For Better or For Worse
After watching the X-Men I went in search for a fansite dedicated to Sir Ian McKellen. To my utter joy he has one of his own. I guess after years of abuse in the hands of the media and the junk press, he decided to take matter into his own. I have always admired him as an actor and as an activist for the homosexual community. Always vocal when challenged, razor-witted when shoved into a corner, he is known to never back down, even against the entire Thatcher government. He came out of the closet in spite of the fact that he might never receive the knighthood because of it. As you have guessed, this story is openly gay-themed since it was partially inspired after a week of watching his movies. If you don't like this, hit your browser's back button and you'll be fine.
For those who decide to stay, it might look like a takeoff of La Cage aux Folles, but that great story, without its bawdy theme and rollicking script, is a bittersweet revelation about a father's love for his son. This one is just the opposite - it's about a son's dedication to his father. It will be a short tale, probably four to five postings, but I hope you guys enjoy it.
"How do I look?"
"Bloody fine, and I will say the same two words five minutes from now."
"Aren't we touchy today?" Wes snapped at his partner.
"Me? You're the one on pins and needles. You're always like this when Nigel comes for a visit."
"This isn't just Nigel. He's bringing Jenna along and if what I suspect is true, she's the one."
"She's the one. You make her sound like she's the Second Coming."
"Robert, if you're going to be this supportive..."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but you know Nigel. He's your son!"
"It's been two years since he went to San Francisco. I've seen him for all of eight days since then and he could have changed so much!"
Robert gently placed a hand on his partner's shoulder. "I know, Wes. But Nigel told her about us, didn't he?"
The silence that followed became deadly to the conversation.
"Bugger." Robert whispered and sat down hard next to Wes.
"He tried...we tried when I flew over for a visit, but I just couldn't bring myself to tell her...hello, I'm Nigel's father and I'm a flamer. And that is a lovely dress you're wearing, where did you purchase such a gorgeous frock?"
"Shouldn't Nigel have said something?" Robert asked heatedly.
"It's even harder for him to say anything about us. Jenna comes from what is known over there as a hard-liner of a family. She isn't anything like that, but still, Nigel...he doesn't know how to deal with the issue when it's with someone who doesn't know about us already. It's different here, Robert. Everyone in London knows about our lifestyle, so it's easy for him. Not the same over there, in the U.S."
"What do you want to do?"
"Well, it's about time she knows about us. It's not as if I am going to their wedding without you."
Robert smiled a little, "Thank you for saying that."
"That has never been an issue, Robert. The issue is Nigel and Jenna and what to do with them when they come..."
The front door bell rang.
"I really need to talk to you."
"Nigel, what is bothering you? The way you've been acting it's like you're having second thoughts about us." Jenna asked once more, her fears rising to her calm surface.
"No, no, that's not it. The...my father's gay."
The cherry-stained door opened and Wes stepped out just in time to hear his son's blunt confession. Robert was two steps behind Wes and turned red for both him and his lover. Jenna's jaw dropped open in front of the two men then snapped it shut when she saw the looks on the older men's faces. She quickly turned to her fiancé with a lethal glare, but wisely refrained from revealing her feelings.
"I see Nigel lost none of his tact during his stay in San Francisco." Wes said with a sheepish grin. "If you want, I have scotch and even whiskey. I think we all need one."
Jenna didn't hesitate and stepped inside with her fiancé looking relieved and terrified at the same time. She took in a deep breath as she studied her surroundings. The townhouse was beautiful.
"This is breathtaking." She said to Wes, her compliment in earnest and flattering because it was given without second thought.
"Thank you. Working for Foreign Services does have its advantages."
"Nigel told me you were an ambassador for nearly twenty years?"
"In various ranks and stages, but yes. I was. It afforded my family and myself some interesting places to live in."
"Oh yes, remind me to tell you some of those interesting places." Nigel drawled, sounding remarkably like an American.
"Nigel had the very alarming habit of picking up rare diseases as a child. I think he had food poisoning on every continent."
The son burst out into laughter and shook his head. He turned to his fiancée, "Remind me to never tell you those."
Jenna smiled softly in amusement and genuine frustration. "I wish I was warned about this before I came over."
"My fault." Both father and son chimed in simultaneously.
"What would you like to drink?" Robert smoothly interfered. "I think we should let these two clowns talk this out between themselves. Meanwhile, would you like a tour of the place?"
"Yes, before I go a little more crazy." Jenna agreed and took the proffered arm belonging to the dashing older stranger. Robert swiftly and mercifully led the confused bride-to-be away from the scene.
"That went well." Nigel said as his fiancée and his father's partner disappeared around the corner.
"Like the Hindenburg's final descent." Wes dryly countered. He poured a very well-endowed glass of whiskey for his son.
"It was very awkward, wasn't it? I am sorry about this. Please give Robert my sincere apologies."
"It's both our faults, not just yours, Nigel. She did take it well, didn't she?"
"I can't make that judgment right now. I'll find out when we're alone. She's not the type to let her emotions show in front of strangers."
"Are we strangers then?"
"That's not what I meant."
"You are even worse liar than your mother was. The truth, Nigel, please. I am not a fool."
"Well," He raised his arms. "This does change things."
"How? For better or for worse?" Nigel gave a withering look when his father repeated the famous line. Wes smiled and sat down on his favorite armchair. "The truth, Nigel."
"Jenna really doesn't like having her cart upset. She grew up in a very strict surrounding. She did rebel against all that when she went to college, but it's ingrained in her personality. And that's not the worst. You see, I lied to her by my silence."
"Ah, yes." Robert said. "Women do have a thing about that, don't they?"
"That would be the understatement for today." Nigel added and sat down across from his father. "Jenna's exceptionally sensitive about that issue."
"And my homosexuality isn't?"
"Father, I can deal with only one challenge at a time."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Nothing for now. Just continue with your usual English old-world charm and hopefully she'll be completely swept off her feet by you and Robert."
"And keep my hands off of Robert while Jenna's around?"
"You were never the affectionate kind, not even with mum or with me."
"And once upon a time you used to complain about that. Now you're glad I'm not."
"Life's full of ironies, I learned to appreciate them at a young age thanks to you."
"I am my father's son."
Robert smiled and stood up to embrace him. Nigel buried his face on his father's shoulder. "I am glad to see you happy, father. And thank you for understanding."
"And I am ecstatic to see you settle down with someone finally. It's about time you did. That bachelor lifestyle of yours was draining you so badly."
"Let the fledgling have his day in the sky. Remember you said that when you decided to go out into the world with Robert by your side."
"There's nothing a father hates more than having his words thrown back to him by his child."
"That's one of the great tragedies in life, father. Get used to it."
"I hope one day your own child will say the same blasted thing to you, Nigel."
"Love you too. Let me grab Jenna. I know Robert's gay, but I still don't trust him around beautiful women."
"Neither of us can be trusted around beautiful women, not just Robert."
Nigel threw him a sarcastic look before heading upstairs to the second floor. Wes heard his son's rather desperate voice calling out for Jenna and mercifully she responded quickly. He heard them come downstairs and Nigel peeked around the door with his fiancée in tow.
"Dinner around seven?"
"Count on it. La Berge?" Wes offered, knowing his son's love of good wine.
"Only if you're buying." Nigel's answer got him a resounding smack on the arm from Jenna.
"We are, don't worry about it." Robert answered. He turned to Jenna, "It has the best wine list in all of London and some fabulous food. You will come, won't you?"
"Definitely. We have to go now, see you in couple of hours." Jenna answered in her most reassuring voice. It had the desired effect and she saw the two men relax visibly.
"Take care, nice to meet you finally." Robert said and opened the front door allowing the couple to escape with dignity.
"Lovely girl, isn't she?" Wes commented after he was sure the couple was out of earshot.
"Definitely, and by the way, congratulations." Robert stated, extending his hand.
"For what?" Wes asked, puzzled.
"You didn't see it?"
"The rather large hunk of ice sitting on her finger. He proposed to her a week ago."
"Oh my G-d, I didn't even realize..." Wes once again sought comfort in his favorite chair. "They are serious then!"
"Was there ever a doubt about that?"
"No, but...Nigel is actually engaged! Where are they going to marry then? Here, there? And who's going to perform the ceremony and..."
"You're panicking. Don't panic, that's their job. Ours is to foot the bill and make sure there's enough wine at the reception to thoroughly inebriate the guests."
"Comedy is not what I am looking for right now."
"No, Sebastian is though."
Robert's advice brought a large sigh of relief from the scrambling father. "Thank you for reminding me about him. Do you think he'll agree to help them plan their wedding if it takes place here?"
"Yes, if not, I'll just tell everyone he's straight and pretending to be gay in order to get more clients."
Wes couldn't respond as he was laughing too hard at Robert's ridiculous idea of blackmail.
"Don't blame him, it's my fault. I should have told you earlier."
Jenna didn't answer, but continued to stare out of the balcony of their hotel room. Her silence made Nigel more nervous with every passing second.
"Did you like Robert?"
"He is incredibly charming and sweet. So is your father."
"They don't fit the stereotypical profile, do they?"
"No, they certainly don't. What does Robert do?"
"He is a book collector and dealer. He knows everything and everyone about the business. They met couple of years after my mother died."
"Did you know before?"
"No, not really. I went away to the University and came home one day to...that. It really was a traumatic experience for all involved."
"And they've been together ever since?"
"For nearly two decades now."
"Did she know, you think?"
"We don't talk about her that much. I don't think it's something we should speculate on. It'll only ruin things between us."
"You're right, you should have told me about him before I came to London."
"I know, I just didn't know how to go about saying it. I was hoping he would tell you when he came over for a visit, but I guess it wasn't easy for him either."
"This changes everything." She said softly.
"I know, I promise when we see your family I will explain the situation so you don't have to..."
"Nigel, the wedding is off."
"Something went terribly wrong tonight." Wes' worried comment made Robert frown.
"Well, you didn't expect them to be fine after this afternoon, did you?" Robert answered. "She probably let him have it as soon as they returned to the hotel."
"You didn't feel something awkward?" Wes asked, stepping out of the bathroom with the toothbrush still jammed in his mouth.
"Arguments about your parent's sexual orientation is awkward, Wes. I personally can't think of many topics more awkward than that."
The father shrugged a little and returned to the bathroom. Less than five minutes later, with the shower running, Wes stepped out once more.
"She was still wearing the ring, wasn't she?"
"Call him. That's what you're really asking me, isn't it? It's only nine so just ring them."
"But that would be intrusive."
"Stop playing coy and give the boy a ring. Otherwise, I can kiss my sleep goodbye for tonight."
"Let me stop the water first." Wes grabbed the cordless as he disappeared back into the steaming bathroom.
"Hello? May I please have Nigel Penbrook's room? Thank you." He gave a grateful smile to his partner and Robert rolled his eyes.
"Nigel? Yes, it's me. No...I was wondering how you were doing. I noticed...yes...no, no, nothing was ruined. It was a lovely...yes? No...what?"
Robert noticed the escalation of Wes' tonal pitch and turned to his lover standing in the doorway.
"She did what?!"
Robert immediately knew what was wrong and got out of bed.
"How...did she...what? No explanation? Why that...sorry, no, I won't speak badly of her. Nigel, we're coming over right now. No, it's no fuss."
By this time Robert had finished dressing and was hunting down the keys to the car. Wes hung up the phone and began shouting obscenities Robert hadn't heard since their breakup in 1994.
"She broke off the engagement?"
"Yes, that silly...*#%#%& called the whole thing off without an explanation as to why!"
"I think we can safely guess why, Wes."
The father's face spasmed for a moment. "I swear, I never meant for this to happen to him, Robert. All I ever wanted was my son to be happy. Now, because of me...oh G-d, what am I going to say?"
"Nothing, get dressed and let's go see your son."
Nigel waited for the knock. He did not even know where to begin. He could imagine the guilt his father must be feeling and dreaded seeing the look of shame in the man's eyes. He's seen it before, when his father's homosexuality became the talk of the land 1988. The trauma inflicted on the only child was so severe Nigel was forced to leave Oxford for a year and seek seclusion in a relative's care while the storm blew over. The gentle tapping woke him up from the scarred memories.
"Come in. The door is open." Nigel left it unlocked, in hopes that Jenna might change her mind and return to him. Instead two men entered. Nigel took one look at his father and didn't say another word. He walked into the open arms and buried himself in what was once the most secure place in the world.
"I am so sorry." Wes whispered.
"It isn't your fault. She just couldn't handle it. If I warned her, if we talked about it beforehand, maybe she wouldn't have called it off. But when it got dumped on her the way it did...she decided she needed more time to think things out."
"So the wedding isn't off permanently?" Robert asked.
"I honestly don't know. We didn't exactly have a thorough discussion."
"Why did she come to dinner?" Wes asked, confused.
"She didn't want to disappoint you or seem rude."
"Where is she?" Robert asked, realizing the room only had a single occupant.
"She took another suite upstairs. She said she wanted to be alone."
"How serious is this, Nigel? Is there a chance you can patch things up?"
"I don't know. When Jenna steps back, she tends to shut people out totally. She's done that to her own family for nearly six years before they decided to loosen up around her."
"Because of their behavior?"
"Yes and other things. When I said she comes from a strict family I was being tactful. They say awful things to people without thinking and she became tired of their attitude. So one day she gave them an ultimatum. Either watch what they say around her or she's out of there. They called her bluff and found out she wasn't bluffing at all."
"I am confused." Wes said frankly. "Is she homophobic then?"
"I don't know. The topic never came up, in spite of the fact that we live in San Francisco. She always seemed like live and let live type so I didn't think this was such a big issue with her. But still, she did grow up in a certain surrounding..."
"You never had one conversation that even remotely touched my relationship with your father, did you, Nigel?"
"No, Robert, we never did."
"And?" Wes gently prodded.
"It's probably based more on the trust issue I mentioned earlier."
"And why would that be an issue?" Robert asked.
Nigel didn't answer and both men soon understood why.
"Oh, Nigel, you didn't." Wes whispered tiredly. "Please tell me you didn't."
"It happened about a year ago. It was a big bloody mistake from the beginning, but I was too arrogant to admit it. The girl...she told a co-worker whom, believe it or not, used to go out with Jenna. He couldn't wait to tell her and the next thing I know we had a huge row and she broke off our relationship. It took me almost two months of begging to get her back. The moment she stepped out of the flat I knew I made a terrible mistake and I bled for it, father. I truly did."
"Nigel, that was the most idiotic thing I've seen you do since you left for the States. So this isn't just about Robert and myself then."
"No, it isn't. Jenna hates surprises. She's trained her life to deal with only so many revelations per day, and then today came along and she overloaded. And of course, there is also the fact that I managed to not tell her about you and Robert for nearly two years."
"What are you going to do?" Robert asked.
"Sleep, if I can sleep. Then try and have a normal, sit-down conversation with her tomorrow. She promised to see me for breakfast."
"Is there anything we can do?"
"No, maybe pray for me?" Nigel joked weakly. "I'll call you when it's all over."
"Promise me, Nigel."
"Yes, father, I promise. Now go. There is still a chance she might come knocking tonight and it won't do to have you two around if she does."
Wes embraced his son again and so did Robert. The two men departed without another word. They got into the elevator and Robert saw Wes push the 5th floor button instead of lobby.
"Wes, he said do nothing."
"I don't bloody care. I am going to have a talk with that child even if it means we spend tonight in the nick."
"Then let me talk to her. The state you're in, you're liable to make Nigel a widower before he gets married."
"How do you know where she's staying?" Wes asked.
"He wrote down her room number on the hotel notepad. It was sitting on the desk. I noticed it while you were having your father and son conversation."
The door slid open, but neither of them got off.
"Wes, I'm serious. There is no way you'll find out which room is hers without getting arrested first."
"Promise me you'll tell me what she said?"
"Promise," Robert got off the elevator. "Now go back to the house and wait for me."
Wes gave a tired sigh and the door closed. Robert waited to make sure it reached the lobby before making his way to Jenna's room. He found it after spending nearly ten minutes in the maze of corridors. He knocked twice and the occupant opened the door without even asking who it was.
"Hello." Jenna to her credit didn't slam the door on him, but didn't step aside to let him enter either. "May I come in?" He could see her debating for a moment before allowing him inside.
"We just saw Nigel." He explained.
"Where's Mr. Penbrook?"
"The older one? Going home, probably angry at me for not allowing him to come with me to your room."
"I can imagine how upset he must be. Tell him I'm sorry about all this, but I'll be out of his hair soon. I'll be returning to San Francisco tomorrow night."
"Does Nigel know of your plans?"
"Not yet, but I'll tell him myself tomorrow. This isn't really your problem."
"Oh, but it is." Robert commented. "It is our problem, isn't it? Nigel told us about his affair, but something tells me that isn't the only thing keeping you back from marrying him."
"It isn't. What you and Mr. Penbrook do behind closed doors is your business and I can't tell two grown men what to do. But don't ask me to get involved in it or support gay rights because the truth of the matter is I don't care either way."
"But we make you uncomfortable."
"A lot of things make me uncomfortable, but yes, seeing two men sexually involved makes me uncomfortable."
"I don't understand..."
"In San Francisco I didn't know who the gay couples were. But you and Mr. Penbrook...that's up close and personal, in every way. Christmas, Thanksgiving...it's..."
"Family. Something you can't turn away from even if you wanted to." Robert finished the sentence for her.
"I am at war with my own family on every issue. There isn't a moment of peace to be had whenever I visit them. I don't think I can handle another battlefront right now. If they found out I married Nigel knowing his father is gay and living with another man, hell will break open in my life. And I don't think I can survive it."
Robert gently reached out to touch the tears coming down the woman's cheeks. "You sound very tired."
"I am tired, about everything. Nigel was the one harbor of safety I have...or had until today. Now he's a problem right alongside everything else."
"Would it make you feel better if I told you, you will survive it?"
"I'm sorry. Nigel didn't tell me you were clairvoyant."
"No, not that, but I do remember my history well."
"And what history would that be?"
"The history of Wesley Hawthorne Penbrook and his son. Something you never heard before. Care to listen?"
"Robert, I don't think..."
"But I do, and if you love Nigel, you will give it a go."
"According to the Church I'm damned already so don't bother wasting your breath cursing me out."
Jenna smiled in spite of her pain and sat down on the bed. "You have ten minutes, Scheherazade."
"Scheherazade?" Robert echoed with a bright smile. "I fancied her a great deal in my youth. Something about all that lovely ebony hair and dusky skin..."
"Bother." Robert sat down next to the girl and handed her a pillow so she could feel comfortable. He made sure he had Jenna's full attention before beginning the woeful tale.
"Wes grew up in a very strict home and I mean the old fashioned Dickens lifestyle. He knew he was gay since he was thirteen and lived in terror of it his entire youth. So afraid was he of societal retribution he never had one relationship with another man. It also didn't help that his mother was a religious zealot and used to drag him to church every morning where the pastor would thunder hellfire and brimstone for a good hour or two. His family was independently wealthy so he had no problems getting into Oxford with their financial backing and his excellent grades. He eclipsed most of his classmates during his stay and had a marvelous time of it in spite of the fact he was forced to repress his homosexuality. He married when he turned thirty, as society dictated during that time, to a wonderful girl named Emily. He still remembers her with great fondness."
Robert took out a cigarette, "May I?"
Jenna wrinkled her nose in distaste, but the pleading look won her approval. The storyteller took a long puff before continuing.
"Thank you. Wes never lets me to smoke in the house. Emily...I think she was the first genuinely nice person he ever met. And she really did love him in spite of the fact that he was dull, rather ordinary looking chap with nothing to recommend himself but his phenomenal ability speak twenty-three languages. Wes told me she used to ask him to read books from all over the world in spite of the fact that she couldn't understand a word he said. He does have a lovely voice, you know. Their marriage was as happy as it could be under the circumstances, but Wes never complained. He knew he was lucky to have found Emily and was determined to make the marriage work.
Two years after the wedding Nigel was born and Wes was now forever tied to Emily. The baby made things very easy for Wes and his mother and he was able to continue pretending his feelings didn't matter as long as everyone else was happy. I'd be lying though if I said Wes was unhappy with his own family. He loved them very much, both Emily and Nigel. And they loved him just as fiercely. Nigel grew up a talented, gifted boy, which made Wes very proud. Nigel was everything Wes could never be. Nigel was brave, handsome, outspoken, athletic, at ease with women and society. His grades were perfect and his love for his parents went unquestioned. Wes told me G-d must have given him Nigel to make up for the hell that was his childhood.
Then right after Emily and Wes celebrated their seventeenth anniversary she was hospitalized for fainting spells. Her health deteriorated within weeks and before the season was over, she was dead. The family returned to England to bury her in home soil. Wes might have been gay, Jenna, but he loved his wife very much. He still visits her grave every year on her birthday and spends the whole day there. After her death he continued to live the sham of a straight, conservative man with unimpeachable moral standards. And his career skyrocketed because of it."
"What happened? How did you meet if he was so...cut off from the gay community?"
"Nothing, for years he did nothing. He was still terrified and he had the right to be. He was a high ranking official under the Thatcher government and she had definite ideas about the gay community and none of them were, shall we say, kind? He was invited to a party and by luck he met a gay couple there. Their names were Thomas Bisby and Marcus Kent, one of the very few gay men living openly as homosexuals. He didn't let on about himself, but they figured him out in seconds and called me. I had no idea it was a set-up so I dropped by to say hello. Otherwise, I would have remained buried in my bookstore."
She saw his far away smile and knew he was remembering something very dear.
"What's all that about?"
"Wes was hopeless back then. He looked like an official working for Foreign Services. Dull suit, dull hair, absolutely no hint of imagination anywhere. Then he started talking about Nigel and suddenly everything about him changed. I realized when Wes loves someone, it is unconditional love and underneath all that gray façade, there was a fierce heart that managed to survive a horrific life. It was a challenge and I couldn't back down."
"You pursued him?"
"Like a hound to a hare. I was very discreet. I knew of his fears and personally I felt the same so I kept mum. It took me almost five months before something came of it. Our relationship caused other worries for Wes. He didn't know how to tell Nigel about us and it used to rob him of sleep for days Then one day it happened. Nigel came home and he didn't bother to call and tell Wes about the impromptu visit. He walked in on us having breakfast together, in our robes."
"Oh my G-d..."
"You think you were shocked. Imagine what Nigel went through. Wes thought he lost his perfect son and for a while he did. Nigel turned right around, went back to school and refused to talk to Wes for nearly a year. I used to think Wes might harm to himself in order to get Nigel to talk to him. Then one day, once again, without a warning, Nigel showed up. They had a very long talk and things improved after that. Nigel didn't exactly greet me with open arms, but the boy loved his father. And if that meant he had to accept me, well, he did."
"So, things calmed down then."
"No, a year later our lives fell apart. Nigel was in Oxford almost finished with Oxford and totally unprepared for what was about to happen. A militant gay group, determined to embarrass the PM, decided to out closeted officials and close acquaintances who worked for her. Wes' name was on top of the list. I thought we were very discreet, but I guess someone must have noticed because one morning I woke up and opened the door to what must have been over thirty reporters standing in front of my doorstep. Mercifully I was in my own flat and Wes was in his townhouse. He couldn't leave the place, and the phone kept ringing so he couldn't dial out to warn Nigel. The poor boy was walking across his quad when he noticed a group of reporters around the gate of his College. He thought someone from the Royal Family was making a visit. They chased him clear across the grass, right into his room. It took three guards and the Headmaster to pull them out of his hall. As you can imagine the world Nigel knew ended that morning."
"Nigel told me he had to leave school for a year."
"It was because of the scandal. Wes was dismissed within the week. He was so worried. He was without a job and he had no idea how he could afford to pay for Nigel's education. The man had money, but you can understand the insecurities he must have felt. Wes was always employed and suddenly no one would even give him a second glance. Nigel's grades dropped, he became a recluse and the shine went right out of him. We heard he had a hard time of it in Oxford so Wes pulled him out and placed him with a distant cousin of his up in Scotland."
"What did you do?"
"I rode it out. The hardest part was not seeing Wes as much as I used to, especially since he was so miserable and needed me. It took eight months before our lives went back to somewhat normal. Wes lost most of his political friends and became a nobody in the social circles he used to travel in. I was labeled as the scoundrel who seduced one of Thatcher's Most Promising so my business wasn't doing too well either. But we weathered through. Nigel returned from Scotland and he made it easier for all of us. He went back to school, braved through what must have been absolutely horrible derision of his family and himself personally and graduated with Keys. He set the standard and we couldn't back down -- not when Nigel did so much. After watching his son graduate, Wes sat down and wrote a book about his days in the Thatcher government. A word got out about it and everyone was terrified that he would name names and finally collect his pound of flesh."
"Not totally, but he made some people pay dearly for what they did to him after he was forced to resign. The thing was Wes could command the written word as well as he could the spoken tongue. The book became a best seller and it was reviewed well by most literary critics here and abroad. Suddenly, being the outsider became acceptable and Wesley Penbrook found himself once again a man of respect. After his book became a critical success he joined the Stonewall Group," Robert saw her look of confusion. "It's an organization dedicated to winning equal rights for gay and lesbians here in England. Whenever the government has something unkind to say about homosexuality, it's usually Wes who replies, and his answers are always better written and structured. After all, he worked for them for nearly thirty years before they threw him out. He's familiar with all their buttons and knows which ones to push to get them to look like fools."
"So he's a writer now?"
"Yes, his third novel will be coming out at the end of the year. Wes saved the proceeds for your wedding. He wanted to throw a huge, over-the-top bash for you and Nigel if you decided to marry here."
"Robert, that wasn't fair."
"This is Nigel we're talking about. I love that boy as if he was my own son. Thanks to the laws of this land hell will freeze over before I could adopt a child of my own. So don't blame me if I have taken a great fondness to Nigel. And here you are, breaking his heart because of us. What did you think I would do? Sit by and let you walk out on him? You think your life will be difficult because of us? Imagine for a minute what it felt like for Nigel to find out his fairy father had been outed by the very community he belonged to. I know what difficulties are when it comes to being gay, and forgive me, but what you're feeling might seem serious to you, is only child's play to us."
"So you're blaming me because I've never been miserable as you?"
"No, I'm blaming you because you said you love Nigel and yet you're not willing to stick around and see what happens. Nigel believed you when you said you loved him. He believed you when you said yes to his proposal of marriage. And the sad thing is he still believes you."
"I can't deal with this, Robert. Not now."
"Don't you understand? If you don't deal with it now, you'll deal with it for the rest of your life. I don't know what you feel about Nigel, but you don't look like the type of person who commits easily. So, whatever you feel for that boy, it must be deep. If Wes survived all that hell, you can too. The question comes down to this, Jenna. If you decide to leave...twenty years down the road, what will you do with all the what ifs?"
Robert entered the darkened hall, hoping to not hear what he expected. No such luck. The first sound that greeted his ears was Wes' fingers flying over the keyboard of his computer. Robert hoped that the worried father had gone to bed, but Wes was too wound up to even think about sleep. And Wes always seemed to be at his best as a writer when his emotions were in turmoil. Robert began taking off his tie as he sought out his long-time companion.
"Is that you, Robert?"
"Yes, it's me." Robert replied and came into the library. "What are you doing up so late?"
"Waiting for you of course. So what happened?"
"Nothing much. I'm afraid I might have overdone it a little."
"Why? Did you go off on her?" Wes asked smiling expectantly.
"Not really, but I did take the gloves off at the end. She politely asked me to leave and I had no choice but do as she asked. I don't know about this, Wes. It's all very complicated and very messy. The child's been hurt very deeply and not only by Nigel, but also her family."
"Do you think she's homophobic?"
"No doubt about that, but she knows it and also made her up mind that it is wrong to feel so. However, she also resents being wrong and doesn't appreciate it when other people rub it in her face."
"And we are doing exactly that?"
"Yes, and Nigel's right. The trust issue is very sensitive with Jenna. Something tells me that girl grew up with very little of it in her life and prizes it above all others, maybe even love."
"That sounds very sad." Wes wistfully added. "She sounds like..."
"You." Robert finished. "She reminds me of you when we first met. The same beaten, scarred soul, the same hunted look about the eyes. She reminds me of you, Wes."
"Now that is a tragedy, indeed." Wes said somberly and turned off his computer. "Her family?"
"Probably, and some bad relationships before she met Nigel. She has a very well developed instinct and knows how to read a person in five seconds flat. You don't get that unless you've been hurt by people you know, trust and love."
"And of course, my dear Nigel decided to do a Casanova on the one woman he ends up falling in love with."
"We're all fools in the end." Robert protected the errant son. "What really matters is how we go about making sure we never make the same mistake again."
"Do you think she'll give him a chance?"
"I honestly don't know, Robert. I couldn't read her the whole time I was with her. I saw her cry and I saw her in pain, but I couldn't read what she was thinking. By the way, I told her our story so she would realize she could survive having us as in-laws should she decide to marry Nigel after all."
"But I presume she didn't talk much about that option after you have done...preaching?"
"Preaching, no, daring her, yes." Robert sighed and sank back into the armchair. "Seriously, I don't know what came over me. I think I became frustrated because she said so little and I couldn't figure her out. I must give her that much though -- she listens well. I felt like a schoolteacher lecturing a naughty girl for doing something very, very bad."
"You probably resented her most for that." Wes stepped around the desk and held out his hand. "But thank you for trying, and convincing me to not go. You were right of course. I was in no humor to have a calm talk with Jenna."
"As it turns out, neither was I." Robert took the offered hand. "I had no idea what being a parent meant until today. Why is it that we see the best of things right at the moment we lose them?"
"G-d's wicked sense of humor I suppose."
Nigel made sure he had on his best outfit before going up to see Jenna. He knocked on her door, but there was no answer. He knocked louder and still there was only silence.
"Jenna?" He called out in worry. Did she leave? Already?
He tried the doorknob and it turned easily. Now his worry turned to fear. He quietly entered the room and saw the familiar bundle under the covers.
"Jenna?" He whispered. He saw her head pop up as she examined the well-dressed intruder.
"What time is it?" She croaked.
"It's nine. We're having breakfast together, remember?"
"I must have slept through the alarm." She struggled to sit up.
Nigel stared fondly at the sleepy and cranky figure as she managed to get out of bed without rolling off of it. Then a scent bothered his nose. He inhaled deeply and spotted the incriminating cigarette butts crushed in the ashtray.
"Robert was here?"
"Yes, he came up last night."
"How..." Nigel said loudly and in wonderment. "How could he have found out your room number? I didn't tell him."
She was equally surprised. "You didn't tell him?"
"No, I swear..."
"Oh, I thought you gave him my room number so he could have heart-to-heart talk with me."
"Never, I wouldn't do that to you or to him." Nigel responded, slightly affronted. "I don't need Robert or my father playing defenders of the realm for me."
"Well, Robert did a damn good job, let me tell you. Kept me up most of the night."
"Really?" Nigel said, his face bright with hope. "He does have a commanding presence, doesn't he?'
"Moses or at least Abraham. Can you do me a favor? Can you order breakfast for us? I am starving and I need to take a bath. I smell like an ashtray. Robert has one nasty habit, better tell your dad to make sure he doesn't smoke so much."
"He doesn't, but Robert does sneak in one drag or two here and there."
"He nearly finished his case last night."
Nigel looked at the room service and ordered a plentiful breakfast and an extra pot of coffee for them to share. He knew she would nibble on the toast, make valiant attempt at eating the fruit and polish off the coffee before he finished his first cup. Like most working Americans, Jenna had come to ignore breakfast altogether as a necessary meal. He heard her blow-dry her hair and waited patiently until she felt well enough to come out and confront him.
"Is breakfast coming?" She asked.
"Yes, it is. Toast for you and myself and other goodies for me only. But I ordered an extra pot of coffee."
"Thank you." She said smiling. "Sounds good to me."
"So, where do you want to have our conversation?"
"On the patio? I don't think these walls could handle two serious conversations in less than twelve hours."
Nigel didn't hesitate and rose from the chair. He held the door open, pulled out a chair for her, and waited until she sat before he took his place from her across the table.
"You're doing your English thing." Jenna mumbled.
"What do you mean?" Nigel feigned innocence. He was well aware the first reason for her attraction to him was because of his accent. To his unending amusement Nigel discovered American women loved British accents and the classic decorum that came with it. So, when he decided to chase after Jenna, he made sure both arsenals were polished to their best.
"That whole...polite...etiquette thing you did when we first met. And your accent's heavier too so don't play stupid with me."
"Is it working?" He asked, his voice as light and teasing as he could manage it.
"Nigel, I haven't had my first cup of coffee yet."
"All's fair in love and war they say."
"Right, whatever." She parried back weakly.
"So what did Robert say last night?"
"A lot, he told me about what happened to your dad back in '88."
"Oh G-d, he told you that? My, he must have been desperate to get your attention."
"I wouldn't say desperate, determined is more like it."
"Robert does come off as a flake sometimes, but he has a spine of steel. You don't often meet people like him. He stuck with my dad through that '88 nightmare and until 1994 when he broke it off."
Jenna's mouth dropped open, but before she could ask there was knocking on the door. Nigel nimbly avoided being questioned by answering it. He wanted her curiosity piqued and primed for him. The hotel employee, sensing the tension in the air, made a quick work of setting up the breakfast on the patio and left as soon as he could.
"What do you mean Robert broke it off?" Jenna wailed out loud. "Are you teasing me because if you are, it's really cruel."
"I mean exactly that, but they got back together the year after so it ended up being nothing in the end. I don't think it's going to happen again either."
"What happened?" She asked, her voice still plaintive.
"Doesn't it bother you that I'm talking about a homosexual relationship?"
"No, maybe...but I hate not knowing even more, so what happened?"
"The classic symptom. Robert got cold feet and decided to see if the grass was greener on the other side. And he found that it was for a while, but it didn't last."
"Who was the guy...it was a guy, right?"
"A young author by the name of Michael Whitmore. He was an up and coming writer at that time and they met at a charity dinner somewhere. Robert was totally swept off his feet by Whitmore, and from what I've been able to gather, Michael was rather enamoured of Robert too. To make a long story short, Robert began to see Whitmore behind my father's back and in two months left my father for the young buck."
"You've got to be kidding! The way Robert talked last night...it sounded like...well...forever."
Nigel shrugged his shoulders. "It probably is now, but it wasn't back then. My father's writing career really started to take off and I think Robert felt like he was being pushed aside. My father was in Berlin when Michael and Robert met and he didn't come home for weeks because he was doing a mini book tour of Europe. If he knew what was happening in London, I am convinced that he would have tossed everything aside and caught the first plane home. But he didn't have a clue. In spite of his intelligence, my father can be dense sometimes. He should have asked Robert to come with him on his tours, but it never crossed his mind to ask, so Robert was left behind quite often. I think it upset him a great deal. I remember their rows, it was quite awful to listen to them."
"What did your dad do?"
"Go into shellshock for a while. I don't think he believed Robert left him for another man. You see Robert was the first man he loved and slept with. There hasn't been anyone else but Robert in his entire life and Robert's infidelity really got to him."
"And there's something else?"
"Yes, my father, in spite of being a well-known homosexual, was still uncomfortable with being openly gay. He is by nature a very private man and he wouldn't know the first thing about drag parties or gay get-togethers. He loved Robert, he slept with Robert and that made him gay. That was the first and primary reason he was and is gay. I believe if it wasn't for Robert, my father would have continued repressing his emotions until the day he died. I understand this reasoning because I've seen their relationship mature, but it might be totally confusing to you because I'm horrible at explaining all this."
"No, I do understand what you're saying. Your father must have taken it very hard."
"He did take it hard. He was lost for months, but then, little by little, he came around. I visited him almost every day to make sure he was eating, breathing. What surprised me was his writing. He wrote almost every day, non-stop. I think it helped him to pull out of his depression more than me."
"How did they get back together?"
"They accidentally ran into each other in an auction. It was awkward at first, but they started talking again. I remember my father saying Robert hadn't changed a bit. I was still very angry with Robert so I was rather vocal in what I thought of him and his behavior. Then a week later they met for lunch and it gathered steam from there. The truth of the matter is the grass isn't always greener on the other side and Robert really did miss my father. I believe he took up with Michael just to get my father's attention and when that backfired, he decided to break off the relationship before my father could. When he saw that my father was still very much in love with him...all his anger and insecurities crumbled away."
"And your father?" Jenna asked, fascinated enough with the story that her coffee had cooled down to the outside temperature.
"I think the old fox knew what was going to happen when he met Robert again. He's more devious than you realize so one must be careful around him. He was a diplomat for two decades. You don't last that long without learning a few tricks."
"You said he was in the Middle East for five years?"
"Oh, yes, Israel. It was a miracle what he did there. But thanks to the laws of this land, most of his endeavors and triumphs have been ripped right off the history books and official documents. You know he can't even say he's gay in public?"
"What do you mean?" She asked, finishing her cup in one swallow so she could have a hot replacement. Nigel quickly grabbed the pot and poured her another.
"Remember my father was outed in 1988? That was when a law was passed, then called Clause 28. It's still in the books and it makes my father a nobody in the eyes of the law and the academic world. Its wordings are such that he cannot talk about his relationship with Robert to a third party because it would be promoting homosexuality. It makes his relationship with Robert void and if not that, illegal. For example, when they get old, I have the right to separate them from each other. I can place them in separate care homes and they don't have any right to complain about it. In fact, a total stranger could do the same thing if I don't interfere. My father was terrified that I wouldn't understand his relationship and would, in the end, force them apart."
"You wouldn't though." Jenna said, frowning. It sounded more than horrible, it sounded almost like fascism to the listener.
"No, it would kill him to be taken away from Robert. He won't survive the separation, and I will make sure by all means possible that never happens, even if they survive me. But I fear that if the law isn't repealed, my father and Robert may end up leaving London in order to be sure they stay with each other to the end. My father's third book, which is coming out this year, will be printed in Germany because Section 28 makes it dangerous for an English press to print it. It does have a chapter on his current relationship with Robert and though it's far from risqué, it does openly discuss his lifestyle. Anyway, English printers can be sued under that law and be penalized, maybe even jailed. There is a chain of bookstores though who are willing to sell it, even with the dangers involved. However, the corporate headquarters of the company is located in New York City, so a lawsuit of that nature would be incredibly difficult to carry out."
"Was he ever arrested for it?"
"No, no one has invoked the law against my father. The government refuses to touch him because they know they will make a martyr of him if they do. And the current order is a great deal more lenient than a decade ago. But it's still there, in the books, much like a loaded gun."
"His lectures...his book tours..."
"Never in England, not in these shores." Nigel answered with a barking laugh. "He has toured everywhere but his homeland. We used to have a solicitor wait with us whenever he came back because we were afraid as soon as he landed in England, there would be a warrant out for his arrest."
"But your father doesn't exactly look like the...fighting type."
"No, he isn't. But he won't be made a fool of and he hates bullies. I have never seen him back down, but he hates confrontation too. He does everything he can do avoid them, but when he knows he must...he does without being told, without blinking. An English worthy I think was the quote Churchill used. Too bad narrow-minded fools got to define what an Englishman is."
"Nigel, why are you telling me all this? As much as I am fascinated by your family, what does it have to do with us?"
Nigel contemplated his answer, but knew no elegant way of saying what he felt. So he hesitantly began, hoping he wouldn't alienate her even further by his explanation.
"I wanted you to know something, something I don't think you understand. And don't feel bad because I didn't understand it either until their breakup back in ‘94. You see, being gay...doesn't make them more noble or...wiser, or different. I've seen them argue, become catty, and even outright unbearable. I have also seen them loving, kind, protective...passionate with each other. All that...and that's not because they're gay, Jenna. It's because they're only human, like the rest of us. No better, no worse. Actually, I can imagine worse for my father. I can imagine him as a widower, still hiding behind his façade, not daring to even look at another man in fear of being arrested. I can imagine him being terrified that I have somehow inherited his gay genes and I would pay for his sins in his stead. He was that misinformed until Robert came along. I can imagine all sorts of hell for him and if it means that I accept Robert to keep all that at bay, I'd gladly take my father's lover into my life. And it's not nobility on my part that I accept Robert, it's what my father wants...needs...and loves. Who am I to say otherwise?"
Jenna didn't speak, and she faced elsewhere, to the dawning of the great metropolis that was considered the center of social culture in the Western world.
"I will not ask my father to pretend to be something he's not. He did it for years and it caused him great amount of emotional and mental grief. I will not make him choose between Robert and us because it would be an act of unforgivable cruelty if I did that. I will not leave Robert out of my life because he earned his place in it and I won't entertain the thought of kicking him out now, when they're getting old and more vulnerable everyday to the whims of nature and man. I was the coward for not telling you earlier, not my father. I also miscalculated how strongly you felt on the issue, Jenna, and again, that was my fault. But I hope I didn't misjudge you on your strength or your love for me."
Still she said nothing and Nigel didn't see one fleeting emotion on the pale cheeks and the obsidian eyes. So, he left her sitting by herself, pondering mysteries he could barely grasp, let alone fathom. Nigel knew she came from a world darker, more condemning that his. He also knew she took part of it with her when she broke free, and managed to survive her past by building her future and never looking back. He accepted the fact that he betrayed her when he made her face all that she wanted to forget without warning, without provocation. He wondered just how deep his scars went into her soul and if she would be brave enough to give him a chance to make up for what he had done to her.
Nigel was eating his dinner while watching the tele. He offered to participate in the march, but Wes would not hear of it. He wanted his son where Jenna could reach him in case she did want to talk to him. Wes heard about the breakfast conversation and felt torn about what Nigel had done. Part of him was relieved, but the father was also despairing because he knew a woman like Jenna did not like to be told what to do.
Nigel heard Robert enter the house and strained his neck over the sofa to see him.
"Oh, hello." The disappointment in Robert's voice elicited a wiry smile from Nigel.
"I didn't have much better luck than you did."
"What did you do?"
"Oh, I dared her to do the right thing. You know the drill."
"Oh yes, I did that to your father once. He didn't respond well either."
"What happened?" Nigel asked grinning.
"He went purple around the collar, then blustered out of the room. I don't think he ever achieved that lavender shade again."
Nigel guffawed into his juice, and Robert gave a playful slap on the boy's back. "What are you watching?"
"The march. It's on tele already."
"Really? I thought we would be on the late night report."
"No, right there. Does he do this every year?"
"Every year, rain or shine. I worry for him, but he was one of the reasons why it began so he can't say no."
"He's getting a bit old for this isn't he?"
"Yes, but again, you try telling him that." Robert answered in frustration.
"Why aren't you in it?"
"Work, I had clients from Italy who needed to be wined and dined today. They've purchased the Harrison collection."
"And what's that?"
"About 600,000 pounds worth of books from an estate in Virginia, U.S. I was the middleman."
"That is a large sum of money." Nigel commented.
"Yes, and my percentage is as handsome. I was thinking about taking your father off to Egypt or someplace with lots of sunshine. Do you think he'll agree? This damp weather can't be agreeable to his arthritis."
"He'd love it, you know that. Did you get a bonus for your troubles?"
"Yes, a complete set of Don Quixote printed in Lyons in 1657. The typeface is gorgeous and the engravings are in prime condition, not to mention the leather..." Robert's voice faded as he saw the distant look in Nigel's eyes.
"Call her." He said.
"No, she probably left already."
"Are you sure?"
"Then why don't you call her?"
"Because I'd be an irritation then."
"And would that be a bad thing if you get another chance to talk to her, Nigel? Or is it your pride that's holding you back?"
"It..." Nigel never finished his sentence as the television screen violently switched scenes. "Oh bloody hell..."
The reporter was running towards a mass of bodies with the cameraman right behind her. She turned around to shout,
"We have what seems to be a violent confrontation between protestors and police and there are more police coming down the road from everywhere!"
Nigel didn't hesitate. "Grab the car!" Robert was already out the door.
Jenna was watching the news in a bar in Heathrow. She still had an hour before boarding began and could find no better distraction than a glass of martini. She was digging into her purse to pay for the drink when the channel switched into the fracas. She looked up, frowned and bent over the bar to get a good look at the screen. Her mouth dropped open when a picture of Wes flashed in front of her eyes.
When the bartender finally turned his attention to the attractive American, only a ten-pound note remained where she held place.
"I can't find him!" Nigel shouted to Robert who was waiting impatiently in the car. "They said he was separated when the fighting began, but no one has seen him since!"
"Nigel, this is useless. We have to go home, he might have called already."
"But where could he be?"
"Heaven knows. Jonathan told me there were ambulances and arrests made, so he could be anywhere."
Nigel kicked the lamppost and screamed in frustration. "He is too old for this! How many times did I tell him to stop doing this stupid thing!"
"Nigel, he did it for me."
The softly spoken argument silenced the son and Nigel quieted down immediately.
"I'm sorry, Robert."
"Let's go home. Please, for all our sakes." Nigel nodded and got into the car and morosely remained quiet, building up his worst fears.
"Look." Robert whispered as the car pulled into the driveway. "I believe Jenna has surprised both of us."
Nigel's head snapped upwards when Robert mentioned the name of his ex-fiancée. She stood up from the doorsteps when she recognized the passengers in the Mercedes.
"Hi." Nigel said as he reached out for her. "I thought you left." She took his hands and Nigel felt her warm, dry grasp and the sensation melted his fears away.
"My luggage did. They are on its way to San Francisco. Or at least I think they are. I saw the news..."
"Did you?" Robert asked. "And?"
"Robert, your father has been arrested, or at least that's what the reporter said."
Nigel crashed on to the doorsteps with his face buried in his hands.
"Bugger." He viciously whispered and moaned out loud. She sat next to him and gently enfolded him into her embrace.
"Well, at least we know where he is." Robert dryly stated. "Come, let's call Alice and start legal proceedings to get Wes out of jail."
"My father is in jail. My father is in the nick." Nigel repeated to himself as they entered the townhouse. "I hope he didn't do anything stupid like kick a bobby between the legs."
"I highly doubt that." Robert countered, relieved to hear Wes wasn't laid up in a hospital.
"Nigel, the answering machine...it's blinking." Jenna pointed out as they entered the foyer.
Robert got to it before Nigel even took a step, and eagerly pressed the play button.
"It's me, Wes. Don't tell Nigel this because he has too much on his mind already. I'm under arrest and being held in St. James. Please contact Alice and see what can be done. And no, I didn't molest anyone. I got swept into the fight and the next thing I know I'm being held down by fifteen officers. I couldn't have run even if I wanted to. Please don't tell Nigel."
Jenna couldn't stop herself. She began giggling and soon burst into laughter. Robert gave her an irate glance; nevertheless, he soon joined her. Nigel held out the longest, but he ended up laughing the hardest of the three.
"I will call Alice, but I should go down and see how he is." Robert said as he hunted in his wallet for the solicitor's card.
"That may not be wise." Nigel disagreed. "It won't do you any good to appear as the significant other, especially now."
"I know what to do." Jenna interrupted with surprising amount of confidence. "Tell me where St. James is and I will talk to him. They will let a woman visit an incarcerated man. It won't be so easy for either of you to have a chance at private conversation with Wes."
"And how do you know that?" Robert asked.
"From my protesting days. Don't ask, it's too long a story for me to tell right now. But if you want, I can give him a message. Just write it down on a small piece of white paper and give me your cigarettes."
"Jenna, you're scaring me." Nigel echoed Robert's sentiments.
"I frighten myself sometimes." Jenna answered with a wink. "Hurry. Before visiting hours are over."
Jenna popped the tape into her walkman to drown out the vivacious crowd in the Tube. She placed the player in her purse and checked how many stops she had to go before she was near St. James. The amused fiancée recalled the heated protests of both men when she refused a ride. She didn't want to be alone with them, it gave them too many opportunities to ask questions and Jenna didn't know if she could divert them. She was too tired, too strained, but she knew in this one thing she could succeed where neither can.
The guitar came wailing out of her earphones, attracting commuters all around the American with the obnoxiously loud walkman.
I close my eyes when I get too sad
I think thoughts that I know are bad
Close my eyes and I count to ten
Hope it's over when I open them
I want the things that I had before
Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door
I wish I could count to ten
Make everything be wonderful again
Hope my mom and I hope my dad
Will figure out why they get so mad
Hear them scream, I hear them fight
They say bad words that make me wanna cry
Close my eyes when I go to bed
And I dream of angels who make me smile
I feel better when I hear them say
Everything will be wonderful someday
The song had become a silent anthem in her daily routine. It almost marked every ugly moment of her past with its raw words and hypnotic melody. Jenna forced herself to remember the days before her family fell apart; before her mother ran away when she was thirteen. Jenna wanted to recollect in order to remember the strength she had as a child, the strength she needed to survive her youth. She grew up in a strictly religious family, deep in the heart of North Carolina, and for weekend entertainment her father would take the family to the nearest abortion clinic, three towns west for protests and sit-ins.
I believed them when they said those women were sinners. I believed them when they said it was for the good of those very same sinners whenever we successfully barred them from entering what was surely their doom. I believed every word they said, even after the bombing.
Jenna could still recollect the blast as it hit her straight on. She was sitting with the rest of Christ's Children from Nazarene at the forefront of the human blockade with the parents in the back, sandwiched between their kids and their cars. This set-up prevented the police from getting to the adults faster because they were afraid of hurting the tightly knit children positioned in front of their parents. The explosion was nothing like what Jenna saw on TV. The impact started from the edges, so the corners of the abortion clinic crumbled first. Then the shards blew outwards, into the crowd surrounding the front door of the clinic. However, the noise wasn't as deafening as Jenna thought, but the damage done by the glass was more horrific than a child of twelve could have ever dreamt of.
Jenna was rushed to the hospital with dozens of other victims. She found out after her second surgery that no one in the clinic survived the blast. Jenna was a healthy girl so she recuperated quickly and returned home. To her surprise, she discovered she was considered something of a hero in her community. The fame amused and flattered the child, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew everything had gone terribly wrong.
Promises mean everything when you're little
And the world's so big
I just don't understand how
You can smile with all those tears in your eyes
Tell me everything is wonderful now
Jenna began to doubt what her parents said about those sinners and those horrible lust-ridden doctors and their nurses killing the innocent souls of the unborn children. She simply could not justify the deaths of the people in the clinic like her father did.
I go to school and I run and play
I tell the kids that it's all okay
I like to laugh so my friends won't know
When the bell rings I just don't wanna go home
And as the weeks passed, Jenna found out her mother could not either. It wasn't long before the parents began arguing about the unfortunate incident. Jenna didn't understand why her mother would oppose her father so adamantly, when, before, she worshipped every word he said. It wasn't until one ugly night Jenna found out the reason for her mother's change of heart. She heard the accusations when they thought the children had gone to bed and realized her father knew about the bomb - that her father had participated in the creation of the bloodbath that desecrated her life.
In less than a year her mother packed off and left her family. Jenna wanted to run after the fleeing woman, to force her mother to take her along. But she didn't look back and Jenna didn't see her again for almost six years.
Go to my room and I close my eyes
I make believe that I have a new life
I don't believe you when you say
Everything will be wonderful someday
Jenna applied to U Penn alongside Chapel Hill and when she finally got away from her family, she never returned long enough for them to damage her even more.
How can I explain this to Nigel? How can I make him understand without losing him?
The train stopped and she took a peek at the name. The next was St. James so she braced herself and forced her memories back into their black boxes.
I don't wanna meet your friends
And I don't wanna start over again
I just wanna my life to be the same
Just like it used to be
Somedays I hate everything
I hate everything
Everyone and everything
Please don't tell me everything is wonderful now
I don't wanna hear you tell me everything is wonderful now*
She briskly walked down the street and spotted the police station where Wes was being held. Before she entered the building Jenna undid the top two buttons of her oxford shirt. She saw the tired sergeant standing behind the desk and made her way up to him with a full, lovely smile on her face. Michael saw the pretty woman approach him with what had to be the nicest set of teeth he had ever seen.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I am here to see my father-in-law, Wesley Penbrook?"
The name made the man focus his attention on the woman. He examined her more closely, but found nothing that even remotely marked her as a radical. In fact, she even had a gold cross sitting on the hollow of her throat.
"Does he know you're coming?"
"Nope, he was too embarrassed to contact my husband, but I found out anyway. Nigel is tied up at work, and it will be a while before Alice can come to bother you guys. Is it possible for me to see him?"
"Yes, please sign in and check your purse."
"Not a problem." She answered, still smiling. "May I take the cigarettes and the matches? Wes likes to smoke. G-d knows why, especially with his heart condition."
"Heart condition?" Michael repeated a little fearfully. He knew the old geezer was in custody more for show then anything else and was told by his superiors to make sure nothing happened to the damn queer while he was being held. Jenna had no idea if Wes was suffering from any illness, but she wanted to drive a spike of fear into the department to make sure they treated Wes with a bit more care than they were ordered to by whomever.
"Yep, the cardiologist detected mild arrhythmia in his last check-up. We think it's nothing, but Wes is only getting older so we have to be careful."
"Of course, right this way." Michael led her to a visitor's room and Jenna made herself comfortable. She visited her parents in jail quite a bit when they were arrested while protesting so this experience was not even unsettling for the woman. She saw Wes gracefully walk in from the gated door and smiled when she caught the stunned look on his face.
"Hello, Wes. Sorry, Nigel was tied up at work so I decided to come."
Wes sat across from her. "So...Nigel knows?"
"Yes. Here, have a smoke."
Wes frowned, but took a cigarette and lit it anyway. She took one also and began smoking.
"You're staying in London now?"
"We're not going to do any traveling for a while. My plans fell through."
"Oh, really?" Wes replied smiling now. "That is good news. I really did want you to stay longer."
"Don't worry about that. With my luck we'll be staying here indefinitely."
Wes gently squeezed her hands when he spotted the unshed tears hidden behind the dry eyes. The two fell into intimate conversation, but both knew it could last only for moments so neither started on topics that would take years to discuss. Michael stared at the couple and his attention soon drifted away when he realized he wouldn't get anything interesting off of them. He spotted the sergeant in command of the nick and grabbed him in order to tell him about Penbrook's heart condition. Four minutes later Michael was escorting the pretty lady down the hall. Before she left she turned to him and said,
"I gave him the cigarettes and the match. But don't worry, there is only one left in the box and he promised me he will save it for later when Alice comes by to talk to him."
Michael didn't really care and gave a nod to indicate he heard her. Nevertheless, he took a peek into the cell after she disappeared into the night and saw the man already underneath the covers. Wes heard the footsteps fade away, but waited until he knew he had total privacy. He opened the cigarette box and pulled out the parchment lining within the paper container. Wes saw the familiar scribble of his lover's hand and smiled when he recognized the hastily written but still elegant scrawl.
Well, you did it this time. Nigel's furious and I am the only person here to calm him down. Makes me wish I were there with you. The following words are to protect you and make you remember the glorious time we had when we went hunting for Dickinson's first editions.
Ample make this Bed
Make this Bed with Awe
In it wait till Judgment break
Excellent and Fair.
Be its Mattress straight
Be its Pillow round
Let no Sunrise' yellow noise
Interrupt this Ground**
May it protect you in that cold, hideous bed tonight. And think of me because I will be thinking of you.
Wes curled the paper into his hands and tightly held the note until his fingers went blue.
Wes was released the next morning mostly due to the fact that no formal charges were filed against him. There was great deal of fanfare waiting for him outside the station, but the private man remained private by not saying anything as he weeded himself through the reporters. Robert was waiting for him and the two drove off much to the distress of the media who was ready for an elegant sound bite from the ex-ambassador.
Nigel impatiently strode throughout the house until he heard the car pull up. The eager son dashed outside and embraced the tired man as Wes got out of the vehicle.
"I'm all right, Nigel." Wes reassured his son. Nigel didn't respond and just held his father. Jenna studied the group from the doorway, but didn't join them. She didn't belong yet, but for the first time in a long time Jenna knew she wanted to.
It will be hard; it will be difficult. And my life won't be made any easier for it, but somewhere in that love they share, there's some put aside for someone like me. The world I know will shift because of Nigel, but this time I had the choice. And I chose him, and maybe, just maybe, it will be wonderful.
* Wonderful by Everclear
** Ample Make This Bed by Emily Dickinson
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.
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