Return to Normalcy

by Anel Viz

Illustrated by Gene Moore

for my ex-wife, who emphatically does not want me back.

 ~ 1 ~

Having lived through what he hoped would be the most hectic week in his life, Patrick only wanted to spend a quiet weekend alone.

Sunday night he had gone to bed with a scratchy throat, and he’d got up the next morning feeling achy and sluggish. He had called in sick and left a message with his secretary, but within five minutes the director of the firm phoned him.

“You can’t. We need you here.”

“What for?”

“You’ll see.”

Patrick saw.

A project in a state of total chaos and with an impossible deadline fell into his lap because the person in charge of it had suddenly taken ill.

“Like me,” Patrick said, but his coworker had been lucky enough to require hospitalization.

The director generously gave him Jack’s secretary to help out. Jack’s secretary was an idiot.

Patrick would have found the job hard enough if he had been able to give it his full attention, but every half hour his boss popped his head through the door to ask, “Are you on top of it?” To make matters worse, his lover, Teddy, entered one of his manic phases after four months without drama and started phoning him at work every half hour.

As if that weren’t enough, Monday evening a houseful of overly friendly out-of-town guests descended on him, two of whom he vaguely remembered inviting. “Don’t worry about us,” they said. “We’ll make our own fun.”

They did, and stayed the whole week.

By Friday afternoon Patrick thought he might have everything under control. His flu-like symptoms had progressed no further than a mild cold. His guests had left that morning. At a luncheon meeting the client for whom he was preparing the project had called the shoddy job he’d made of it “superlative”. The doctor had successfully adjusted Teddy’s medications sooner than Patrick thought possible. He had nothing urgent to take care of. Basil was away at summer camp, so he wouldn’t have to think up exciting father-son activities to keep him amused. His quality time was his own. He could spend the weekend getting the house back in order in a leisurely fashion.

Then he remembered—it was Thalia’s Friday. He went out for dinner once a month with his ex. After the tears and recriminations that had followed his telling her that he was gay and couldn’t go on living a lie, they had had an amicable divorce and remained on good terms, which benefited them as much as it did Basil, if not more.

He checked his date book to see where they had agreed to meet this time. Fortunately, it was a quiet restaurant, one where they had often gone while they were married. And the way he felt, having to cook for himself was as unwelcome as putting a frozen dinner into the microwave.

Thalia arrived ten minutes before him and got them a booth in the corner, away from the other diners. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“Crazy. I wish I could lead a normal life.”

A cloud passed briefly over her face. Then she laughed and said, “That’ll be the day!”

“Tell me about it!”

“I got a card from Basil,” Thalia went on. “He says he’s having a great time.”

“I got one, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote us identical postcards.”

They laughed. “He misses you, you know,” Thalia said.

“Why should he? He gets to see more of me now than when I lived with you.”

They had a nice dinner. Patrick returned home to find that Teddy had let himself in. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a nuisance,” he said.

“That comes with the package.”

“I thought I’d make it up to you by coming over for the weekend to help you clean up. Do you mind?”

Patrick shook his head. “But no making love tonight. I’m wrung out.”

“Did Thalia give you a hard time?”

“She never does. You know that. No, it’s just that you can’t imagine what this week has been like.”

Teddy didn’t ask him about it, either, perhaps because he felt guilty or because he was still a little manic. If the latter, Patrick was better off wrung out. “I’m going to bed,” he said.

“I’ll be up in a bit.”

Patrick awoke at the usual time. He turned on the coffee machine. Teddy’s meds would keep him out of it until noon.

The doorbell rang. Thalia. “May I come in?” she asked.

“Have I ever said you couldn’t? Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“I’d love one.”

They sat in the living room. “So what brings you here?” Patrick asked. “That you asked to come in tells me it’s something serious.”

“Yes. It’s about what you said last night.”

“What did I say?”

“About wanting to be normal again.”

“I am normal. It’s my life that’s crazy.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” Patrick said. But he did.

At that moment Teddy came into the room, stark naked.

“I didn’t realize he was here,” Thalia said.

i. A Return to Normalcy - Gene Moore

“So now I’m ‘he’. I’m not Teddy anymore.” If she hadn’t said what she did, he would have apologized for being indecent.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that Patrick and I have something important to discuss.”

“Thalia thinks we have something important to discuss,” Patrick corrected.

“Then I’ll get out of your way,” Teddy said, and he shuffled back to the bedroom. Not one of them had said a word about his nakedness.

Thalia took up where she’d left off.

“When you said that last night, about wanting to lead a normal life, I thought…”

“You thought wrong.”

“But if we got back together, maybe you’d see. You aren’t really gay. I’m sure of it.”

“I’m afraid I really am.”

“I think about it—about us—a lot.”

“So do I—every time we have dinner together. It makes no difference.”

“You know you love me more than Teddy.”

“I love you both differently.”

“Teddy is all about sex.”

“That isn’t true. It would be as fair to say that with us it’s all about no sex. It isn’t going to happen, Thalia.”

“Then I suppose I should leave. This obviously isn’t a good time. I can still hope, can’t I?”

“I can’t stop you from hoping.”

“Goodbye, then.”

“Goodbye.”

“Patrick…”

“Yes?”

“Teddy doesn’t walk around without anything on when Basil’s around, does he?”

“Not if he knows he’s here. We weren’t expecting you.”

“Because I—”

“Don’t say it.”

Patrick stood at the window and watched Thalia drive away. As soon as she’d gone, he headed for the bedroom.

Thalia was wrong. His relationship with Teddy wasn’t all about sex. Right now, however, sex with Teddy was very much on his mind.

* * * *

Thalia had it all wrong about Teddy and her ex-husband, but she was right about Basil. He missed his father. Somehow having a father at home you seldom saw was better—more normal—than having one who lived somewhere else and you saw all weekend, every weekend. There were other factors involved. For one, though she didn’t openly admit it, after three years Basil knew his mother had not entirely reconciled herself to the divorce. Also, his grandparents’ silent disapproval of Patrick’s homosexuality, his grandfather’s in particular, upset him deeply. He had a feeling that the old man sometimes eyed him suspiciously, as if he, too, would turn gay. “Do you have a girlfriend?” he would ask.

“Honestly, Dad,” his mother would say, “since when do twelve-year-olds have girlfriends?”

Basil naïvely thought that if his parents got back together it would put an end to it. He also knew that his mother was wildly jealous of Teddy, though she wouldn’t admit it, not even to herself. To do so would mean she recognized she had lost Patrick for good. She went no further than calling Teddy unstable, a fact nobody denied. As for his grandparents, they didn’t know about Teddy and didn’t want to.

On the other hand, he could see Teddy was head over heels in love with his father, and he liked Teddy. He liked him a lot. Teddy was a great guy. A nutcase, but fun to be with. He’d even addressed his postcard to “Dad and Teddy”.

Despite her jealousy, Thalia didn’t hold Teddy responsible for what had happened. Patrick hadn’t asked for the divorce on account of him. They had met a couple of months afterward and had been dating for several weeks before Patrick ventured to introduce him.

“My boyfriend will probably come while Basil’s here,” he told Thalia on the phone. “Do you mind?”

“You have a boyfriend? How long has that been going on?”

“Not long. His name’s Teddy. I think you’d like him. I know Basil will.”

“Well, if this is serious and long term, I see no reason why they shouldn’t meet.”

They met Teddy for indoor miniature golf on a Saturday afternoon, and he came home with them and helped prepare dinner. It was a big improvement over what Patrick generally cooked for them.

When Basil got back Sunday night, Thalia spent an hour asking him questions about his father’s new boyfriend—what he looked like, what they did, how he acted. That tipped him off that she had yet to accept her divorce as final.

“He seems pretty normal. You know, a regular guy. Not swish, if that’s what you meant.”

“That is not what I meant.” But then she asked, “Did he stay the night?”

“What do you think? Of course he did.”

His mother didn’t hide her disapproval. “I was counting on Patrick to be more discreet,” she said.

“Teddy was going to leave, but I told them he shouldn’t if he was doing it for my sake. He didn’t need my bedroom, did he? I knew they were lovers. Lovers sleep together, don’t they?”

Thalia told Patrick what Basil had said about lovers sleeping together. She thought it was very funny to hear that coming from a ten-year-old. Now they’d been having sex in the room next door to him for over two years and it seemed the most natural thing in the world, though they tried to keep the noise down. If the kid heard them, he never let on. That might change when he became a teenager. It might change sooner. A summer of snickering at an all-boys camp would probably make him less reticent about sex, not that he’d ever been embarrassed to talk about it.

Patrick’s thoughts had been all about sex ever since Teddy’s display in the living room. It made him uncomfortable that reminiscing should have brought Basil into the picture. But he’d been keeping Teddy at a distance all week, as he always did when he was manic, so it was only normal he felt horny. He hoped that Thalia hadn’t noticed his arousal. Or was that one of the reasons she left? Well, now she had gone home, mission unaccomplished, and having sex with his lover was what he wanted to do most.

He found Teddy lying on the bed in jeans and a tee-shirt.

Patrick made a show of his disappointment. “You can take them off again,” Teddy said flirtatiously. “I won’t stop you. What was that business Thalia wanted to talk about?”

“Nothing. Nostalgia.”

Patrick had avoided the question because he feared precipitating another crisis, but Teddy was no fool. He understood. The first time he’d met Thalia, he saw she hadn’t entirely let go. He mentioned it to Patrick, who told him he was imagining things.

Thalia’s half-disguised clinginess didn’t bother Teddy much. When he was in a normal frame of mind he felt secure of Patrick’s affection, but it caused him untold anxiety when he went off the deep end. He’d spent the past week constantly phoning Patrick to ask if he still loved him, if he was thinking about him, and similar nonsense, all because Thalia’s Friday was coming up. He could shrug it off now that he was calm again.

“I didn’t think she’d have the nerve to ever bring it up,” he said, raising his hips so Patrick could pull down his jeans. “What brought it on?”

“Last night at dinner I told her what a crazy week I’d had and how I wished I could lead a normal life for a change.”

Teddy laughed. “Straight people! Even when they know better, deep down inside they still think we’re abnormal.”

“That’ll change. Most kids don’t think that way anymore.”

“Yeah. Basil’s a great kid, but I’m glad he’s away at camp. It’s nice not having to wait till night to have sex.”

Patrick mumbled his agreement, his mouth full of cock, then without letting go he added something longer and equally unintelligible.

“What did you say?”

“I was asking you to move in for the summer to take advantage of his being gone.”

“Is that your only reason?”

“Isn’t it good enough for you? How about this? Thalia’s bound to find out, and maybe—just maybe—it’ll get her to accept the inevitable.”

“Hmmm.”

“I see you were hoping I’d say something else. Do I have to say I want you here? I thought that went without saying.”

“Are you sure? What if I have another crisis?”

“Are you planning on having one?”

“I can’t afford to. I’d lose my job. I got nothing done all week. I spent too much time on the phone.”

“So it’s settled. We’ll drive by your place this afternoon and pick up your stuff.”

“Why not now?”

“Need you ask?” Patrick said, leaning in to finish the blowjob he’d barely begun.

~ 2 ~

Basil’s camp ended the third week in August. He stayed at Patrick’s for a week since he’d be living with his mother once school started.

“Tell me about camp,” Patrick asked his son.

“It was okay. Where’s Teddy?”

“At home. Where else?” He had gone back to his apartment the day before.

Patrick and Teddy took Basil to the mall to outfit him for school—notebooks, pens and pencils, a new backpack, clothes. On their way out of the shoe store, he saw his grandparents and went to say hello. Patrick raised his hand and waved, but they pointedly ignored him.

Teddy asked who they were.

“Thalia’s folks.”

“I don’t think they like you.”

“They used to.”

“Do they know you’re on good terms with her?”

“I suppose so. I’m sure Basil’s told them if she hasn’t.”

“He seems to be having an argument with them. Aren’t you going to intervene?”

Before Patrick could, Basil came running back. “They wanted to drive me home,” he said, “but I told them we still had a lot of stuff left to buy.”

“They seemed pretty insistent about it,” Teddy said.

“That’s because they asked who you were and I told them.”

Teddy looked at Patrick. “You mean they don’t know?”

“About me? They know—and they’re not happy about it. They didn’t know about you.”

“You look worried. Does this spell trouble?”

“I don’t know about trouble, but they’re going to give Thalia an earful. That’s for certain.”

“Loosen up, you guys,” Basil said. “It’s no big deal.”

Thalia got her earful. “We saw Basil at the mall today with Patrick… and another man,” her mother said over the phone.

“Oh, that was Teddy.”

“You know about him?”

“Of course I know about him. Patrick hasn’t exactly kept it a secret.”

She heard her mother whisper, “She knows.” Her father immediately grabbed the phone.

“You let Basil stay there when this whatever-his-name-is is there?”

“Why shouldn’t I? It isn’t as if Basil doesn’t know about him.”

“He wouldn’t if you hadn’t let him find out! Why didn’t you tell your ex-husband to keep his goddamn mouth shut? Quit pestering me, Amaryllis. I haven’t finished what I have to say.” (That he called his wife by her full name showed how much the chance meeting had upset her father. He was not about to let go of the anger he kept bottled up inside him.)

Thalia could hear their whispered argument at the other end of the line. “Let me handle this, Norb. You’ll only make things worse.”

“How could they be worse?”

“Maybe it isn’t that bad.”

“Hah!”

Her mother’s voice again: “Thalia? You haven’t hung up, have you?”

“No, Mom.”

“Do you think it’s appropriate, dear? Your father and I don’t.”

“Appropriate or not, it’s a fact. And I don’t see what good it would have done to hide it.”

“You know what they’re like.”

Thalia sighed. “I know exactly what they’re like, Mom. Patrick and I were married for ten years. And I’ve met Teddy. He’s very nice.”

More background conversation: “What’s she saying?” — “That she likes the boyfriend.” — “Good Lord!” followed by a long spiel from her father she couldn’t make out.

“What did Daddy say?”

“That you should have the court set some conditions on the visitations.”

“I won’t do that. For one, Basil would be furious.”

“And for two?”

Thalia hesitated. “I still love him,” she whispered.

She heard a muffled “She says she still loves him.” Her mother had covered the mouthpiece again.

“She what?” Her father’s voice sounded anything but muffled. Once more he grabbed the phone. “How can you say you love him when you know what he is?” he roared.

“I just do. I want him back in my life.”

“Are you crying?”

“No, Daddy. I’m just upset.”

“He isn’t worth it, honey. For God’s sake, be reasonable! You’re sure you aren’t crying? It sure sounds like it.”

More arguing in the background: “She’s crying, Norb? Now see what you’ve done! Why couldn’t you leave this to me?” Then to Thalia: “It’ll be all right, dear. You’ll see. It’s only natural that we’re concerned for Basil. But if you’re absolutely sure…”

“Of course I’m sure! What do you think Patrick is, anyway?”

Her father must have picked up the other phone. “A fag!” he thundered.

“Norbert, you put down that phone immediately! Thalia, sweetheart, maybe you should hang up now. I’ll call again when I get your father back to his normal self.”

“Please don’t.”

“Don’t be silly. It’ll just take a few minutes and he’ll be fine.”

Her mother called back half an hour later and got a busy signal. Thalia was on the phone with Patrick. “I think I’d better come by and pick up Basil,” she was saying.

“Why on earth?”

“Because Dad’s in a terrible state. There’s no telling what he may do.”

“What can he do?”

“How should I know? Call you and scream. Send the police to your house.”

“Let him. I have nothing to hide.”

“Are you crazy? With Basil there? What if they want to question him?”

“They’ll go looking for him at your house if your father complains and he isn’t here. What difference does it make where they question him?”

“I don’t want one of those awful social workers putting disgusting ideas in his mind.”

“Don’t worry about Basil. He has a good head on his shoulders. He’ll tell her a thing or two and put her in her place. Sooner a social worker than your father.”

“Oh my God! Daddy wouldn’t do that, would he?”

“Don’t ask me. He’s your father. Personally, I don’t think he’s going to do anything, and that Basil can stay here as we originally planned.”

“Why does Mom want me to come home?” Basil asked. He’d heard the tail end of their conversation.

“Nothing special. You’ll be staying here.”

“I thought it might have something to do with Grandpa.”

The kid was too damn bright. Why was it that the most normal person involved made everything so much more complicated?

Five minutes after Thalia hung up, her phone rang again. “I finally got through,” her mother said. “I kept calling and calling.”

“I was talking to Patrick.”

“And?”

“About whether I should bring Basil home. We decided not to.”

“I see.”

“Don’t tell Dad. As long as he keeps his nose out of it, we have some hope of normalcy.”

“Don’t say that about your father, Thalia. He’s a lot calmer now. In my opinion, it was a perfectly normal reaction.”

* * * *

Norbert had calmed down, but he didn’t let up. He turned Thalia’s life upside down. To him, it seemed, normal was picking a fight over something that wasn’t your business and you couldn’t do anything about anyway.

As usual, as if by intuition, Basil knew exactly what was going on. “Let me speak to him,” he said.

“Don’t you dare.”

“Don’t you dare let him,” said Patrick.

“How can I stop him? I can’t keep him away from them forever.”

“Just make sure you’re there with him.”

But Basil was not to be put off. He went and invited them all to his birthday party, Teddy included.

“No kids?” Thalia asked, flabbergasted.

“No, just family. If Uncle Ed and Aunt Betty lived in town I’d have invited them too.” Betty was Patrick’s sister.

“Well, I insist you invite at least a couple of your friends. Otherwise I hate to think what may happen.”

“A showdown.” Basil grinned broadly. He seemed to relish the idea.

“Which is exactly what I don’t want. Either you invite some friends or there isn’t going to be a party.”

“Do I have to?”

“Yes.”

“Will we have to play games?”

“I want you to invite friends so that we won’t end up playing games. And make sure they’re friends who know about your father.”

“Oh, all my friends know he’s gay,” he smiled. “They’re cool with it.”

“Girls too?”

“Girls too. But I wasn’t going ask any girls. Okay, I’ll invite my friends. Are three or four enough?”

Thalia nodded.

“Promise me one thing, though,” Basil said.

“What’s that?”

“That you won’t tell Grandpa I’m inviting Teddy or he may refuse to come.”

The kid was a mind reader.

“Are you going to tell Teddy Grandpa will be there?”

“Why not? Teddy won’t care. I think that for one of my friends I’ll ask Donny. I bet he’ll be gay when he’s grown up.”

“Donny? What makes you say that?”

“I dunno. I could be wrong.”

“I mean you haven’t…”

“Are you kidding? You grownups can be so lame sometimes.”

It struck her that Basil had become very uppity of late, a sure sign that his teenage years would soon make their lives miserable. Who was he trying to upset, her, his grandfather, or both? And what did he have up his sleeve? Thank God they weren’t Jewish and the whole thing wasn’t going to explode at his Bar Mitzvah! She had better humor him.

To make him happy, Thalia baked two cakes from scratch instead of ordering a large one from the bakery. Basil asked for a sit-down meal, too. He said it was more grown up.

“There won’t be room for everyone at the table. You and your friends will have to eat in the kitchen.”

“That’s cool. Just so long as we can have dessert in the dining room with the rest of you.”

Thalia would have more than enough to do getting the meal ready, so Patrick had promised to help, and he and Teddy arrived early. He glanced around uneasily. “Are Norb and Marilla here yet?” he asked.

“No, but they will be.”

“Do they know Teddy’s coming?”

“No, but they will.”

“Oh, brother!”

Along with Donny, Basil invited Rick and Alex. “Is he your dad’s partner?” Rick asked when Teddy introduced himself.

“Yeah. A really neat dude.”

At least we got that taken care of before Dad gets here, Thalia thought.

“All three of us got you video games,” Donny said. “Is it okay if he opens them now, Ms. Anderson, so we can go to his room and try them out?”

“I don’t see why not.” Better yet. They’d be out of the way when her father arrived, if he decided to make a scene.

The first thing Norb said when he came into the living room was “Who invited him?”

Basil had heard the doorbell and come to greet his grandparents. “I did,” he said. “He and Dad are a couple. Don’t you get it?”

Marilla clutched her husband’s upper arm. “I get it, I get it,” he grumbled.

Without letting go of his arm, his wife hissed, “We’re staying, Norb, and that’s final.”

“Of course you’re staying, Grandma,” Basil said, not batting an eyelash. “It’s my birthday.” Then he went back to his video game, leaving the adults to work it out among themselves.

Thalia dealt with it by excusing herself to see to the roast, leaving her parents, her ex, and his lover in the living room with nothing to say to each other.

“So, Teddy, what is it you do exactly?” Marilla asked after a painful silence. She could feel her husband’s body tense next to her on the sofa. “For a living,” she added.

“I don’t really have an official title in my company,” Teddy answered, “but I specialize in advertising.”

“Like Patrick,” Norb muttered.

Marilla glared at him and went on. “Is that how you two met?”

“No, we met at—”

“Does it really matter where we met?” Patrick interrupted. “What’s important is that we did meet.”

Teddy ignored him and finished his sentence: “At a party.”

True enough. Someone was celebrating a promotion the night they met at the bar.

“A mutual friend?”

“You might call him that.”

“A mutual friend of other friends,” Patrick explained in desperation.

“We hit it off immediately,” Teddy added.

Another near truth. They had hit on each other immediately and got off an hour later.

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” Norb said as if to himself but loudly enough to be heard. Teddy wondered if the old man could possibly have caught the double meaning or was simply being ornery.

Marilla changed the subject. “Thalia tells us that Basil has become quite fond of you.”

Norb flinched visibly at the word ‘fond’. “Basil is an excellent judge of character for his age,” Patrick said quickly.

“Wise beyond his years,” Teddy mused.

Norb opened his mouth to say something but his wife beat him to it. “Basil has always been a precocious boy.”

“It’s ready,” Thalia called from the kitchen.

Marilla breathed a sigh of relief. “Come, Norbert. Let’s wash up.”

As soon as they were out of earshot, Patrick whispered, “Don’t make a scene, Teddy. You promised.”

“Who, me? The last thing I want is to make a scene. All I ask is to sit back and enjoy the show—Basil’s show. Or would you prefer I didn’t say anything and let your ex-mother-in-law carry on with her monologue until she puts her foot in it?”

“You two are in cahoots, aren’t you?”

“Me and Marilla?”

“No, you and Basil.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“We shouldn’t have come.”

“To Basil’s birthday party? Are you kidding?”

“Then you should have stayed home.”

“So Basil could ask you point blank in front of that moron why you didn’t bring me? The kid means to get it all out in the open, and we’ll just have to see it through. Not that I intend to do anything to hurry it along.”

“If we can make it through the cake, we’re in the clear.”

To Basil’s disappointment, somehow they did make it through the cake. Norb and Marilla left as soon afterward as was decent. Basil had his friends shake hands with his grandparents as they were leaving in order to force them to shake hands with his father and Teddy too. That ploy didn’t work. It might have, if they hadn’t been halfway out the door.

* * * *

On the drive back from the party Teddy said, “Well, after that little episode, can you think of any reason I shouldn’t move in with you permanently?”

“I guess not.”

“Then we should call Basil and tell him.”

Basil thought it was the best birthday present he’d got. Thalia felt as if nothing in her life would ever be normal again.

~ 3 ~

Teddy’s manic bouts now seldom lasted more than half a day and were few and far between. Patrick attributed it to his stabilizing influence.

Basil celebrated his next birthday party at Patrick and Teddy’s, this time with girls. He was fourteen. His grandparents refused to come.

A few days after Christmas break, Teddy took it into his head to turn their basement into a playroom “so Basil can have a bigger party next year.”

“You’ll never get it finished by April,” Patrick said.

“How much are you willing to bet?”

“Everything I own.”

“If it isn’t ready for his birthday, we can put it off a week till Easter vacation.”

Teddy was definitely losing touch with reality. He immediately went out, rented a pickup and came home with half a ton of lumber. Basil was all enthusiasm for the project. Patrick recognized it as the start of another of Teddy’s manic phases, and was afraid it would be a major one. Sure enough, three days later Teddy’s hammering away in the basement was keeping him awake till after dawn. Teddy left for work in the morning without breakfast, and no one but Patrick could tell he had spent a sleepless night. Patrick was dead on his feet, but when he went to make coffee, he discovered that Teddy had finished the last of it and left the warming plate on under the empty pot.

Patrick kept dozing off at work and had to stay late to finish what needed doing. He came home to find Basil working with Teddy in the basement. He’d come straight from school.

“Does your mother know where you are?” Patrick asked.

“I asked Mom if I could stay with you and help Teddy finish the playroom, and she said yes.”

Sweet Jesus! Didn’t Thalia realize that meant her son was moving out forever? “Have you done all your homework?” he asked.

“I’ll do it after dinner.”

What dinner? Teddy wasn’t going to stop for dinner.

“Well, just be sure to come as soon as I call you.”

Basil came as soon as he was called. “Teddy’s busy,” he said. “I promised to bring a plate down for him.”

“First you eat your own dinner, and then you do your homework.”

“Won’t Teddy get hungry?”

“Not if he’s that busy, he won’t.”

By the end of the month Patrick was walking around like a zombie with rings under his eyes and had almost forgotten what it was like to have sex. Basil had announced he wanted to be a carpenter when he grew up. At least Patrick had had the sense not to let him bring any of his stuff over except his school books, so he had to go to Thalia’s every other day to change his clothes.

At their monthly Friday dinner out, Thalia asked, “What’s with Basil? I got a call from the school that he got a D on his last two math exams and has been falling asleep in study hall. What kind of father are you, anyway?”

“A very tired one. But what did you expect when you let him move out so he could build a playroom with Teddy? What they hell were you thinking?”

“He said you were building the playroom!”

“Me, build a playroom? You must be joking!”

“Why did you let him stay?”

“Because I didn’t think it would go on this long. None of Teddy’s manic phases has ever lasted more than a week or two.”

“So what do we do now?”

“I can’t do anything. Basil would throw a fit, and Teddy… Who knows what Teddy would do!”

“So you’re going to make me the wicked disciplinarian?”

“Maybe we should make an appointment to speak to the school guidance counselor.”

“I already have.”

Patrick took time off from work to join her. They spent nearly half an hour trying to get the woman to understand what Teddy was like. At first she wasn’t interested. “This is about Basil,” she said. When they told her who he was, her nostrils flared and her eyebrows rose so visibly that Patrick concluded she must have tightened her sphincter.

She sent for Basil.

“Uh-oh,” he said when he saw his parents in the office. “This is about those math tests, isn’t it?”

* * * *

“Where’s Basil?” Teddy asked when Patrick got home from work. “Why didn’t he come today?”

“Basil won’t be working on the playroom anymore.”

“How come?”

“Because he’s failing math. I just hope his grandfather doesn’t find out.”

“Can’t he come on the weekend?”

“Not even on the weekend.”

“But I’ll never get this done without Basil!”

“You won’t finish it with or without his help.”

Teddy stared at him. He was trembling. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said.

“And I’m right.”

“You are not. Not this time.”

“Prove it.”

“How?”

“By eating at least one decent meal a day. By stopping before five in the morning so you get at least some sleep. By stopping before midnight so we can have sex.”

“Don’t we have good sex?”

“Not since you started work on that playroom. We haven’t had any.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Would I lie to you about that?”

“Do you want to have sex tonight?”

“If you’re in the mood for it.”

“Just let me finish putting the hinges on this cabinet.”

Two hours later Teddy was still working in the basement. Patrick was sure he had forgotten their conversation and no longer noticed Basil wasn’t there. He was lying in bed thinking what to do next when Thalia called.

“Can you come over? I need your help. Basil refuses to eat.”

“Teddy too.”

“He’s being a brat.”

“Again, like Teddy.”

“So you’ll come?”

The chances of Teddy coming to bed were nil, and Patrick wasn’t all that keen on having sex with him. He’d only said it to lure him out of the basement. When he was like this, sex with him was a tiresome chore. Teddy might spend half an hour sucking on the same nipple, then lift his legs to fuck him and be done in a few seconds. Patrick would have to bring himself off or not come at all.

“Will you come?” Thalia repeated.

“I may as well. Teddy’s hopeless. We’ll have better luck with Basil. Can I stay the night?”

“You don’t have to ask me that!”

She sounded so happy, Patrick immediately regretted he’d asked. “You can put me up on the couch,” he said. “The way I feel, I could sleep anywhere.”

Basil was stubborn, but not intractable. He agreed to a compromise. If he got an A on his next two math exams, they’d allow him to help Teddy on the weekends. He hugged them both and went to bed.

Thalia threw herself onto the couch. “I could use a drink,” she said.

“So could I. Is there any scotch?”

“About half a bottle.”

* * * *

When Basil came downstairs to leave for school the next morning, he saw an empty liquor bottle lying on its side on the coffee table and his parents lying on the couch in a naked tangle of arms and legs, their clothes scattered across the floor. Since he had become a teenager, Basil had found it hard to resist a chance to embarrass people, and he wasn’t about to pass up a scene as delicious as this. He made himself some toast, then went back into the living room and gave a long, low whistle and said loudly, “Wow! This really complicates things!”

Thalia grabbed one of the back cushions and held it in front of her. Patrick did his best to put a good face on something he couldn’t pretend hadn’t happened.

“Why should it complicate anything?” he protested. “We got drunk. These things happen. It’s normal.”

Basil rolled his eyes. “Normal, you say. I call it dumb. What if Mom gets pregnant? I don’t see any condoms lying around.”

Patrick groaned.

“Teddy doesn’t leave them lying around either,” Basil continued. “But of course you don’t do it in the living room when I’m there. Or maybe you don’t use them.”

“You watch your mouth,” Thalia said.

“I was just speculating. Maybe you won’t get pregnant. Well, I gotta run or I’ll be late for school.”

“Please don’t tell Teddy,” Patrick called after him. “And you, Thalia—not a word to your parents.”

Basil stuck his head back in the doorway. “Teddy wouldn’t hear me if I screamed it in his ear. Not while he’s working on the basement, for however long that is.”

“You mean you know?”

“Of course I know. Do you think I’m stupid or something? I had fun working with him, and you can thank me that he hasn’t made a total botch of it. Yet.”

Patrick waited till Basil was gone and said, “If you don’t go straight out and get the morning after pill, God help me, I’ll sue you for entrapment.”

“Didn’t you like it?”

“I don’t remember. I was drunk. Do you?” Better to lie than admit he wished they hadn’t done it.

Thalia remembered, and she suspected Patrick did too. She spent a listless morning feeling sorry for herself and wondering what Basil would say to her after school. Then she went out and bought the morning after pill. It cost her over fifty dollars.

She called Patrick at work. “It’s over,” she said.

“Then you took the pill?”

“That too, but it’s not what I meant.”

“What’s over, then?”

“Us.”

“It took you six years to figure that out?”

“No, it took me one night. One morning after, rather.”

Of course she’d put the blame on him.

“We’ll still talk to each other, won’t we?” he said. “I mean, there’s Basil.”

“Yes, we’ll talk to each other, but not as much. We’ll see each other, too. His birthday, Christmas… But no more Friday night dinners.”

“I’ll miss them.”

“So will I, but we have to be realistic. Isn’t it about time you faced the facts?”

He faced the facts? But the last thing he needed was a fight, so he said, “Don’t be too hard on Basil when he gets back from school.”

“Hard on him! I doubt I’ll be able to look him in the eye after this morning! I’d ask you to take him for another month if Teddy weren’t there.”

Just the mention of Teddy’s name conjured up a racket of hammering and sawing in the basement, but when Patrick got home, the house was quieter than it had been in weeks. He called for Teddy. No answer. He called again. He went down to the basement and found him looking totally bewildered in the middle of a jungle of half-sawed boards, disassembled pieces of cabinetry, and an appalling disarray of Patrick’s best tools—drill bits, disassembled wrenches, a dozen or more screwdrivers, scraps of sandpaper not much bigger than confetti, and a scattering of nuts and bolts that you could see at a glance didn’t fit together..

“You came back,” Teddy said listlessly.

“What makes you think I left?”

“You weren’t there when I came upstairs.”

Patrick could not believe his ears. “You remembered we were going to have sex?”

“This morning. I ran out of nails. The bed wasn’t made, the sheets were cold, and you hadn’t made the coffee.”

“Did you go to work at least?”

“I was too upset.”

“Did you call in sick?”

“I forgot. Where were you?”

“At Thalia’s. Basil was making a scene. She couldn’t handle him.”

“Oh.” He fell silent again, as if trying to remember something. “I can’t find my meds,” he said.

“I know where your prescriptions are. Wait here and I’ll go have them refilled.”

“Thanks. Patrick?”

“What is it?”

“Did you sleep with her?”

“Yes.”

Teddy looked as if he was about to cry.

“I should have done it years ago. Now she knows it’s over.”

“She said so?”

“She called me at work to say so.”

Teddy smiled. “That’s good,” he said. “So now everything’s back to normal.”

Patrick sighed, more from relief than exasperation. “Not quite.”

He let his gaze sweep across the mess. He’d have to clean it up himself. Teddy wouldn’t help, or if he did, or began to, it might rekindle his passion for carpentry. He remembered what Thalia had said about not being able to face Basil. Maybe he should have him over after all. No, they’d made an agreement, and they should stick to it. Besides, though Teddy had come down, he hadn’t yet regained his balance. What if seeing Basil inspired him to resume his disastrous project?

Teddy was looking up at him, the quizzical expression on his face oscillating between eager and fearful, as if he was waiting for Patrick to say something he might or might not want to hear.

“Okay, Teddy. Out with it.”

“What isn’t quite?”

“What isn’t quite what?”

“What you said—back to normal.”

“See for yourself. My basement.”

Teddy’s face relaxed and broke into a smile.

“Oh, that. I’ll finish it. You’ll see. Only not just now. I could use a break.”

Patrick sighed again. “Come give us a hug,” he said. “Then go take a shower while I phone in your prescriptions and fix dinner.”

Although he had only said it to reassure him, Teddy’s hug made it clear to Patrick that he was well enough to perform adequately in bed and that it would give him more pleasure than he had had with Thalia.

They held on to each other for a long time, until Patrick let go and Teddy trudged dutifully upstairs. Patrick started to follow him then turned for another look at his devastated basement. It looked as if an earthquake had hit it.

Patrick shook his head. “Yes,” he thought, “it all comes in one package, the good along with the bad. Well, there’s not much I can do about it. Lover and caretaker—you can’t be one without the other if you choose someone like Teddy.”

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