“Ok honey, it’s your turn,” I said in a sing-song voice.
“But, Chase…” Kale began to whine.
“Ah, ah, ah.” I wagged a finger at him. “We’ve been here for nearly three months now. I’ve done it all this time, you’re up.”
“Ok.” Kale pouted.
“You’ll be fine,” I said with a grin.
“I just don’t want to disappoint you.” Kale sighed.
“Kale, its socks, undies and undershirts. If you ruin them we’ll go barefoot and commando for a couple days. It won’t be the end of the world.” I laughed and then handed him the laundry basket and a bottle of detergent.
“Right, what do I do again?”
“Put the clothes in the machine with a capful of detergent, turn the dial to normal and pull it out. When the cycle’s finished, take the clothes out and put them in the dryer. Turn the dial to timed dry, 60 minutes, and press start. Simple,” I explained.
“Honestly, you would think at an Ivy League university there would be people who did this kind of thing for you.” Kale lodged a final protest.
“Out!” I exclaimed and put my hands on his shoulders, turned him towards the door and gave him a gentle push. “When we go home I’m having a serious chat with your mom about your lack of domestic education.”
“I can’t help it my mommy loves me more than yours.” Kale winked.
“Out!” I laughed.
Considering what a good cook Kale is I was surprised to find out how much he lacked in terms of domestic skills. Sure, we’ve been a couple since we were fourteen but it’s not like we chatted about doing laundry or washing dishes. I didn’t find out how helpless he was until the end of our first week of college when we went downstairs to wash clothes.
“Can you put the detergent in for me?” I asked and handed him the little box of detergent I’d just bought from the vending machine.
“Uh, sure,” Kale answered. When I turned back to him I found he’d tossed the whole box in the washer.
“Um, honey, what’s this?” I asked as I pulled the box out.
“You said to put it in the machine,” said Kale, puzzled.
“Uh huh,” I stated, encouraging him to share more of his logic.
“You said to put the detergent in,” he exclaimed, clearly still confused.
“Yeah, like this,” I replied. I opened the box and dumped the contents in the machine.
“I’m retarded!” Kale face-palmed.
“You really didn’t know that?” I asked, amusedly.
“I thought the package would dissolve or something,” he answered and blushed a deeper red.
“Awww, honey.” I shot him the puppy dog eyes and put my arms around him. “You’ve never done laundry before?”
He shook his head, “My mommy, er, mom, always did it for me.”
I told him it was ok, that I’d take care of him now and I meant it. We were starting our lives together. One day we’d have a home and kids of our own and I looked forward to taking care of all of them. There were limits though. Being in a relationship is about compromises and give and take. I was happy to look after my man but I wasn’t going to be his maid or his new mommy. I was determined to teach him a few domestic skills.
I hope he doesn’t hurt himself. I chuckled as I changed clothes.
The university swim team offered both me and Kale places on the team when school started. While Kale readily accepted I chose to decline. I picked a tough major, Architecture, and had lots of math and engineering courses to look forward too. I didn’t want to commit to the team and risk my grade point average. Since I wasn’t spending time in the pool every day, like I had in high school, I had to do something to stay fit and decided to go for a run while Kale tended to the laundry.
I changed into compression shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of track pants. I was ready to run a circuit of the campus but when I opened the door I found a middle aged woman about to knock.
“Oh, hello,” said the woman, caught off guard by my opening the door.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“I’m looking for a Mr. Chase Dudley.”
“I’m Chase Dudley, what can I do for you?”
“I’m Doris Goodman from the Department of Social Services…” she started.
“Social Services? Is Austin ok? Oh my God, my parents threw him out didn’t they?” I panicked.
“Mr. Dudley, I don’t know who Austin is…”
“My cousin, he’s at home with my parents in Sanitaria Springs, at least he’s supposed to be.”
“Then I’m sure he’s ok. I’m from Tompkins County Social Services here on behalf of Kings County Social Services in Brooklyn. May I come in?”
“Where are my manners, of course, please come in,” I replied and welcomed her into my dorm room.
“Thank you,” said Mrs. Goodman as she entered.
“So what can I do for you Mrs. Goodman?” I asked as I shut the door. I couldn’t imagine what Kings County Social Services wanted with me. I didn’t know anyone from Brooklyn.
“I’m here regarding Lincoln Wallace,” said Mrs. Goodman.
“Lincoln Wallace?” I scratched my head; the name didn’t ring any bells. “I don’t know anyone named Lincoln Wallace.”
“I rather expect you don’t. What about Melissa Wallace?”
“Melissa Wallace.” I nodded and blushed a deep shade of red. “Yeah, I know a Melissa Wallace.”
“Ms. Wallace has gotten herself into some trouble with the law, she’s about to be sentenced for drug trafficking. She’s looking at a minimum sentence of ten years,” Mrs. Goodman explained.
“That’s terrible but I don’t understand what that has to do with me. I haven’t seen her since I was fourteen.”
“It’s got nothing to do with you. I’m here about her four-year-old son, Lincoln. Ms. Wallace has signed away her rights to the child and we at social services are attempting to find his father. You are one of three young men Ms. Wallace named as a possibility.”
“Oh my God,” I exclaimed.
I’d just turned fourteen when it happened; I hadn’t even started high school yet. My dad had to go to London for a week to attend a dental convention and my mom decided to go with him and make a second honeymoon out of it. We didn’t have any family I could stay with so my parents left me with the Morgan’s, friends of theirs from college. The Morgan’s were okay but I’d never really liked their son, Chad. It was Chad’s fault. He talked me into sneaking out one night and going to a party. There was an older girl there, she’d been drinking and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t even know how she remembered my name.
“Melissa, stop,” I whined when the kiss broke.
“What’s the matter cutie?” she smiled drunkenly.
“You’re really nice and all but, well, I think I’m gay.” I blushed.
“You think? Have you ever done anything with a guy?”
“No,” I admitted. “I’ve never done anything with anyone until now.”
“You’re so cute.” She smiled. “You’ve really never done anything with a guy or a girl?”
“No,” I replied and shook my head.
“Then how do you know you don’t like girls?”
“Well, I guess it’s just the feelings I get,” I tried to explain.
“Feels pretty stiff to me.” Melissa giggled and groped me through my jeans.
“Stop,” I groaned. I don’t know why my dick was responding to her touch. I knew I liked guys. Kale was my best friend and though we hadn’t started dating yet I knew I wanted him to be my boyfriend.
“Tell you what, think of this as a test,” said Melissa as she unbuttoned and unzipped my pants. “You’ll never know if you like girls if you never try it with one.”
That didn’t make sense to me but the feelings…it felt so good when she touched me. I wanted to push her off of me but I was fourteen and horny and couldn’t help myself. She pulled down the front of my underwear and the next thing I knew she was straddling me. She kissed me again and then I felt something warm and wet touching the head of my dick. I hadn’t even noticed she’d taken her shorts and panties off. The next thing I knew I was inside her.
“What about a condom?” I moaned as she began to ride me.
“It’s ok cutie, it’s not that time of the month,” Melissa moaned as she rode me.
It didn’t last long, barely five minutes, but when she finished there was no doubt in my mind. Girls were not for me.
“That’s not possible,” I told Mrs. Goodman. “She uh, said it wasn’t her time of the month.”
“Honey, if I had a dollar for every time some girl told some boy it wasn’t her time of the month I’d be a millionaire,” said Mrs. Goodman.
“Oh Jesus,” I exhaled and ran my fingers through my hair.
“Look, as I stated there are a couple of other boys who might be the child’s father. The reason I’ve come here today is to arrange for you to take a DNA test so that we can establish paternity,” said Mrs. Goodman.
“What if he’s mine?”
“Then you have a couple of options. You can sign away your parental rights and social services can put the boy up for adoption or you can take him and raise him,” said Mrs. Goodman.
“I-I just started school,” I muttered. “I don’t know anything about kids.”
“Well, as I said, you aren’t without options.”
“The test, what do I have to do?”
“I’m going to give you a card for a lab here in Ithaca. All you have to do is call them tomorrow and make an appointment. A DNA test is simple enough; they’ll take a swab of your cheek, extract a few cells and compare your sample to the boy’s. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of days to get the results,” she explained.
“Ok, um, I’ll go first thing in the morning. I’m sorry I’m so…I’ve never…” I babbled.
“Look, you seem like a nice kid and I’m sorry you’re in this situation but why don’t you try and calm down? Take your DNA test and let’s find out who this boy’s father is. Don’t get yourself riled up until there is something to be riled up about,” Mrs. Goodman advised.
“Yeah, uh, thanks.”
“Here’s the card for the lab,” said Mrs. Goodman. “They’ll contact me with the results and we’ll go from there. All right?”
“Yes ma’am,” I nodded. “The boy, what happens if…”
“If we can’t find his father?”
“He’ll go into the system, probably bounce from foster home to foster home. It’s sad but even at four years old he’d be considered an older child. Everyone wants to adopt babies.” Mrs. Goodman sighed.
“If it helps, they tell me he’s a good kid. His mother hasn’t managed to ruin him but he’s at an age where he needs structure in his life. If he does turn out to be yours you need to think about that before you decide what to do.”
“Ok, uh, thank you for coming by,” I replied.
“Good day Mr. Dudley, I’ll be in touch.”
As soon as Mrs. Goodman left I ran to the bathroom and threw some cold water on my face. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I’d put the experience with Melissa behind me. I never thought about her, I never wanted anyone to know about her. I don’t know what I’m going to tell Kale. Poor, sweet Kale who thought he was the only one I’d ever been with until our summer experience with Alec and Sasha. I know I was his first and that’s so special to me, how can I tell him I was soiled goods when we got together?
And what about the child? I’m eighteen years old, a freshman in college. I’m not equipped to be anyone’s daddy. I had no idea what to do about this situation and decided to go for my run hoping the fresh air would bring me some clarity of thought. It didn’t work. Everywhere I went I seemed to run into young families or single moms and dads with happy little children playing at their feet. Eventually I gave up and walked back to my dorm.
When I walked into the room Kale pounced, grabbing me from behind. He put his arms around my waist and kissed my neck, then nibbled on my earlobe.
“Go out for a run?” he whispered in my ear.
“Mmmm, you know how much I love it when you come home all sweaty, those muscles pumping,” said Kale, playfully. He slipped his hand into my track pants and rubbed me through my compression shorts.
“Kale, stop.” I giggled.
“Nope, you’re all mine. Look what I’ve done for you,” said Kale, pointing at the bed. The laundry basket was there with our clothes folded neatly inside.
“Awwww, you did it.” I smiled and stroked his arm.
“I am all that is man,” Kale boosted. “Is that not the sexiest thing ever?”
“I’m very proud of you sweetie, but really, stop,” I replied, pulling his hand out of my pants.
“Oh, ok.” Kale sighed his disappointment.
“I’m sorry but I came back early from my run because I’m getting a massive headache,” I explained.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” asked Kale. “Why don’t you take a shower and get in bed and I’ll run out and get you some Tylenol?”
“Thanks baby.” I kissed him on the nose.
“Be back in a flash,” said Kale as he ran off.
He’s so sweet. I love him so much and he’s going to be hurt. I didn’t know what I was going to do so I did the only thing I could. I lay down on my bed, buried my face in my pillow and started to cry.
When Kale got home I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t know how I was supposed to face him or what I was supposed to say and I hated myself for it. Kale is the love of my life, I want to spend the rest of my days with him and the last thing I ever wanted was to break his heart. He’s come so far in the last year, letting go of his insecurities and inhibitions, I don’t want to set him back.
Eventually I did fall asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning when the phone started ringing. Kale was already gone; he had swim practice at 5:00am, so I grabbed the phone and saw my mother’s number on the screen. Oh shit, in my misery over what to tell Kale I forgot about my parents. My mother is going to murder me!
“Hi, Mom.” I yawned.
“Hi Honey, were you sleeping?”
“Yeah but I needed to get up anyway. What’s up?”
“I just wanted to check and see if you and Kale had made plans for Thanksgiving dinner yet.”
“Yeah, the Kirkwood’s eat early so I’ll go over to Kale’s that morning then he’ll come home with me, probably about three o’clock. Anyone coming this year?” I asked.
“No it’ll be me, daddy, you and Kale,” said Mom.
“And Austin,” I added.
“Yes, of course,” Mom acknowledged.
“Mom, I thought you were trying with him?” I sighed.
“I am, I am,” she insisted. “He’s just been spending so much time with Derek lately I forgot.”
“I know it was hard for you to take him in but he’s nothing like you thought he’d be. He’s a really good kid; you need to give him some credit.”
“Chase, I know. I really just forgot, everything is fine here,” said Mom.
“Yes, honey, I promise.”
“Good, give dad and Austin hugs from me. I’ll see you guy’s in a couple of weeks.”
“Alright, Chase, I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom, bye.”
I’m glad I didn’t have to tell her then. Knowing how she feels about Austin and trying to keep the peace in our family causes me enough stress. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I have to tell her I fathered a child. For the moment I decided to take Mrs. Goodman’s advice and not get riled up. The most important thing was establishing the paternity of the child, Lincoln, so I called the lab and set up my appointment. I had to ditch my political science class but that was no skin off my nose.
“Have you ever had a DNA test before?” asked the technician when I reached the lab that morning.
“No, I’ve never needed one before,” I explained.
“Well it’s very straightforward. All I need you to do is open your mouth and let me swab your inner cheek.”
“Ok,” I replied as I sat down and opened my mouth as wide as a trout.
“Oh, you have nice teeth,” said the technician as she applied the swab.
“Thanks, my dad’s a dentist, they’re mostly his doing,” I replied when she was finished.
“I didn’t use to notice things like that before this job but you should see some of the nasty mouth’s I have to look at.” The technician giggled and then placed the swabs into a plastic vial.
“So that’s it?”
“That’s it, we’ll run your sample, compare it to the sample on file and social services will be in touch with you.”
“Ok, do you know how long it’ll take?”
“It’s usually two to three days unless there’s a backlog.”
“Is there a…” I started.
“Is there a backlog?” She finished my sentence. “I don’t know. I just take the samples; I don’t conduct the tests.”
“Alright, thanks.” I sighed and headed out to my truck.
I was driving back to campus wondering how I was going to get through the next couple of days when the phone rang. I saw that it was Kale and quickly put him on speaker.
“Hey baby, what’s up?”
“Are you in the car? It’s noisy.”
“Yeah I had to er, run an errand, what’s up?”
“I wanted to see if you’d like to have lunch?”
“Sure, you want me to meet you at the U?”
“That was the plan but since you’re already out and about why don’t you pick me up outside Barton Hall?”
“Gimme ten minutes?”
“See you then,” Kale chirped.
A few minutes later I pulled up in front of Barton Hall and spotted Kale trotting over with his camera bag over his shoulder. Strictly speaking he shouldn’t be taking any photography courses just yet. He should be doing general studies like the rest of the freshman class, but he’d found an intro course to sharpen his skills. He looked like the poster boy for the Ivy League in his jeans, penny loafers, button down and sweater. He’d gotten reading glasses the week before school started and kept them on most of the day rather than take them off and on between classes. They were round lenses with a tortoise shell frame that made him look like Clark Kent. When he took them off he was my Superman.
“Hi,” said Kale as he hopped in the truck and kissed me on the cheek.”
“Hey,” I said with a smile. “Where do you want to go for lunch?”
“You pick; my treat.”
“Alright, the BoatYard it is.”
“I figured as much.” Kale smirked.
“Hey, it’s my favorite.”
“And you’re my favorite so I’m not complaining,” said Kale, as he reached over and held my hand.
I studied him for a moment and he flashed me his boyish smile. It’s that smile that made me fall in love with him. It’s been the same as long as I’ve known him and when he looked at me like that I knew I had to tell him. When he’d had his heart surgery he hadn’t told me until afterwards and that upset me. I couldn’t do the same thing to him.
“Kale, listen, there’s something we should talk about…” I started.
“I know exactly what you’re going to say…”
“You do?” I looked at him, my eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights.
“Yeah and I promise I’ll call my mom tonight.”
“Yeah, you’re talking about our Thanksgiving plans, right?”
“Oh, no, I talked to my mom this morning and told her we were having dinner at your house then going back to mine later.”
“Then what did you want to talk about?”
He looked at me with such love in his eyes that as much as I wanted to be honest with him, I didn’t want to break his heart. I decided to keep quiet. There was a good chance this baby wasn’t mine and if it wasn’t then Kale didn’t need to be hurt. I swore that I would never keep anything from Kale again if this storm would just pass.
“Nothing, forget it,” I replied.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t important.”
“Since when is ‘there’s something we should talk about,’ not important?” Kale persisted.
“I was just going to ask about your swimming schedule after break but it’s not a big deal,” I explained.
“Oh, it’s all plotted out on our calendar anyway,” said Kale.
“Yeah, I forgot.”
“Chase, are you sure you’re ok?” asked Kale. “You’re acting, I don’t know, funny.”
“Funny huh, do I amuse you?” I grinned as we pulled into a parking space at the restaurant.
“Chase,” Kale whined.
“What?” I asked, and then tickled his ribs.
“Chase stop!” Kale laughed.
“You said I was funny, isn’t this funny?” I grinned wickedly and continued to tickle him.
“Chase, damn it I’m gonna pee!” Kale laughed.
“Ok, that’s enough for now.” I ceased my tickling. “Let’s go eat.”
We went into the restaurant and the hostess led us to a table in front of the windows overlooking Cayuga Lake. She took our drink order and since I already knew what I wanted for lunch I stared out at the water rather than peruse the menu. I looked out at the water and wished all of my problems would go away. I wished I’d never slept with Melissa Wallace, and that I’d been stronger when she pulled my pants down and climbed on top of me. I wished I’d told Kale about her when we first got together; back then he’d have probably laughed about it and we’d have moved on but I don’t know what’s going to happen now. More than anything I wished I knew what to do if the boy turned out to be mine.
I was so consumed by my thoughts I didn’t even notice Kale taking out his camera and snapping a lens in place. I didn’t notice him aiming at me until the soft hum of the mechanism drew my attention.
“What are you doing?”
“You were deep in thought. The look on your face was so pensive I had to capture it,” said Kale.
“You wanted a pensive picture?”
“You’re always so chipper and bubbly, pensive is different.”
“Ok,” I said with a raised eyebrow.
“I just wanted to take a picture of my handsome boyfriend, ok?” Kale blushed.
“Yeah, it’s ok but I’m not getting naked for you in this restaurant,” I teased.
“Hmm, naked in a restaurant…” said Kale grinning wickedly. “You think I could convince the owner to let me shoot here?”
“Don’t even think about it!” I laughed and kicked him playfully under the table.
Goofing around with Kale took my mind off my problems for the time being but as soon as lunch was over and we went our separate ways they returned with a vengeance. Over the next couple of days I continued to vacillate from one decision to the next. One minute I was going to tell Kale everything, the next minute I was going to keep it to myself and protect him. I was so up and down I was starting to feel like a yo-yo.
On Thursday evening I got out of class determined to unburden myself when I got home. Social services could call at any minute with the results of the DNA test and when that happened I would need Kale. By telling him now I hoped he would get over my deception in time to be there when I needed him most. That is if he’s capable of forgiving me at all. I kept assuring myself everything would be ok, that Kale was a reasonable person and though his feelings might be hurt he’d come around quickly. I was ready to do what I had to do until I walked into our room and had my resolve pushed out the window.
“I got out of class early and thought you could use a romantic evening,” said Kale.
The room was filled with candles which bathed it in soft golden light. There was a pepperoni pizza on the table and a bottle of sparkling cider sitting in a bucket of ice. Romantic piano music played softly in the background. I couldn’t tell him now, not after he’d gone to all this trouble. I couldn’t ruin his romantic evening. It was after 5pm, social services wouldn’t be calling tonight. The secret would keep until morning.
“Kale, you didn’t have to go to all this trouble.” I smiled and dropped my backpack by my desk.
Kale crossed the room and put his arms around me. He kissed me gently and said, “I don’t know what’s bothering you….”
“Kale, it’s nothing. I…” I started.
“And that’s ok,” he continued. “Whatever it is I want to help but I understand, you’ll tell me when you’re ready. Right?”
“I will,” I nodded. I almost started crying. He was being so sweet and for the first time since Mrs. Goodman came through our door I felt like maybe everything would really be ok. In the morning I’d tell Kale the tragic tale of Melissa Wallace.
“Good,” said Kale with a smile. “So tonight, we’ll have a little dinner and then I’ll help you unwind and relax.”
“How do you plan to do that?”
“I have some thoughts,” said Kale with a wry grin as he reached between my legs and rubbed me through my jeans.
“Not until you’ve had your dinner.” I giggled and slapped his hand away.
We ate our pizza and before the cheese had time to congeal on the leftovers we were naked. Kale took me to bed and kissed me tenderly. My hands roamed over his body caressing his soft skin and firm muscles. I nibbled his earlobe and he sucked on my neck. When I was ready, when I was primed for him to take me, he surprised me by rolling on his back and wrapping his legs around me. When we finished making love that night I rested my head against his chest and let the rhythmic beating of his heart lull me to sleep.
When I woke the next morning I lie there for a long time just looking at Kale’s face. I didn’t know what the next step in our lives was going to be. I felt our entire relationship was standing on the edge of an all-consuming abyss but I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I had to tell him. I extricated myself from the bed and went down the hall to shower. I hoped Kale would be up when I got back so that I didn’t have time to lose my nerve again. No matter what social services says I’m sure I’ll feel better once I talk to Kale. Whatever happens at least I’ll know where I stand.
I finished my shower, dried and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I took a look at myself in the mirror and saw more confidence on my face then I felt. I took a deep breath and set off down the hall, my course determined. When I walked into our room I found Kale up and dressed. He was wearing khaki trousers and a white dress shirt. He stood in front of the mirror tying his red Cornell tie; he seemed agitated.
“Kale, are you…” I started.
“The phone rang while you were out,” said Kale. “I thought it was mine so I answered it. It was a Mrs. Goodman from the Department of Social Services and before I could tell her I wasn’t you she said the test came back positive.”
“Oh God,” I gasped. I’d waited too long and Kale found out in the worst way possible. “W-what did she say?”
“Congratulations, Chase, it’s a boy.”
“Oh holy shit,” I replied and my legs began to tremble.
“How could you not tell me?” Kale demanded as he finished with his tie and turned to face me.
“I wanted too.” I sniffled. “I started to so many times but I didn’t want to break your heart until I knew for sure…”
“You should have told me,” Kale shouted.
“Like you told me when you had your heart surgery?” I shouted back and instantly regretted it.
“I was sixteen, Chase, and yeah, I fucked up but what do you think this is, your chance to get payback?”
“No, it’s not payback. Kale, I’m sorry. The lady from social services came here and said I might be this boy’s father and I just didn’t know what to do. I slept with his mother the summer before we got together. It was a mistake, I should have stopped her but I was weak and just let it happen. I never thought I’d hear from her again so I never told you about it. I didn’t want to hurt you, I never wanted to hurt you,” I pleaded.
“Do you love me?” Kale demanded.
“Of course I do. I love you more than anything…”
“Then you should have told me! I thought we came here to start our lives together. How could you cut me out of the most important thing that’s ever happened to you?”
“Kale, I’m sorry.” I cried as he put on his blue blazer, grabbed his gym bag, and then headed for the door. “Where are you going?”
“I have to catch the team bus. I have a meet at Columbia,” he reminded me. “Maybe I should have gone there after all if this is how things are going to be between us.”
“Kale, don’t say that, please, I love you,” I pleaded.
“Call Mrs. Goodman, I’m sure she has more details for you about your son,” said Kale and then he stormed out the door.
My heart felt like it had been torn asunder. He was so angry, so upset and I couldn’t blame him. I blew it. I should have told him but I kept putting it off and putting it off. Now he’s furious and I still don’t know where I stand. The way he stormed out I don’t even know if he’s coming home tonight. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore and then started thinking. I love Kale and I want to spend the rest of my life with him but regardless of what happens with us, evidently I’m someone’s father and that had to be addressed. I dried my eyes, grabbed my phone and dialed Mrs. Goodman.
“Goodman,” she answered tersely.
“Mrs. Goodman, its Chase Dudley.”
“Mr. Dudley, I’m sorry about my earlier call, when that other young man answered your line I thought…”
“It’s ok,” I interrupted. It wasn’t her fault my relationship had been rocked to the very foundation, it was mine. “So the test is positive?”
“Results came in last night, Lincoln Wallace is your son,” she confirmed.
“There isn’t any chance they made a mistake?”
“No, the test is highly accurate. Have you given any thought to the options I gave you when we met?”
“I’ve thought about it.” I sighed. “Can I see him before I make a decision?”
“That’s up to Kings County Social Service but I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
“But why, if he’s my son…”
“He’s a four year old boy, Mr. Dudley. You can’t go meet him and then decide to walk away. That’s a terrible thing to do to a child.”
“No, I see your point,” I agreed.
“The next step is up to you, Mr. Dudley. You can contact Kings County from here on out,” said Mrs. Goodman.
I copied down the name and number she gave me and then stared at the wall for a moment. I’m not ready for this. I can’t be someone’s dad. I’m not prepared. I knew what the best option for the boy was but something held me back. I felt compelled to see him before I made a decision but I didn’t know why. I wished I could talk to Kale about it but I’d blown that opportunity so I called Kings County.
I spoke to a Mrs. Johnson who confirmed what Mrs. Goodman had said, I couldn’t meet Lincoln if I wasn’t going to take him; it would be cruel. After some negotiating Mrs. Goodman stated that Lincoln was currently living at the Little Flower Children’s School and Boarding Home. While she wouldn’t introduce us, she said the children played in the park after lunch and I could come and observe him. It wasn’t much but it was the best option I had. It’s a long drive to the city from Ithaca and if I was going to make it there by 1pm I had to leave immediately.
My thoughts were muddled and my mind was a mess as I drove south towards New York City. I didn’t know what to do about Kale and I didn’t know what to do about Lincoln. It was so easy when social services had called my parents and told them about Austin. He was our family, how could we turn our backs on him? My parents were ready to do just that but I’d fought them tooth and nail, it was a no brainer. Why was it so easy to do the right thing then but now that the person in question was my own child I felt so lost?
I got to Brooklyn just before 1pm and struggled to find a place to park. I ended up parking two blocks away and meeting Mrs. Johnson at the Starbucks across the street from Little Flower.
“Mr. Dudley, right on time,” said Mrs. Johnson as we shook hands.
“Traffic was lite. Is that them?” I asked as I looked across the street and saw two maternal looking women leading a group of small children out of Little Flower.
“That’s his play group,” Mrs. Johnson confirmed.
“Which one is he?”
“Mr. Dudley, before I point him out to you I want to reiterate what I said on the phone. You are not allowed to make contact with Lincoln unless you plan to take him. I can’t have you messing with a little boy’s head like that,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“I understand, ma’am. I just, I don’t know what it is but I feel compelled to see him before I make any kind of decision.”
“Alright, he’s…” Mrs. Johnson started but by the time she turned around the group of children was gone. “Follow me; we’ll pick them up in the park.”
Mrs. Johnson led me out of the coffee shop and while we waited for the light to change so we could cross the street I said, “Mrs. Goodman told me Lincoln’s mother signed away her parental rights?”
“That’s correct.” Mrs. Johnson nodded.
“Do you know her? Do you know why she did it?”
“I met with Ms. Wallace before she signed the papers,” Mrs. Johnson explained as we walked towards the park. “I asked her what her motivation was and she said she want’s what’s best for the boy. She said she doesn’t know what she’s going to be like after ten or more years in prison but she doubts it’ll be pretty. She doesn’t want him to be like her and she thinks he’ll be better off if he thinks she’s dead.”
“Mr. Dudley, what do you hope to gain out of this?” Mrs. Johnson asked.
“Insight, clarity, I honestly don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders and exhaled a sigh.
“You’re a student?”
“That’s right, first semester at Cornell.”
“You must be a smart kid,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“I don’t feel very smart right now,” I admitted.
“Look Mr. Dudley, everyone makes mistakes, especially teenage boys on the edge of puberty. Don’t let that cloud your decision making.”
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t think of this little boy as a mistake you made, something you should be ashamed of. You need to think of him as what he is, a kid who needs a father,” she explained.
“I understand,” I said and nodded as we approached a bench and took a seat. The children played in a sandbox in the distance.
“Alright, you see the little blond boy in the plaid shirt?” Mrs. Johnson pointed across the expanse of grass.
I nodded my head in the affirmative.
I felt my jaw drop and brought my hand up to cover my mouth. It was like looking at one of my baby pictures. I was seated too far away to make out the color of his eyes but he was me in miniature.
“I’ll leave you here and let you watch him if you promise not to approach him,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“I won’t, I’ll stay here,” I assured her.
“Alright, I’ll come back to get you when the children head in,” she stated and went to join the teachers.
There he was, my little boy. I watched him laugh and run around with the other kids and felt the clouds start to clear from my mind. I was looking at raw potential. Lincoln had his whole life to look forward to; he could do or be anything. He just needed a parent to guide him. As I watched him I started to think maybe I could be that parent.
“Chase.” I turned in my seat to find Kale standing behind me holding a teddy bear.
“Kale, what are you doing here?” I jumped to my feet.
“I thought this was where you’d be.”
“How did you know? How did you find me?”
“I know you,” said Kale. “I knew you’d want to see him. As for finding you, remember that app we signed up for, to track our phones should they be lost or stolen?”“
Right, why didn’t you just call?”
“I didn’t want to have this discussion over the phone,” he explained.
“Kale, I…” I started.
“I was at my swim meet,” said Kale. “I was on deck for my relay when I saw a young mother and her little boy in the first row. One of the guy’s from the team, Richard Kraft, I didn’t know he had a family until he walked over to them. They looked so happy, Chase, and when I realized that could be us, well, I told coach I had a family emergency to deal with.”
“Oh, Kale,” I exhaled and threw my arms around him. “I was so worried when you left, you were so angry.”
“I was, I know I was but I had a lot of time to think on the bus ride down and what I saw at the meet confirmed it. I love you, Chase, I always have and always will. How could I not love your son too? We can do this, we’ll do it together.”
“You mean it?” I started to tear up.
“Don’t cry,” said Kale as he tenderly brushed a tear from my cheek.
“I can’t help it. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I made a stop on the way over. This is for the boy,” said Kale, holding up the teddy bear.
“Lincoln, his name’s Lincoln.” I smiled.
“Lincoln, I like that. Anyway, there was a jeweler next door to the toy store. I got this for you.” He pulled a tiny box from his pocket. “Chase, will you be my husband?”
“Oh, Kale, oh my God, yes,” I cried as he opened the box and slipped the simple gold band onto my finger. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” Kale smiled and pulled me into a tight embrace, squashing the teddy bear between us.
“Mr. Dudley?” said Mrs. Johnson, looking at us with a raised eyebrow.
“Mrs. Johnson, this is my fiancé, Kale Kirkwood. We’d like to talk to you about bringing Lincoln home with us,” I stated and wiped the tears from my eyes.
Mrs. Johnson seemed genuinely pleased to meet Kale and about our decision to be Lincoln’s parents but she still wouldn’t let us meet him. The county couldn’t just hand the child over to us; they had to make sure we were able to provide a stable home for him first. I explained that we lived in the dorm as required by the university and Mrs. Johnson made it clear that Lincoln wasn’t a puppy; he couldn’t sleep in a box at the foot of our bed. I started to panic; I didn’t know what we were going to do. That’s when Kale stepped up and not for the first time I thanked God for having him in my life.
“That’s fine, Mrs. Johnson,” said Kale. “We’ll make all the necessary arrangements. How soon can we bring Lincoln home?”
“It’s fairly straightforward, Mr. Kirkwood,” she began. “Once you’ve set up a suitable home call Mrs. Goodman back in Ithaca. She’ll perform an inspection and if everything meets with her approval I’ll sign the paperwork and you can take the boy home that day.”
“We want to bring him home as soon as possible,” said Kale.
“Then I suggest you get busy. Thanksgiving is next week and that makes for a short work week,” said Mrs. Goodman.
“We’ll get right on it,” said Kale.
“Very well then, good day gentlemen,” said Mrs. Johnson as she followed the children back to Little Flower.
“Kale, oh my God, what are we going to do?” I asked, my voice on the verge of cracking.
“Let me think about. Walk with me,” said Kale, holding out his hand.
I took his hand and we left the park. I led him back to where I parked the truck. Kale didn’t say a word as we strolled up the block or when we got in the truck. He was deep in thought and didn’t speak until we were out of the city and heading back to Ithaca.
“Tomorrow morning we’ll get up early and find an apartment. Once we find a suitable place we’ll hit up a furniture store and make arrangements to have everything we need delivered,” said Kale.
“What about the university and the requirement that freshmen live in the residence halls?”
“Leave that to me, I’ll talk to them on Monday. They’ll give us a family exemption,” said Kale assuredly.
“Are you sure about that?” I wasn’t sure about it and it made me extremely nervous.
“They give them to straight students with families. If they don’t give us one I’ll slap an anti-discrimination suit on them so fast their heads will spin. But I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
“Ok, but this is a problem, how are we going to pay for this? I can get a job but I don’t know how long it’ll take to find one and once I do find one it’ll take a few weeks for me to get paid…” I started to ramble.
“Chase, it’s going to be fine,” said Kale, patting my hand and then holding it.
“What makes you so confident? This is the most important thing we’ve ever done, Kale. We can’t afford to screw this up.”
“We won’t screw it up, we aren’t without means,” said Kale. “We’ll use my trust fund.”
“Kale, I can’t let you do that. I put you in this position and I can’t let you spend your money on…” I started.
“Chase, would you stop,” Kale interrupted. “I asked you to be my husband, didn’t I?”
“And you did say yes, didn’t you?”
“Of course but…”
“Then you need to get a few things through your head. First, what’s mine is yours so I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘your money’ crap.”
“Second, when it comes to our family and providing a home and security for our child, money is no object.”
“Ok.” I sniffled, holding back my tears. I’d never felt more loved by Kale then I did in that moment.
“You haven’t asked me about my family’s finances since we were twelve but we’re going to be married now and you should know. When my great grandparents passed away they made arrangements for all of us, me, Robbie, Jamie, my parents, all of us. You and I are fortunate, of all the problems we may face in our life together, money won’t be one of them,” said Kale.
“That’s reassuring,” I admitted. “I guess the big question now is what do we tell our parents?”
“Let’s get everything set up and get Lincoln home, then we can tell the rents at Thanksgiving,” said Kale.
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
“I told you I just needed to think about it.” Kale smiled.
“Yeah.” I smiled back and squeezed his hand. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
“Me either, but Chase, we’re having a baby!” Kale beamed.
“Yeah.” I smiled and concentrated on the road ahead.
The next morning I woke up to Kale shaking me by the shoulder. There was soft light filling the room through the open window blinds, it was way too early for Kale to be up. He’s never been a morning person.
“Come on pretty boy, rise and shine,” Kale chirped.
“Ugh, what time is it?” I groaned.
“It’s almost 7:30 and we’ve got lots to do.”
“Ok.” I yawned and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “What’s first?”
“We’ve got an appointment in half an hour to look at an apartment,” said Kale.
“How did you get an appointment already?”
“I couldn’t sleep so I got up and started going through the ads on Craigslist. There’s a professor who took a last minute sabbatical and didn’t have time to sublet his apartment so it’s been sitting there empty since the semester started,” Kale explained.
“You called him this early?” I exclaimed.
“His sister actually, the professor is in Spain. Anyway, she was a little miffed at the early hour but when I explained our situation she said she’d meet us right away so come on, get a move on,” said Kale.
I jumped out of bed and dressed almost exactly like Kale. We each had on a pair of Adidas track pants, a t-shirt and a hoodie. I needed a haircut so I wore a well-worn Boston Red Sox cap over my blond hair. We probably should have dressed more to impress but with so little time before we were expected at the apartment we hoped the professor’s sister wouldn’t be too offended by our typical student dress. Kale calls the look “Slacker-Chic,” and resisted the trend until he started those 5am swimming practices and didn’t have as much time to primp as usual.
“This is a really nice place,” I said when Kale drove up in front of the apartment building. It was an older development with the units designed to mimic the iconic brownstones of New York City.
“Yeah.” Kale nodded as he stepped out of the car and took my hand. He started towards the door, then stopped and looked at our entwined fingers.
“What is it?”
“I like the way that ring looks on your finger.” He smiled and kissed my hand. “Come on; let’s go get our first place.”
We walked up the steps and knocked on the door. The professor’s sister answered and looked at us, and our slacker wardrobe, with disdain.
“Hello, I’m Kale, we spoke on the phone.”
“Ah, yes, do come in,” she replied and stood aside. “I’m Mrs. Poole, Professor Taylor’s sister. Please have a look around but be quick, I have an appointment at nine.”
“This is a lovely apartment,” I stated as we walked into the living room. The floors were real hard wood, there was a fire place and you could see through the dining area to what looked like a state of the art kitchen.
“Are you sure you boys can afford it?” asked Mrs. Poole with a touch of annoyance in her voice.
“That won’t be a problem,” said Kale. “You said the place comes furnished?”
“It does but I must stress, my brother wouldn’t want any loud parties or large numbers of guests over…” Mrs. Poole started.
“As I said on the phone, we’re looking for a place we can bring our son home to. We aren’t the party type,” said Kale. “How long will Professor Taylor be away?”
“He’ll be home at the start of summer so the tenants will need to be out at the end of the spring term.”
“Perfect, we’re planning to go home for the summer anyway,” said Kale.
“I see,” said Mrs. Poole. “Well as I said, have a look around.”
Kale took my hand and we checked out the gourmet kitchen then went upstairs to have a look at the two bedrooms. The master was well appointed with a king size bed and the smaller bedroom was perfect for a child.
“What do you think?” asked Kale.
“It’s perfect, we won’t have to worry about furniture and the lease will be up just as we’re ready to go home for the summer.”
“So we tell her we’ll take it?”
“I think so, but do you think she’ll rent it to us? She’s sporting some major attitude.”
“We should have dressed nicer. She thinks we can’t afford the place and that we woke her up early for nothing. Lucky for us, money talks and bullshit walks.” Kale smiled. “I know how to handle her.”
I followed Kale back downstairs were we found Mrs. Poole impatiently tapping her foot on the wood floor.
“We really like the place, we’ll take it,” said Kale.
“Are you sure you boys can afford it?” said Mrs. Poole. “As I explained on the phone the rent is one-thousand a month and…”
“Yes, you made that clear,” said Kale. “I’d rather not be bothered with monthly rent payments. Can I write you a check for the term of the lease?”
“Uh…” said Mrs. Poole, surprised by the offer.
“I understand, given our age you probably want cash up front,” said Kale. “That’s fine but I imagine you’ll have to wait until Monday so I can visit the bank…”
“No, no a check will be fine,” Mrs. Poole smiled. “I’ll just run out to my car and grab the lease agreement.”
“Holy shit, her whole attitude changed,” I exclaimed once we were alone.
“Told you, money talks.” Kale grinned.
We signed the lease, Kale gave Mrs. Poole a check and she gave him the keys. We could stay in our new place that night. We went back to the car and Kale took me out for breakfast. Finding this apartment was a great stroke of luck. Not only was it the safe and suitable place we needed to bring our son home too, it was fully furnished and there was even a park for Lincoln to play in just up the block. As he finished his waffle I noticed Kale wore a pensive face like I’d worn when he took me to lunch a few days earlier.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Hmmm?” said Kale.
“I just noticed you seem to be in deep thought,” I replied. “I was wondering what’s on your mind.”
“Well, I was thinking, we’ve got our apartment now, I’ll talk to the university Monday to get us that exemption from the res hall and you’ll call Mrs. Goodman to get that home inspection. There’s just one thing missing,” said Kale.
“Like what, you already asked me to marry you.” I smiled and toyed with my engagement ring.
“That’s the thing,” said Kale. “We’re bringing a child into our home, and call me traditional but I think we should be married.”
“What are you getting at?” I was somewhat confused, he’d already asked me to marry him and I’d readily said yes. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am at the prospect of being his husband.
“What would you say about getting married Friday, you know, the day after Thanksgiving?”
“Are you serious?” I asked, taken aback.
“What’s the point in waiting? I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I’ve known that for a long time and if you feel the same way…”
“Let’s do it, why not?”
“We’ll keep it small of course, just our families and friends. We’ll do it at my house, we’ll get my dad to officiate,” said Kale.
“This is wild. You know our parents are going to shit, right?”
“I think that is going to happen when we walk in with a four year old.” Kale giggled. “But I’m pretty sure mom and dad will be ok.”
“Yeah, I don’t see your parents being a big problem; it’s mine I’m worried about.” I sighed.
“Tell you what; we’ll get Mrs. Goodman into the apartment on Monday. Mrs. Johnson said we could take Lincoln home as soon as Mrs. Goodman gave the green light so why don’t we go down to the city Monday night, pick him up Tuesday morning then head for the Springs on Wednesday,” said Kale.
“I guess that makes sense. It’s kind of pointless to pick him up and bring him here just to leave again,” I agreed.
“We’ll go to my house first and if everything goes ok we’ll leave Lincoln with my parents while we go talk to yours. That way he’s not there if there’s a fight.”
“That’s a really good plan.”
“I try.” Kale grinned.
“You’re hitting them out of the park this week baby.” I laughed. “So should we go back to the res hall and start packing?”
“We could but all we really have to do is pack up our clothes, we could do that tomorrow,” said Kale.
“Ok, what should we do instead?”
“I was thinking, Lincoln’s probably going to need some new clothes, we could hit up Baby GAP and a few other places.” Kale blushed.
“We don’t know what size he is.”
“He’s four; they’re all roughly the same size, give or take. Anything that doesn’t fit we can always take back.”
“Kale, you’re excited about this. I can tell.” I smiled.
“You got me,” Kale admitted. “I’ve always wanted kids. I thought we’d be older when we had one but, I gotta say, I’m thrilled.”
“I never knew.” I shook my head.
“I didn’t want to put any pressure on you.”
“And here I thought I was putting pressure on you and all this time you wanted a baby.” I laughed, that boy is full of surprises.
“If it were possible I would have knocked you up when we were 16,” said Kale and then we were both laughing to the point of tears.
“Ok, let’s check out Baby GAP,” I said.
We went to Baby GAP but it didn’t stop there. Before our little impromptu shopping trip was finished we’d been to every preppy store you could think of that sold kids clothes. Kale spent an obscene amount of money but looking at how much joy it brought him I couldn’t object. I’d never known Kale’s greatest dream was to have a baby and it warmed my heart that I was able to fulfill it for him.
We took the things we’d picked out for Lincoln back to our apartment and then went back to the residence hall. We decided to stay there Saturday night then packed up our things and moved on Sunday. On Monday morning Kale met with the university which was happy to give us a family exemption to live off campus and I called Mrs. Goodman. She came by our place just after lunch and Kale and I paced nervously around the living room while she made her inspection.
“I’m going to hire you boys the next time I move,” said Mrs. Goodman. “You did all this in a weekend?”
“Well, the place came furnished so that helped,” said Kale.
“More importantly, is it enough?” I asked.
“This is a nice place you have here,” said Mrs. Goodman. “I’m happy to give it my seal of approval and I’ll call Mrs. Johnson as soon as I get back to my office.”
“Thank you,” Kale and I exclaimed in unison as we hugged Mrs. Goodman between us.
“Alright now.” Mrs. Goodman laughed. “I’m glad you guys are excited but remember; raising a child is hard work.”
“We understand, it’ a little daunting but we’re excited,” said Kale.
“In that case I better get going so you can pick up your boy,” said Mrs. Goodman.
Mrs. Johnson called us an hour later and told us we could come and get Lincoln. There was no way we could make it to the city in time that afternoon but we packed our bags like we’d planned and headed for New York so we’d be able to pick him up first thing in the morning. We weren’t sure what Lincoln would have with him in the way of clothes so Kale packed a bag with some of the new things he’d bought so Lincoln would have something to wear while we were in Sanitaria Springs.
“I still think you bought him too much,” I teased as we loaded the car.
“Hey, I almost got him a little baseball bat and glove, but…” Kale started.
“But you realized Jamie would have to teach him how to use them?”
“Yeah well, soccer’s a better sport anyway,” said Kale with a wink.
With that settled we got in the car and headed southeast. We ate dinner when we got to the city and then checked into our hotel room but neither of us could sleep, we were too excited. We had to do something to occupy our time and I wouldn’t call that evening’s experience making love so much as fucking. We went at each other like animals over and over again. We’d be sharing our lives with a child now so it’s probably good that we got it out of our system, at least for the time being.
The next morning we rose with the sun and headed across the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn. We were early so we sat in the car for half an hour and at 8am we walked into Little Flower Children’s school. Mrs. Johnson met us, had me sign some paperwork and then she went to get our son. It felt like an eternity but after a few minutes she came through the door holding a little blond boy’s hand. This was the first time I’d seen him up close, he bore my blond hair and facial structure. He must have gotten his eyes from his mom but it was perfect, the blue almost matched Kale’s.
“Lincoln, this is the young man I told you about,” said Mrs. Johnson, leaning down to speak at his level.
“Go on,” Kale whispered and pushed me gently forward. He stood behind me holding onto the teddy bear he’d picked out for Lincoln the day he asked me to marry him.
“Hello, you must be Lincoln.” I smiled and knelt in front of him.
“Linc, I like Linc,” he said.
“Cool, I like Linc too. Did they tell you who I am?”
“You my Daddy?”
“That’s right,” I replied and almost cried.
“She couldn’t be with us, I’m afraid, but she wanted you to come live with me now. She wanted me to take care of you,” I explained.
“Ok Daddy, I love you,” said Linc, as he put his little arms around my neck. I was surprised by how easily he said it but Mrs. Johnson had explained over the phone that little ones form easy attachments. There would likely be struggles later on but for the moment he knew I was his daddy and you tell your daddy you love him.
I stood up and held him in my arms. It felt so right and I couldn’t believe a few days ago I was actually thinking of giving him up when now I felt like I’d tear someone to pieces if they tried to take him from me.
“Hey, who that?” asked Linc, noticing Kale.
I held Linc in one arm and reached out to Kale with my free hand. He took it and I pulled him to me.
“This is Kale, he’s going to be my husband and help me take care of you,” I explained. “Do you understand what that means?”
“He Daddy too?” asked Linc.
“That’s right,” I replied and a tear feel from my cheek.
“Smart little boy you’ve got there,” said Mrs. Johnson with a smile.
Linc reached out to Kale and I passed him over. He put his arms around Kale’s neck and then noticed the teddy bear he was holding.
“Who that?” asked Linc.
“He doesn’t have a name yet. I got him for you, I thought you could pick it out,” said Kale.
“Thank you, Daddy,” said Linc as he grabbed the teddy then hugged it between himself and Kale. That’s when I saw a tear drop from Kale’s eye too.
“You ok?” I sniffled and wiped my eyes.
“He called me Daddy, Chase,” said Kale. He was beaming.
“It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?” asked Mrs. Johnson.
“Yeah,” Kale and I replied in unison.
“Why don’t we get out of here, huh?” I said.
“Ok,” said Kale, still cuddling Linc to his chest.
“Bye-bye, Linc,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“Bye-bye, Missy Johnson,” said Linc.
“Be a good boy for your daddies now,” she admonished him.
“I always good,” said Linc firmly.
“Yeah, he’s a spirited one.” Mrs. Johnson giggled. “Good luck boys.”
Linc warmed up to us almost immediately. It was like we’d raised him his whole life and that was a relief. I was worried that he’d be scared and have trouble adjusting but so far everything was going great. Even the clothes Kale bought him fit.
We spent the night at the hotel Tuesday and since Wednesday turned out to be a beautiful day, we took Linc to the zoo. He was so cute the way he giggled and laughed at the monkeys but the tigers were his favorite. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon at the zoo and had a late lunch before we headed to Sanitaria Springs. The closer we got to our home town the more nervous I became.
Truth be told I’ve always been jealous of Kale’s parents. They’re very warm people and you only have to watch them for a few minutes to see how much they love Kale and all their boys. Sean is living proof of that. He’d only been there a few months but he fit into the Kirkwood house as though he were born and raised there. I knew the Kirkwood’s might be a little apprehensive about the situation Kale and I found ourselves in but in the end we’d have their complete love and support. My parents were another story.
I love my Mom and Dad but they aren’t the warmest people and I’m glad I didn’t grow up to be like them. My Dad isn’t so bad but he takes his cues from Mom and she can be so cold at times, like when dealing with my cousin, Austin. It took everything I had to get her to let him stay with us and I worry about him now that I’m not home to watch over him. He puts on a good tough guy routine and says he can handle whatever Mom dishes out but he’s a sweet and sensitive kid underneath.
Mom’s attitude towards Austin stems from her relationship with his father, her brother, Terry. I never knew the man but according to my parents, Uncle Terry had a lot of problems when he got out of the military. He fathered Austin but was never part of his life and then he went off and died. Mom had a lot of anger towards her brother and my biggest worry was she’d direct it towards me when she found out I’d followed in his footsteps and fathered a child out of wedlock.
“We’re home,” said Kale as he parked the car in front of his parent’s house.
“Huh?” I asked when he distracted me from my thoughts.
“I said we’re home. You ok?”
“Yeah, just thinking about my parents.” I sighed.
“Hey,” said Kale, taking my hand in his. “Whatever happens I’ll be right there with you.”
“Thanks.” I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Kale smiled reassuringly and then looked in the backseat, Linc was sound asleep.
“Can I carry him in?” asked Kale.
“Sure, it’s your parent’s house, it’s only right that you introduce them to our son.”
“I love it when you say that, our son,” said Kale.
“That’s what he is, right?”
“Absolutely.” Kale smiled then we got out of the car and he got Linc out of his car seat.
“Where we at, Daddy?” asked Linc with a yawn.
“This is where daddy and, er, daddy, grew up,” said Kale. “Ready to meet grandma and grandpa?”
“Yeah,” said Linc, clapping his hands together excitedly.
“Mom, Dad, we’re home,” shouted Kale as we let ourselves into the foyer.
You could instantly hear footsteps coming from all directions. Robin came trotting down the stairs while Judge Kirkwood came from his study and Mrs. Kirkwood came from the family room with Jamie and Sean.
“Oh, Kale, I missed you so…” Mrs. Kirkwood began, and then she spotted Linc in her son’s arms. “Who’s this?”
“Mom, Dad, guys,” said Kale, then he took my hand in his. “This is our son, Lincoln.”
“Linc, Daddy, I like Linc.”
“That’s right,” said Kale with a smile. “He likes to be called Linc.”
Robin and Sean stood there with their jaws hanging open, so did Judge and Mrs. Kirkwood. It was Jamie who spoke up.
“Holy shit, dude! Who gave you guys a kid?”
“Yeah, uh, we should probably explain that,” said Kale. “Why don’t we go into the living room and have a family meeting?”
Judge Kirkwood led us into the living room and everyone took a seat. Linc was suddenly shy and stayed on Kale’s lap when he sat down.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say, how did this happen?” asked Judge Kirkwood.
“Dad, Linc is Chase’s natural son,” Kale began. “That’s a long story and really not important right now. What is important is that,” Kale continued and briefly covered Linc’s ears, “Linc’s mother is going to prison, she obviously can’t take care of him, so Chase and I are going to raise him.”
We told them everything. We told them how I’d taken a DNA test to prove paternity, how we’d gotten an apartment and an exemption from the university and how we’d picked up Linc the day before in Brooklyn.
“You’re using your trust fund for all this?” asked Judge Kirkwood.
“It’s my money, Dad, I can…” Kale started, defensively.
“I’m not objecting,” said Judge Kirkwood. “I’m just curious why you boys didn’t call and tell us all this was happening.”
“That was my idea,” said Kale. “I wanted everything in place before we told our families because we didn’t want anyone trying to talk us out of it.”
“We wouldn’t have tried to talk you out of it,” Mrs. Kirkwood began. “We might have reminded you that you’re not much more than babies yourselves but if this is what you want, the two of you, we support you. Don’t we Andrew?”
“Of course,” said Judge Kirkwood with a smile. “Chase, we’ve always loved you, you’re as much a part of our family as any of our boys.”
“Thanks, Judge.” I smiled and wished my parents were more like this.
“I’m glad you said that, Dad, because I have one more piece of news,” said Kale. “If we’re going to raise a child together it’s important to Chase and I that we do it right. To that end, I’ve asked Chase to marry me and I’m happy to report he said yes.”
“Oh, Kale,” said Mrs. Kirkwood as she got up and crossed the room to hug him.
“Hey, you squish me.” Linc protested.
“I’m sorry, angel,” said Mrs. Kirkwood then she took his little face in her hands and planted a kiss on his forehead. Linc giggled his delight.
“Welcome to the family, sweetheart,” said Mrs. Kirkwood when she hugged me next.
“Thanks, Mrs. K,” I replied.
“Oh no, Mrs. K won’t do anymore. From now on its Evelyn and Andrew, and when you’re ready, Mom and Dad,” she insisted.
“Ok.” I grinned.
The next thing I knew we were swamped. Everyone was excited and started hugging me, Kale and Linc.
“Hold on,” said Kale. “There’s one more thing. Dad, Chase and I want you to marry us on Friday.”
“Wow,” Robin exclaimed.
“Well, you boy’s sure don’t waste any time, do you son?” asked Judge Kirkwood.
“We know what we want, why wait?” Kale replied.
“Alright then,” said Judge Kirkwood. “It looks like we’ve got a wedding to plan.”
I was so glad things went well with the Kirkwood’s. I want Linc to have more than Kale and I. I want him to have the extended family I always wanted while growing up and at least now I knew if my parents rejected us, my son wouldn’t go without. That said, we ran into a complication when it was time to go over to my house.
“I’m sorry honey,” said Mrs. Kirkwood as we sat around the living room. “We’d love to watch him for you but we have Judge Robertson’s retirement dinner tonight.”
“Robin, what about you?” asked Kale.
“I can’t. Lucien and I have a date.”
“I thought the Kutsenko’s were going to Connecticut for Thanksgiving,” said Kale.
“They are,” Robin replied. “But Lucien and his parents aren’t leaving until early tomorrow morning. They’re meeting Alec and Sasha in Albany and coming home Friday.”
“Ok,” said Kale with a sigh. “Not a word of this to Lucien, Robin. I don’t want Alec and Sasha finding out until Friday.”
“Why?” asked Robin with a raised eyebrow.
“Alec always inflicts his little surprises on us,” said Kale. “Now it’s our turn.”
“Got it.” Robin laughed and then left for his date.
“I’ll go over to my parents myself…” I started.
“Absolutely not,” Kale objected. “We’re in this together, I am going with you.”
“We’ll watch him,” said Jamie. He and Sean were playing with Linc on the living room floor. Jamie had brought up some of his old toys that were stored in the basement.
“Oh, uh, I don’t know…” said Kale, scratching his head.
“Come on, it’s not like we’re retards or something,” said Jamie, rolling his eyes. “Me and Sean can watch a kid for an hour.”
“Don’t say retard, it’s not PC,” said Sean, tweaking his brother.
“Whatever, you know I’m not talking about handicapped people,” said Jaime. “Anyway, let us help.”
Kale and I traded a look. Jamie and Sean weren’t exactly the ideal babysitters I’d had in mind but it was only for an hour or so. How bad could they screw up?
“I really want you to come with me,” I said to Kale.
“Alright, but Jamie, I swear to God, if anything happens to him…” Kale began.
“Don’t get your panties in a wad, Kale,” said Jamie. “I got this. Right Linc?”
“Yeah, Daddy, no wad you panties,” said Linc. He didn’t even look up from his Lego’s.
“I know I’m going to regret this but ok.” Kale sighed. “Let’s go now so that we can get back as soon as possible.”
We got up to leave then and Kale asked Sean to walk us out. I wasn’t sure why until Kale put his hand on Sean’s shoulder and whispered, “You know you’re really in charge, right?”
“Ohhhh no,” said Sean, shaking his head. “You’re not putting that on me.”
“Just keep an eye on them, please?” asked Kale.
“Give Jamie a little credit, Kale. He’s not going to let Linc get hurt,” said Sean, defending his almost twin.
“I know, I just never thought I could worry like this,” said Kale.
“Ha, finally something Kale Kirkwood didn’t think he could worry about,” I teased.
“Ok, ok, I get it. Let’s go,” said Kale.
When we got to my house Austin came running from the kitchen and slid across the foyer tile in his socks. He slammed right into me and embraced me in a bone crushing bear hug.
“Jesus, I can’t breathe.” I hissed.
“Sorry,” said Austin. He let me go then hugged Kale just as hard. When he was done I looked at him and the expression on his face was strange. He was happy to see us but there was more. He seemed relieved.
“Hey, you alright?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah,” said Austin looking over his shoulder as my mother and father came down the hall. “Yeah, I’m ok, I just missed you.”
“I missed you too buddy,” I replied and pulled him in for another hug.
“Save some of that for me,” said Mom as she nudged Austin aside. It annoyed me but I had bigger problems at the moment and let it go for now.
“Hi, Mom,” I hugged her and then my Dad.
My parents hugged Kale too and then the five of us adjourned to the living room. I sat on the couch with Kale on one side and Austin on the other. My parents sat across from us in their wing back chairs.
“It’s so good to see you, Chase,” Mom gushed. “And you too, Kale.”
“Yeah, uh, it’s nice to be home,” I replied.
“Something wrong, son?” asked Dad. He’s always been the more perceptive of the two.
“Not wrong, no, but there is something we kind of need to talk about,” I replied.
“What’s the matter honey?” asked Mom.
I took Kale’s hand in mine and he squeezed it reassuringly, then I told my parents everything.
“That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you guys,” said Austin when I finished. He hugged me and Kale but my parents sat there, my mother’s face ashen.
“Say something,” I said nervously.
“Wow, Chase, I…” Dad began but Mom cut him off.
“How could you do this to us?” asked Mom.
“Do this to you?” I replied.
“First you force this little bastard on us,” said Mom, pointing at Austin. “And now you expect us to support another one?”
“Carol…” Dad started but I cut him off.
“Whoa!” I stood, my anger rising. “First off, don’t you dare call Austin that and don’t you dare refer to my son that way. Secondly, no one is asking you to support anyone. Kale and I will do this ourselves.”
“Don’t you tell me what I can and can’t say in my own home,” Mom shouted.
“Carol, calm down,” said Dad.
“You’re just like my brother. I did my best to raise you better than that and this is how you repay me?” Mom demanded.
“Yeah, let’s talk about the way you raised me,” I shouted. “I’ve seen refrigerators that were warmer then you. It’s a miracle I’m not a fucking ice cube!”
“Now, Chase,” Dad tried to chime in again. This time it was Kale that interrupted him.
“Stop it, all of you,” Kale shouted over us. “You’re a family for Christ sake!”
That shut everyone up and mom stormed out of the room.
“Chase, I’m sorry,” said Dad. “You know your Mom, let her calm down a bit.”
“Forget it. I’m getting married on Friday and if this is the way she’s going to treat me, her grandson and her nephew then we don’t need her in our lives.”
“Chase…” said Dad.
“I’ve had it, Dad. I love you guys but this is bullshit. Austin, get your shoes and grab your things,” I instructed. Austin nodded his head and ran up to his room.
“You’re taking him with you?” asked Dad, a touch of sadness in his voice.
“I know he’s sort of become your little buddy, Dad, but I’m not leaving him here with Mom. I don’t have to put up with her and I’m not leaving him here to face her wrath.”
“If we could all just be reasonable,” said Dad.
“Talk to your wife about that,” I replied as Austin rejoined us. He still looked a little shell shocked.
I stormed out of the house with Kale and Austin in my wake. We climbed into the car and as soon as Kale drove off I started crying.
“My God, how could she be so awful?” I asked rhetorically.
“Let her have some time to adjust to the idea, she’ll get over herself,” said Kale, taking my hand.
“I won’t live like this anymore. She’s been cold and withholding all my life, I don’t need that and I don’t want to expose Linc to it,” I said. “Austin, I’m so sorry I left you behind to go off to school.”
“Hey, you had to go to college and besides, I thought I could handle her.” Austin sighed.
“Thought?” asked Kale.
“I love Uncle George, we get along great but Aunt Carol, even when she’s being nice it feels forced,” said Austin.
“You don’t have to stay there anymore,” I said.
“Yeah,” Kale agreed. “We can take you back to Ithaca with us. You’ll have to share a room with Linc until the summer…”
“What about Derek?” asked Austin. “I can’t leave him.”
“We’ll work it out,” I said. “I promise I’ll thank of something.”
By that time we’d returned to the Kirkwood’s and as Kale parked the car I dried my eyes. I was still upset but I was determined not to let Linc see me like this. We walked into the house and I heard voices coming from the family room so I shouted, “Hey Linc, come meet your Uncle Austin.”
Austin smiled as Linc rounded the corner and charged at us shouting, “Dadddddddddddy.”
His face was a mess, it looked like there was chocolate all over his mouth but I knelt down to scoop him up anyway. When he leapt into my arms I stood and Linc projectile vomited all over me, Kale and Austin.
“Jamie, what the hell?” Kale demanded. His little brothers had only been a few steps behind Linc. “What did you give him?”
“He said he was hungry so I gave him some cookies and Mountain Dew,” said Jamie.
“You can’t feed that crap to a little kid,” Kale exclaimed.
“I didn’t know, it’s what we were eating so we gave him some too,” said Jamie. I was mad but I could see by the look on his face he felt terrible.
“Daddy, my tummy hurts,” Linc whined.
That night was a mess. I was furious with my mother, I didn’t know what to do about Austin and to top it off Kale and I learned how frustrating it can be to deal with a sick child. Mrs. Kirkwood –Evelyn, was going to put Linc in her sewing room because there was a day bed there and it was right next door to Kale’s. Unfortunately Linc cried when we tried to put him down because his tummy still hurt. We tried to comfort him but he ended up throwing up again and we hadn’t thought to bring him any extra jammies. In the end he slept between us wearing one of Kale’s old t-shirts.
When I woke on Thanksgiving Day we faced a world of problems but I was comforted by the sight that greeted me. Kale and Linc were still sound asleep and Kale was snuggling Linc as though he were a little blond teddy bear. Looking at them gave me hope. My mother may have rejected us but what did it matter when I had Kale’s love, a love he was more than willing to share with my –our child?
When I looked at my phone I discovered that it was still very early, only 7am. I decided to let Kale and Linc sleep while I went for a run to clear my head. I got dressed and headed out of the room but decided to check on Austin before I left. He was sharing Robin’s bed and they too were still asleep. I watched Austin for a moment, such a beautiful kid both inside and out. I didn’t understand why my mother couldn’t see it, why she had to be so bitter and hateful.
I closed Robin’s door and headed downstairs. Running has always been cathartic for me and I hoped by the time I came back I’d have some clarity of thought. I opened the front door and was about to step out when I found my parents walking up the dive-way.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“We know it’s early but can we talk, please?” asked Mom.
I had to think about it for a minute. The truth was I didn’t want to talk to Mom. I was still angry at her and I wasn’t prepared to deal with more of her derision. On the other hand she and Dad had come to me; that was a hopeful sign.
“Everyone is still asleep. No shouting?”
“No shouting,” Mom agreed. “I’m finished shouting.”
“Alright then,” I replied and led my parents into the Kirkwood’s living room. When we were seated I said, “So, what do you want?”
“Chase,” Dad started. “Your mom and I had a long talk last night. When you left and took your cousin with you it made me think of what life without you guys would be like. No son, no son-in-law, no grandson, no nephew, it painted a very bleak picture and that’s not how we want to live our lives.”
“I believe you, Dad, but Mom, the things you said last night…” I started.
“They were terrible,” Mom admitted. “I raised my voice to my baby; I said horrible things about him and my own grandchild. I looked in the mirror last night after talking to your dad and I didn’t like what I saw.”
“I see you conveniently left out Austin.”
“I need to address that separately. I’ve been, well, for lack of a better word, a bitch to him,” said Mom.
“And you just suddenly looked in the mirror last night and realized all this?” I asked skeptically.
“When your father threatened to leave me it forced me to look deeper at myself then I have in a lot of years,” said Mom.
“What?” I exclaimed. To say I was shocked would be the understatement of the year.
“Chase, I love your mother,” said Dad, taking her hand, “But as I told her last night, I am not going to lose you or miss out on being a part of your family.”
“So you guys, you’re not getting a divorce right?” I asked
“No,” said Mom. “We talked and I’m going to start seeing a therapist about some of the issues I have with my family. I should have done it a long time ago. I’m sorry I didn’t, I’m sorry to you and I’m sorry to Austin.”
“You’ll tell him that?”
“I will,” said Mom. “When he came to us I expected him to be nothing but a trouble maker, just like his father, and I’ve viewed him unfairly through that lens. He’s been a very good boy since he came to live with us, I see that now and I want to apologize. Chase, I love you so much. I want to come to your wedding tomorrow, I want Austin to come home, I want to meet my grand baby and I want us to be a family. Can you ever forgive me?”
It was everything I wanted to hear. At long last it sounded like my Mom had finally seen the error of her ways. If she followed through on even half of what she’d just said life would be better for all of us. I rose from my seat, so did my parents, and I hugged them both.
“Ok, Mom, let’s give it a try,” I said as I squeezed her.
“Um, hi,” said Kale. I turned to find him standing there in his pajamas with Linc holding his hand. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, we’re good.” I smiled at him.
“Oh my God, he looks just like you,” said Mom.
I held out my hand and Kale brought Linc into the room so I could present him to my parents.
“Mom, Dad, this is your grandson, Lincoln…” I started.
“I know, I was just getting to that part.” I patted his head. “He likes to be called Linc. Linc, this is my mommy and daddy, your other grandma and grandpa.”
“Hi,” Linc said shyly.
“He’s beautiful,” said Mom. “May I?”
“Go ahead.” I smiled.
Mom knelt down and hugged Linc in her arms. It was a beautiful gesture that gave me hope for her. Dad got his hug in too and then Linc said, “Daddy.”
“Yes?” Kale and I answered in unison.
“Hungry,” said Linc.
“Come on kiddo, I’ll make you some toast,” said Kale.
“You boy’s will have to figure that one out,” said Dad with a smile.
“Toast?” Kale asked, confused.
“I mean Daddy,” said Dad. “Could get confusing with the two of you.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted. He did have a point.
“When you were that age you called your dad papa,” said Mom.
“Hmmm, papa.” I scratched my head. “What do you think, Linc, wanna call me papa?”
“Ok papa,” said Linc. “Toast now?”
“Sure buddy, go with Daddy,” I said with a chuckle.
“They’ve got a one track mind at that age.” Mom smiled.
Kale made Linc his toast and then put on a pot of coffee. We were sitting in the breakfast nook as the rest of the house began to wake. Robin and Austin padded into the kitchen still in their pajamas. Austin stopped in his tracks when he saw my parents. I was amazed at what happened next.
Mom put down her coffee and walked over to Austin. He looked afraid at first almost as if he expected her to slap him or something. Instead Mom reached out and caressed his cheek then put her arms around him and hugged him. “I’m sorry,” I heard her whisper in his ear.
“O-ok,” said Austin, clearly taken aback by Mom’s uncharacteristic display of affection.
“I want you to come home. I know we’ve had our issues and I want to work them out, ok?” asked Mom.
“Yeah, I-I’d like that,” said Austin.
They joined us at the table where Austin sat between my parents. Dad put his arm around Austin’s shoulders and gave him a little side hug. He was happy his little buddy was coming home. Austin looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I shot him a wink and a smile.
I thought Thanksgiving would be quiet and subdued but it turned out to be a lively affair. When Evelyn and the Judge came downstairs they talked to my parents and decided to combine dinners. We were surrounded by family and the conversation was lively, the atmosphere almost celebratory. There was only one thing left to do.
On Friday morning Judge Kirkwood met his clerk at the office and picked up our marriage license. Kale and I signed it immediately but it had to be countersigned by two witnesses before the Judge could notarize it. There were only two people in the world Kale and I wanted as witnesses and they arrived shortly after noon.
“God it’s good to see you guys,” Alec exclaimed when we met him and Sasha in the Kirkwood’s foyer. We’d left Linc playing with Sean and Jamie in the basement. One surprise at a time.
“We missed you guys.” Sasha beamed as he hugged each of us.
“We missed you too,” said Kale. “Let’s go up to my room. There’s something we want to talk to you about.”
The guys followed us up to Kale’s room and as soon as the door was shut Alec unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans. They fell around his ankles and gave us a great glimpse of his package.
“Um, what are you doing?” asked Kale with a raised eyebrow.
“Um, when you said you wanted to talk to us in your room I thought you guys wanted…”
“Not that you dork,” Kale exclaimed then laughed. “Pull your pants up.”
“Alec, I swear.” Sasha shook his head but wore a bemused smile.
“So what did you want to talk about,” asked Alec as he refastened his belt.
“We want you to sign this,” I replied and presented them with our marriage license. “Where it says witnesses.”
“Is that…” Alec began.
“Oh my God,” Sasha exclaimed. “This is a marriage license!”
“I asked Austin to be my best man but, Sasha, I can’t get married unless you stand there with me.”
“Of course I’ll stand with you!” Sasha signed the license and then hugged and kissed me and Kale on the cheek.
“Same goes for you, Alec,” said Kale. “I can’t get married tonight without my best man.”
“Dude, I’d be pissed if you asked anyone else.” Alec grinned and took the pen from Sasha. After he signed we got hugs and kisses from him too. “Alright, now that that’s done, you guys want to explain what in the name of Zeus’s butthole is going on?”
Kale and I held hands and told them the story, after that we took them down to the basement to meet Linc.
“Hi, Papa, hi, Daddy,” said Linc when he saw us. He was too busy playing Legos with Uncle Sean and Uncle Jamie to notice Alec and Sasha.
“Hey, Linc, you wanna say hi to Uncle Sasha and Uncle Alec?” I asked.
“Hi,” said Linc, still concentrating on his building.
“Wow,” said Sasha. “I’m blown away by the resemblance.”
“I know but he has Kale’s eyes.” I squeezed Kale’s hand and Sasha smiled at us.
“Hey, Linc, can I play too?” asked Sasha.
“Ok,” said Linc.
“Hmmm,” said Alec as Sasha went to play.
“What?” asked Kale.
“I was just wondering,” Alec whispered. “You’ve got a kid, you’re getting married, does that mean no more…”
“Hell no,” said Kale with a wicked grin.
“Yeah, haven’t you ever heard of babysitter’s?” I asked.
“Alright then.” Alec smirked. “Hey, Linc, I wanna play.”
We married that night in the Kirkwood’s family room surrounded by our closest friends and family. Alec, Sasha and Austin stood with us. Our parents were there, Kale’s brothers, Lucien and Derek, Austin’s boyfriend, too. It was an intimate and romantic affair and I’d share our vows with you but I can’t remember them. All I can remember is looking into Kale’s eyes and basking in the love they reflected.
“I can’t believe it,” said Alec, wiping a tear from his eye. “You guys are married.”
“Awww, don’t cry Love,” said Sasha as he pecked Alec on the cheek.
“Um, actually there is one more thing,” said Kale. “Come with me.”
Kale took my hand and led me over to his piano. He had me stand next to it while he sat at the bench.
“For those of you who’ve heard me sing before,” Kale announced. “I sincerely apologize for what I’m about to do.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, he hadn’t mentioned this to me before and all he did then was wink at me.
Kale lifted the cover off the keys and began to play a tune I recognized but couldn’t name until he started singing.
We can't begin to know it. How much we really care. I hear your voice inside me, I see your face everywhere. We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder. We belong to the sound of the words, we've both fallen under.
Whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better, we belong, we belong, we belong together.
“Oh, Kale,” I cried when he finished and everyone applauded. I put my arms around him and kissed his lips.
“Not my favorite song but it said what I wanted to say,” said Kale, blinking back tears of his own.
“I love you so much and if this a sign of what our lives together are going to be like then…” I started.
“Baby you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Kale.