“DAD, I’m gay.”
Patrick Cleary stood at the breakfast table of their obscenely large home in the rich people’s suburb in Orangevale and ripped one thumbnail off with another. It was six in the morning at the end of May, which meant the light was strong enough for his father to squint at him when he looked up from his Cheerios with Splenda and the laptop with the morning financial report.
Shawn Cleary was not originally a businessman. Originally, he’d been a trade worker in a computer factory in West Sacramento. Before Patrick had been born, Hewlett-Packard and Intel had pulled away all of the small firm’s business, but Shawn Cleary—smarter than the average bear, as he liked to say—had taken out a loan to recycle the old computers as opposed to making new ones, and it had made him rich. Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking rich.
Or at least that was what Shawn liked to say.
Patrick liked the money. He didn’t see anything dirty, rotten, filthy, or stinking about it. The money had kept him in trendy clothes and first-rate sunglasses all through high school and up to his ass in ass afterward. But it was one thing to tell your dad you were going out to a friend’s when you were really going out to a boyfriend’s to get laid, and it was another to look at him, day after day, when you were fiddle-fucking around with your life and confess to the reason why.
Fact was, he didn’t feel like starting a real life unless he could start a real life, like maybe the type of real life where he could tell Dad that he was going to his boyfriend’s house, and maybe invite Cal over to dinner, and basically be kind of a family, since Mom had left with her personal trainer and it had just been the two of them for so long. So he was ready. He was ready to go back to college and get a degree in science, and ready to stop fiddle-fucking around at parties, and ready to be a stand-up guy and be up front with his old man.
But first he had to look him in the eye and tell him the gawdshonesttruth.
“Since forever,” he rasped, looking at Shawn anxiously.
Shawn’s ginger hair had gotten grizzled as he’d aged, and although his freckled skin was almost perpetually light tan, the freckles were still there, along with the bright blue eyes. The lines around his eyes and mouth had deepened in the last eight years since Mom had left, but mostly, he was still vital, strong, and terrifying. Oh, sure, Shawn loved him—Patrick hoped he did, anyway. But he’d always been a member of the “To love me is to fear me a little” school of parenting, and Patrick had been a very good student.
“Bullshit,” Shawn snorted, and went back to his laptop.
Patrick blinked. Bullshit? Bullshit?! Bullshit?
“Yeah, bullshit. You’re no more gay than you were an artist, or a scientist, or a firefighter, or whatever the hell you wanted to be last week—”
“A yoga instructor.” The health club had actually offered him a job. He’d been excited about it, too, right up until Shawn had snorted in his face and said, “Yeah, right!”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t serious about that, were you?”
“I thought it would pay for my books when I went back to school,” Patrick said numbly. He had—it had been his plan, and it had looked glorious in his head, right up until that snorted “yeah, right!” Little did he know, Patrick thought. He’d had no idea, none at all, that “yeah, right!” was apparently one or two steps above “Bullshit!” on the parental fuck-you-o-meter.
“What the hell are you going back to school for?” Shawn snorted, and Patrick flushed.
“A degree in science,” he said softly, “and a law degree after that.”
Shawn put down his spoon. “What in the hell would you want a law degree for?”
“To be an environmental defense lawyer—you know, save the planet, like you?” Patrick hated himself for that last part—true or not, he hated himself for it.
Shawn’s jaw tightened like he was touched—or had indigestion—and he grunted and looked down at his cereal. “Not trying to change the world, dumbass. Just trying to make a buck.”
Patrick mashed his teeth together so hard it hurt. “Look, Dad—I’m not saying this to piss you off or whatever. I’ve just… you keep giving me shit about being a virgin because I haven’t had any girlfriends. It’s just that I’m not a virgin, but I still haven’t had any girlfriends!”
Shawn Cleary spit out his Cheerios and Splenda. “What in the fuck?” He glowered up at his son, and Patrick stood his ground.
“Please tell me this doesn’t change the way you feel about me?”
It was the question at the end that did it, Patrick decided later, after way too much self-pity and the roofie Cal had slipped him because it turned out he wasn’t Patrick’s dream boy after all, just some cocksucker out for easy money and a piece of ass. It had been the question at the end. Shawn Cleary appreciated people who knew their own mind. Owning up to something, sticking by your guns. That pathetic baby whimper at the end of the sentence was really what spun Shawn’s wheels, not the gay. At least that was what Patrick told people after Shawn stood up and started shouting.
“Feel about you? You want to know what I feel about you? I’ll tell you what I feel about you! You’re a fuckup, Patrick! Your biggest accomplishment is graduating high school and leeching off my money! What in the hell do you want me to say? ‘You’re gay! Hur-fucking-ray!’ Go ahead—fuck every guy that moves! I don’t give a shit—just don’t expect me to gravy-train your little homo-express because you can’t decide what else to do with your life, okay?”
Patrick had spent a lot of time in his life pretending it was all okay. The day after his mom had run away, he came downstairs to find Shawn at the breakfast table, eating Cheerios and sugar, and looking at the financial report. Patrick had sat across from his father, fixed himself some toast and some orange juice, and then left for school.
“Have a good day.”
Patrick always figured it was a good thing his mom left after he got his driver’s license, because if he’d had to interrupt Patrick’s work schedule, then they might have had to talk.
As he stood now and fought his quivering chin, he realized that maybe talking was overrated. Maybe talking sowed the seeds of destruction. Maybe talking was… oh, hell. He had to get the fuck out of there.
“I’m sorry I’m a disappointment,” he said quietly, and then turned around and left.
He didn’t stop to see the look on his father’s face, and he was glad, because his worst fear was maybe Shawn Cleary wouldn’t be sorry, not even a little bit sorry at all.
CAL had a job—not that Patrick knew what he did—but he got off at six and met Patrick at their favorite bar, the one down off of Del Paso Heights in Sacramento where men were allowed to dance with men. Patrick had gone back to the house after his father left, and packed an overnight bag and met Cal with a hope to stay in Cal’s little one-bedroom apartment until he could see if that yoga instructor’s position was still waiting for him, or maybe he could wait tables. It would be okay—they didn’t need Shawn Cleary’s money, right? They had each other, right? And Patrick’s plan hadn’t changed. Kids put themselves through school all the time. Patrick had gotten good grades—he had sixty units from community college; he wasn’t a complete fuck up, right? They could do this. They were in love.
Cal had a thin face with dark hair and a widow’s peak that was starting to pronounce, even at twenty-five. His best assets were his stunning blue eyes with their thick dark lashes, and Patrick had always seen them laughing or planning or bright with sex and passion.
He didn’t know then that contempt would make them narrow at the corners and bring out the bags under them or the sallowness that came from tweaking a little too often. He didn’t realize that Cal’s disgust would practically have color, taste and smell. He only knew that he felt those blows through his body like whiplash, and he felt like one big limpid puddle of hurt.
Cal shook his head and for a minute, that horrible look of revulsion faded away. “Yeah. Look. I’m sorry. I… you really think we’re going to live without your dad’s money? You didn’t say anything unforgivable, did you?”
Patrick fought the urge to sniffle like a toddler. “He didn’t even say I was cut off. I just don’t want to live with him if he’s not going to take me seriously!”
Cal snorted. “Well Jesus, Patrick! It’s not like you’re built for the real world or anything, you know? You don’t have a job skill—hell, I don’t even think you’ve ever worked a real job!”
Patrick cringed. “I have too,” he said, unhappy that Cal would forget this. “I waited tables for a year and a half in that restaurant across town!” He’d loved that job, actually. He’d worked hard, no one had treated him special, and he’d been, once again, up to his ass in ass. (Or rather, Ricky the cook had been up to his balls in Patrick’s ass. Patrick had quit the job when he found out that Ricky had been taking it bareback in the walk-in from Eduardo, the head bartender, the whole time, which was so not cool and made Patrick three times as cautious about always using a condom and twice as cautious about finding a boyfriend after that.)
“Oh yeah,” Cal said, and Patrick had to look hard at him to make sure he wasn’t rolling his eyes. “Wasn’t that just before we met?”
Patrick nodded, and Cal chewed his lower lip.
“So, uhm, this desire for independence has been building for a while, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Patrick said softly, thinking about all that excitement he’d had for going back to school. “I was good in school, when I took my meds—I’d like to go back, study something I’m interested in, you know?”
“But… I don’t know, Patrick—don’t you have everything you want right now? I mean, living on your Dad’s dime, nothing wrong with that, right?” Patrick was going to protest, but then Cal did that thing he did where he put his hand on the side of Patrick’s face and kissed him on the forehead and made him feel like a little kid, protected and cherished and small. “Besides, baby—who needs those nasty old meds polluting your system, right?”
Patrick smiled thinly. He’d never been able to get Cal to understand the Ritalin or how badly he seemed to need it sometimes. His dad hadn’t gotten it either, and his mom—well, his mom made sure he always had it, and then burst into tears when it wore off. People assumed that the drugs were a crutch, something that made keeping his brain on the right track easy, and that he was just lazy because he couldn’t focus. They didn’t understand that with the drugs, making little choices—listen or fidget, hear instructions or think about what he had for breakfast—became possible. He could see the little choices with the drugs—they were laid out for him as neatly as clothes folded on the bed, and all he had to do was take a breath and make a choice.
Without the drugs, his brain was one big hairy garage sale in the jungle, and he had no idea where to find anything, and sometimes, the sheer frustration just took over and made him a tense, whiny, squalling infant, even at the age of almost twenty-four.
When Cal patted his cheek like that, he did feel comforted and cherished and cared for, and he needed that, because he was totally incapable of navigating the uncharted garage sale of his own mind.
But he’d had his meds today. He’d been taking them for the past two months—they’d helped him negotiate the paperwork jungle of re-enrolling in school and deciding on a major and then even the complex reasoning behind his own delayed maturity. He’d been able to think, dammit, and he liked it. He just didn’t want to tell Cal, because then there’d be a big furry argument about it, and as much as he thought Cal loved him, he didn’t want to test that with the little prescription bottle in his pocket.
“I just want to be able to make my own way,” he mumbled now. “My father did it, right?”
“Yeah, baby—here, have a beer.” Cal gave the universal gesture for “draft,” and the bartender nodded his head, raising his eyebrow at Patrick, who’d been drinking soda for the past hour as he’d waited for Cal to get off work.
Beer wasn’t good—not with his meds—but he didn’t want to fight with Cal. He figured he’d nurse it—just take a couple of sips and leave the rest while they tried to hash out their future in the wake of the train wreck Patrick had just had with his father.
Cal smiled at him as the beers were served and rubbed their noses together. “It’s okay, Trix,” he promised gently. “I’m gonna make you feel alright.”
One drink of beer. He swore that was all he had.