I can hear the wind rattling the windows in the other room. Every time we get a huge gust Augustine my silly fat cat thinks someone is knocking and she goes running to the door. I don’t exactly know what she expects to do when she gets there because every time I let someone in she runs and hides under the butcher block table in the corner of the kitchen. Sometimes I wish there was room under that table for me.
I’m Jordan and I’m going to be thirty years old soon. Well Jordan Millicent Graves to be exact. Jordan was my mother’s maiden name and my parents thought it would be cute to name me that. Growing up I hated it because everyone thought it sounded like a boy’s name. I confided in my cousin Greg once when we were about eight that I wished I had a girl’s name. From that day forward he and all of my other cousins began calling me Millie. I guess Millie’s okay although any time I run into one of my cousins socially when I’m out with friends we have to explain it all over again.
The wind is picking up a bit and I can hear the ticking of icy rain on the windows now so I guess we’re in for a lovely night. It doesn’t really matter so much to me as Aug and I are warm and well fed and I have nowhere to be for two days. My story all started about two years ago. Well, no, actually that’s not entirely true really because in order to understand the whole thing we have to go back to when I was eleven years old and I first met my new neighbor.
It was summer and I was sitting in the old tire swing in my backyard, scuffling my shabby canvas sneaker into the dirt circle under my feet. The dust was whirling in the slight early evening breeze and I could taste some of it as I swirled my feet around watching the designs I made with my feet. The day had been pretty warm so I’d spent most of it languishing on the living room floor in the dark watching old movies on TV and killing time until my parents got home. Being a “latch-key kid” meant that I couldn’t leave the house or the back yard and it was too hot to be outside.
I was bored with life. I was feeling restless and tired even though I’d napped on the big floor pillow off and on all day. My Mom had made tuna noodle casserole the night before so we had that for dinner with big tumblers of lemonade and slices of flatbread. After dinner we cleaned up the kitchen and then I wandered outside while my parents talked about their days.
I swung and twisted in the tire swing, leaning back so I was staring at the dusky sky. “I’m bored I’m bored I’m bored…” I mumbled as the swing twisted and bounced on the chain. I was startled, almost falling out of my perch, when I heard a boy’s voice ask “Who are you?” That was the first time I saw him – upside down as my tire swung around to where he was standing looking over the hedge from the next door back yard. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a tire swing but there is just no graceful way to exit one of those things no matter how hard you try. Since I was startled and trying not to show it, that just made it all that much more awkward. I arched my back to drag my feet so I could stop the twisting and then slid out of the tire and flumped gracelessly down to the dirt. Being that this was my life, after I freed myself from the tire it swung wide and as I started to stand it swung back and belted me upside the head knocking me senseless for a moment. Shaking it off, I looked up at the hedge where the boy had been and he was gone.
I sat there on the ground trying to decide whether I was disappointed or relieved when I heard him again right behind me. “Are you okay?” he asked while trying not to laugh. He must have run around to the wooden gate on the far side of the house and let himself into the backyard. “Yeah I’m fine” I said embarrassed and angry “What the hell are you doing in my yard?” For some reason he found that very funny because he plopped down beside me and started belly laughing. I couldn’t help myself so I started to laugh too when I realized how ridiculous the whole scene must have been. We laughed like children do, long and hard, rolling around on the grass in the warm summer evening and then as the giggles subsided we lay on our backs breathing heavily and looked at the sky as the stars began to appear.
“Oh yeah hi I’m Jordan”
“Jordan? Isn’t that …”
“Yeah I know don’t get me started my parents are stupid!”
“Yeah parents are like that I guess. My middle name is Lancelot if you can believe that!”
“It is NOT you are lying!”
“No I swear that’s my middle name”
“Well then that’s what I’m going to call you from now on ‘Lancelot'”
“No you can’t! You have to call me Josh!”
“Okay fine then. How old are you anyway?”
“I just turned twelve two weeks ago”
“Oh I’m eleven. Hey Lancelot why were you in my neighbor’s back yard?”
With a sigh of exasperation “Josh, my name is Josh and I just moved in actually.”
“Oh cool are you going into sixth grade? At Forrest Middle School?”
“Yeah, you too?”
Over the summer we became fast friends as children are wont to do and stayed that way through all of the trials of tribulations of teen-hood, college and beyond. People used to think we were brother and sister and we enjoyed the joke so much we never corrected them. He was my Man of Honor at my failure of a wedding to my college sweetheart and he was there when he left me two years later for his secretary. Lancelot’s first words when I told him what happened was “Oh Jordan you married a cliché”.
So now that you have an idea of our history I’ll fast forward the story. Lancelot was gay. I knew even when we were kids that he was different and it never bothered me. It didn’t really seem to bother anyone because he was such a fun guy to have around. He never really “came out” I guess but in our senior year he started hanging out with this guy named Jose that he’d met at a teen dance club. Jose and his ilk came and went pretty regularly over the next few years. We chose to attend the same college and became roommates in a shabby apartment our sophomore year and he was cutting quite a wide swath through the small gay community around our school. I, on the other hand, dated the same guy “Mr. Cliché” from Freshman year until our divorce.
After college Lancelot moved to Chicago and I moved with “Mr. Cliché” to St Louis where he’d been offered a pretty lucrative job. I was working as a free-lance photographer at the time so I could take my work anywhere. The weekend after I found out about my husband’s extra curricular activities Lancelot swooped into town on his white horse, packed me up and moved me and most of my belongings in a U Haul to his apartment in Chicago. I spent the next three months shuffling around the apartment in Lancelot’s wool socks and sweats feeling sorry for myself and eating my way through everything I could find. I would shower only when Lancelot would yell at me that I was smelling up his house. After a while I became bored with my own malaise and began to venture out. About nine months after Lancelot came to my rescue he helped me find a small one bedroom apartment I could afford and moved my belongings there for me.
For the next few years we would see each other for lunch once a week and have dinner out one weekend night. We were comfortable and secure in our friendship and we loved each other like family. We were alone in the city and we were each other’s only family, only siblings. One Friday night when we were at one of our favorite pizza places Lancelot told me about a new guy he was seeing. I watched the animation in his face when he shared how they’d met and I knew I think even before he did, that this was the guy who was going to make my Lancelot settle down. I was very happy for him of course but also worried about what would happen to us.
About a month later I met Frank Carlyle. He was stunning to look at and when he spoke his voice flowed like silk over bare skin, cooling and smooth. He had this amazing dark curly hair and a Mediterranean complexion with beautiful clear hazel eyes. He wore suits like a model and smelled good all the time. He was kind and friendly and bright and charming and perfect and he and my Lancelot were in love. I was happy for them both and even happier when Frank pulled me aside and told me that he considered me to be his sister-in-law and he didn’t want to come between Lancelot and me.
I’d never seen Lancelot so happy. He thrived in his professional life and his personal life. It was like watching a plant that hadn’t been watered enough suddenly get some TLC and just begin to sprout new foliage. Lancelot and I still had our weekly lunches and our one weekend night out by ourselves but we added a weeknight at their home where Frank would cook for us and the three of us would drink wine and talk about everything from current events to our childhoods to car makes and models and our words would tumble all over each other and we would laugh like crazy. If occasionally I felt like the spinster sister it was okay because I was happy for my friend and half in love with Frank myself. One Saturday night we had gone to a play and instead of taking the train home I was spending the night with Lancelot and Frank so we had all changed into our pajamas and snuggled on the couch in blankets, fortified by way too many bottles of red wine, we had hatched a master plan to clone a straight Frank for me. After that any new guy I would meet or date would be rated on the “Straight Frank Meter”.
On Lancelot’s twenty-eighth birthday Frank put together a party for Lancelot and invited about a dozen friends. We had a very nice time and Frank, as usual, picked up the tab. We ate good food and toasted with tequila all night until the restaurant closed and then walked out into the warm summer night together in a group. Kisses and hugs all around and then it was just the three of us left. Frank put his arms around us both and we all pulled together in a long laughing hug. They found me a cab and poured me into it before turning around and walking up the street, I watched fondly as these two handsome men walked arm in arm to their apartment three blocks away. Never in a million years did I think that this would be the last time I would ever see that.
I arrived home and fell asleep half undressed until about 2:00 AM when I was awakened by my cell phone. Scrambling in the dark to find it I saw it was Lancelot’s number. When I answered all I could hear was wailing and no matter how hard I tried or how much I screamed into the phone I couldn’t understand a word he said. I put the phone on speaker calling out assurances and love while slipping into a pair of jeans and tennis shoes and, still on speaker, I raced to my car and sped toward the city as fast as I was able. Eventually he was able to get himself together enough to tell me he was at Northwestern Memorial so that was where I headed.
When I found him he was huddled in a mass on a chair in the ER and there was a small nurse sitting with him trying to console him. He looked up at me as I rushed in calling out his name “Josh!” as I ran across the room sinking down to my knees in front of him. His eyes were hollow and dark and his mouth was wide open crying silently and shaking uncontrollably. I looked him up and down grabbing at his shirt and pulling him out of his chair to see if he had been injured. His white shirt was caked in blood and he was dirty but he didn’t appear to be hurt. I looked beseechingly at the little nurse sitting in the plastic chair and she quietly said “His partner passed away”. I knew already but I didn’t know why or how but at the time it didn’t matter. I just sat down in the chair on the other side of my Lancelot and we cried together.
Some time later I was able to get us both out of there and back to their apartment. Lancelot was a zombie, walking where I lead him and letting me strip his stained and torn clothes from him and putting him in a hot shower. I tucked him into bed and then lay beside him as we both slept a mournful exhausted sleep. After a few hours of sleep we woke up and, sitting up in bed, he told me what had happened the night before.
After they’d left me in the cab they’d begun the walk home. They’d both had too much to drink and they were feeling happy and young and amorous and along the way Frank had pulled Lancelot into a doorway and cupping his hands around his face he had kissed him. It was a hot night and they were young and in love and they got a little carried away there in the doorway until a pair of male voices pulled them from their reverie and chuckling they’d begun walking toward home again. Suddenly from what seemed out of nowhere Lancelot had felt a large object strike him in the back and propelled him forward. He struggled to keep his footing and instinctively grabbed for Frank beside him only to grab air. Righting himself he spun around to see two young men, boys really, in hoodies and jeans jump on Frank and push him to the ground where they began beating him and kicking him. Lancelot jumped into the fray trying to free Frank and get him off the sidewalk but that only seemed to make them more angry and they turned on Lancelot shoving him to the wall and took turns punching him in the stomach. Lancelot watched as if in slow motion as Frank had stood up behind the boys and jump on one of their backs. The boy howled as Frank grabbed him around the throat and began choking him. The other boy spun around and seeing his friend in trouble he pulled a gun from his waistband and with one shot ended Frank’s life while my Lancelot watched in horror. It had all happened so quickly, he didn’t know what he could have done. The boys had run off immediately after the shot, leaving Lancelot to pull Frank onto his lap and try to stop the bleeding that was coming from his head. The doctors at the hospital told Lancelot that Frank had died almost right away, no pain.
After we’d both cried for a time we pulled ourselves together and drove back to the hospital in silence. When we arrived we went where they told us to go and asked what we needed to do to get Frank’s body released. The woman, Gina Giancola, who was in charge glanced at her desk and the file laying there shifting uncomfortably in her chair. After some hemming and hawing I lost patience with her and pretty insistently asked again what needed to be done. Gina looked at us both sadly and then quietly said “Your partner’s parents came earlier and have already made arrangements”. I looked at Lancelot confused because Frank had been estranged from his parents since he was nineteen and he was thirty-three years old. Lancelot just stared at Gina lost for a moment before he stood and quietly thank her, leaving the room. I ran after him thanking Gina over my shoulder and followed him out to a small chapel where he sat and stared for a while. Finally he took a deep breath and pulled Frank’s phone from his pocket. I didn’t even know he had it.
He skimmed through the numbers until he found one and then with a sigh he pressed the button while I sat next to him and watched. “Hi Mr. Carlyle this is Josh err Frank’s friend who was with him last night. Yes, yes I understand. Yes Sir I know this is a difficult time. No I understand, I wanted to see if there was anything … yes yes okay of course. May I give you my cell phone … well … okay, yes yes Sir of course I understand thank you.” Lancelot hung up the phone and staring down at his hands he began to cry again. I sat with him, my arm across the back of the pew and cried with him, my best friend, my brother.
Over the next few days we both tried to get in contact with Frank’s family but at every turn we were rebuffed. We took the next few days to let all of our friends know what had happened and cried and curled up in the bed together and begged for sleep. Finally came the day of the funeral and we drove ourselves there. All of our friends were so confused because Lancelot should have been there front and center and instead Frank’s family was pretending like he didn’t exist. We sat in the second row holding hands and crying as we watched the love of Lancelot’s life be canonized by someone who had known nothing about him. We prayed and genuflected and then after that we all walked away hand in hand leaving the family to grieve the son they hadn’t even known. We moved as one across the cemetery to our cars and made our way to a local restaurant where the owners had put together a spread and a private room for us to have our own memorial service for our Frank.
A week after the funeral I moved back to my own apartment and we got on with our lives. We didn’t talk about what had happened at the funeral but every night after we’d both gotten into our respective beds we would sit on the phone and talk about Frank and how much we missed him. He tried to get back to life as normal my Lancelot but it just wasn’t easy. After a while he lost his lucrative job and then his beautiful apartment. This time I was the one riding the white horse. This time I was the one who packed up most of his belongings and moved him into my small shabby one bedroom apartment. He refused to sleep in bed with me despite the fact that we’d been doing that for years. He said that he would just keep me up because he had insomnia. He slept on the pull out couch in my tiny living room instead. Many mornings I would get up and go to the kitchen to start the coffee pot and the bed would be pulled out but not made up. He would be sitting on the armchair staring out the window at the street below.
After a few months he hadn’t gotten any better. I was so worried about him but every time I tried to talk to him about moving on with his life he would change the subject. He just sat in my living room and channel surfed all day, barely eating anything and drinking pot after pot of coffee. Occasionally I would see him typing away madly on his laptop but whenever I would ask him what he was doing he would mumble something about emails and close the computer.
I decided the best thing I could do for him was to just be there for him and take care of him until he was ready to take care of himself again. I took a job waiting tables to supplement my freelance photography business so we could both keep eating. Our lives became pretty much the same. I would bring home food from work and that was dinner and then we would watch TV until we fell asleep. I’m not sure what he did when I wasn’t home but I don’t think he ever left the house. He would claim that he took a walk but I doubt it. I started to get annoyed at the smallest things like when he left his wet towel on the floor or when he took my comforter off my bed to use on the couch while he watched TV. I would grouse about it but he would just apologize and then we’d ignore each other for the rest of the day.
I guess I had finally had it with him. Here I was busting my ass to support us both and all he does is sit and feel sorry for himself. He does nothing around the house and makes a mess. I started getting really mad at him and finally told him I’d had it. I told him he was going to have to make an effort. He needed to get out of the house and start taking a walk every day or something. He’d just sit there with his head down and say “I know I know” but he never did anything. I started to hate going home. It got to the point where I would come home, slamming whatever leftovers I’d gotten from work on the counter and lock myself into my room. We didn’t even talk any more. The situation was untenable and I was starting to think I was going to have to kick him out.
When Frank had been gone for six months I brought home a pizza and a six-pack of beer. The apartment was empty. Immaculate and empty. All of Lancelot’s stuff was gone. On the counter next to the coffee pot was an envelope with my name on it. I sat down on the couch and pulled the letter out of the envelope. My hands shaking I pulled open the letter and began to read.
“Hey Jordan Millie it’s me Lancelot” it began. “First, thank you for everything you’ve done. You have been the best best friend/sister any guy could ever want. You’ve been there for me well past the required time frame. I’ve grown lazy and sad sitting on your couch and it’s time for me to go. I’m not sure where I’m going or what I’m going to do but I need to get the hell out of here. When I have an idea of what I’m going to do or where I’m going to land I will let you know. I love you.”
Since then my photography business has taken off and I’m doing pretty well. I adopted Augustine from a shelter last year. I’m dating a pretty decent guy named Lowell who I met on a photo shoot. It’s kind of one of those “meet cute” stories. I received a letter today in the mail from Lancelot. The first contact since he left. He’s coming back to Chicago and will be here next Friday for his book launch?! I called Lowell in tears today to tell him about it. He is so happy for me and he can’t wait to meet the brother I’ve been talking about since the day we met. I’m not sure what to say or do. I’m picking him up from the airport and bringing him back here to catch up. I can’t wait.