We had to be back before Justin and I might had we been alone, but Michael mentioned he had to make Wednesday night church. When we reached the marina and docked, Justin said, “I see your lover's waiting for the sailor home from the sea,” and pointed to Sandy, standing at the end of the dock.
Michael gave a whistle and Sandy started running toward us, a huge smile on his face. We were still on a floating part of the dock and Sandy hit it, full tilt, rocking it wildly. “Whoa, Hot Box,” Michael shouted. “You'll dump us all in the drink.” Not likely, of course, but Sandy had sent the floating dock swinging and bucking. When he reached us, he grabbed Michael and would have kissed him on the mouth, but Michael prevented that and said, “Babe, we've gotta talk, but what's up.”
“Well, you missed some excitement this afternoon. Sissy and I were walking out of school together when Bull and his asshole buddy Skinny came up and started calling us names and daring us to try and stop them. Sissy finally said, 'I could stop your ass in a heartbeat, but I don't want to mess up my hair. So fuck off, half wit asshole.' Bull, asked, 'Who you think you calling asshole, asshole?' Sissy shot right back, 'You, you white trash asshole.' Bull drew back to slug Sissy while Skinny, jumped me. Sissy had Bull's arm behind his back and Bull was begging him not to break it before he knew what hit him. I used a move on Skinny you taught me, Michael, and he went down.
“'Apologize to Sandy,' Sissy said and gave his arm a twist. 'I'm not apologizing to any cocksucking faggot,' Bull said, “You can kiss my ass.” “Oh, but yes you are,' Sissy said, giving his arm another twist. 'And when you have apologized, you'll kiss his ass—well, hel'' go easy on you. You can kiss his foot.' 'Course Bull said he wouldn't, but he did. When he had, Sissy said, ‘Skinny, same routine.' Skinny was still on the ground with my foot on his neck. All his starch was gone as soon as he saw Bull wasn't coming to his rescue. He bitched, but did as he was told. 'Guess that takes care of that,' Sissy said, but I thought differently.
“'Not quite, Sissy,' I replied. 'Seems you are due an apology as well. Both of you apologize to Sissy and kiss his foot,' I told them. 'I'll see you both in hell before I apologize to any queer nigger,' Bull said. 'Me too,' Skinny chimes in.'You've really done it, now,' I said. 'You used the n word. Apologize and kiss Sissy's foot NOW, or you'll apologize and kiss his cock as soon as we haul you asses off campus.' Well, it took a bit of convincing, but they apologized to Sissy. Man, that Sissy is something else! He's a black belt and knows a couple other martial arts as well. You'd never know it just looking at him.”
“Sounds as though you weren't so bad yourself,” I said.
“Michael's working on me,” Sandy replied and kissed Michael on the cheek.
“Sounds as though you two made two real enemies though,” Michael said. “Bull and Skinny are both Mud Creek assholes and have been fuck buddies for years. They try to outdo K.J. and his crew. Better keep an eye on them. Well, speaking of Mud Creek, I've got to be going. Want to spend a few minutes with Sandy before I have to go to church. I'm being a specially good boy these days, I hope banking some points for when I will definitely need them. Thanks again, Guys.”
“Don't mention it,” I responded.
“Babe, I need to check by the store before we go home,” Justin said as we headed for the car. “I'm sure every thing's under control, but there have been some discrepancies showing up lately, not large, but troublesome.”
“I'll drop you off and check by to see how things are in the delivery department,” I said. “Adam and I can work tomorrow if needs be to lighten the load Saturday.”
“Speaking of Adam, how about him and Bobbie?”
“Was wondering about that before Sunday,” I replied. “Overheard Bobbie and John talking about Kenneth not showing up when he said he'd be here. Bobbie didn't come right out and say it, but hinted that it might have been a mutual decision. I guess the old flame wasn't as dead as she thought.”
“Fickle lovers,” Justin said. “Glad I don't have one.”
“You sure?” I asked with a grin.
“I'm sure,” Justin said as he bravely risked leaning over the console for a kiss.
When I reached the store, Mr. Sanford was in his office with Rev. Freeman, president of the county Baptist Association and pastor of First Baptist of Elizabethton. He was a Baptist, but a really nice fellow. Conservative, of course, but not a rabid fundamentalist. The only reason he was still president of the association was because he was older with a lot of pull in the town and county, having been at First Baptist for thirty plus years. Unlike most of the Protestant ministers—Lutherans and Methodists generally excepted—he had never been involved in good old dad's political campaigns and had supported some pretty progressive ideas over the years, especially in terms of race relations.
He stood as I approached the office. Standing also, Mr. Sanford shook hands with the pastor and held the office door open for him. “Thanks, Rev. Freeman,” he said as the elderly pastor was leaving. “I appreciate being put on guard.”
“Marc, haven't seen you around much lately,” Rev. Freeman said as he extended his hand toward me.
“Been kinda busy, Reverend,” I responded. “School and, of course, being one of the slaves working for Massa Sanford, totin' and ahaulin'.”
“I'm sure he's a real slave driver,” the pastor laughed.
I turned toward Mr. Sanford as the minister left and he said, “Thought you'd be on the high seas until Neptune himself told you to go home,” he continued, motioning me into the office.
“Michael wanted to spend awhile with Sandy before he had to go home and get dolled up for Wednesday night church, so we came in early. Also Justin wanted to check something at the downtown store.”
“That boy could take over that store right now,” he said. “He's doing more business than we ever did before and has the patience of Job, which you need with some of the regular customers. Sure he has plenty to say about that.'
“Actually not,” I said, sitting in the chair in front of Mr. Sanford's desk. “What we hear are some of the very funny things people say and do, but he doesn't bring the bitching home.”
“Good idea. Speaking of Michael and Sandy, well you and Justin too, we need to talk. Mr. Freeman brought me some rather disturbing news which you all need to hear and decide what, if anything, to do about it. Could be serious. Hope not.
“Mr. Freeman knows that you and Justin are gay. Says he has liked you since you were kids and admire the fact that you, Marc, don't have to work, but do and how Justin had always done everything he could for his mother. Anyway, what he wanted to tell me is that while he believes the homosexual life style was contrary to Scripture, he's not so sure about it being sin as he once was. 'Given my admiration for those two young men, I have really had to do some serious praying about this whole homosexual thing,' he said. Regardless of how he finally comes down on the question, he did want to give me a warning about what the ministerial association is up to.
“Seems some of the ministers wrote your dad about the prom and threatened him with withdrawing their support in this fall's election unless he does something about it. Then, some members of their churches are riding them because they're not preaching against the homosexual sin being permitted by the school. He thinks there are enough—almost everyone except himself, the Lutheran, Seaside Methodist and, of course, St. Paul's—to really get something stirred up. Just wanted you to have a heads up.”
“Michael's parents—and Michael for that matter—go to Mud Creek True Faith and he mentioned he was getting tired of being preached at. Seems he's the only gay guy in the congregation so far as he knows and he is not out, but every Sunday there's some reference to the evils of homosexuality and the sure road to hell gays travel. You can bet dear old dad will be kissing ass big time with the preachers. He's never been really challenged since he was elected the first time until now. Now it seems Jacob Turner is going to give him a run for his money.”
“Saw that in the paper,' Mr. Sanford responded. “Seems the young fellow has been gaining on Senator Porcher since the day he announced he was running for the senate. Yeah, I can see the Senator courting anyone, anyway, anyhow to make sure he's re-elected. Sorry, didn't mean to make your dad sound like an 'anything goes' politician.”
“We both know he is,” I responded. “Don't know what we can do about the preacher situation,” I said. “Guess we'll just have to wait and see.”
“Pretty much thought the same thing,” Mr. Sanford said.
“Well, I came by to see if you need Adam and me to work tomorrow to lighten the load Saturday.”
“Not really. I had a couple temps come in and since they are getting paid delivering or sitting around, had them deliver everything as it's sold.”
“Then I guess I'll see you Saturday. And thanks for the information,” I said as I got up to leave.
Thursday and Friday we were, again, on AP exam schedule and we saw few of those who were worse in their harassment of us. The reprieve was welcome, but Justin and I had talked about what next week might be like. With the preachers getting revved up, the general level of hostility in the community—and school—was bound to increase.
Saturday was a very busy day for me. Seems half the county had purchased a new fridge, washer, drier and/or range. Sanford's hadn't dealt in appliances until the second store was opened, but it didn't take long for them to become a major part of the business. Unlike a new sofa or bedroom outfit, appliances are heavy and require setting up—at least the appliance bought at Sanford's are setup for customers. Seems you always run into problems doing that, usually the results of either amateur electricians or plumbers having prepared the site for the appliance.
Lot of a deliveries meant lot of problems and it was almost 7:30 before I got home. When I walked in, Clarisa was putting food in a basket. She looked up from what she was doing and said, “Justin says he may not be home until 10:30 or 11:00 and asked me to fix supper for you to take to him. Didn't say what the problem was. His supper will be ready in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“Time for a quick shower,” I said, “and I need one!” I went to our apartment, took a ten minute shower and pulled on shorts and a T. The bed sure looked inviting, but I went downstairs to see how far along Clarisa was.
“Another five minutes,” she responded when I asked how long before Justin's supper was ready.
“Have any idea what's going on with my bed partner?”
“He didn't say. In fact he was in such a rush, I’m surprised he said anything which made sense. I suspect it's something to do with the discrepancies he's found lately. Anyway, his supper's ready. And your's too,” she added. “Thought you might get Mr. Businessman to take time to eat and enjoy it with his boyfriend.”
When I arrived at the store, I saw Mr. Sanford's 1969 Ford Mustang was parked in the reserved parking place which meant he had been home before coming to the downtown store. Usually he drove a company pickup, but on nice spring and summer evenings, he'd take his pride and joy out of it's private garage for a ride. Apparently, he had wanted a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet for years and finally found one in fair shape several years ago and lovingly restored it to show room condition. No one drove it except him and and few were privileged to be invited to ride in it. It was strange indeed to see it at the store at this hour.
I parked in front of the store and when I approached the front door, saw a sign which said the store had closed early “due to circumstances beyond management's control.” I was further surprised when the only inside light was the little spilling out of the slightly ajar office door. I was in somewhat of a dilemma. Should I pound on the door until someone came or not. I decided that was not a good idea, walked around to the back of the store and pressed the buzzer used by delivery men. “Yes, who's there?” Mr. Sanford's voice asked over the intercom.
“Marc,” I responded, “Clarisa sent over Justin's supper.” I heard the buzzer unlock the door and I stepped inside and walked down the dark hall to the office.
Mr. Sanford looked up when I pushed open the office door and said, “Come in, Marc. Got enough in that basket for an old man whose supper was cut short?”
“'Spect so, Mr. Sanford. Clarisa said she was packing enough for both of us since I got home late and knowing her, there's enough for three growing boys.”
“Then I'll join you,” he laughed. “Would fight for some of Clarisa's cooking. So you got home late?” he asked as Justin cleared a place on a desk and I started putting food out.
“Yes, sir. There was still a delivery to be made to Planters' Landing,” I said. “One of those new forty bottle wine cabinets. I said we could do it in the morning, but Adam saw it had a 'special rush' note on it. 'Look, Planters' Landing' is as pretentious as you can get and probably even their perfectly manicured lawns are mortgaged to the hilt, but—that's a big butt—they are good for our business and even better for Justin's store. No big deal. Bobbie's doing something with her mom tonight,’ Adam said. I said I had planned on some quality time with Justin and he allowed as how the cabinet is hardly a two man job. ‘You go on. I'll take care of it.' So Adam headed for Planters' Landing and I headed home.”
“Maybe I need to fear for my job,” Justin laughed, “if Adam's becoming interested in Sanford Furniture.”
“Don't think you need worry,” Mr. Sanford said. “Adam and I pretty much understand that while he's going to work his butt off until he's out of school, he's not the least bit interested in becoming a furniture store manager.”
“True,” I agreed. “Adam's talking about becoming a teacher, probably math,” I added.
“Maybe we need him here,” Mr. Sanford said around a mouthful of country style steak in a biscuit. Justin didn't respond. “Hell, Justin, if we can't talk in front of Marc, we're really in trouble. Marc, we've got a problem.”
“I told Marc I was concerned about some discrepancies, but nothing beyond that,” Justin said.
“Maybe you can help us out,” Mr. Sanford said. “See, all the register receipts check out, the books checkout, but something's wrong. We've gone over and over everything and everyone and all look clean as a whistle, but something's wrong. There's a discrepancies in what we pay for and what we sell. It's like we are overpaying suppliers, but that checks out as well.”
“Maybe you're not getting what you pay for,” I suggested. “Sometimes when we have a huge order, we'll miss some smaller items when we make the deliveries.”
“And how do you know that?” Justin asked.
“Well, when the purchaser checks what we deliver against what was ordered, it's not there.”
“But one of us sign for everything delivered here after checking it off item by item. We have paid for what was delivered and nothing else. I'm sure of that.”
“I guess it's being undelivered then,” I grinned.
“What did you said?” Mr. Sanford asked.
“Just a foolish remark,” I responded. “I said I guess it was being undelivered.”
“Justin, how do we know what's on the floor and in the warehouse?” he asked.
“If it's here, it's in the computer as inventory.”
“Always. Well, come to think of it, lately it seems we've had the computer inventory list things , but when we went to get them, they weren't there.”
“It had been undelivered,” Mr. Sanford slapped his knee. “You two free tomorrow? After church, of course?” We nodded. “The stores will be closed and I’d like to inventory, really inventory the stock, touching every item before it’s check off the inventory sheet. Think you could help out?” We nodded. “I'll check on Mrs. James and, I hope, Adam will help although I promised no Sunday work. My problem. That's only five at best. Maybe I can round up some temps, but that'll be hard Sunday afternoon and I really need people I can trust. It's not a hard job, but I want every piece touched and checked against the computer.”
“How about the Clan, at least those who are free tomorrow?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Justin said.
“Well, they are smart enough and trustworthy,” Mr. Sanford said, “I'll give them all a call. We'll work late if people will. I want to get to the bottom of this. Well, I got a decent supper out of this, but I suspect we all are ready to get home.”
Justin checked to make sure the store was locked up and set the alarm and the three of us walked out together. As we were saying goodnight, Mr. Sanford said, “You know, you two young men mean a lot to me. Don't know what might have become of Adam had you treated him as the jerk he was and I appreciate that, especially what you have done for him, Marc, simply by working with him. Then, you have both made important contributions to Sanford Furniture. I mean, Justin has made a going concern out of essentially a new business since the downtown store is not what it was and Marc, you and Adam have made a lot of happy customers throughout the county and happy customers are good business. Well, anyway, know you are appreciated.”
I decided on the spot to run way out on a limb. “Thank you, Mr. Sanford,” I said, then quickly added, “I hope you don't fail to let Adam know he is appreciated as well.
Mr. Sanford stopped, looked a bit strange, the said, “You know, you are right and I needed to be reminded of that. Well, goodnight.”
Justin and I were soon in the shower and after a long, hot one definitely with some serious playing around, some very serious playing around, climbed into bed, wrapped our arms around each other and were soon asleep.