Dinner was almost ready and Anthony was taking his hand at making soufflés for the first time.
“Wow,” David said, looking over Anthony’s shoulder after appearing back in the kitchen. “These are looking good. Now just run your thumb around the perimeter of each dish.” Anthony tentatively stuck his thumb in, unsure of what to do. “Liiiiike this,” David said, gingerly making a shallow moat around the edge of the batter. Anthony repeated the motion in the other three, before placing each one in the oven.
“We’re going to have to start eating now, if these are going to come out in time for dessert,” Anthony said.
David glanced up at the wall clock. “Go get Keith and Rell,” he said off-handedly while wiping off the counter. The words barely crossed his lips before he heard them rounding the corner.
“I’m through talking about it,” Keith said, as Durrell followed him.
“That’s not going to make me magically get some money,” Durrell countered.
“Then you’re just gonna have to move back into the house,” Keith said firmly, and took a seat at the table.
“Gosh, you guys are still fighting about that?” David said, bringing two hot dishes to the table.
Rell crashed in the chair next to Keith.
“Rell is,” Keith clarified. “I’m done with it.” Durrell had broken the news to Keith the previous evening that even thought he would have this month’s rent money for his stay in the carriage house ($200) he wouldn’t have the $600 in back rent he already owed. Since David and Keith sometimes rented the carriage house out to UCLA students (for much more) even when Durrell paid on time, his tenancy came at a loss. Also, Keith argued, Durrell’s stay in the carriage house was a trial run for the real world, and he wouldn’t be able to sweet talk (or yell) his way out of getting evicted. Durrell’s counter arguments had mostly consisted of pleas for more time and declarations that Keith was a pimp.
Keith froze suddenly, and then took a sniff at the air. “What’s that smell?”
“Soufflés,” Anthony beamed brightly as he brought the rolls to the table. He sat down across from Durrell.
“Not that,” Keith said. He leaned forward over the chicken and rice and took a sniff, “There’s too much basil in that.”
Anthony looked at David with mild panic.
“I thought so too,” David said, taking the remaining seat, “but taste it.” He scooped out a spoonful and handed to Keith, who tried it. “Good, right?”
Keith nodded. “Really good.” He sighed approvingly. “Then let’s eat.”
“Anthony, can you say grace?” David suggested, and they all bowed their heads…
David looked up and found Anthony frozen and staring dead at him. “Something wrong?”
Anthony took a protracted breath. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said. David glanced at Keith for a clue to what Anthony was about to say, but Keith just shrugged.
“What could have possibly changed in the last three minutes?” David asked. Anthony still didn’t speak and stared down at his empty plate.
“Well?” Keith goaded impatiently, hunger in his eyes.
“David, Keith,” he finally started. “I’m gay.”
“What?!” Durrell blurted.
Keith and David exchanged amused looks.
“That’s it,” Keith said, shaking out his napkin. “I’m playing lotto next time we go to Benson’s.” He grabbed one of the bowls from the table and began dumping spinach onto his plate.
“Here we go,” David said playfully.
“No seriously. First it was the World Cup win. Then it was the number of intakes you got that week after St. Patrick’s Day, remember?”
“Pure luck,” David chuckled, taking a convenient sip from his water.
“OK, but this? This is luck too?”
David’s voice grew shriller. “You had a 50/50 chance of being right.”
“But did I have a 50/50 chance of guessing the name of Claire’s dog?”
“OK, that was creepy,” David conceded.
“Did anybody hear me?” Anthony interjected.
“We heard you,” David said, draping his napkin across his lap. “You’re gay.” He scooped some rice onto his plate.
“And that inspired you to start talking about Claire’s dog?” Durrell replied.
“It’s just that Keith guessed that Anthony was going to come out this week while we were eating at Benson’s on Sunday.” David sighed (some chagrin written on his face) and turned to Anthony. “I didn’t even know you were gay.”
“So you don’t care?” Anthony said, surprisingly relieved.
“You thought we might?” Keith said incredulously.
“Not really,” Anthony replied, lifting the basket of rolls. “I just… I don’t know what I thought.” He paused. “That it might be weird.”
David put on hand on Anthony’s shoulder. “I think it’s… great,” he said.
Keith shrugged. “I think he should have had at least one girlfriend first.” He shoved a heaping spoonful of rice in his mouth.
David covered his face with both hands. “That is the most crackhead theory I’ve ever kept hearing from you.” He gestured with clasped hands. “Why do you feel like gay men need to date women, like its some kind of rite of passage?”
“It… kinda is,” Keith asserted. “Name all the gay men you know that have never had a girlfriend.”
“Terry,” David announced confidently.
“Yeah, well,” Keith muttered, taking a sip from his wine. “And anyway, that’s just one.”
“Who cares?” David exclaimed. “And what about those poor girls? Do you know what it does to a young woman to find out her boyfriend is gay?” He ran his finger around the rim of his wine glass. “It took Jennifer years to get over it.”
“I didn’t say he had to get engaged to her. Besides, do you know what it does to a gay man to find out his boyfriend doesn’t have girls out of his system?”
David leveled a telling look at Keith. “Can’t imagine what that feels like,” he muttered.
Durrell looked over at Anthony who was polishing off his first helping of spinach. “So we’re just full-on eating without saying grace?” he asked with some indignation.
David raised his eyebrows. “And you care now, Mr. I Might Be Agnostic?”
“Whatever,” Durrell said and poured himself a glass of wine, since underage drinking was pretty much a family tradition at this point, and, after the boys spent Spring Break in Manhattan with Claire, getting them to stop drinking had become a losing battle.
It had been about a month since a “quick pickup from the nursing home right down the street” had somehow snowballed into a contentious midnight intake meeting between rival in-laws (illegally conducted by Durrell), a re-embalming (started by David) and a midnight security situation (handled by Keith) that all culminated in Anthony being late for school the next day and the neighbors giving them all vicious stares for about a week. The following evening, Keith had made an announcement: no one would do any work after dinner… ever. They’d all—groggily and grumpily—agreed.
The decree had lasted about 48 hours.
David had tried, but his neat freak compulsions and heavy work load had gotten the best of him; his interns were as flaky as ever and… people kept dying. So tonight, all four guys were in the funeral home lobby, surrounded by boxes, and… working.
“So Anthony,” David began as they checked the inventory of the latest delivery of supplies. “Do you have a boyfriend, somebody you’re looking at?”
Anthony squirmed some. “No. I mean, a few guys at my school are out, but—“
“Really?” David interrupted. “How many?”
Anthony shrugged. “Ten-ish”
David looked wistfully at Keith. “Wow, tenth grade has really changed since 1985.”
“Which is a good thing,” Keith insisted.
“Oh, I totally agree,” David replied.
“Dad,” Anthony said, staring apprehensively at David. “You wouldn’t care if I did have a boyfriend?”
David’s face faded from amused to perplexed. He stared off into the distance, his eyes squinted, with his head tilted and his mouth agape. He deferred to his husband. “Keith?”
Keith paused, equally hesitant. He diverted his gaze as he answered. “Give yourself some time before you… you know, get in a relationship.” He went back to counting.
Durrell looked back and forth between David and Keith, his face hopelessly betraying the confusion he felt. He landed on Keith.
“You were practically buying me condoms when I was 15.”
“Your point?” Keith said casually, flipping through invoices.
“So why can’t Anthony have a boyfriend?”
“Because dating as a gay teen and dating as a straight teen are totally different. We just need to… ease him into it.” He sighed. “Dammit, you made me lose count.”
Durrell was even more confused. “Ease him into it? So straight teens can fend for themselves, but gay ones get eased in?”
David jumped in. “What Keith’s trying to say is that the world at large doesn’t prepare gay teens for dating. And Keith and I gave you boys the ‘straight talk’ because we thought you were straight.”
“You thought they were straight,” Keith corrected under his breath.
“I am straight,” Durrell said.
“The point is,” David continued. “Before he gets a boyfriend, we should probably, you know,” he paused, twirling his hand as if to conjure the words up. “Well you know… Gosh, how did this get so awkward?”
All three looked at Anthony who was absently stacking boxes of cavity fluid onto a hand truck. He looked back at the six eyes fixed on him.
“What?” he asked.
The phone rang in the office and David rose to answer it. After a moment, he called for Keith, who left to join him.
Anthony suddenly lit up and jogged over to Durrell. “Is Stacey still staying in the carriage house with you?” David didn’t want anyone—particularly girls—to move in with Durrell, and so Durrell had enlisted Anthony’s help as an accomplice when his girlfriend, Stacey, had turned an overnight visit into a two-week stay.
Durrell snapped back at him. “Stacey was never staying with me in the carriage house.”
Anthony jumped back, startled. “Damn, my mistake,” he said.
“And are you really gay?” Durrell asked in an annoyed and loud whisper.
Anthony was visibly shaken by the question, his eyes dropped, his posture shrunk. “Yeah,” he finally answered. Durrell chastened some, turned back to counting bottles of Derma-Pro.
The two worked in a tense silence for several minutes, and they could hear their parents having a hushed discussion down the hall. “Why would I fake being gay?” Anthony finally asked.
Keith came back at that moment. “Durrell, which cemetery did the Nyguen family say they wanted?”
“Peachtree Gardens,” he answered.
“That’s what we heard too,” Keith said. “Anthony, go get David’s phone from upstairs.”
Anthony went off to get it.
“And you,” he said pointing to Durrell, “Start packing.”
David and Anthony were getting back from church and Keith was sitting at the kitchen table, recently returned from handling something that came up at work. More importantly, however, it was sweltering outside and nobody particularly felt like making lunch.
“Why don’t we just go out?” Anthony suggested.
Keith and David looked at each other, wordlessly agreeing with the idea.
“Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles?” Keith suggested. David shrugged his approval and rose to leave when suddenly he looked at the back door.
“Anthony, go see if your brother wants to come,” he said.
On cue, Durrell appeared—exploded really—through the backdoor and dropped his keys on the kitchen table.
“You going to Roscoe’s with us?” David asked.
“I’m moving,” Durrell replied and grabbed a soda out of the refrigerator. The other three exchanged confused looks.
“Are you kidding?” Anthony said, clearly hoping he was.
“No, I’m not kidding,” Durrell replied mockingly, and crashed through the back door from whence he’d come.
“Jesus Christ,” Keith said, exasperated, and rose to follow behind him.
David stopped hm. “Wait, let me,” he said, then bolted for the door.
When he got outside, he saw a pickup truck that he didn’t recognize loaded up with a good bit of Durrell’s things as Durrell mercilessly tried to load it down with even more.
“What going on?” David asked, jogging to where Durrell was.
“I’m moving to Las Vegas,” Durrell said in between grunts as he shuffled items around.
“Vegas?” David replied. Which sounded about as sane as moving to the moon. “Las Vegas? Really?”
“I can’t stay here,” Durrell said. There was anger around the edges of his words.
David’s bewilderment was palpable. “What’s in Las Vegas?”
“Stacey,” he sighed. “She got offered a job at a casino out there. She asked me if I wanted to go and I’m going.”
“I thought you dumped her last week?”
“It’s complicated,” he answered briskly. He jumped off the bed of the truck and started marching back towards the carriage house. David stopped him and grabbed his arm. The two stared at each a moment, Durrell breathless and agitated and David growing more frustrated.
“So to prove a point to Keith you’re going to move to Vegas with a girl that, according to you, is a ‘white, crazy-ass bitch’?”
“Keith is throwing me out!” he screamed.
“He’s not throwing you out; he just wants you back in the house.”
“He doesn’t want me back into the house. He wants me out of the carriage house.”
“Because you haven’t paid the rent in three months.”
“Who the hell cares? God, it’s like I’m dealing with a hard-ass landlord and not my own father.” David didn’t have a reply to that, and Durrell looked at his imprisoned arm with simmering ire. David let go. Durrell disappeared behind the door of the carriage house. David stood a moment, paralyzed by confusion, and then went after him, catching up with him upstairs.
“You know, Durrell,” he began, as he watched his son dump random items into a large trash can. “You make more money than most 19-year-olds, and you’re not even embalming bodies anymore.”
“Because it’s illegal. If they find out I’m embalming bodies with no license I’m getting kicked out of school.”
“I get that. But $1500 a month is not a bad gig for picking up an occasional body and handing out programs once or twice a week at funerals. Be honest with me: where is your money going?”
Durrell just shook his head, so uneasy he couldn’t speak.
“You gotta give me something,” David insisted.
Durrell took a deep breath. “Stacey,” air quotes “has my money, because her life if falling apart. Her mom’s a drunk, her little sister is acting out, and Stacey’s been paying the bills and going to school, but now she lost her job because she kept missing days dealing with her mom’s crap. She needed some money and I gave it to her.”
David paused for a minute before responding.
“She came over the other night?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Durrell answered.
“Did you explain that to Keith?”
“He wouldn’t care,” Durrell muttered. David watched as he busily crammed clothes into a tote bag.
“So, what? You’re dropping out of mortuary school?” David asked.
“People die in Vegas. I’ll figure something out.”
David shook his head. “Look. Don’t make this a situation, OK Durrell? You don’t even have a plan.”
“Whatever,” Durrell mumbled.
“You’re acting out to prove a point and not even realizing that there are bigger fish to fry right now,” David replied. “The interns are making the entire funeral home fall on me. Keith is going through hell trying to get his business off the ground and Anthony is really going through a lot personally. He’s being really brave right now and it would be great if he had the support of his brother.”
“Brave? Support?” He snatched up a ginormous garbage bag and brushed past David out of the door. David chased down behind him back to the dumpster.
“Durrell, it’s not that big of a deal; just move back into the house,” David insisted.
“I’M NOT MOVING BACK INTO THE HOUSE!” Durrell yelled. David jumped back, stunned by Durrell’s level of anger. Durrell was almost shaking. “It’s not what I want.”
David threw his hands up.
“I don’t know what you want,” David said. “Do whatever the hell you want, but you can’t just come and go as you please and fight with Keith all day long.” David shook his head. “You know what, I’m done. You’re grown. Maybe you should go. I have Anthony to worry about.” With that, he started towards the house.
“Yeah, go back in to your beloved Anthony and his fucking soufflés,” Durrell screamed. “You always loved him more than me anyway.”
David spun around. “That’s a lie and you know it.”
“Really?” Durrell screamed. “Because if this were Anthony, do you think you would let Keith kick him out?
“What is that supposed to mean?” David said, clearly wounded.
Durrell shook his head, “He’s your favorite. I mean you practically say it. ‘Anthony is mine and Durrell is yours.’ And it’s always been, like, the big joke. Except that you fight for Anthony until the death, but all Keith does is fight with me. I know I didn’t make it easy for you and Keith coming up and Anthony is more like you anyway. But, I thought, you know, maybe with me helping out, going into the family business, maybe you and me were finally—” He stopped.
“Finally what?” David asked.
“I thought maybe you would stop seeing me as the screw-up that Keith can handle,” Durrell said.
“I don’t see you that way, Durrell" David insisted.
“It doesn’t even matter anymore,” Durrell answered.
“Because Keith’s throwing me out, you’re mad because I can’t do more for the business and Anthony just came out, so…” With that he lifted a box.
“Wait, what does Anthony coming out have to do with this?” David asked.
“Everything. I could see the look in your eyes the other night. He’s one of you all now. For real.” He shook his head then turned away. “Don’t even worry about it.” He leaned into the tailgate, forcing it closed against the bulging cargo. He carried one last box to the cab of the truck, and lifted it into the driver’s seat. Then, he looked at the overloaded truck and then back at David. When he did, David had a … distant look on his face. “What?” he asked defensively.
David just shook his head pensively. “I was just thinking about your Uncle Nate.” Durrell knew that, even years later, the topic was still a tender spot for David, and the mention of Nate’s name stopped Durrell in his tracks. “You probably don’t remember, but… you and him had a lot in common. If he were still here, I think he would have been able to… I dunno. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I was always more like Mom. A momma’s boy. So even when my dad was absent or confusing or intimidating, I had Mom. And Claire was always Dad’s favorite. But Nate … he didn’t belong anywhere. Well, that’s how he felt anyway. And as soon as he graduated, he disappeared and carved out a completely different life for himself. When he would come home for the holidays, it was like an alien had landed, with his haircuts and girlfriends and co-ops. And then, as quickly as he’d come, he was gone again. But when Dad died, he came back to us. For four years he was back with us. And he found out that there really was a place for him here all along. I mean not physically—he could have lived anywhere. But we needed him in our lives just as much as he needed us. And when he died, I think we all felt the regret of not having had him longer. I don’t know if that means anything to you. But, if you want to go to Vegas because you think there is something for you there, go. I won’t stop you. But if you’re going because you think there’s nothing for you here, you’re wrong. Very wrong. And I don’t want you or any of us to find that out after it’s too late.”
The two men kind of stared at each other a while. A sober calm came over Durrell’s face, replacing the anxiety that had been there just moments before. He put his head into his hands, collecting himself, as David watched with baited breath.
Durrell looked at the truck and then back at the house. “So what am I supposed to do?”
“First, you go and talk to Keith. We’ll go talk to Keith.”
“And my stuff?” Durrell asked.
“We’ll worry about that later,” David said.
With that, Durrell walked towards the house.
David paused a moment, and cast a glance up to the sky before following the young man inside.
David was in bed re-reading the same passage over and over again. Memorizing his lines was … not going well.
Just then Keith walked in.
“How’s it coming?” he asked, as he took off his watch.
“I don’t know,” David began. “So far, the only line I remember is ‘I couldn't make myself any plainer if I'se a Quaker on his day off.’ And that sounds… vaguely like… whatever the religious equivalent of racist is.”
“Religiously intolerant?” Keith offered, continuing to disrobe.
“Well, regardless, I thought being a part of local theatre would help me relax and do something for myself, but now it’s turning into just one more thing to get stressed out about.”
“So why don’t you just go back to the Gay Chorus,” Keith asked. “You didn’t have to memorize any lines there.”
“Yeah, but that’s the thing—it was too… gay,” David said. “I wanted to do something where it was just about the art and not… sociopolitical revolution.”
Keith cocked his head, incredulous. “And I guess Terry’s divorce had nothing to do with it.”
“What a nightmare! Everyone started taking sides and then half the chorus stopped speaking to the other half.” He reflected back on the memory. “It really got nasty at the end.”
Keith crawled into bed. “Mind if I turn out the lights?” he asked.
“Nah,” David said, closing his script. “I’m done with this for tonight.”
“Then… good night,” Keith said. The men shared a quick peck, and then it was lights out.
But David didn’t go to sleep. “Keith,” he said.
There was a long, pregnant pause before Keith responded.
“I know,” he said.
“It couldn’t have been easy for you,” David continued, “to go back on what you said. But, I think… maybe he just needed that extra bit of mercy to know that, at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team.”
David could feel Keith tense up on the bed.
“Sure,” he muttered.
“Are you still mad?”
“I was never mad,” Keith replied. “But he still owes us $600.”
“I know,” David replied. He moved over in bed, right behind Keith.
“I’m proud of you. I’m proud of us.”
Keith turned over. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” David nodded. The two men shared a tender kiss before Keith wrapped his arm around David, who snuggled in closer. It was in moments like this one when he felt safe, warm and loved.
“Good night, Keith” David sighed.
But there was no answer. Keith was already sound asleep.