Sunday, August 10, 2014



*Story contains M/M relations.*

The funeral was beautiful. Of course. Mom wouldn’t have had it any other way. The casket was gleaming, overhead spot-lighting casting the perfect shade, his cosmetology was flawless. Dad’s final event – the last time he was to be presented in front of business associates, friends and family... listed in that order for a reason.

Only in his early fifties, in impeccable shape physically, an avid gym member – you’d think people would have been shocked. No-one was. Dad was a stress whore. His job had defined him. It wasn’t an oddity for Dad to work fourteen hours a day, it was a rarity for him not to. And that included weekends, holidays and family vacations. On top of that there was the travel – the off-site meetings, the new acquisitions, the recruiting. Dad wasn’t home a lot, and when he was, he wasn’t exactly present.

People expected me to be bitter. People expected me to hate him. My friend’s parents tsk’d and shook their heads over the shortfall they believed me to have. My teachers graded my papers in wonderment at how I could succeed in such an environment. My friends got embarrassed when they told stories about the cool things they did with their own fathers. I never understood the disdain.

I had, you see, quite literally anything and everything I could ever want – before I even had the desire to ask for it. The coolest toys, the latest gadgets; I was the first kid in town to have my own car – and it was brand new – and I was allowed to drive it to school. I never had a problem comprehending what everyone else seemed not to understand. If you wanted the best in life, you had to work for it. You had to work hard. My Dad did what he did for us. Not in spite of us.

And I was going to be just like him.

I was twenty-six when my Dad died. I had finished university, tucked a couple years of experience under my belt, and moved into a nice forward-reaching position in my Dad’s company. I had a girlfriend for nothing more than convenience. I already had a decent retirement account busily collecting interest, and enough money saved for a decent down-payment on a house. I was part-owner of a race horse. That’s right, a race horse. I was well on my way to being Daddy’s perfect little clone and fully believed that I was loving every minute of it.

It didn’t even bother me that the people at the funeral kept saying what a shame it was; what a waste. Or that my Mother was drowning in a cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs. The fact that Dad’s business associates were circling like vultures didn’t faze me in the slightest. It didn’t cross my mind to be upset when, after the funeral, around the boardroom table in the lawyer’s office, the man made a point of handing us his invoice before offering his condolences.

After all, this was business.

It was probably my mother’s half-lidded, glazed-over stare that made me offer to take the envelope when it was handed across the table. It came with simple instruction: to please deliver it to such-and-such-an-address and ensure it was handed directly to such-and-such-a-person. The instructions came from my father and were without preamble as to why or details as to what the envelope contained. An associate, I assumed. Perhaps even a shady one. And, again, I was fine with that. Business was business.

Following the reasonable assumption that a person doesn’t just show up somewhere unannounced, I did the proper thing and called first. Thankfully I got voice mail. Not that I didn’t want to speak with another human, but voice mail is a nice way of keeping things at arm’s length.

“Mr. Taylor,” I told the machine, “my name is Joseph Elder and I’m the son of Mr. Joseph Elder Senior, of which I believe you have an acquaintance.” I didn’t make it sound like I had no idea who I was talking to, but at the same time I didn’t try to come across like I knew more than I should. Just in case. “I’ve received instruction to deliver an envelope to your person, on behalf of my father, and I would like to make arrangements with you to do so.”

I left him my office number. It only made sense to be there; there was a lot to do, and from that vantage I could keep an eye on the predators that were sniffing around my father’s cadaver. Besides, word had it that the board had a very firm recommendation in place to move me if not into my father’s position, then much closer to it. And considering my age and lack of experience, that was something I was going to have to scramble to keep.

You can imagine my surprise when the intercom buzzed two hours later to say that Mr. Taylor was waiting in reception for me. I found it annoying, actually. Not proper protocol in the slightest. I made him wait.

I credited the waiting for the nervous tension in the man’s expression when he reached forward to grip my hand, his eyes travelling my face in an uncomfortable way. He was a respectable looking guy, older than myself but still young, with the confidence to wear an almost-stylish montage that was just this side of kitschy.

His hesitation when he took the envelope almost had me questioning the contents. But I bit back my curiosity. “If there’s nothing else, Mr. Taylor,” I began to say before he cut me off with a wave.


And I frowned, confused.

He looked up, eyes full of emotion that I could not quite grasp. “Mica,” he repeated. “Just call me Mica.”

“Mic...a?” I asked him, my mind flailing. I just couldn’t seem to fathom the necessity of the man telling me his first name.

“Michelangelo, actually,” he confirmed. “But Mica is fine.” He frowned at the envelope, and I shifted awkwardly as he studied it. “Can I...?” Mica looked up and caught my attention. He cleared his throat. “Can I ask you something?”

I nodded. At that point the man could have asked for just about anything as long as he left my office. He had a sense of wrongness. Like, somehow, by his very presence alone, my whole life was about to change.

Mica nervously cleared his throat again, and I was awed at the ease by which the man displayed emotion to a complete stranger. “Is there any reason...,” he faltered, and started again. “...Is there any reason Joseph isn’t giving this to me himself?”

It felt like my stomach slipped into my bowels. In some strange way, the thought of telling Mica the news seemed to elicit a worse reaction in me then when I’d heard the news myself. “You haven’t heard, then?”

His face fell, and he crumpled the envelope in his fist. He shook his head, no.

“I’m so sorry,” I told him, struggling to keep my voice even. “My father passed away last Tuesday.” I watched in horrified fascination as Mica appeared to disintegrate in front of me. “It was his heart,” I added quickly, as if the explanation would help to soothe the words. “They think it was pretty quick.”

Mica lifted the envelope to his chest and pressed it there. Silent – dumbstruck.

And before I could offer him water, the phone, or even a moment just to sit in peace, Mica turned and left the office.


His face haunted me, and nothing haunts me. How could a man, whose name I had never heard at either home or office, have such an emotional reaction to the news of my father’s passing? My Dad had acquaintances he’d known for years that hadn’t reacted that strongly.

So it was the grieving image that drew me, but it was my mother that nudged me, although without intention or even realisation that she’d done so.

She blew my mind, thirty-nine days after my Dad’s funeral, with the announcement that she was moving to North Carolina with Edward. To which I sputtered and spit, “Who the hell is Edward?!”

It is a simple life we lead when we still believe that our parents are flawless and that their marriage is a match made in heaven.

Turns out, Edward is the name of the man who has been mother’s masseuse for the past eight years. It also turns out that Edward is no more a masseuse than I am. So as I stared at this woman who had masqueraded as my father’s loving wife, huffing and puffing my indignation, I could think of nothing better to do than tell her I had no idea who she was anymore. Pointing, with the same hand that gripped her swaying gin and tonic, she squinted at me and told me, “There’s a lot of things you don’t know, Joey. There’s a lot of things you probably don’t even want to know.” And before she could elaborate she was quietly led away, stumbling, by the patient and oh-so-gracious Edward.

Ten minutes later Edward was back in the kitchen to sequester a bottle of water and some Advil for the inevitable hangover. He stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t judge her too harshly Joseph. Your mother is a very lonely woman. And she’s been very lonely for a long time now.”

To which I responded with a distinguished and well-spoken, “Suck my cock, you home-wrecking piece of shit.”

At that point, I didn’t foresee us spending many Christmases together.

Four and half hours and my own fair share of alcohol later, I realised two things. There were a lot of things about my family that I didn’t know. Especially about my father. In a twenty-four day I would have considered myself lucky to have seen him for one. The man I’d wanted to be, that I’d looked up to, that I’d worshipped, was 23/24th’s a fantasy.

The other thing I realised was that I did want to know, no matter what my mother said. And I had a damn good idea where to start.


I am an organizational genius. Many people would have merely shredded the paperwork upon which the instructions from Dad had been laid out. Not I. It had been scanned, saved, and placed in the appropriate folder on both PC and back-up drive. So Mica’s address had, quite literally, been at my fingertips when I went looking for it.

I was surprised by the understated, yet beautifully kept home I found. It was nestled in a quiet neighbourhood just outside of the city. It was small, it was clean, and it was groomed. The gardens were stunning. They overflowed with flowers I couldn’t name, placed in what appeared to be random bursts of colour and texture and size, yet when viewed as a whole were magnificent works of art.

Mica, however, was surprised by me. I saw it in his face, the ways his eyes flew wide and his mouth dropped open. I saw it in his body as he hurried to right himself from where he knelt in front of a blooming whatever-it-was.


“Mica.” I nodded.


“We should talk,” I said.

“Oh...” Mica pulled off his gloves, brushed off his knees and swept his arm towards the street. “Let’s walk, then,” he suggested. “I talk better when I’m moving.”

The last time I’d been for a walk was grade four. I’d forgotten how enjoyable it could be. It seems I’d stopped thinking about how the birds sounded, or the way the breeze felt; how nice it was to use your leg muscles to move, without machines or weights.

We didn’t say anything for a long time. We walked down his street, past an empty playground, turning down a small trail that led us through a grove, and into a larger park. The grass was green, the sun was warm, and the air was rich with the scent of something sweet and alive.

“So,” Mica said finally. “You know about us?”

I stared him in the eyes and lied through my teeth. “Of course.”

He stared right back. “I’m so sorry.”

And as cryptic as it sounded, the statement wasn’t nearly an admission. Which meant it wasn’t helpful at all. So I tried fishing. “Well it was hardly your fault.”

Mica spun to face me, his eyes flashing. “It was nobody’s fault, Joseph! There is nofault. I’m sorry if you don’t see it that way but that’s your issue. I’ll have you know that I loved your father very much.”

I think he took my confused silence for something different entirely because his eyes lost the angry spark, and he reached for my arm. “Regardless, I’m still sorry, Joseph. It was probably very hard on your mother. I want you know that I never meant to hurt your family.”

It dawned on me far slower than it should have. Like the magma that advances with consuming patience, like molasses from its chilled carton, the realisation of what Mica was saying came at me. I had enough time to step away if I'd chosen to upend the slow pour. I didn’t.

When it did hit me, it all but knocked me over. My eyes felt wide enough to mimic cartoon eyeball expulsion. “You were... you and Dad... were... as in, you and he...,” and suddenly I felt very warm and flashes were going off behind my eyes. The earth beneath my feet went soggy.

“Oh, shit,” I heard, and Mica was easing me to the ground. I didn’t completely go out, but the world became quite fuzzy for a few seconds. When I started to regain composure, Mica was kneeling in front of me with a worried, annoyed expression.

“You didn’t know at all, did you?” he asked.

I shook my head, no.

“Clever kid, aren’t you?”

I shook in the negative again. “No. Just sneaky.”

Mica brushed hair off my forehead, and I tensed. He appeared not to notice. “Well,” he continued. “You have his business sense then, don’t you?”

Of course I did. I was my father personified. It was my life’s goal. I didn’t bother to explain that to him.

Mica dropped to the grass beside me. I let his confession sink in. “So,” I said, finally. “You were lovers.”

Mica nodded.

“For a long time?”

“Long enough,” he said.

Something started buzzing in the back of my head... this creeping, advancing, gnawing feeling that grew quickly into anger. All this time, all these years, I thought the man was working his ass off to be someone important. I thought he’d been gone because he was making our lives better, not because he wanted to be somewhere else. With someone else. I spit out my next question with enough hate that the words could have dripped venom. “So is that the real reason my father was never home? Because he was with you?”

Mica snorted. “I wish.” When I flashed him a look of disbelief, he laughed sadly. “Your father had no more time for me than he had for anyone else in his life.” Mica pulled his legs up against his chest and tucked his arms around them. “Your father,” he continued, “was the proverbial rabbit, Joseph. He couldn’t stop running, couldn’t stop digging. It was like he thought the hounds were right behind him, and if he could just keep going – faster, higher, better – then he could stay safe. Except all that running did was put him in an early grave.”

“My father wanted the best!” I argued. “To be the best, to have the best! And he was willing to sacrifice for it!”

Mica glanced over and tilted his head. “What’s the best?”

I frowned. “What do you mean? The best is the best.”

He smiled and looked out over the grass of the park. “The best toys don’t mean anything to a kid, Joseph. You can sit there all you want and tell me you preferred the new X-box, but I know for a fact you’d have rather had the baseball if your Dad would have taken the time to play catch with you. I know you loved the new car, but you would have held way more affection for a beat-up ’72 something-or-other that you and your Dad tinkered around with for a year before it went on the road.”

Mica paused, caught my gaze, and held it. “Ask your Mom if she’d rather have that amazing house or a companion.”

The sound of Mica’s words had long since faded when my brain began to pick the pieces up and play with them. I’d told myself it was all right, that I was lucky for what my Dad did. I was grateful. But really, what had I loved about the things I’d owned? To show them off, of course. They were the things I could show to my friends and say, ‘See? It’s okay if we’re not normal. Because I’ve got this and you don’t. That makes me someone.’

And I suddenly realised that I didn’t have to become my father. I was already more like him than I had ever known.

Mica reached over and patted my knee. “Be careful, rabbit. Don’t get caught in the same trap. You don’t know if the sounds you hear behind you are actually hounds unless you’ve seen them.”

When he rose and walked away, I suppose I could have followed. I didn’t. I sat in the park and pondered all manner of predators and prey. I silently compared my childhood with the one Mica had brought to my imagination. I let my heart bleed for my mother. I questioned the enjoyment I told myself I felt with my career.

I sat, and I waited. For whatever the hell it was that was trying to catch up.


He drew me back. Time and time again. At first I started making up excuses. I’d find little things and tell myself, ‘Mica would like this.’ Pictures of my Dad mostly, or funny, goofy trinkets that I knew had to come from someone outside our family. He’d take them, though I never saw any of them get put out anywhere.

Then the, ‘Oh, my God! I have to tell Mica!’ moments started. Like the night before my Mom moved. And her, Edward, and I sat around the den and got drunk as teenagers. How we had laughed, learned, remembered... how I didn’t hate Edward quite so much the next day. These were the things I told myself Mica needed to hear.

I begged Mica to come with me to the cemetery on Father’s Day. He didn’t want to, he said it would be awkward, but he did it. I even managed to stay dry-eyed and stoic – for all of about four minutes. Mica did something no-one had ever done for me before; he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and let me cry. He didn’t try to coo away the tears or tell me to stop. He didn’t get nervous or upset. It wasn’t until the waterworks ceased, and a new emotion began to take over, one that was entirely contrary to grief, that we both pulled away, embarrassed. And I set down the partially-crushed bouquet of flowers, looked at my Dad’s headstone and silently asked it, 'What the fuck was that?'

After that I stopped making excuses and just started showing up. Sometimes I’d hang around for an hour or two and watch him fiddle with his gardens or chat his ear off about work. Other nights I stayed until two in the morning watching movies on a screen that, quite literally, put the ones in my home to shame. I had to assume it was a gift. I never bothered to ask.

Mica was fifteen years older than me, and exactly fifteen years younger than my Dad. I found it a strange parallel. He was one of those guys, however, that had been graced with good genes. He didn’t look thirty-nine, at least, not like any of the thirty-almost-forty-somes than I knew. He was classically attractive, fine featured but not small, effervescent youth with the wisdom of experience. But the most striking thing about Mica was the fact that he was one of the kindest souls I’d ever known. He understood me.

It was a bill that finally did me in. A simple little piece of paper. I don’t know if was gas, electric, or what – only that he’d been looking at it, bitching pleasantly in that odd paradoxical way that only he can do, and it struck me out of the blue that I had fallen in love with him. What weirded me about it the most, was that it didn’t feel weird at all. It should have, my conscience told me; it wasn’t supposed to be like that. Yet even as the voice in my head tried to beat the interest back into the shadows, my body leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.

Mica didn’t pull back. He just stared at me in shock: a full-blown, anime-style, wide-eyed, pink-cheeked, where-the-hell-had-that-come-from look. It didn’t, however, fade into a half-lidded, finally-fluttering-closed finale. So I pulled away instead.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s... just... no.”

I shrugged. “Too late.”

“I can’t,” he said, struggling to find words.

I shrugged again. “I can.”

“You’re... Joseph,” he explained.

“And that’s probably not going to change anytime soon,” I agreed.

The next words were barely spoken, breaths more than anything else. “But your father...”

I lifted an eyebrow, “Would probably consider this to be an excellent use of networking; most certainly superior resource management.” I grinned, and added, “At the very least, a fine example of inventory control.”

Mica rolled his eyes, and I just leaned in and kissed him again. And when I threaded my fingers into his hair, he responded with a similar move. From there it was easy.


I wasn’t surprised by the conversation we were having. I was disgusted by it, I was furious over it, but I’d expected it, and I was prepared for it. I stayed casual, leaning back in the boardroom chair with dignified grace and quiet regard, and waited for the acting CEO to finish his speech. Public eye, blah, blah, blah; decorum, blah, blah, blah; moral standing, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And when he was done I stared at him and offered my most finely tuned I-will-eat-you-alive smile, compliments of my father. “Are you saying I have to choose? The company or the man? Is that what you’re telling me, Chief Executive Officer Pallin?” I paused, raked a look over the old man, and then caught his eye. “In the year 2011, with human rights issues being what they are,” I dropped my weight forward and leaned into the table, “are you 100% sure that’s what you’re saying to me?”

He sputtered, he coughed. His eyes grew cold. “Of course not! I’m just saying that maybe you’re too young for this company yet, Joseph.”

I placed my palms on the table and stood. “Hmm,” I offered. “Well then. I’m sure you’ll work some figures, and crunch some numbers, and we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, then.” I didn’t wait for his reply. I got up and walked to the door. I did, however, pause and turn back. “You will, of course, direct said arrangement through my lawyer.” I smiled sweetly. “I’m sure you still have his contact information. He handled my father’s estate. Great guy. A real bulldog.” I winked.

I left.

The package showed up three days later.

I didn’t even bother to read it before I signed it. The actual numbers didn’t matter. I still had my savings and the house was already on the market. My share in the racehorse had been sold off to my partner, and my car was now in the hands of a nineteen year old maniac who would, no doubt, wrap himself around a pole with it.

With Mica’s patient guidance, I had let the hounds catch up and realised, quite by surprise, that they weren’t nearly as big and scary as Dad and I had thought they’d be. Not only did they have no taste for game, it turned out they were slightly leporiphobic.

We bought a little flower shop not too far from Mica’s home. Damn! I keep forgetting! No matter how often he corrects me... Not too far from our home. I drive a 2004 Ford Focus that is some odd colour of dirty muck brown. And I don’t mind one bit. Mica still pleasantly bitches at the bills, but no matter if we’re comfortable monetarily that way or not, I think he always will. He no doubt feels it’s the principle of the thing. Bills must be frowned upon.

We both spent a long time kneeling in front of Dad’s headstone the day we decided to move in together. I keep telling him Dad would have understood. Mica doesn’t agree.

He’s wrong though. Dad would have wanted us to be happy. I still like to believe that was the reason for everything he did. Even for the things he hid. He hid it because he felt he had to. And that means he loved us. In his own way.

I’m just so very glad that it wasn’t ‘that way’ I ended up choosing to live with. I most certainly prefer ‘Mica’s way’. We don’t need the best of everything – we have each other – and in a funny little twist of fate, it turns out that is the best of everything.

We did Christmas with Mom and Edward in North Carolina. It was surprisingly nice. Mom cooked. Edward made pie. We silently agreed just not to talk about certain things. But that’s okay. At least we’re talking.

Oh. And I bought him a rabbit for our first ‘anniversary’. We named it Lucky.

The End

Copyright © 2011 AF Henley

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