Justin and Clarisa were setting up for the photos, I called the club and made reservations for the second seating at 8:00.
We were so involved in seeing Clarisa's pictures, and hearing her tell stories about them, that 7:30 came pretty quickly. We rushed around to get dressed and headed for the club.When we walked in, Joseph, the maitre d', greeted us warmly, especially Clarisa. She had helped him out when his mother died and he had never forgotten it. All the waiters at the club knew Clarisa and most treated her like family, following in Joseph's footsteps. Of course there were some who turned up their nose, either because she was black or because she worked for a club member. They usually learned pretty quickly Clarisa was in charge of tips and held their prejudice in check. I have found money speaks, even to bigots.
Joseph asked if we were joining Mr. Wilson's party. I had just told him we were not, when John saw us and came over. "Mr. Wilson sent me to ask you to join us. We're still talking about Florida and may have missed a few points.""Thank you," Clarisa responded. "We'll be delighted."
Mr. Wilson signaled the waiter, who quickly moved a table to make room for three more people, set three places and then saw Clarisa.He was, obviously, not one of the waiters who thought Clarisa should be welcome. Strange, too, because he was African-American and obviously had not learned who buttered his bread. He finally asked for our drink orders and after we had ordered iced tea -- unsweetened -- we greeted everyone.
The talk about the Florida trip started afresh. A few minutes later Susan mouthed, "Clarisa know?" and I nodded. She smiled broadly and I saw her elbow John, who looked over at Justin and me and grinned."Understand Bobbie and Adam broke up while you all were in Florida," Clarisa said, sweetly.
"Yeah, sure did," John said, and looked at me and raised an eyebrow, asking a question.I glanced at Justin, who grinned, and we waited to see what Clarisa would do. Truth was, Justin had come to know and respect the Thurmond and Wilson families and if anyone in Elizabethton was to know about us, they would have been the ones we chose, but the more who knew, the sooner everyone would know and there was no doubt in my mind that when some folks found out, there could be hell to pay.
"He was a perfect ass while we were exploring Dry Tortugas and on the way home. Pouting if you ask me. Of course, the break-up was the result of his being a real jerk," Susan said. "He got pisse... sorry, ticked off over two of the guys we met right after we arrived -- they also operated the excursion service -- who are gay. He really got his Jockeys in a knot when he found out we would be with them two days."Susan laughed, "Then we found out the Captain, a retired naval officer who is a part of the excursion service, was also gay. Add to that Bobbie finally woke up to the role he had put on her and she had accepted. You know, little woman stays in her place, and they broke up, big-time and he became a full-time dumb jock."
"Explains why he had someone waiting for him at the airport," Mrs. Wilson said."I've always heard men who protest too much are closet gays," Mr. Wilson said.
"I think we can assure you that is not Adam's problem," John said."But, you know, Arnold Blake who met Adam at the airport was in on roughing up that gay kid at school last year."
"Well, I don't know any gay young people here in Elizabethton. I'm sure there are and I hope we can and will protect them if they are ever in trouble just because they are gay. For what good it will do, they certainly have my support. I have -- had -- a gay brother, my best friend and protector, but no-one protected him. His lover played around on him for years, but Mitch could never leave him. His playing around killed both of them. His lover died of AIDS and Mitch died six months later, almost twenty years ago now. They were among that first group of AIDS victims. Mom and Dad never accepted he was gay and had nothing to do with him. I was with him the last month he lived. He was a beautiful man reduced to a skeleton. Horrible." Mrs. Wilson wiped away a tear as her husband reached over and patted her on the hand. "Sorry to put a wet blanket on the party," she apologized."No need for an apology, Mrs. Wilson," Clarisa said. "I hope you're right about protecting gay men and women. I sure do. To tell the truth, we have a real problem here in this county with HIV/AIDS and the victims are seldom gay. Lots of young African-American men and women falling to the disease." I guess everyone was lost in their thoughts for a couple minutes, looking at their plate, then everyone started to talk at once. We all laughed and the conversation returned to the Florida trip.
After a very pleasant evening, we all parted company in the clubhouse foyer and headed home.Driving back from the country club, Clarisa was pretty chatty, talking about things John and Susan had said about our Florida trip that Justin and I had not mentioned. She was particularly concerned about Adam since, without saying anything about Justin and me, they had talked about his being upset by Antwon and Sharky and the freedom gays seemed to have in Key West.
It was just 9:30 when we got home and we automatically sat down in the kitchen and started talking again. Justin told Clarisa about our sit-down with Adam and how we thought he was coming around, but he hadn't, as we had overheard at the fort."Later I saw him sitting several yards from the rest of us, staring at the sea," I said. "I wondered what was going thorough his mind. I wondered if he was taking to heart what Bobbie had said and looking at it with some objectivity, and immediately answered my own question in the negative. Adam was doing what Super Jock always does, thinking about how others had brought about his present situation and how he was going to get even. That was the Adam who had been my friend for years and, if I were honest, I knew that was yhe way it was from the beginning. It was always someone else's fault when anything went wrong and always Adam who was the hero when things went right. We all just accepted that -- for far too long."
"I had similar thoughts," Justin said. "I thought about the Adam I had known since forever. Bobbie was right: Adam gets his way or pouts.He had been an only child -- his next sibling is six years younger. From his birth until the present, it was Adam who was the apple of his mother's eye. Remembered when we were in kindergarten, she used to say, 'Adam is my good boy, my little man.' I recalled her saying that until he was in middle school. Maybe she was making up for the fact that he was certainly not the apple of his father's eye. His father has little respect for Adam. He was not his father's good boy, but the son who could never do anything right."
"Think, maybe," I said, "that is because Adam, through no fault of his own, was definitely unplanned and the cause of a wedding where the stork was the unseen, uninvited guest. Now that I think about it, it is strange that he placed all responsibility for birth control on Bobbie since he knows what could happen, since likely he has suffered because of an unplanned pregnancy -- the one which produced him. But who knows? I was willing to give Adam the benefit of the doubt, but I do have limits."
On our way home, I decided we needed to be very clear about the new situation in our house and now seemed the time to bring it up, so I said, "I think we need to talk about living arrangements.""What's to talk about?" Clarisa asked.
"Yeah, what's to talk about?" Justin echoed her."Look, for starters, Justin will be living here; we are going to live together."
"I assumed so," Justin said."I hadn't thought otherwise," Clarisa said. "To tell the truth, Justin has practically lived here in recent months anyway."
"Right," Justin said."True enough, but while we have sometimes slept in the same bed, we haven't slept together, if you catch my drift," I said.
"Oh," Clarisa said."Do we need to talk about that?" Justin asked. For the first time, I think, he had been embarrassed over our situation, about our having sex. Why else did he turn bright red under his well-tanned skin?
"Maybe we don't. Clarisa, we've been having sex and we will be having sex. Is that a problem?""Well, your mother may think differently, but I guess not since not much I can do about it if I wanted to, which I don't. I'll just not think about it, ok?"
"Probably a good idea, and if you get a boyfriend, I won't think about you having sex.""I should hope not!" Clarisa laughed. "I should certainly hope not."
"Justin, I think you and I should get the rest of your things from your house tomorrow since this is your home now.""Sounds reasonable," he said and laughed. "Seems young Mr. Porcher is getting awfully organized these days, huh, Clarisa?"
"Yeah, and is this African-American surprised!""We need to think about what you are going to do with your house and I think I need to get a job and ..."
"You need to get a job? What on earth for?" Clarisa asked. "You have a college fund which is more than enough to see you through college and probably grad school. You have a trust fund which will provide more income than most families have and, now that you are eighteen, you can start drawing on it at any time. You have an allowance which, as you say, you never spend. Why a job?""That's just it. I have everything and I have never really been exposed to how the real world works. I saw Antwon and Sharky and their life together and a big part of that is sharing their working world. Hadn't seen that before, but I knew it was important. Mom will definitely understand what I am talking about since Father never involved her in his work, just hauled her out when he needed a showpiece wife. Maybe I can't work with Justin and maybe we will have different jobs we need that kind of experience."
"Ok, you have some decisions to make, but there's no rush. As I said, Justin has always been welcome here and that hasn't changed. When I think about it, you're eighteen and what you do in bed is your business and I'll just not think about it. I suspect you are in for some very rough times ahead, but I want this to always be a safe place for you and a place where you know you're loved, both of you. Justin, love my boy Marc and do whatever is good for the two of you. Marcus, love Justin and do good by and with him. Both of you love each other. I envy you your love. On that note, I know you have had a long day and so have I, so I'll say goodnight."Justin and I had promised there'd be no hanky-panky until we had been tested and vaccinated, but we both knew she was talking about something that might expose us to an STD. Didn't mean no making out and playing around. Amazing what you can do with a lover with just your hands!
Later, Justin and I were lying in our bed when I asked, "Justin, do you realize we are in our bed, our very own bed?""I do, Babe, but I also realize we are in our town, our very own town, and I can't get something out of my mind. Remember last year when that gay freshman got hassled -- locker spray painted, shoved in the halls, and a bunch of other shit from the time school began last year until he was roughed up after the last football game? I know Arnold Blake and some of his football teammates did it, everyone at school knew it, but nothing could be proven. The kid wouldn't talk and no-one had any proof. After that the family moved out of town, kinda just disappeared. You know and I know Adam could have been involved in that, and if he wasn't it was because he happened not to be with them after that football game."
"Damn! He might have been. He and Bobbie weren't such a hot item last year. He might well have been with the jocks after the game.""Babe, it is scary, scary as hell."
"Yeah. I guess we'll just have to remind ourselves of what Antwon said, 'Love each other, work at your relationship, and that way you can face whatever life dishes up.'""Right."
Moments later, Justin was asleep beside me and I was still thinking about the venom in Adam's voice in Fort Jefferson. I lay awake longer than I wanted, but finally drifted off to sleep, only to dream of being chased by a pack of mad dogs. They were foaming at the mouth and when they were almost close enough to catch me, I saw they were Adam, Arnold, and their jock buddies. I tried to scream, but couldn't make a sound."Wake up, Babe. Sweetheart, wake up!" Justin was shaking me. When I was finally awake, I grabbed Justin and hung on for dear life, still trembling in fear. "It's ok, Sweetheart. It's ok. I'm here."
Gradually, I realized I had been frightened by a dream. "I had a nightmare, a very bad nightmare." I then told Justin about it. He was holding me closely and I slowly relaxed. He kissed me very gently, wrapped me in his arms, kissed my forehead, and we both drifted back asleep.Saturday morning, we planned to sleep late, but it was only 8:00 when we woke up. We did the bathroom bit and, with that accomplished, were soon involved in some hot and heavy kisses. That led to my carrying Justin back to bed and some ass finger play followed by stroking each other to climax. A long shower and we were finally ready to go down and see about breakfast.
*For non-Tarheels, Murphy is the westernmost town in western North Carolina and Manteo sits on the east coast. When driving east from Tennessee, a state highway sign at the North Carolina border gives the distance to Manteo as 550+ miles.