I meant to post this short story, the final installment in my “Through the Years” series on my website as a page linked from the ‘Freebies’ page of my website, www.zamaxfield.com. If you’re reading this in LiveJournal, or MySpace, or Facebook, you can go back to my website and get the first three parts of this story, the continuing story of Ethan and Barry, there.
The problem I have with this is that I can’t figure out how to do that. I tried to do it, but so far I haven’t made it work, so until I can get the lovely and talented Celia Kyle to show me how? I’m publishing the story as a post. I’m going to LJ cut it but I have to do that manually, so for a few minutes at least, it’s going to be this big long post, and I can’t help that. For right now, thank you so much for following these two men, who have nearly thirty years together, and I’ll move this all around when I can get professional help.
Get out and vote tomorrow, and blessing to everyone, no matter what you vote for.
Ethan shifted the blueprints he was going over first one way and then the other. He looked on the floor but his reading glasses were nowhere to be found. He cursed under his breath as he felt around for something to weigh the sheaves of paper down so they wouldn’t roll up and off the desk as soon as his back was turned.
Ever since he’d started needing reading glasses Barry had been buying them for him in four-packs from Costco and still they were never around when he needed them. He finally located a pair tangled up in the sheets of the bed when his cell phone rang. By the time he finally found that he was cursing out loud.
“Holmes,” Ethan answered.
“Watson here,” came Barry’s voice, for the millionth time. Ethan knew he still found the whole Watson thing funny and didn’t hold it against him. Much.
“How’s it going,” Ethan sat with his back against the headboard. “Are you making the world a better place?”
“I have egg on my face.”
Ethan grinned. “What did you do now?”
“No, I mean, I really have egg on my face. Someone just drove by the circle and pelted my students with eggs, and while I was trying to get them to stand down a couple hit me.”
“Shit!” Ethan sat forward. “Are you okay?”
“One of them was hardboiled. I’m going to have a black eye.” The noise in the background was so loud Ethan could hardly hear. Barry’s phone popped and crackled every so often with static.
“It’s crazy loud here, I can’t hear you too well. Let me see if I can…” Ethan could hear the noise recede as Barry found a quieter spot to talk. “It’s nothing for… worry about, except I’m covered with goo. I imagine by the end… day I won’t smell too appetizing.”
“We’ve had worse,” Barry sighed. “I guess.”
“Yup. You’re at the traffic circle in Orange right?” Ethan heard the rumble of cars and the honking.
“Yes. My students are doing really… remind them to take the moral high road when people are absolute shits. The police keep cruising by and…take much for them to tell us to move along. One of them tried to run into the street and kick someone’s bumper when he called her a…”
“A pervert,” Barry shouted. Ethan laughed. He imagined that got Barry a hard stare or two.
“You just wanted to hear me say that really loud, didn’t you?” Barry asked him.
“Mmhmm.” Ethan grinned. He looked at his watch. “I’m just going over the blueprints for the Anderson kitchen, but since I won’t be meeting the client until tomorrow afternoon, I volunteer to bring you a change of clothing.”
“Really?” Barry sounded surprised.
“Sure. I’m just twiddling my thumbs here in the hotel. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes. I’ll bet you could even get me to carry a sign, if you play your cards right.”
A loud commotion in the background and a great deal of honking precluded the beginning of whatever Barry had to say. “…and you can help me settle this crowd down. It’s the last day before the election, and they’re…worth your while.”
“I don’t know what you said,” Ethan told him. “But I’m on my way.” Ethan hung up, figuring that whatever Barry was up to would be more fun than playing hide and seek with his glasses again. In fact, he looked high and low for them, giving up entirely after five minutes. He tossed some clothes into a messenger bag and headed off to find Barry. He caught sight of himself in the mirror over the bar on the way out of their hotel suite. There they were. Right on top of his head, damn it.
Barry gathered the faithful. Some were students of his and some were with the local chapter of PFLAG. They stood in a circle around him and listened, the signs fluttering in impatient hands. Someone was holding a rainbow flag and it flapped and snapped in the breeze.
“For some of you this is the first time you’re going to be able to vote in an election. Some of you are still disappointed by the last election. I see one or two faces I remember from the Kerry Campaign, nice to see you by the way.” He nodded in particular to one of the older women with whom he and Ethan had been corresponding through Christmas cards.
“You all know sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. It’s hard to see all your work come to nothing. It’s hard to listen to people when they disagree, especially if they’re hateful. It’s hard to stand your ground and take an egg in the face and not react with equal force.” Someone had come to him earlier with an ice pack for his swelling eye, and he gestured with it, making a rueful face.
“I’ve been through a lot of times like this. I’m here to tell you that even if you can’t see the difference you make in the world, you are making one. You make a difference every time you make your point without cruelty, without belittling the other guy, without violence, without anger. You make a difference by setting an example of rational, civilized behavior and sticking to it, even in the face of uncivilized behavior. I wanted to take a little break so we can all get a deep breath and remind ourselves of that.” Some of the protestors dropped their eyes.
“I know they make you angry. They want to get your goat. They want to see you lose control. The last thing we want right now is to hurt our cause by lashing out.” Barry stretched his arms a little. “Lets start walking again… What do we want?” And they were off, just like that, waving their signs and flags and hardly noticing that he wasn’t right there with them. He let out the breath he’d been holding when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Ethan behind him.
“That was quick.” Barry said, giving him a hug and a brief kiss.
“They did something to the streets, widened them since I was here last. Traffic seemed better.” Ethan told him. He looked around. “This hasn’t changed much.
“No,” Barry agreed. “I still like it here.” He’d come to the tiny plaza a number of times for different campaigns, it was an engaging Orange County landmark with a lot of traffic. An artsy, avant garde niche in a stubbornly conservative part of California.
Ethan reached out a gentle hand and peeled back Barry’s ice pack. “Ooh. That’s going be a beauty.”
“Sorry.” Barry said. He was acutely aware that since Burma every time he got hurt Ethan felt it ten times worse. He regarded Ethan and sucked in a breath. Ethan was gorgeous. Still, after thirty years, every bit or maybe even more handsome than he’d been when they’d first met. Admittedly, Ethan’s voice hadn’t even dreamed of changing back then and in the meantime he’d had braces.
“What?” Ethan asked. “You look—”
“I was just thinking how hot you are.” Barry said, giving him a shrug. “Still.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. Barry wanted to grab a handful of Ethan’s still thick hair and shake him. Ethan did nothing but get better every year, while he, Barry, seemed to be aging like an average man. In his early thirties he’d discovered an alarming trend toward male pattern baldness. Instead of looking all silvery and cool, as Ethan’s hair showed every promise of doing, Barry’s was leaving the premises in a huff, never to return. What he had left he cropped ruthlessly into the shortest buzz cut and he’d cultivated a penchant for attractive hats. These days Barry rarely left the house without one. The one he had on now had mercifully escaped an egg bath.
Ethan tilted his head and wrinkled his nose. “You’re pretty hot yourself, even though you smell like hardboiled egg.”
A little of the bravado left Barry and he sagged against Ethan. “I have to say, I didn’t expect that. That took planning.”
Ethan reached into his bag and handed over a fresh shirt and trousers. “I dare you to change right here,” he taunted.
“I will.” Barry told him, grabbing the shirt. He pulled off the one he was wearing and grinned like a kid. As he pushed his head through the neck hole of a fresh tee shirt with a pop, he said, “My pants are fine, but thank you anyway.” He folded his shirt inside out and rolled it up, giving it back to Ethan. “Come on, I have just the sign for you.”
“Remember when you made me carry that ‘My body, My choice’ sign at the Pro Choice rally during the first Bush administration. I’m still angry about that, you know.”
“I know, but if you recall we got a lot of support from that group later when the marriage issue popped up here on the ballot the first time, back in 2000. The ladies showed up in force and worked very hard. You can’t buy that kind of quid pro quo.”
“Sometimes you scare me. Please tell me your still determined not to run for political office.”
“I’m happy working in the background Ethan.” Barry held up a sign that read ‘It Takes All Kinds Under The Rainbow’.
“”Oh for fuck’s sake, baby. You’ve been saving that just for me, haven’t you?”
Barry snorted. “Truthfully? No. But since the Care Bears didn’t show up I thought—” Ethan grabbed him around the waist and hauled him in for a kiss. Barry looked up when some of the protestors some started to clap and whistle. He tried to shoo them away.
Given that he taught Intro to Political Science only one night a week at a junior college, Barry hardly thought of himself as a teacher. He’d been surprised to find some of his students passionately concerned about the issues. Plenty of his students opposed his politics openly. As long as they were civil, he allowed a lively discussion. He wasn’t about to use his class as a pulpit.
When he’d told them he was traveling to Orange County to volunteer for the opposition to a proposed amendment to the state constitution making marriage in California legal only between a man and a woman, a handful asked to join him. At the time he’d demurred, saying that as their instructor he couldn’t be seen to be manipulating them for his own agenda.
They’d followed him anyway, not in any organized fashion, and certainly not as part of a school trip. Some students had been enthralled with the idea of being part of a real campaign. Some had wanted to go to Disneyland and came along with their friends for the ride. To a man they had gotten into the excitement of wanting to make a difference and it made him feel young again to be with them. Now they were staring at him.
“Back to work, you!” he told them.
One of the women, Carla, who had taken a couple of days off her work as a nurse asked, “So have you two tied the knot?”
Barry shook his head. “We were handfast in ninety-eight.”
“You’ve been together that long?” asked one of the other students. Barry looked at Ethan. The boy was young, only about 19, not one of his students but a local who had joined their protest on the spur of the moment.
“We’ve been together forever,” said Ethan. “Since high school. Over thirty years.”
“No way!” said Carla. “The longest I’ve lasted with anyone is a year and one month.”
“Yeah, well. We admit to being a little stuck in a rut.” Barry told her.
“Some rut,” said Ethan, waggling his brows. “You just told me how hot you think I am.”
“Yeah, well…” Barry thrust the sign at him.
“You guys are like an old married couple,” snickered a boy who admitted to coming only to go on the Space Mountain Ride at Disneyland.
“That’s because that’s exactly what we are,” Barry said primly, but he caught Ethan’s look, and it told him Ethan was thinking hard, and that sooner or later he would hear about whatever it was that was bothering him. Barry hoped he was only planning revenge for having to carry that stupid sign.
“Okay, Barry,” Ethan said. “You can open your eyes.”
Barry opened his eyes and looked around. They were in Long Beach, by the convention center in front of the Hyatt across from where the old Pike stood. He tried to come up with a reason for this to mean something but couldn’t. Oh geez.
“Well?” Ethan asked him, grinning, as if any moment he would come up with the answer to a riddle.
“Oh, crap I’m so sorry, I can’t think of why this should be significant. Why are we here dressed like Fred Astaire? You know I love you and I’m slow on the uptake so don’t get mad at me.”
Ethan did this facepalm thing and it made Barry jump. “You are about as romantic as a bag of turds.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Okay. Here’s how my thought process went. Our prom where we first realized we were more than just pals—”
“You first realized. You’re kind of slow on the uptake too.” Barry corrected him.
Ethan took a deep breath. “Our prom where I first realized that I loved you and wanted to spend the rest of my life with you….Better?” Barry nodded. “Was held at the Edgewater Hyatt Hotel. Are you with me so far?” he asked as though talking a child through a math problem.
“Yes.” Barry might have been having a little more fun than he’d admit to Ethan. He might have been making Ethan work for this, just as Ethan had made him work to pay him back for carrying that sign during their protest that afternoon. He’d worked through their unofficial nap before dinner and the shower they took together afterwards, and he’d gotten extra credit for some waterproof lube he’d tucked into his shaving kit on the odd chance–
“Are you paying attention?” Ethan asked him. Ethan’s eyebrows had this habit of disappearing under the hair that still (damn him) flopped into his eyes.
“I am. You were saying about the Hyatt. It wasn’t this one, you know. Or don’t you remember that far back?”
“I’m getting to that. Of course I remember. Do you want to hear this or not?”
Barry relented. “Of course.”
“All right, then. Pay attention. That Hyatt was torn down, and this is the new Hyatt. And I’m taking you to dinner here, in their perfectly adequate restaurant and then I’m going to drag you into their men’s room and do unspeakable things to you in the stall.”
Barry stopped in his tracks. “You are shitting me.”
“No. I am not.” Ethan took him by the hand and nearly dragged him to the double doors. “Have I told you lately how handsome I think you are in a tux?”
“I can’t wear a hat with this,” Barry murmured.
“You could if you wanted to.”
“Sure, a top hat. I’m not walking around Long Beach in a top hat. It’s the only kind of hat that wouldn’t look stupid with a tux. You’ve made me expose my flaws.”
“I don’t think it’s a flaw Barry,” Ethan told him gently. “I think it’s sexy.” He rubbed his hand along Barry’s scalp and smiled.
Barry looked down. “All right.” He brushed Ethan’s hand away. “What’s all this about?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m all for nostalgia, and I think this place is great. But what’s really going on.”
“You’ll find out,” he said. As soon as Ethan told the host their name, Barry knew something was up. When they arrived at their table by the window, Ethan’s brother Jim and his wife Sarah were there with their daughter, Sammi.
“Hi!” Sammi slipped out of her chair for a hug, even though at 23 she was every bit the cool and elegant young sophisticate. “Were you surprised?”
“I was,” Barry told her. He sat down and gave Ethan an indulgent look. “Ethan told me he brought me here to—”
Ethan broke in. “I had to tell you something. You were trying to spoil my surprise.”
Barry felt a lurch in his chest when he looked at Ethan’s engaging grin. Still so damned adorable. “I wasn’t. I just thought I ought to point out that this isn’t the same Hyatt as the one from prom.” The waiter arrived and took their drink orders. Barry didn’t think he’d ever get over hearing Sammi order an appletini.
“It’s so good to see you!” he told them. “Last time was at this one’s graduation.” He snagged Sammi and gave her another squeeze. “That cost me.”
“Thanks for the cruise, uncle Barry. Mom and I had a blast. I doubt there’s a service we didn’t try at the spa.” She grinned at her mom.
“Ah well,” Barry said. “You’re only on an all-expense-paid-by-someone-else cruise once.”
“Seriously. Once.” Ethan told her. “I paid for half of it.”
Sammi bit her lip in an utterly charming way and Barry knew that Ethan would do anything she asked of him. They caught up on family news and pressed Sammi to admit whether any young men were catching her eye. Sammi was rather good at playing it close to the vest, Barry noticed and not for the first time. She had her mother’s ability to deflect a personal question, generally toward Ethan, who seemed only to happy to talk about himself. Barry was captivated.
After dinner the waiter brought a bottle of champagne and a heart shaped cheesecake that looked a little bit like Sarah and Sammi might have made it themselves. Once all the glasses were poured Barry took his. He suddenly noticed that no one was speaking. He looked around expecting someone to make a toast. Instead Ethan stood and came over to kneel in front of him.
Part of Barry’s mind, the part that was always working on solving the next problem, the part that was used to confrontation, conflict, and negotiation was working at light speed. The part that controlled his speech functions? Died. He sat without saying a word as Ethan pulled out a box with two rings in it.
“Barry Sanders,” Ethan began. “We’ve been together for thirty years. In all that time you’ve been…” Ethan kept talking but Barry wasn’t listening. He was thinking. First, he was damned embarrassed. He was pretty sure that even without the whole this-is-the-night-before-a-major-election-with-gay-marriage-hanging-in-the-balance aspect of the situation he would not have chosen to be the center of attention in a restaurant full of people who were no doubt thinking, “Aw how cute”, or “Yeesh, how deviant”.
Second, while the notion seemed perfectly fine while one was holding a sign that said “Equality NOW” he basically didn’t want to get married. Ethan knew this. Barry wished for a minute that in his enthusiasm he’d remembered that. He was still talking, as if he’d written something out and memorized it. He was droning on and on and suddenly Barry couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Come with me,” Barry told him, catching him by the arm and pulling him to his feet. He asked a startled waiter where the men’s room was, aware of the irony of that, and pulled Ethan along like a toy on a string until he was, in fact, facing him inside the tiny stall.
“What?” Ethan asked him, shocked.
“What?” Barry couldn’t believe his ears. “You do that prince charming thing and get down on your knees in the fucking Hyatt and you have to ask me what?”
“Yeah?” Ethan sort of shook his head. “I guess so. Yeah.”
Barry sighed. “Ethan. You embarrassed me. All those people were staring. It made me nervous and angry.”
“Why? You told everyone today that we were handfast. I just want to make it legal.”
“It is legal. Down to the last detail. Our revocable trust, our wills, our healthcare proxies. It’s legal.”
“Barry, we’re not married. We could be married. I thought you of all people would want to—”
“Just because I want gay marriage to be legal doesn’t mean I want to go out and buy my Vera Wang wedding dress. I know you don’t understand this, Ethan, but couldn’t you have talked to me before you involved our family?”
“I thought it would be a nice surprise.”
Barry slumped. “I’m sure you did. It is. It would be.” He put both hands on his face and rubbed, forgetting his black eye. “Ow.”
Ethan pulled his hands away and kissed the bruise. “What. Tell me now.”
“I…” Barry wondered how he could explain. “I like how we are.”
“But even you admit that a licensed marriage is—”
“I admit no such thing, Ethan. I admit that the important thing is if people feel that marriage is the pinnacle of commitment they should marry. I admit that for someone our age, who was probably indoctrinated by the church and society to think that marriage is the ‘happiest day of a person’s life’ that it would be a good thing.”
“What are you saying? You don’t care? We never have to make it official?”
Barry thumped Ethan on the chest, hard. “How dare you say that what we have isn’t official.”
“Ow.” Ethan rubbed the spot. “But—”
“Don’t make me use the B word,” Barry warned.
Ethan stood for a minute and Barry could tell he was going through all the B words in his vocabulary.
“Bourgeois, Ethan. It’s bourgeois to get married just because everyone else is. It’s not a deeper or more meaningful or more spiritual commitment than the one we made in Hawaii. It’s just more expensive and more public and we already have all the damned kitchen crap we will ever need.”
Ethan was still silent and Barry started to feel badly, that maybe he’d put a little more English on his refusal than he’d meant to.
“Look,” Barry told him. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you want, we can get married. But can we forgo the Gidget and Moondoggie clichés and just, I don’t know, make it between us?”
“I wanted to share it with my brother, Barry. With his wife and his daughter who are the only family I have left.” Ethan snapped. “I’m sorry that offended you, or embarrassed you. I wanted to propose to you. Didn’t you think it might be about me this time, and not about you?”
“For the love of heaven,” Barry caught Ethan’s hand. “Knowing me for thirty years, couldn’t you have done it in a more private place?” He brought Ethan’s hand to his lips and kissed it gently, and then when Ethan seemed to soften a little, Barry began to kiss it more, opening his hand and tonguing the palm and the pads of his fingers. “Ethan. I’m sorry I spoiled your surprise,” he said softly.
“Fellating my thumb isn’t going to improve my mood.”
“You say that now, but already, your eyes are glazing over and you’re asking yourself how much trouble can we get into here if I do this to your dick.”
“Uh,” said a voice from outside the stall. “I’m sorry to be a…you know…but pretty soon it’s not going to be the most romantic place in here…” Someone or something made a terribly rude noise. “Just so you know.”
Barry covered his face with his hands and Ethan yanked the door open. They both washed their hands quickly and fled the bathroom before it was too late. They practically fell out the door of the hotel into the crisp November evening they were laughing so hard.
“What on earth ever made me think I’d want to do that bathroom thing again?” Ethan asked after he got control of himself.
“Oh, jeez. I don’t know. It always seems more fun in retrospect.” Barry allowed Ethan to pull him toward a small cement bench and they sat down. “Should you call Jim?”
“In a minute.” Ethan said. “So it’s not marriage per se that turns you off. It’s not wearing a ring and saying you’re married to me?”
“Of course not.” Barry leaned his head against Ethan’s shoulder. “I don’t like being told to get married. I don’t like how crazy people get.”
“How would you feel if Sammi just moved in with some guy?”
“That’s different. There could be children involved, and they need to be protected by the law. You and I…” Barry trailed off.
“Yeah? You and I what?”
“I kind of feel like what we have is more somehow.” Barry admitted. “Not less. Like what we have is special. Solid against all the odds. Better.”
“I see,” Ethan said. He put an arm around Barry.
“Maybe it’s a kind of snobbery.”
“So what do you want, Ethan?” Barry poked him playfully on the ribs. “Can we compromise?”
Ethan was getting out his cell phone but Barry stopped his hand. “Lets go back inside.”
“Everyone will look at us twice as much after you dragged me to the bathroom,” Ethan warned him.
“Our family is here to see us. Let’s go back inside.” Barry got back up and began to walk away.
“Will you at least wear the ring I bought you? I must have looked at thousands. These have stones inlaid in the shape of mountains.”
Barry came over and sat back down. “No shit?”
Under the dim light of the landscape lighting Ethan pulled the rings back out. “Here,” he told Barry. See?” Each gold ring had several colors of opaque stones inlaid into the gold that formed pictures of mountains that went all around the band.”
“That’s beautiful,” Barry swallowed hard. “You went to a lot of trouble for this.”
“It’s solid.” Ethan said. “And inspired by nature. I thought—”
Barry threw himself at Ethan. “Oh for fuck’s sake you are the most infuriatingly amazing, wonderful, fabulous…”
“I love you too, Barry.” Ethan kissed him as though the kiss had to carry all the love he’d ever felt in their lives together.
“We’re drawing a crowd,” Barry said against his lips.
“Think of it as a No on Proposition 8 demonstration.”
“If 8 passes, I can’t marry you.”
“In California.” Ethan reminded him. “If it goes down in flames you and I are hitting City Hall for a license next week.”
“No big wedding. I’m not planning—”
“Sammi said she’d take care of everything,” Ethan informed him.
“Oh dear heaven…” Barry saw himself wrapping Jordan almonds in little tulle circles with Barbie pink ribbons and pushed Jordan away. “Ethan, you are not taking into consideration my feelings at all! I told you. I don’t want to get married. We are married. It’s a bullshit, bourgeois—”
“And you’re not listening to me,” Ethan said quietly. “It is important to me. I want it, Barry.”
Barry took a deep breath. “In that case. If its what you want, I…what can I say. I want you to be happy Ethan.”
Ethan sighed. “I don’t know why, but I want it, Barry. I’ve wanted it for a long time, I just haven’t said anything.”
“It’s been legal all summer, why didn’t you say something sooner? We could have gotten married then.”
“I figured why bother if they’re just going to take it away.” Ethan pursed his lips. “Why bother if somebody can come along and say it doesn’t count.”
“Didn’t what we have in Hawaii count?”
“It wasn’t marriage. I want that, Barry.”
Barry sighed. Every day Ethan surprised him. “Can we agree that if it isn’t going to be legal here, where we live, we can let it go?”
Ethan’s eyes lowered. “I guess so. It doesn’t mean as much if it’s not legal and binding in the state where you live.”
“Is it going to break your heart? This thing could go either way. I don’t have much hope, myself.”
“It’s going to piss me off.” Ethan took his hand. “But as long as we’re together my heart stays in tact.”
“All right then,” Barry held out his hand. “You have a deal.”
“All right then,” Ethan shot Barry one of those grins that made his knees a little wobbly and took it, leading the way back into the hotel. “And wait till I get you home! How embarrassing was that? Being dragged into the fucking bathroom while I was trying to propose marriage.”
“Not nearly as embarrassing as every damn tourist waiting to sing the love theme from Titanic after I said yes.” As they were walking to the restaurant Barry tugged on Ethan’s hand and stopped him. “You’re sure you’re okay? I mean with not getting married if—”
“Hell no, I’m not okay with it,” Ethan told him. “But I happen to be handfast to a political activist, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s ‘never say never’.”
“Until tomorrow then,” Barry said.
“Until tomorrow,” Ethan told him, and they entered the restaurant together, hand in hand.