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Chapter 1: The Secret Keeper

Cover of The Secret Keeper

Chapter 1

“Ouch! What the hell are you doing?” I had just decapitated the shaving-foam bird I’d spritzed into my hand for my morning ritual when Jonathan came up behind me and took an intense interest in the back of my head. He then reached up and yanked a hair out by the root.

Cheerfully ignoring my complaint, he replied, “Look what I found!”  Pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, he held it up for my inspection. “A gray hair!” he said with the enthusiasm of a ‘49er who has just come up with a fist-sized gold nugget. 

“Why, thank you, Jonathan.” I said. “What a wonderful discovery! Now I can go put my name on the waiting list at the old folks home.”

Still inspecting the hair carefully, he said, “Maybe we should name it.”

“Great idea. I vote for ‘Jonathan.’”

Actually, I had found two others on my own over the past month but had quietly dispatched them and didn’t see any point in making a big deal of it. Obviously, Jonathan and I viewed things differently.

Putting his arms around me from behind, he rested his head on my shoulder. “Don’t worry…I’ll still love you when you’re old and gray.”

“You can’t know how much that means to me,” I said, then hastened to change the subject. “I thought you were fixing breakfast.”

“I am. I came to tell you it’s ready.”

“Good. What are we having?” 

“Geritol and prunes.” Quickly releasing me, he made a break for the door before I could get to him.

* * *

Things had been going very well lately. I’d been able to keep steadily busy, and though none of my cases would make a very interesting novel, they paid the bills and even allowed us to pull a bit ahead. Jonathan had gotten his associate’s degree in horticulture, which gave him a little more time at home during the week, though his belonging to the Gay Men’s Chorus still cut into it more than I would have liked. But he loved it and was really excited when the director, Roger Rothenberger, assigned him a solo for the next concert. 

All our friends were doing well: Tim Jackson was an assistant medical examiner in the Coroner’s office, and his other half, Phil Stark, was constantly busy with his modeling career. Bob Allen and Mario Lopez continued to spend what free time they had from their bar jobs working on the sprawling Grand Dame of a Victorian house they were lovingly restoring to its former glory. Jared Martinson was kept busy teaching Russian literature at Marymount College in nearby Carrington, and his partner, Jake Jacobson, was busier than he should have  been with his construction business.

In deference to his HIV-Positive status, Jake had cut back on some of his work activities, and was diligent about doing everything his immunologist brother Steve told him to do. To all appearances, he was in excellent health, for which all of us were infinitely grateful. We got together with them whenever we could.

On the home front, Joshua was now attending half-day kindergarten and in daycare the other half. One of the Bronson sisters, who ran the Happy Day daycare center, took him and a few other of their charges about the same age to the school each day and brought them back. Though it was still several months off, we were making plans to enroll Joshua in first grade at the school nearest our apartment, which entailed a slew of logistical details and not a few problems. He, of course, couldn’t wait, since it meant he was one step closer to getting his own car and going off to college.

But entering first grade meant leaving day care altogether, and Jonathan believed in planning ahead. Considering all the details involved, it was probably a good idea. Getting him to school would be easy enough, but being able to pick him up on time every afternoon always required some serious time-juggling. We had some flexibility with the Bronsons, since their day-care center was in their home, and they were very good about looking after him if we were going to be a few minutes late. But we couldn’t count on that once he started a regular school—the Bronsons only took pre-schoolers. We would look into other after school daycares but hadn't had the time yet. We agreed that it wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem, and we certainly couldn’t keep him in daycare forever. 

All of which got me to thinking once again of how vastly my world had changed in a relatively short time. I realized, with some degree of concern, that my life was teetering on the brink of becoming stodgy. Reflecting on my past—on the cases I’d worked on and the characters I’d run into, and on my promiscuity before I met Jonathan—I couldn’t help but feel an odd wave of nostalgia and, odder still, of loss. I wouldn’t trade my current life for the world, but let’s face it, it fell somewhat short of exciting.

Recognizing that this line of thinking wasn’t the most positive or productive, I turned my thoughts back to what was going on now, and the positives of my current state.

In retrospect, looking over my relationship with Jonathan, it has occurred to me that I may have presented him in a more saintly light than reality might warrant. I know no one is or can really be as good and sweet and kind as I have probably portrayed him. But the fact of the matter is that love is not unlike the Vaseline portrait photographers often apply to the lens of their camera to soften the image and hide the subject’s minor flaws. Jonathan is not perfect, but because I love him, for me he comes as close to it as anyone I’ve ever met.

The same is probably true with our relationship. It was by far the best of my life, but it wasn’t all skittles and beer by a long shot. Like any two people, we had our share of conflicts, though they were blessedly rare. I could always tell when something was bothering Jonathan, and though he almost never volunteered the source of a problem, usually all I had to do was acknowledge I knew he had one and he’d tell me. As for me, I’m afraid I do have a bit of a short fuse at times, but I always try to find outlets for what’s bothering me rather than lash out at him or Joshua.

Not surprisingly, Joshua is often the focal point of our disagreements. I admit I tend to let him get away with a little more than Jonathan would, and Joshua is not above playing one of us against the other if he thinks it will get him something he wants. Luckily, he is usually pretty transparent about it. We’d made a rule, too, that we never argued in front of him, which was probably a good thing in that the delay gave us time to calm down, and our arguments almost never got beyond a six on a scale of one-to-ten.

As for what was going on in Jonathan's apart-from-me life, he was doing very well. I never cease to be amazed at how the world is often like a set of up-ended dominos--knock one over, and it sets off a chain reaction that can go on indefinitely. For example, in the course of one of my cases a while back, we had attended a dinner party at the home of wealthy clients Iris and Arnold Glick, who lived in the city’s exclusive Briarwood district. Jonathan had impressed one of the other guests, the wife of a couple who had just bought a new home in the area. She subsequently hired him to do some  landscaping work on weekends. They were so happy with his work they referred him to one of their friends, who referred him to someone else…and from there things, like Topsy,  just grew. It hadn’t reached the point where he could afford to give up his regular job, but it was headed in that direction.

He was lucky to have a terrific boss at his regular job at Evergreen Nursery, who allowed him a lot of flexibility during the week whenever he got freelance work. Since he bought all his supplies from Evergreen, and the company didn’t have to pay him for the time he was using them, it was a win-win situation for everyone. And when his boss was looking for a car for his teenage daughter, he offered to trade one of Evergreen’s older but well-maintained pickup trucks for Jonathan’s beloved Toyota.

Though he was very reluctant to lose his baby, the practicality of being able to more easily carry  supplies, small trees, shrubs and his growing collection of landscaping tools than he could possibly get into the Toyota won out.

He didn’t do lawn-mowing or raking or other routine yard maintenance but rather consulted with homeowners on decorative landscaping—which trees, plants, flowers and shrubs were right for the particular area, where to put in flower beds, etc. He was, in fact, talking of going back to school for a degree in landscape architecture. By their nature, most of his jobs were short-term and, like the detective business, often sporadic, fluctuating between feast and famine. However, he did have one long-term customer whom he’d come across serendipitously.

One of his first jobs had been planting a decorative hedge around the property of a large house in Briarwood, which took nearly a week to complete. He’d work mornings at Evergreen then spend the afternoons on the hedge. Reporting on his first day on the job, he mentioned the house next to his clients’, which was distinguished not only by its quiet opulence but by the fact it had a huge vegetable garden and greenhouse, which brought out the farm boy in him.

“You’d think they could afford all the vegetables they wanted from the store,” he said. “The place looks nice from the front—there was a lawn service there today, as a matter of fact—but whoever is taking care of the garden is doing a rotten job. I don’t know why they even bothered putting it in if they’re just going to let it go.”

A few nights later, as we having dinner, he amended his earlier assessment.

“I shouldn’t be so quick to judge other people.”  

“I didn’t know you did,” I replied. “What do you mean?”.

“Well, I told you about the house next door to the Gunderson’s—the one with the big garden? Just about every day I’ve been working there, I’ve seen an old man in a wheelchair sitting on the patio reading a book, and every now and then I know he’s watching me.

"Well, today he came out of the house and wheeled himself down the sidewalk that leads out to the greenhouse at the back of the yard. He came out a minute later with a hoe on his lap and wheeled across the grass to the garden. How he was able to maneuver the wheelchair through the grass without help and balance a hoe at the same time, I don’t know.

"Anyway, I watched him go to the garden and start trying to use the hoe to take out some weeds along the edge. He couldn’t reach in very far, and it was almost impossible for him to handle the hoe properly, but he tried. A few minutes later, he accidentally dropped the hoe, and  he started to get up out of his chair so he could bend down to get it, but I was afraid he might fall if he did that, so I went over to pick it up for him.

“He thanked me, and we got to talking. I couldn’t talk too long because I was still working, but he asked me to stop back after I’d finished, and I said I would. I kept an eye on him while I finished, afraid he might drop the hoe again, but I guess he gave up, because he took a book out of a sort of pouch hanging on one arm of the wheelchair and sat there reading.

“So, when I had the last shrub in, I went back over to talk to him. He’s really a nice man. He must be about a hundred years old, and I don’t know where he got his money, but he has to have a lot of it to live in a house like that, and he lives alone with just a housekeeper. Well, I think she’s a live-in, but I’m not positive.

"Anyway, he said he’d had the garden ever since he had the house built, and he’d planted it all by himself. He said he loved plants and trees and flowers all his life but was too busy making money to do much about it until he retired. But this year, right after he planted the garden, he fell down in his driveway and broke his hip. He can still stand up and take a few steps, but he has to have something to hold on to when he tries. He has that yard service mow his lawn, but he doesn’t want them near the garden.

“I told him I was raised on a farm, and that I really missed my mom’s garden--I helped her with it every year from the time I was old enough to hold a trowel. She used to call it ‘our’ garden, hers and mine.”

I could almost feel the soft breeze of memory and sadness sweep across him. His voice caught on his last words, and I remembered his brother Samuel, Joshua’s dad, telling me how totally devastated Jonathan had been when their mother died.

His narrative was briefly interrupted for a trip to the refrigerator to get Joshua another glass of milk. Returning to the table, he picked up where he’d left off, but since Jonathan’s stories tend to get a little heavy on the details, I’ll just cut to the chase.

He finished his story with “And guess what?”

I didn’t have to guess, but I dutifully responded with “What?”

“He wants to hire me to help him with his garden. He says the people who take care of his lawn don’t know anything at all about gardens, and he wants me to come over three days a week for a couple hours each time. I told him I wasn’t sure I could do it on a regular basis, but he said we should try it out, and then he offered to pay me twenty dollars an hour! Twenty dollars! How could I say no?”

He had a point.

* * *

And so it came to pass—yea, verily—that Jonathan spent an hour or two, three days a week, weather permitting, helping an old man with his vegetable garden, and bringing home bags of tomatoes and onions and peas and squash and zucchini his employer insisted he take.

* * *

The man’s name, Jonathan said, was Clarence Bement, a name I vaguely recognized, and, as it turned out, he missed Jonathan’s estimate of being “a hundred” by only ten years.

The next time I had a quick assignment from one of my lawyer clients to do some research at the library, my curiosity led me to also do some checking on Clarence Bement. I was right to have recognized the name. Bement was once a major powerhouse on Wall Street. I remembered, too, having read once that he had two children and, about forty years before, had been involved in a messy divorce scandal, the details of which had made front page news at the time—1946, I think it was. It wouldn’t rate two paragraphs at the bottom of page 12 today.

Custody of his children and more than half his fortune went to his ex-wife, but he had persevered and, by shrewd business moves, not only made back every penny he’d lost in the divorce but doubled it. Probably having learned from his mistakes, he never remarried.

One of the infinite number of things I love about Jonathan is that, while he is often initially intimidated to the point of being starstruck at the prospect of meeting someone he considers rich or famous, the intimidation vanished if he got to see them as people. He almost immediately felt at ease with Clarence Bement. Not really realizing who Bement was or just how wealthy he was might have been a factor, but Jonathan considered him just a nice, interesting old man who loved the same things he loved.

Every night after spending time working on Bement’s garden, he would bring home stories—never of Bement’s wealth, but of his life outside the business world.

“I feel kind of sorry for him,” he observed. “I think he’s really lonely, and I guess he isn’t all that close to his family, although I think most of them live here or close by. He never talks  about them, except for a couple of his grandkids, especially one grandson. I don’t know if he has any friends left, as old as he is. That must really be hard. I know how hard it is to lose even one friend. But to lose them all, one by one…” He shook his head. “Wow.” 

“That’s a long way down the road, Babe,” I said. “Don’t worry about it now.”

He nodded but did not seem convinced. I thought that a change of subject might be in order.

“So, what does he do with all the stuff from his garden, other than give it to you? Surely he can’t eat it all himself, and from what you say it’s a pretty big garden.”

“He has some people come over from a food bank every couple of days. I pick whatever’s ripe and put it on his patio near the back door. His housekeeper takes it in and keeps it until they come. I don’t think she likes me very much--I’ve never seen her smile, and she never says a word to me.

"He always comes out to the edge of the garden while I’m working, and sometimes he’ll talk and other times he just reads. It’s always the same book: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. It’s not a very big book, but he asked if I’d read it, and I told him no. Sometimes when we’re having coffee—he always insists I take time off from work to have coffee with him, and I feel kind of strange about that, because I get paid to work, not to drink coffee. But he insists, and he pays me for every minute I’m there, so I sit on the grass and listen to him talk.

"Anyway, sometimes he’ll talk about Mrs. Browning—I didn’t remember she was the one who wrote ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…’ I remember that one from school. I never would have thought such an important businessman like him would have time for poetry, but I guess you never know.

“It’s interesting, though, that it seems like the housekeeper is always looking through the window, watching us. Actually, I think she’s watching me. Mr. Bement jokes about her always spying on him, but I’m not sure he’s really joking, because whenever he sees her coming out of the house he changes the subject to gardening until she goes away.”

“Don’t let it bother you,” I said. “Some people are just strange. Probably she’s just watching out for him.”

He shrugged, but said nothing.

“So, when do think your assignment will be over?” I asked. “Fall’s coming, and the growing season is just about over for the year.”

“True. But he wants me to turn the garden over to get it ready for next year. He has a great rototiller.”

“Surely he’s not going to try to do a garden again next year?”

He gave me a surprised look. “Of course he is! I don’t know what he’d do without his garden. I told him I’d help him. And I promised him I’d  make a couple of paths across it so he can get close enough to the plants to do some hoeing himself without having to lean way over to do it. And then there’s the greenhouse, and we’ll be able to start seedlings in there early in spring, then transfer them to the garden when it’s warm enough.”

* * *

So, aside from Jonathan dropping frequent hints about our buying a house in the suburbs with a garden of our own—though I shuddered at the thought of us turning into the Cleavers—God seemed to be in His heaven, and all was right with the world.

* * *

Shortly after the chorus’s last concert, their sign language interpreter had left the group, and Jonathan was very enthusiastic about his replacement, Cory Costas.

“You should see Cory sign!” he said after Cory’s first session with the chorus. “He’s fantastic! He doesn’t just sign with his hands, but with his face and his entire body. He loves sign, and it shows. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

“His partner, Nick, is deaf, and they just moved into town a month or so ago. They go to the MCC, and that’s how Mr. Rothenberger met them. Quite a few deaf people go to there, and Lisa, who interprets for the church, introduced Cory to Mr. Rothenberger when she heard Jerry was leaving the chorus. We were really lucky to have found him.”

So when, after a few weeks, Jonathan suggested we have Nick and Cory over for dinner, I wasn’t surprised, and readily agreed. I’d had some deaf friends in college and learned a little ASL—American Sign Language—and though I’d forgotten most of it through lack of practice, I could still finger-spell. One thing I’d learned about the deaf is that they are infinitely patient with those who take the time and make the effort to learn to sign. It would be nice to have some new deaf friends, and it would be a good learning experience for Joshua.

Though he went to the Metropolitan Community Church with Jonathan every week, Joshua attended Sunday school downstairs while Jonathan was upstairs for the regular service. There were no deaf children in the Sunday school, and none at his daycare, so he’d never been exposed to signing.

Once, at the mall, he had seen a group of deaf teens in animated conversation, and he was utterly fascinated to the point we had to remind him gently it wasn’t polite to stare. We  explained to him what being deaf was, and how the deaf use their hands to talk instead of their voices. 

“But they were making noises,” he said, “and faces. They look funny. Why do they do that?”

“You know how when you’re telling us something really interesting your voice goes up and down to show how you feel?” Jonathan asked. “Like when you said last night that you really liked that story we were reading? Well, the deaf can’t always show how they feel with just their hands, so they use facial expressions, too. It’s perfectly normal.”

At the next Tuesday night chorus practice, Jonathan extended the dinner invitation for the following Saturday, and gave Cory our phone number so he could get back to us after he’d checked with Nick. Cory called back that same night, just as we were getting ready for bed, to accept.

* * *

I’d noticed that lately, on the days Jonathan spent at Clarence Bement’s, he would more and more frequently call me at the last minute to ask me to pick up Joshua from day care. Usually it was no problem, but every now and then I had to do some quick reshuffling of what I was doing in order to make it to Happy Day on time. And after four or five such incidents it began to niggle at me. 

I really didn’t want to make an issue of it. Lord knows Jonathan had put up with enough inconveniences from me in the course of my job. But I’d noticed that whereas when he’d first started working for Bement, he would give a lengthy and detailed run-down of everything he’d done and everything they had talked about that day—Bement always sat in his wheelchair beside the garden the whole time Jonathan was there, reading or talking or sometimes trying to do something with the hoe to maintain the illusion that he was still actually able to do something—he became less and less forthcoming. When I asked him one night about what they’d talked about that day, he just said: “Oh, everything and nothing. Poetry sometimes though I’m embarrassed because I don’t know much about it. But mostly we talk about garden stuff.” 

I certainly didn’t suspect anything nefarious was going on, but I couldn’t understand, if he was supposed to work two hours, why he couldn’t just work two hours and leave.

Finally, on the Friday before Cory and Nick were coming for dinner, we’d made plans to go grocery shopping as soon as we got home, then take Joshua to Cap’n Rooney’s Fish Shack for dinner.  However, Jonathan called at three-thirty to ask me to pick up Joshua from Happy Day because he’d be a little late. I decided it was time to have a talk.

* * *

That evening, after Joshua was safely bathed, tooth-brushed, pajama’d, Story-Timed and tucked in for the night, we went into the living room to watch a little TV before bed.

I’d been thinking of what I was going to say and how to say it without overstating my case and without making him feel bad. But before I could start, he said: “Is something wrong?”

So much for that.  So why I said, “Nothing,” I don’t know.

He reached over and took my hand. “Come on…’fess up. I know you. Tell me.”

So I did. “I’m glad you have that job with Mr. Bement,” I said, “and I’m glad that you obviously enjoy it so much. But it seems like you’re spending more and more time there, and…”

“I know. Really. But….He pays me for every minute I’m there, even for the time when we’re drinking coffee,” Jonathan replied, “though I’ve told him he doesn’t have to.”

That one tripped me for a moment. “I’m sorry? I don’t follow. I wasn’t talking about the money.”

He gave a deep sigh and squeezed my hand. “I know you weren’t. But…well, Mr. Bement is really a nice man, and he’s had a life I can hardly even imagine. But I can tell he’s really lonely and he knows he isn’t going to be around much longer, and, well…So he talks to me, and I listen. I don’t think he has anyone to really listen to him.”

“What about his family?”

“Like I told you, I don’t think he has much to do with them except for a couple of his grandkids—especially that one grandson I mentioned, who’s a flight attendant for American, and he seldom sees him.”

“So what does he talk about?” I’d asked before, of course, and gotten evasions.

He suddenly looked uncomfortable and dropped his eyes from mine. “Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but sometimes he…well, he’ll be talking about gardening and ordinary things, then it’s like his mind goes somewhere else, and he’ll start talking about things that he worries about, and about people he never names. I wouldn’t know them if he did, of course, but I’d guess most of them are members of his family, and if they are, they don’t sound like nice people at all. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about, but he’s very serious about it, and it seems to be pretty important to him, so I’ll just listen. And sometimes, he’ll ask me to promise not to tell anyone what he tells me. Who would I tell, other than you? But I always promise.”

I was curious, but knew he would respect the old man’s wishes and not tell me. And it would be unfair of me to expect him to. “Well,” I said, “it’s nice that he feels he can confide in you.”

He shrugged. “I suppose. I’m not sure why—why he tells me, that is. Maybe just because I listen. Maybe because he feels he’s been keeping things inside for so long he’s tired of them. Maybe because he wants to let someone know who he is and was before he isn’t anymore. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than it is to a close friend…and I don’t think he has many, if any, of those anymore. I hope you understand.”

“Of course I do,” I said.

“Anyway, I do feel guilty about being late getting home sometimes; I know it’s not fair to you and Joshua, but you’ll both be here for a long, long time. I don’t think Mr. Bement will be.”

“Is he ill?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. But when you’re 90…”

He had a point.

* * *

Saturday was a fast-forward version of our usual-chore day, but we got it all done, including an only slightly truncated visit to the park for Joshua’s Saturday letting off of steam, and were home just before noon. A quick lunch, then the afternoon was devoted to house cleaning and getting ready for guests. Since this was Cory and Nick’s first visit, Joshua wanted to be sure everything was just so. 

We’d decided on a pot roast for dinner, and since a lot of cutting and peeling and chopping with sharp objects were involved, I volunteered to do it while Joshua, who always liked helping out in the kitchen, assisted Jonathan with watering the plants and feeding the fish.

So everything was ready when the doorbell rang that evening at 6:30.

Since I’d never met either of them, when Jonathan opened the door to a tall, butch-looking blond with a crewcut and a slightly shorter brunette, both in their early 30s, I had no idea who was who. Extending his hand to the brunette, Jonathan said, “Hi, Cory. I’m glad you could make it.” Then he turned to the blond and said: “Nick.”

Well, that took care of that.

As they came into the room, Cory effortlessly signed the introductions as he talked, while Nick watched, smiling. After I’d shaken hands with Nick, I suddenly remembered enough for me to sign, “Nice to meet you.”  His face lit up and he signed something quickly which I recognized as “You sign?”

“A little,” I said, trying to accompany my words with the appropriate sign. “Very little,” I added.

“That’s great,” Cory said/signed.

Joshua stood close by my side, looking up in utter fascination. Nick looked at him and signed “Hello, Joshua,” finger-spelling the name very slowly as Cory interpreted and Joshua looked on in awe. His eyes moved from one to the other as though two magical beings had entered the room.

* * *

The evening went very well. Cory and Nick were both great guys, and I soon shared Jonathan’s opinion of Cory. He signed so fluidly and effortlessly, interpreting for Nick in sign and for us in words, that by halfway through dinner it seemed the most natural thing in the world, which, of course, it was. To both Jonathan’s and my great relief, Joshua was the perfect little gentleman all during dinner. Obviously, he’d been awed into his best behavior.

Nick had been born deaf, and both Cory’s parents and his sister were deaf, though he had a hearing brother five years older than he. He and Nick had met at Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. when Cory went to visit his sister who, like Nick, was a student there. Gallaudet is the country’s only college specifically for the deaf. Only a tiny fraction of its 2,000-or-so students are hearing.

After dinner, Nick taught Joshua how to finger spell “Hi” and the signs for “Yes,” “No,” and “Thank you.” Joshua wanted to learn how to spell his name, but Cory said, “That might take a little while. Why don’t you have your Uncle Dick teach you and you can show us the next time we see you?”

When it was Joshua’s bedtime, we used a ploy which had worked successfully a couple times in the past, by announcing that it was time for his shower, which he equated with being a grown-up. While it was much easier just to put him in the tub, an occasional shower was a way of acknowledging that he was, indeed, getting old enough to do more for himself, though we still turned on and adjusted the water for him, and stood outside the shower door to make sure he didn’t fiddle with the knobs and risk scalding himself. I did the honors, while Jonathan, Cory, and Nick carried on the conversation.

The whole getting-ready-for-bed process went remarkably smoothly and with a relative minimum of objection, stalling, and balking.

I returned to the living room after having overseen the good-night to his parents’ picture, “Now I lay me down to sleep” and Story Time rituals. Jonathan was telling Cory and Nick a modified version of how we’d met—omitting the fact that it had been a very rough time for him and that he had been hustling to survive—and how Joshua had come into our lives. 

We, in turn, learned that they had been together for four years. Nick was a statistician for a large corporation and had been transferred here from their Washington headquarters, and Cory worked for a non-profit human-services organization.

I asked how they liked living here after living in D.C. 

“We like it,”  Cory said, signing as he did so. “We’ve met quite a few people, but most of them are deaf. Not surprisingly, it’s a pretty tight-knit community. You’re the first hearing couple we’ve had a chance to get to know here.”

The conversation went on to roam over a number of subjects, many of them revolving around the deaf community and the problems its members face on a day-to-day basis to which most hearing people are totally oblivious, such of the dangers of driving without being able to hear the sirens of emergency vehicles approaching intersections.

“We’re pretty invisible,” Nick signed. “And when the hearing find out we’re deaf, they usually don’t know how to act around us.” He grinned. “Cory loves it when they raise their voices on the assumption that if they shout, we’ll hear them. Or they talk very, very slowly thinking we can read their lips. Many of us can lip-read to an extent, but we don’t need people to speak in slow motion for us to do it.”

It was, as I said, a really nice evening, and both Jonathan and I learned a lot.

* * *

Mondays were one of Jonathan’s “Bement” days, but he did not call to ask me to pick up Joshua and was home when I got there. I assumed that perhaps our little talk the preceding Friday had had some effect.

"I didn't go to work for Mr. Bement today," he said.

"Oh? Something wrong? Is he ill?"

"I don't think so. I went over there like I always do and he wasn't in the yard like he usually is, and before I could start to work, his housekeeper came out and told me to go home. She said Mr. Bement's best friend had just died, and that he wouldn't need me today. I felt terrible for him, but didn't have a chance to talk to him to tell him so."

"I'm really sorry," I said. "I can imagine how hard it must be on him."

"I don't think I want to get old," he said, and I went over to hug him.

"Don't talk like that! You'll always have me and Joshua."

He looked at me, solemn-faced. "Will I?"

"Of course you will."

* * *

Wednesday, he called Bement from Evergreen to see if he should go over, and was told to come ahead, which he did.

"How is Mr. Bement doing?" I asked after our group hug as soon as I got home.

“He looks terrible," he said. "But I can't blame him. I told him how sorry I was. But then right after I got there, his grandson came over. I know I shouldn't say it considering how sad Mr. Bement is, but his grandson—he’s the airline steward—is beautiful!”       

I grinned. “I think it’s a job requirement,” I joked, hoping to make him feel better.

“He’s about my age,” he continued, letting my observation sail over his head. “A little shorter than me. Jet black hair and really light blue eyes. And nice, too.”

“Shall I move in with Tim and Phil?” I asked.

He gave me a startled look, then grinned. “Only for a while,” he said. 

“Uncle Dick’s moving?” Joshua asked. wide-eyed.

“No, Uncle Dick isn’t moving,” Jonathan replied. “We’re only playing.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” I said.

Jonathan looked at me. “Oh, no you don’t!" he said. "You’re not pulling that ‘bravely-noble-spouse’ number on me! You look all the time. I’m entitled.”

He had me there. “Granted,” I conceded. “So what’s his name?”

“Mel. Mel Fowler, I think. I didn’t really talk to him all that much. He showed up just after I got there, and then he and Mr. Bement went into the house and I went back to work. I was really glad he came over, because I could tell Mr. Bement felt better as soon as he saw him. And he’s gay, of course.”

“Mr. Bement?” I asked with a straight face, causing him to look at me as though I weren’t quite bright.

“Uh, no. Not Mr. Bement. Mel. Mel Fowler. The airline steward. Mr. Bement’s grandson. Remember him?”

“Vaguely,” I said. “So how do you know he’s gay?”

Again the same look. “Give me a break,” he said, and we exchanged grins.

* * *

Wednesday we got a call from Bob and Mario, saying they were thinking of having a barbecue on Sunday. “The weather won’t be cooperating too much longer,” Bob said, “so we might as well get one more in.” When we…well, it was Jonathan who mentioned it to Bob…told him about our meeting with Cory and Nick and said that they were relatively new in town, Bob suggested we invite them, which Jonathan of course thought was a great idea. “I think they’d really fit in with the group,” he told me after he’d hung up. I agreed, and he didn’t even replace the receiver on the cradle before dialing their number. 

* * *

Friday night, when I got home and as I headed toward the kitchen after our group hug, I noticed a battered copy of  Sonnets from the Portuguese on the couch.

“Mr. Bement wanted me to read it,” Jonathan explained, “so I couldn’t say no. It was nice of him to lend me his very favorite book. But I want to get it back to him as soon as I can, because I know he’ll miss it.”

“Have you had a chance to read any of it yet?” I asked.

He sighed. “I just started it.”

“What do you think so far?”

“I’m afraid it’s a little over my head, to be honest. But I’ll read it because I said I would.”

“Well, books talk to different people in different ways. Sometimes we understand everything they’re saying, sometimes we don’t. Don’t worry about it.”

* * *

I remember a time, long, long ago, when weekend mornings were for sleeping in. That, of course, was pre-Joshua. I’d seriously considered painting the window in his bedroom black to encourage him to sleep later than seven o’clock. It wouldn’t have worked. Jonathan, bless his heart, would often get up the minute he heard Joshua up and about to prevent him from pounding on the door asking when breakfast would be ready. This might give me another ten or fifteen minutes sleep until the sounds of roughhousing or Joshua’s laughter would wake me. This Saturday was no exception. Hearing Joshua’s shrieks of laughter—I gather he’d conned Jonathan into a tickle-fest—I got up, slipped on a pair of sweat pants—I hadn’t worn pajamas since I was Joshua’s age and wasn’t about to start now—and staggered into the living room.

“Sorry we woke you,” Jonathan said from the floor where he was on his back fighting off Joshua’s assault. Joshua was too intent on his mission to even notice I’d come into the room.

I noticed the clock said it was one minute to seven, and went over to the couch and flipped on the television for the morning news. The lead story was about the threatened strike of the city’s transit workers. Talks had broken down and it looked as though there would indeed be a strike. It was the second story which immediately snapped me awake:

“Financier and philanthropist Clarence Bement is dead at 89, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police were called to Bement’s home Friday evening, when his housekeeper reported finding his body in his study after she returned from shopping. An investigation….” 

Cover of The Secret Keeper


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