The Houses in Rossford part two of chapter eleven
“Paul, I’m serious, that guy is cute. Don’t let him slip away. He’s all little and bite size. Looks like he was a wrestler back in college.”
“Yeah,” Claire said, thoughtfully. “He could be fun on a winter’s night.”
Paul looked at his little sister in horror.
“What do you know about fun on a winter’s night.”
“Don’t you worry about it, Brother.”
“I don’t ever want to hear you talk about winter nights,” Paul murmured, still horrified.
“All right, we’re past that. Back to my point. Do you know Julian Lawden?”
“I know who he is. He’s Layla’s half brother.”
“Right, well, I was with him.”
“All right. I’m focusing.”
“Good. Anyway, I was with him and who should come up to him but Fenn’s father, and I don’t want to go into the whole thing, but to make a long story short, when he left I asked Julian who he was and Julian looked at me surprised, and then said, it was his grandfather.”
“Well, yeah because Layla and—” and then Paul stopped while Claire looked at him critically.
“There’s no reason Fenn’s father would be related to Julian, is there?”
“I mean, what you’re saying is Fenn’s father is Julian and Layla’s grandfather?”
“And Julian and Layla would have one grandfather in common.”
“But it would be from her father’s family.”
Paul nodded and said, “Well, then I’m confused.”
“To top it off,” Claire said, “I’m pretty sure that Julian doesn’t know his grandfather is Layla’s grandfather.”
“Well, then what the hell is going on?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“No!” Paul shook his head. “It’s a lot of ways to find out. But they all involve getting our noses deep in the Houghton family business, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
“I was just thinking…”
“Hum,” Paul turned to his sister.
“I’m glad I gotta go back to E.C. now. It’s kind of all on you.”
“If you’re going out with Julian now, it’s gonna be on you.”
“He’s not my Kirk.”
“He looked like your Kirk, Paul. Anyway…”
“He’s got a cute ass.”
“Where do you get off!”
“Doesn’t he?” Claire said, grinning wickedly, as she stood up and readjusted her purse.
When Paul didn’t answer she said:
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Dena Reardon saw him in the grocery store. At first she thought about avoiding him, but why should she? What had she done wrong. At the sight of Kenny McGrath she was instantly ashamed. All the talk about innocence, about the flawless prize of virginity, not to be sacrificed until the marriage bed came back to her. She’d been screwing Brendan for well into a month, the first few times not even using condoms, sure that as they sweated and struggled in her bed they were doing something wonderful, something he had wanted. He had said he’d wanted it. Right? It had been his whole idea. And then for him to come to her like that, all hangdog, and say that he didn’t really love her, that he was gay, that he knew because he’d been fooling around with Kenny McGrath. Well, good God and holy shit!
Dena got in line. Look at him. If she didn’t know what he was she might want him a little. Kenny had thick auburn curls, and he always had those black lashes. He was big, not football big, but Lacrosse big, which is why he played Lacrosse she supposed, and he sort of rough and tumble. But always… pretty. The freckles across his nose, the sharpness of his blue eyes. Once she had liked him. But after Brendan, she put him out her mind. Once the liking had been sweet and she had Layla had whispered about it.
Layla had held her and comforted her that day, but there was no getting around it now, Layla was hurt and she had stayed away. Dena tried to call her once.
“You always call like no one but you has a life, Miss. Dena. All about you? Except for when you want to lie to me. Did you think I had problems too? I do, Dena.”
“That’s why I called.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. You called to go on about Brendan. Well, you made your own bed and you can lie in it with or without him. Without me too.”
It was pretty clear Layla was not in the mood to talk.
Brendan, to his credit, had called everyday. But Dena had told her mother to say she wasn’t home. She couldn’t deal with Brendan. She felt stupid and angry just thinking about him. She hated him really. She couldn’t believe she’d let him inside of her.
The only thing worse than that is…
I liked it.
She enjoyed having sex with Brendan. For her it was just so good, and to think the whole time it had been a lie. The whole time he’d been fucking her and she’d been thinking that somehow they were corkscrewing themselves into spiritual union, he’d been picturing Kenny.
He never opened his eyes when we did it!
“Dena!” Kenny said, suddenly startled when she stood before his cash register.
She stared up at him, eyes hard.
“Kenneth,” she said. “I have something for you.”
She put down the eggs, and the bread, the two bags of Oreos on sale that Nell had sent her to get, and said, “And this.”
He blinked at her.
And reaching across with all her might, Dena rolled her hand into a fist and knocked Kenny unconscious at his station.
“Aw, yeah, and this sweet thing is fine. No butch in her,” Tara said. “She looks a little bit like Jessica Alba.”
“You running around with a Mexican now?”
“I don’t know what the fuck she is. But what I do know is she is nice.”
The phone rang, and before Fenn could get up Todd came into the kitchen and picked it up.
“Why don ‘t yawl invest in cell phones?”
“Because then you could reach me anytime.”
Todd said, “All right. I’ll be there. Hold on.”
“What’s wrong?” Fenn looked up as Todd hung up the phone.
“It’s Dena. She’s in jail.”
“I told them I wasn’t pressing charges,” Kenny said, pressing the ice to his face. “But they said she had to stay down here until an adult came.”
“First she called me,” Milo explained. “But I wasn’t enough.”
“Dena,” Todd turned her.
“Don’t Dena me.”
“Apologize at least.”
Dena turned away from all of them.
“Dena,” Todd gripped his niece’s arm. “Apologize. Apologize now.”
She took a deep breath, turned around and said, “I’m sorry they wrestled me off of you before I was finished.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were friends with Kenny,” Dena said.
“And I can’t believe you were boffing Brendan.”
“You were what?” Todd turned to her.
“You didn’t know?” Milo said from the backseat.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Young lady, if you’re having sex it does matter,” Todd said.
“Oh, God, shoot me, Todd!” She wanted to say: You were banging my dad when you were far younger than me, but she knew that wouldn’t do.
“Besides, nothing’s happening now.”
“All I knew was Brendan said he was gay. I didn’t know about… that. Deenie!”
“Todd, please don’t Deenie me. And whatever you do, don’t tell Mom.”
“Everything’s so messed up right now,” Dena said.
“Kenny is my friend,” Milo insisted. “I guess it happened the same time you and Brendan started up. Neither one of us had anyone. You really hot potato dropped me, Dena.”
“Dena, let me interrupt,” Todd said.
She turned to him, woebegone.
“This is not the time to insist on your innocence.”
Dena was silent and Milo said, “You did. And me and Kenny just sort of became friends. Then a few weeks ago he told me the whole truth.”
“Everything’s so messed up,” Dena repeated. “Brendan was always my friend. I always loved him. Now I hate him.”
“You don’t hate him, Deen,” Todd said.
“Yes, Todd. Yes I do. And Layla hates me. And she’s not talking to Will, and I haven’t been talking to Milo and… ”
“And you punched out Kenny.”
“Yes. But… he and Brendan… He knows what he did to me.” She shook her head, angrily. “I can’t be sorry for that part, Miles. I’m not.”
“Well, looks like we’ve made it, Kirk said, smiling. “To the second date at least.”
“Yeah,” Paul said. He looked around the interior of the car.
“Say, now that the Jeep is mine I better pick you up next time.”
“So there will be a next time?”
“Oh, yeah,” Paul said with a small smile. “There’s gonna be a next time.”
“Well, you know what they say about the third date.”
“An angel gets his wings?”
“No, and never mind. I was being crude. I like things the way they are.”
“Oh,” Paul said. Then, “You know what? I hardly date. Yes, that is what’s supposed to happen on the third date.”
“Well, that’s what straight people say. I don’t mind it happening on the first date, only then there usually isn’t a second date. I… ah… I’d like to have lots of dates with you.”
“I like you, Kirk.”
You say it like you just found that out.”
“I dunno,” Paul shrugged. “Maybe I did.”
“I think we could be good,” Kirk agreed. “Maybe… get a house together one day, raise two Korean kids.”
“Mee-Ling and Shoo-shing! They’ll both have glasses and be really really smart. And grateful. But Shoo-shing—he’s the boy—will have a glandular problem and be a little tubby. It won’t matter to us, we’ll be so gay and grateful.”
“Kirk, you’re really too much.”
“I think I’m not enough. Give me a kiss, Paul.”
A shudder went down Paul. It was short and powerful in his stomach, rocking his groin, leaving his whole body shaking a little. He hadn’t expected to be weak kneed at that.
He leaned in.
“Sure,” he whispered.
And in the driver’s seat, Kirk took his face, and pressed his lips to Paul’s.
“That’s nice,” he murmured, kissing Paul’s lips lightly again. “Now what else can I do for you?”
“Oh shit! Oh, God! Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. Fuck me. Fuck me harder now! Don’t stop!
Paul, on his hands and knees, gasped and moaned as he put his ass up to be fucked harder and harder, and sweat dripped from his face. He let his knees buckle and squeezed his buttocks together, reaching behind him, to the strong back, to the small of the back, to the firm ass, smelling the mixture of sweat and expensive cologne.
“Fuck me. Keep fucking me harder!” he cried.
“I’ll fuck you,” he murmured. “I’ll fuck you all night long. I’ll—”
But he couldn’t make good on that. At the same time Paul’s body seized, and he came, they both came and Paul heard the long shout from behind. Then their bodies separated.
Laying on his stomach, shivering and hot, feeling sweat dry on him, Paul felt a large firm hand on his hair, tender, on his shoulder now, going down the small of his back, caressing his ass.
Brian Babcock pressed his body to Paul’s and murmured, satisfied, “That was good.”
Paul lay on his side so Brian could spoon him and nodded in agreement, groaning with a primal pleasure.
“It was damn good,” he said. “You’re too good, Brian.”
They lay like that for a long time, Brian’s hand on Paul’s stomach, moving up and down.
“Would you like to stay the night? See if we can go into a second round?”
“Maybe a third?” Paul whispered.
Brian chuckled, sleepily.
“Maybe a third,” he agreed.
“I’d like that,” Paul told him. “I’d like that a lot.”
“So Paul,” Tara said, swinging, her legs wide apart, “I hear you took a page out of my notebook last night.”
“What?” he said, as they crossed the stage.
“This new Kirk. I heard you went out with him and didn’t come home till the sun came up! Um?”
“Oh, it wasn’t like that.”
“Yeah, really, Tara,” Paul said, suddenly figgity. “Look, I’d love to talk, but… Can we talk later?”
“Sure thing,” she murmured as he walked down the narrow corridor toward the offices and the old lounge.
“White dudes always play prim and proper,” she muttered. “But yawl the nastiest motherfuckers around. Yes sir!”
“Paul!” Brian said, running into him down the hall.
“Uh… I wanted to know,” he frowned. “Would you be free for… say, lunch? Or something like that?”
“Not really. I… have something with someone.”
And then Paul said, “I’m sort of seeing someone.”
“Oh,” Brian said. He nodded, and then turned around. He’d gone five stylish steps down the hall when he turned around, came back and said, “Well then could you tell me what the hell last night was? If you’re… sort of seeing someone?”
“Last night… Was like the night after the play. And the other nights. It was… what it was.”
“What it was?” Brian repeated. “All right, then.”
“Do you have a problem with that?” said Paul. “I thought you liked what it was?”
“No problems,” Brian said, tonelessly. “What it is… is just fine.”
Paul thought about offering his hand to shake, but then decided that would probably be too much. And it didn’t really matter because by then, with a considerably straighter walk, Brian had already gone down the hall.
When Todd opened the front door he saw the Kirk he had heard about for days for the first time.
“Is Paul in?”
“No. Fenn—Fenn’s my partner—”
“Yeah,” Kirk smiled wistfully, “I’ve heard about him.”
“He’s got Paul managing some big project at the theatre. You know, once Fenn dreams about something he dreams big. He’s got all these plans. I… uh… I’d offer you Paul’s cell but you probably have it,” Todd shrugged. “And I don’t know it anyway.”
“Thanks, anyway,” Kirk said.
“Would you like to come in?”
“No—yes,” Kirk said. “Yes, I would love to see the place where Paul hangs his hat. Or would hang his hat if he wore hats.”
Todd grinned and ushered Kirk in.
“You want something to drink?”
“No, that’s alright.”
Kirk looked around.
“This is a really nice place,” he said. “This is like… what I would like to have one day.”
“Whatcha got now?”
“Just an apartment. You know, in that complex off of Birmingham.”
“Yeah. Near the mall and all those office-plexes.”
“Looks sort of posh. For Rossford, you know.”
“It’s sort of really expensive,” is what Kirk said.
“So… You guys just all live here together? That is so neat.”
“Yeah,” Todd said, feeling a duty to build Paul up in front of his new boyfriend.
“Paul could live wherever he wanted, but we both wanted him to stay around, so he agreed. I guess… if things get more serious between you and him—”
Kirk waved that off with a grin and jammed his hands in his pocket. He reminded Todd vague of Tom Mesda.
“We’re not quite there yet.”
Todd raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’d like to be there. I’d love to be there. And I think I’d like to be there with Paul. He’s just… not ready. I’m probably not either. We just met, right? And, he doesn’t date. I mean, the guy is innocence pure and simple.”
No, Todd decided, there was no way this guy knew that Paul had been a pornstar.
“I keep on trying to take it to the next level,” Kirk admitted, approaching Todd. “But… he’s nervous. I can tell. Every time I start to suggest something past a kiss, he backs away.”
“No,” Kirk said after a time. “It’s sweet, really. For now, at least.”
On the rooftop overlooking Dempsey Street, Tara put down her cigarette and said, “So you really ain’t gon’ tell me about this new, what’s his name?”
“You’re a beautiful girl, Tara Veems,” said Paul
“I know I’m beautiful, quit trying to distract me.”
“I mean, if you weren’t so crude, no one would know your were a dyke.”
“How about I eat your pussy, and then you’ll know. Now tell me about this—” she stopped, following Paul’s expression and where his head turned.
Paul was watching Julian Lawden who had just come around the alley and was talking to Leroy Houghton.
“Is that…?” Tara started. “That’s Fenn’s daddy. That old bastard. What’s he… What’s he talking to Julian for?”
Paul didn’t answer and Tara said, again, “What’s he talking to Julian for?”
But this time it wasn’t idle wondering, she had turned to him.
“You know something, you skinny homosexual.”
“Uh…” Paul began. “I… I might.”
“Com’on,” said Tara. “spill it to baby girl.”
“That’s Julian’s grandfather.”
“No, it’s not. It’s Layla’s grandfather.”
“It’s—he’s,” Paul corrected himself, “both of their grandfathers.”
Tara cocked her head toward him.
“Paul, you gotta do better than that.”
“I don’t know better than that.”
“We gotta tell Fenn.”
“Fenn’s got enough to deal with. And Adele, and Layla—”
Tara Veems gripped Paul’s wrist.
“Do you still hate me?”
“I can’t hate you,” Layla didn’t look at Will, though. She looked at the floor of the back porch where the shadows of the trees played in the wash of sunlight.
“I’m too tired to hate anyone.”
“What about Dena?”
“I don’t want to deal with her.”
“Layla,” Will sat down in the chair across from her. “I didn’t want to keep the secret. But it wasn’t mine to give away, all right?”
“Brendan told you not to tell me?”
“Yes. He thought you’d tell Dena.”
“But Dena already knew. The secret was she and Brendan were fucking each other.”
“That bitch wanted to keep it from me,” Layla said. “And Brendan wanted to help her keep it from me, and he told you to keep it from me—”
“Dena didn’t even know I knew—”
“It doesn’t goddamn matter, Will. He’s gay and she’s stupid, and you let what they wanted come between our relationship. You chased after me, chased after me, chased after me. And then when you finally had me, you lied to me.”
“I didn’t lie to you.”
“You didn’t tell me the truth. Which is the same.”
“No, it’s—” Will stopped. “Yes, it is.”
The phone rang; Layla put up her hand and rose to enter the kitchen and answer.
“Layla, is your mother home?”
“Yeah, Fenn. Hold on.”
Layla actually walked up the stairs instead of shouting.
Adele was folding clothes in her bedroom, and Layla said, “Mama, it’s Fenn on the phone.”
“All right,” said Adele, and Layla turned around.
“Layla?” said Adele as she picked up the phone and took off her earring.
“Don’t hold on to so much… Will’s sorry. Let him be sorry and end it.”
Layla started to think of something smart to say, put it aside, and turned around going downstairs.
She came back to the porch and Will said, “You’re right. I kept something from you specifically because people asked me to. I was wrong, and I’m sorry. Really.”
Then he said, “I do want us to be together. I want us. So, I hope we can… get past this and start up again, and no more secrets I swear.”
“My father hid from my mother that he was married, that he had a secret family, another child.”
“When you start keeping stuff from your… partner, they’re not your partner, Will.”
“You know now.”
Will didn’t know what else to say.
Suddenly Adele was coming down the steps in a fury. She threw the screen door open and said, “I gotta go for a while. Mind the house.”
Adele was fiercely brushing her hair. She walked around the kitchen looking for her keys, and her hands landed on them. She pulled her purse over her shoulder and headed down the hall, heels clacking.
“I gotta go!” she shouted. And she was gone.
There was a knock on the door and Hoot Lawden, upon answering it, was shocked—and not in that good way—to see his wife.
“Where is she?”
Hoot stared blankly at his not quite ex-wife.
“Move,” Adele commanded, and pushed him aside, followed by Fenn.
“Where you at?” Adele barked, going through the living room, into the dining room, down the hall.
“What—?” another woman began, coming out of the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks at the approach of Adele who said, readjusting her purse strap:
“Bitch, we need to talk.”
This woman, whose name she did not know, opened her mouth, but Adele advanced toward her.
“You took my husband, you took my name, you hid his baby and now,” Adele said, “My father!”
Before anyone saw it, she had the woman by the collar and Hoot was shouting: “Let Vanessa go!”
“Vanessa?” Adele said, dragging her into the dining room. “Bitch, your name is Vanessa?”
Vanessa got free of Adele and shouted, running around the table as Fenn moved out of his sister’s way and let her seize the woman again by the collar.
Hoot moved in front of Vanessa shouting, “Calm down, Addy!”
But Adele popped him in the mouth, moved past him, and caught Vanessa, headlocking her over the table.
“How do you know him, Vanessa? How you know him? How do you know Leroy?
“Bitch, tell me how do you know Leroy Houghton?”
“Let me go!” Vanessa screamed.
Adele released her, breathing hard.
Vanessa rubbed her throat and said, “He’s my father.”
“What?” said Fenn.
“He’s my father.”
“Look, that ain’t possible,” Adele said. “Because see, he’s my daddy.”
“In all fairness,” Fenn said, “he could be half the county’s daddy.”
Vanessa massaged her throat, and shaking her head she told them:
“All I know is Leroy had a wife, and he had my mother. They never got married.”
“Oh, hell no,” Adele said getting ready to launch on her again.
She hid behind Hoot who said, “You didn’t know?” to her.
“Did you know?” Vanessa said. “How was I supposed to know your wife’s last name before she married you? And by the way you married me first.”
“You son of bitch,” Adele said, shaking her head at him. Then she looked around him, eyes burning on Vanessa.
“This bitch,” she began. “This… bitch. This is… This bitch...”
Fenn finished, succinctly, “This bitch is our sister.”
“Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn, goddamn, goddamn.
“Born in a hotel-died-in-a-hotel-goddamn…”
“How many ways,” Todd said, “do you think you can say goddamn?”
“Goddamned motherfucking, blue-red shit fucked goddamned if I know,” Fenn said.
He folded his legs under him and murmured, “Damn!”
“Baby, how bout I get you a Blizzard?”
“You really think a Blizzard will make me feel… Well, I don’t feel bad. I mean, I feel shocked. Not bad. But my point is: you think a Blizzard will unshock me?”
“Since when has having me at you beck and call not soothed you and made you feel better?”
Fenn looked at him.
“In that case get that Georgia Mudslide thing with all the brownie bits in it.”
Todd got up and was pulling on jeans and reaching for his wallet.
“I’ll be back in about twenty,” he said. “I’m gonna stop and get a movie.”
“We should stop paying Blockbuster,” Fenn reflected. “I’m gonna look into Netflix tomorrow. I like the idea of people mailing you shit.”
Todd turned out of the Dairy Queen, and he was headed up Birmingham when he saw a car he thought he knew.
“Paul,” he murmured.
He thought he’d chase him and Kirk a little bit. Honk at them, make a joke. So he followed Paul to where he turned off Armory, and then parked in front of the apartment building. But it wasn’t the apartments Kirk had talked about. These were older. Maybe Kirk didn’t know directions?
Then, just as Todd was about to give up thinking about this, and thought about how he wanted his Blizzard and it was getting late and he’d told Fenn he would be back, the front door of the apartment building opened, and in shorts and a large tee shirt that he had never seen him wearing, came Brian Babcock.
Paul stepped out of the car. The two men looked at each other and then, savagely, Paul caught Brian’s face and they kissed each other before Brian ushered him inside.
Inside the Land Rover Todd murmured: