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by Kate McMurray
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Columnist Drew Walsh made his career by publicly criticizing conservative, anti-gay politician Richard Granger. So when a rumor surfaces that Granger's son Jonathan might be gay, Drew finds himself in the middle of a potential scandal. Under the guise of an interview about Jonathan's new job teaching in an inner-city school, Drew's job is to find out if the rumors are true. Drew's best friend Rey is also Jonathan's cousin, and he arranges the meeting between Jonathan and Drew that changes everything. After just one interview, it's obvious to Drew that the rumors are true, but he carefully neglects to mention that in his article. It's also obvious that he's falling for Jonathan, and he can't stay away after the article is published. Still, Jonathan is too afraid to step out of the closet, and Drew thinks the smartest thing might be to let him go--until Jonathan shows up drunk one night at his apartment. The slow burn of their attraction doesn't fade with Jonathan's buzz, but navigating a relationship is never easy--especially in the shadow of right-wing politics.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: September 2011
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [259 KB]
Reading time: 172-241 min.
Twice in my life, I've walked into a situation and known everything was about to change.
I was thirteen the first time. I walked into Mrs. Pearl's classroom on the first day of eighth grade and scanned the rows of desks to find prime real estate. I saw an empty desk right in the middle, and as I made my way towards it, I noticed a dark-haired boy I'd never seen before sitting at the desk next to it. And I just... knew. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Oblivious, he stared forlornly out the window.
I slid into the empty desk. "Are you new?" I asked him.
He blinked and turned toward me. I almost fell out of my chair as I realized how handsome he was. He gave me a brief once-over before eyeing my shirt warily. It's possible I was wearing a bright turquoise shirt with the collar popped up. It was the early nineties, I was thirteen, I don't know. He said, "Yeah, I'm new."
"Cool. New to town or what?"
"No, I...." Then he stopped talking.
"I went to Harlan Prep before this."
We public school kids had made an occupation of making fun of the kids who went to the tony prep school a few towns over. This kid did not strike me as the prep-school type. He looked too Latino, for one thing; I know how that sounds, but it was fairly common knowledge that Harlan Prep looked basically like the headquarters for the Aryan Nation. In other words, it surprised me that this guy was a prep-school refugee, but then I realized I was sitting next to an expensively appointed kid, that the shirt he had on probably cost more than every piece of clothing on my body combined. "Oh," I said.
"But I mean, I didn't flunk out or anything. I wanted to come to public school."
I laughed, more out of nervousness than anything else. He really was a good-looking guy. "Good Lord, why?"
He shrugged. "Cuz I'm not like them."
I assumed he meant the other kids at Harlan, so I didn't question him. I had some guesses about why. That, and not being like the other kids was a feeling with which I was familiar. Instead, I said, "Well, welcome to hell. I'm Drew, and I'm happy to be your tour guide."
He chuckled. "I'm Rey."
And with a handshake, our fates were sealed.
* * * *
Because he was handsome and charming, it didn't take Rey long to become the toast of the school, the guy everybody wanted to be friends with. I couldn't tell you why--maybe it was some kind of blind allegiance formed because I was the first person who reached out to him at his new school--but he stuck by me all through that year and beyond. When we were freshmen in high school, someone wrote "GAY!" on my locker in black marker, which led to other kids contributing other fun words in pink spray-paint and leaving a purple feather boa draped over the combination lock.
The perpetrator of the original crime was a not-especially-smart member of our class, so it didn't take much for us to find him. We had a confrontation one afternoon during which the kid started calling me all manner of horrible names. Rey offered to beat him up, but I didn't want to cause more trouble, so I told him not to, right there in the hallway in front of a dozen other students. Rey punched the kid anyway, giving him a bloody nose. I draped the feather boa around my neck like an Olympic medal. Nobody messed with me for the rest of the school year.
* * * *
We both had crappy parents. In retrospect, that seems an odd thing to base a friendship on, but I think that we found something in each other that was lacking at home.
Rey was talking his father into letting him go to public school the same summer my father finally took off. Good riddance, I thought at the time. My dad was the kind of pop psychologist who did guest shots on talk shows a lot. The key to his success was tilting his head and looking sympathetic. For extra fun, he'd relate his own experiences to his patients, but often these were experiences he'd never actually had. He talked a good game on TV about how to raise kids, but his parenting ever since that summer he walked out mostly involved sending me cards on my birthday. To this day, I still get a card, often a few days late, with a ten-dollar bill stuck in it like I'm a fucking five-year-old. And I'll never forget when, about a month after I came out to him, my father was on an episode of Oprah about parents struggling with their children's sexual identities. He actually said the words, "I have a gay son, so I understand what you're going through." I wanted to shout and throw things at him. I did, in fact, pull off my shoe and toss it at the screen. It bounced off and lay impotently on the floor. "You don't know shit!" I shouted at the TV. Mom ran in then to find out what the commotion was, but all she had to see was her ex-husband's face. "That man," she mumbled. She gave me a kiss on the cheek before leaving the room again.
Rey's absentee parent was his mother. Rey called her a "free spirit," which I think was his code for "flakier than a croissant." After his parents split up when he was five, she would flit and flitter in and out of his life, usually to swoop in and play The Cool Mom for a week or so before taking off again. I adored her when I was a teenager--she told these completely insane stories about her travels around the world and she let us drink beer--but it took me a while to understand what her long absences did to Rey. His father wasn't much better. He meant well and obviously loved his son, but he owned North Jersey's largest manufacturer of toilet paper and paper towels, a job that kept him busy upwards of seventy hours a week.
I at least had my mother, who was probably the best parent a boy could have asked for. She went a little above and beyond when I told her I was gay, joining PFLAG and buying me boxes of condoms long before I was ready to do anything with them, but she was always accepting and supportive. I suspected at the time that this was why Rey started spending the night at my place with increasing frequency. I couldn't figure out why he wanted to stay in my dilapidated old house when he lived in this gorgeous mansion on the other side of town, but then, I always preferred to sleep at my house too.
* * * *
Of course now, all these years later, he's not just Rey, he's Reynolds Blethwyn, star of stage and screen, and the summer we both turned thirty, he was on everyone's radar. He wrapped the third season of his hit evening soap and then flew off to the Czech Republic to film an action movie. The press loved him to pieces.
The press also loved a juicy bit of gossip, which meant that as Rey's star rose, so too did the frequency with which his name appeared in conjunction with some crazy rumor. Rey was pretty good at letting it all roll off his back, but I found the whole experience kind of surreal. Then again, I knew all about worshipping at the altar of Reynolds Blethwyn; I'd been doing it longer than anyone. Sure, I'd think when I saw the gossip rags on the newsstand, you all love him now. But I loved him first
It was an altogether different rumor, though, that really got me into hot water that fall. The fallout from that rumor was the second time in my life that I knew everything was about to change.
* * * *
The whole mess began with my fluke television appearance.
Or, it wasn't that much of a fluke. I was invited to be on News Night with Libby Madden as a lefty talking head, my only real qualification for which was that I wrote a column for an underground rag called The New York Forum. Libby and I went way back, though; she and I had both lived on the same block in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn for a while and had been involved in the same community garden project. We argued over hydrangeas but then got to be friends. We'd kept in touch after she moved to Manhattan and got the job at News Night. Whenever there was a big gay rights story in the news, she called me, and if I was available, I'd go on the show to make quips. Probably it didn't hurt that I was not unattractive; I was young and in good shape, with clear skin and untamable brown hair. I didn't do the TV gig often, though; being on TV freaked me out, frankly.
But I agreed this time mostly because one of my pet column topics was in the news. There was speculation that Richard Granger, the senior senator from Kansas, was planning to run for president.
They put some makeup on me and sat me in a chair at the news desk, and I tried to keep from giggling as Libby introduced me: "Here with me now is writer and activist Andrew Walsh. How are you, Drew?"
"I'm great, Libby."
I did a five-minute segment toward the end of the show in which I mostly spouted off (with lots of puns; that's why they paid me) about how offensive I found Granger. The latest bit of shenanigans was that he'd come out against an employment non-discrimination act aimed at making it illegal to fire employees for being gay. In the end, he was able to keep his disdain for the homosexual population under wraps, but he did say publicly that employers should have the right to hire and fire whoever they wanted, and if some bigoted asshole (I'm paraphrasing) wanted to keep his company a rainbow-free zone, that was his prerogative. Libby implied during the segment that she thought Granger was too conservative to gain any traction with mainstream America, but I had my doubts, probably born mostly of paranoia.
But, you know, the thing with having a job where you get paid to write (and sometimes say aloud) your opinion is that you tend to forget that the people you're writing about are real, with minutiae-ridden daily lives and families. I'd vilified Granger to cartoon-villain proportions. I kind of forgot he was a real man.
At the end of the segment, Libby made a joke implying that Granger probably sucked cock on the side. Well, what she actually said was, "Have you noticed the trend with anti-gay politicians and the men they keep in their closets?" It had become a running gag; Libby contended on her show often that if a politician was vehemently against something, he was probably doing it, and anyone who protested homosexuality as loudly as Granger did was probably gay. He wasn't, as it turned out, but Libby couldn't have known how close her words got to the truth.
* * * *
I had to go see my editor a few days later. I always thought the Forum's newsroom was like a big medieval maze. There were cubicle walls instead of hedges, but all the same, I found it impossible to navigate. I stood at one end and all eyes rose to look at me, seeming to silently dare me to try my luck at getting through the maze, with fax machines and copiers standing in my way as obstacles. Luckily, just as quickly, the eyes went back to their own work, leaving me to ponder how, exactly, I was supposed to get from my end of the maze to my editor's desk at the other side. This was why I was freelance. I'd never be cut out for a nine-to-five job.
I followed an assistant who deftly made her way around stray equipment and desks, and finally, we arrived at Wade Warren's office.
"Mr. Walsh is here," the assistant announced before stranding me there. I started to panic about how to get out again, but then Wade beckoned for me to sit.
"Thank you for coming in, Andrew," he said. "Try to look less terrified."
I managed to laugh weakly before sitting in the worn-out chair across from Wade's desk. Everything looked a little worn; circulation was down, so the Forum was not exactly a well-funded operation. "I'm sorry," I said. "Every time I come here, everything moves around. I don't know how you find your office every day. I'd have to leave breadcrumbs."
Wade smiled indulgently but went into all-business mode. "I saw you on TV the other night."
I laughed nervously. "I wasn't a complete disaster, was I?"
He pulled a file folder out from under his blotter and handed it to me. "Not quite, no." He cleared his throat. "I mentioned on the phone that I think you're the right man to do this feature for us."
I nodded. "Sure, but I'm still not sure why. I haven't done a feature for you guys in a while."
Wade sat back in his chair. "Look, you know that your column is one of our most popular. I'm not gonna lie. I think you, Alex on music, and that damn advice columnist...." Wade folded his hands on his desk and shook his head. I'd heard Wade's rant on the uselessness of advice columns before, so I waited for him to go on. "You guys account for most of our circulation. I think a story like this has to be covered by someone our readers know."
"All right." I was starting to feel intimidated. I didn't like the idea of a big story. Just having the column had gotten me into enough trouble in the five years I'd been doing it. And while I appreciated that the Forum paid me to write and gave me a lot of freedom, I didn't really want to get in any deeper. Still, my curiosity was piqued. "What's the story?" I asked.
Wade pointed to the folder. I opened it. There was what looked like a yearbook photo of a blond guy in his early twenties clipped to three typewritten pages. Wade said, "You know Senator Granger from Kansas?"
Ha. I gave Wade my best "You've got to be kidding" look.
"That's his son Jonathan."
Surprised, I looked at the photo again. I'd had the misfortune of meeting Richard Granger in person once--he was Rey's uncle, and how's that for a coincidence?--so I had a good idea of what the man looked like up close. I supposed there was a vague resemblance between that man and the guy in the photo. "All right," I said. "So?"
"So, the kid's come to town to be a teacher. Just finished his master's, got a job teaching science in the New York public school system."
"Of course he did."
"So we want you to do a feature on him. Interview him, follow him around for a day, find out what makes him tick, why he's in New York."
This still wasn't making any sense. "I imagine he's teaching to show that his father is so wonderful, he raised a great, wholesome, self-sacrificing son." I shook my head. "I don't get it. This is hardly my kind of story. Why not toss it to one of the features editors?" More to the point, I couldn't figure out why the Forum, an alt-weekly known mostly for cultural criticism and its tendency towards the salacious, would be interested in such a bland story. I studied Granger Junior's photo and tried to puzzle it out.
"I have a source that says he's gay."
I looked up. That was the angle, of course. Wouldn't it be perfect if the senator, one of the most conservative, anti-gay politicians in Washington, had a gay son? And wouldn't I, the Forum's token gay--or "culture columnist," as Wade referred to me--be the perfect man to write the story? "I see," I said.
I flipped through the pages in the folder to see if a source for Wade's rumor was listed, but he reached across the desk and closed the folder. As if he knew what I was after, he said, "I can't tell you the source, I swore to him his name wouldn't get out."
Frustrated, I looked at the folder in my hands. "So... what? You know I don't have a lot of feature-writing experience. What do I do? Follow him around, ask him how rewarding his teaching experience is, then just casually ask him if he's gay? Invite him to a gay bar and see if he says yes? Or just take it on faith that what you say is true? I don't think so, Wade. Not to mention that, if he's not gay or won't admit that he is, having my name on the story's byline automatically implies that someone sure as hell thinks he is. I can't do that to the guy, especially if your source is wrong. I don't care who his father is."
"Come on, Andrew, you're not just a columnist at the Forum, you're a great writer, a journalist! You write for other media, right?"
"Well, yeah, but...."
"So here's your big break. You want to disregard his connection to Senator Granger, then fine, be impartial. Go meet the guy, find out what his deal is. Maybe there's no story, maybe you write a sweet story about the son of a man you've publicly excoriated making good. Or maybe this is the story I think it is and you get credit for breaking it."
The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. "I don't think I want that credit."
"Think about it. At least meet Jonathan Granger or give him a call. His contact info is all in that folder. If you don't think you can do the story, no harm. All right?"
"All right." I knew it was a mistake to agree to the story, but it was hard to say no to Wade, and I kind of needed the paycheck anyway. "Give me a couple of days. I'll let you know."
* * * *
The venue had changed, but the sentiment was the same. At sixteen, the location had been our regular table near the fast-food chicken place in the food court at the Paramus Park Mall; at thirty, the venue was a cafe on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Either way, it was a Crisis Lunch.
I walked into the cafe and found Rey already seated. As sometimes happened after I hadn't seen him in a while, I felt sucker-punched when I saw him. All that black hair, the square jaw, the chiseled body. Let's put it this way: he hadn't been cast as the love interest in a popular TV drama just for his acting abilities.
I walked to the table and considered giving him a hug. Instead, I sat and opted for a manly handshake. "Welcome back to civilization," I said.
He chuckled. "Hi. Prague is plenty civilized."
"Oh, sure, but it's not New York."
"That's true, but what else is?" He fiddled with the napkin in front of him. "Seriously, though, I feel good about this movie."
"Well, that's good. I'd hate for my $12.50 to go to waste."
"Right. Like you aren't going to try to wheedle tickets to the premiere out of me."
I grinned. "Well, the part I'm most looking forward to is watching you pretend to be an action hero."
"I'll have you know that I'm a great action hero." He puffed out his chest.
"Sure." I laughed. "I missed you, man. I'm glad you're back in New York."
"Yeah. I really liked Prague, though. I wish I could have spent more time there, actually. Most of the filming we did was quite a few miles out of town. It's a lovely city, though. You should go see it sometime."
"All right. I'll add it to the list of places to see before I die." I smiled at Rey and waited a moment. "So, before the main course arrives, I have a favor to ask."
Rey furrowed his brow. "No good ever came from those words out of your mouth."
"Now, hey, this is not a difficult favor. So, you have a cousin Jonathan."
"He called the other night to say we should go out. So now it's not just Uncle Richard."
"What do you mean?"
Rey sighed. "Jonny just moved here. My uncle has been pestering me ever since he arrived. Richard thinks I should take Jonny out on the town, introduce him to the city. Jonny was always kind of a stick in the mud, though, so I haven't gotten around to agreeing to take him out."
"Yeah, well." Rey took a sip of coffee. "I mean, I'll take him out for a beer or something eventually."
"So funny thing about that. I've been assigned to write a story on him."
"What?" Rey frowned again. "A story? About my cousin Jonny?"
"A story about Jonathan Granger, the senator's son who came to New York to teach the rough-and-tumble inner-city youth. Only he's teaching honors physics at Brooklyn Tech, so he's got some things to learn about inner-city youth, I imagine."
"But that doesn't make any sense. Why give you the story?"
It was going to be hard, breaking this to Rey. "Well, exactly. That's what I said to my editor at the Forum. And you know what he said to me?"
"A source says he's gay."
Rey laughed. "No way."
"I'm just telling you what my editor told me. I figured I'd run it by you, see what you thought. I suspected it was wishful thinking on Wade Warren's part, his typical MO of looking for a story where none exists. But, seeing as he's your cousin, I thought you might know either way."
"He doesn't set off my gaydar."
I sipped my water. "Honey, please. Your gaydar never worked properly."
Rey grimaced. "I really don't think he's gay. If he was, don't you think there'd be a big scandal?"
"That's exactly what Wade's hoping for."
Rey shook his head. The waitress came over and took our orders. After she left, I picked up the paper someone had discarded on the neighboring table. It was the Post, unfortunately, but I flipped through it anyway until I found something interesting. "Well, well. You made Page Six." I handed the paper to Rey. "Says you were spotted at a bar in the Village and went home with some brunette two nights ago. Did you?"
"No," he said. "I didn't even leave my apartment that night."
"Sure." I didn't believe it for a moment. Rey was on the rebound from a fairly awful breakup and seemed to be sleeping with every woman who walked past him. "I guess you know you've arrived if Page Six is making up shit about you."
"Beats the gay rumors, I guess."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." Rey took a roll from the basket on the table and contemplated it. "I mean, no offense. But you saw the rumors a few months ago. All it takes is someone misreading a stupid blind item on a gossip blog and everyone's off to the races. Reynolds Blethwyn's secret gay lover confesses, or whatever the shit that was. You know that I don't care. But my handlers don't like rumors like that. No one takes a gay leading man seriously."
"But you're not gay," I said. This was a fact I probably knew better than anybody.
"And no amount of people saying it will make it true. But success in this industry is all about other people's perceptions."
This whole conversation made me a little sad. "Well, then, I'll amend what I said earlier. You're officially a sex symbol when the gay rumors start."
"Yeah," Rey said. "Let the press say what it wants."
I suspected Rey was lying about not caring, but I let it go. "Good thing they've got you paired with a mystery woman now. Are you seeing someone?"
"No, not really. What about you? Anything interesting happen while I was out of town?"
"You're not still avoiding Aaron, are you? You realize that by not going to 'your places', you effectively cut yourself off from ninety percent of the gay population in this city, which decreases your odds of ever getting laid again."
"I'm not... avoiding him, per se...."
Rey wrinkled his nose. "Come on. You broke up with him six months ago."
I sat up straight and felt mildly offended. "Hey, I am over it. I just don't want to see him, which I think is my right as the dumpee in this situation. We never negotiated who got which clubs and coffee houses in the breakup, and I don't want any unpleasant surprises should I go out, you know?"
"Fine." Rey got cut off from speaking when the waitress plunked down plates of food in front of us.
I ate a forkful of pasta. "So. How are things otherwise? If I remember correctly, you are the one who called this Crisis Lunch."
"Eh. Jonny, Uncle Richard. Fucking family. I don't know. If you want to know the truth, Richard has called me three times since I got back from Prague, each time on the pretense of getting me to meet up with Jonathan, but I can't help but think that he's going to make the big announcement soon." He dropped his voice and squared his shoulders. "'I'm Richard Granger and I'm running for president. Even though I'm an old man that the young people don't trust, my nephew Reynolds Blethwyn thinks you should vote for me'." It was a pretty accurate imitation.
"You really think he would do that?" I asked.
"I think he'll want me to endorse him if he's really running for president. And you know that my father will be all over that too."
I nodded, aware that Rey could probably withstand the pressure from his uncle but that he'd cave in the face of pressure from his domineering father. "There's not a whole lot you can do just yet. And you don't even know if Granger is running, so maybe we shouldn't jump the gun. But, um, if your cousin Jonathan wants to meet up, we should invite him out with us sometime."
Rey shrugged noncommittally. "Yeah, I guess I'll have to or I'll never hear the end of it."
"That's the spirit. And I have not seen you in three months. If you have to spend time with Jonny out of familial obligation, I'd rather you bring him along to spend time with me too. Two birds, one stone."
"So you can write your story."
"That is not what I said, but sure. I don't even know if I'm writing the story, though."
Rey sighed. "Okay. I'll call him."