Amanda Stetson had just walked in the door, her arms full of groceries, when she heard the phone ring.
"Francine!" she cried with delight. "It's great to hear from you. How have you been?"
"Oh, I'm just great!" she replied sarcastically. "Aside from the fact that I paid way too much money for a dress to wear to the reception at the Lithuanian embassy and then Billy decides to put me on stake-out that night with Grover of all people."
Amanda laughed. No matter how many things changed in the world, Francine Desmond would always be a constant.
"But enough about me. How are you and Lee and the kids?"
"We're all fine. Jennifer had a cold last week, but she's all better now. Matt's new favorite thing is the Animaniacs. He goes around singing the songs all the time. Phillip, of course, is still out in California on assignment, but then you'd know more about that than I would," she laughed. She took great pride in the fact that her eldest son had decided to go into intelligence work, although she was somewhat relieved that his emphasis was on research and analysis rather than the more dangerous field work. "And Jamie is coming up for the weekend in a couple of weeks. He'll be graduating from college next year, can you believe that? Mother's been up visiting for the past week and we've been catching up on all kinds of gossip."
"Amanda," Francine chuckled, "you will never change."
Amanda couldn't hold back her own laughter at the similarity of her earlier thoughts regarding Francine.
"Lee should be back in a few minutes. He's out with the horses."
"Say hello to him for me," Francine said. "I can't talk long. I have a report to finish."
Amanda could sense something hesitant in her old friend's voice. "Francine, is something wrong?"
There was a moment of silence before Francine replied. "Amanda, it's Tommy Lucas."
Amanda's stomach tightened. She knew what Francine was going to say. "When did it happen?" she asked quickly, not wanting to make Francine say the words and not really wanting to hear them.
"Sometime this morning. He's been in the hospital for a couple of months now."
"Yes, I know," Amanda replied. "Phillip went to see him before he left for California. He told me he wasn't doing too well. Lee and I were planning on coming down to visit, but we just never seemed to get the time. Now it's too late." She sank into a nearby chair feeling miserable at her failure. Taking a deep breath, she asked, "When is the funeral?"
"The actual funeral will be in Ohio," Francine said. "His brother Mark has been in town for the past week. I spoke with him this morning. He's going to accompany the body back to his parents' home town for the funeral, then come back later to pack up all of Tommy's things."
"Mark's really the only one in their family who ever came to terms with Tommy being gay, wasn't he?"
"Yes, but he was a real Godsend to Tommy during the last few months."
"I just can't believe he's gone, Francine."
"I know," she responded. "Amanda, some of us at the Agency who knew Tommy best decided we'd like to hold a memorial service here in Washington. I thought you and Lee might like to come down..."
"Yes," Amanda replied quickly. "Just give me the details and we'll be there."
After a few more moments of conversation, Amanda said goodbye to Francine, put down the receiver, and wiped at the tears that were forming in her eyes as she remembered Tommy Lucas.
Tommy had been one of her first friends at the Agency. Back at a time when she was still completely awed and feeling more than a little bit in over her head, Tommy's open friendliness had given her the reassurance she needed not to be quite so scared of what she'd gotten herself into. He had worked in research and was a consummate computer hacker. There wasn't a system built that Tommy couldn't break into. And yet, for all his intelligence and abilities, there was always something innocent and childlike about Tommy.
For someone who worked at the heart of one of the most skeptical cities and in the most pragmatic businesses in the world, Tommy Lucas always saw the good side of life. He was always friendly and open, he loved people and made friends as easily as he smiled. And he was always ready to help out those friends in any way that he could.
A sound brought Amanda back from her reverie. She looked up as Lee, hot and sweaty, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, came through the door.
"Hey, sweetheart," he said. "What have you been..." He stopped abruptly when he saw the tears on Amanda's face and moved quickly to kneel in front of her. "Amanda, what's wrong?" he asked. "It isn't Jamie or Phillip?"
"No," she replied quickly to put his mind at ease. "Francine called." She dropped her gaze to her hands, then looked back up at him, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks. "Lee, Tommy died."
Lee looked away for a moment, the familiar clench of his jaw revealing his struggle to hold his emotions in check, before he looked back at his wife, shaking his head as he spoke. "I just don't understand," he said quietly. "Why does something like this have to happen to someone like Tommy?"
"I don't think there's an answer to that," Amanda replied. "Nobody deserves to die that way, but certainly not someone so full of life and joy as Tommy."
Lee stood up and eased himself into the chair beside her, putting his arms around her and drawing her back against him, his cheek against her temple. They sat there in silence for several minutes, each lost in memories of a friend taken from them too soon.
The memorial service was not as well attended as Amanda had thought it would be. When she'd commented on the lack of people to Francine, the Agency operative had replied with a bit of disgust that too many people allowed prejudice to control their lives. There was an anger behind Francine's words that led Amanda to believe there was more to it than that. But before she could press her friend further, the minister took the podium.
"I have been pastor of this church for many years," the soft spoken, middle-aged woman said, "and I've met and come to know many of my congregation in that time. But I think it safe to say there was never anyone like Thomas Clark Lucas." She went on to describe the person all gathered already knew. She told of his earlier career in the Air Force, serving as aide to a high ranking general, and that following his discharge, he had gone to work doing computer research for a local D.C. film company. Something about the way the minister spoke made Amanda think that perhaps she knew the truth, that International Federal Film was really just a cover for one of the arms of the intelligence community in Washington. Most of the people in attendance knew that to be true because they worked there, too.
"I'm sorry more of Tommy's friends couldn't have come. The church choir, of which he was an integral part, is currently on tour and I'm sure if they were not, they would all be here to remember our good friend." She paused, smiling to herself. "There is something of the child in all of us. Most of us suppress that part of our personalities once we reach adulthood because we feel it has somehow become inappropriate. But the child within us is where we are innocent and still capable of wonder. As we grow up, for so many of us, the child inside is driven deeper and deeper by what we perceive as the ugliness of the world. Our cynicism takes control and we loose our innocence. But that part of us never completely goes away. There are times, when we experience great joy, that we are able to touch it again. I believe it is the source of love. Love for our families, our friends, for the one special person with whom we share our lives, for our children. The child may sleep, but sometimes, it dreams.
"There are a few special people in this world who seem to have been put here in order to awaken that child in others, people, like Tommy, in whom the child was never lost at all, who are able to retain that innocence and sense of wonder and joy in the world and in the people who inhabit it. One of my fondest memories of Tommy is one from shortly after I met him. He had been enthusiastic about wanting to get involved in the church. His background had been strict fundamentalism and our openness here was new and refreshing to him. He immediately joined in the outreach ministry to the homeless and he joined the choir, and although he sometimes had a little trouble carrying a tune, from the moment he became a member, no one wanted to lose him. At a choir practice one day, the director had asked if anyone had any suggestions as to songs for the upcoming spring concert. Tommy was the first one to respond. He said his favorite song was one from the Muppet Movie, called "The Rainbow Connection." Well, there were a few people who had to contain their laughter, but the director agreed to check out the song. As soon as the choir first sang it, they knew it was perfect and it became their theme song. I remember how proud Tommy was to stand up there in the choir loft and sing it, the way his face shined. I don't know if you all know the words to that song, but it talks about the symbolism in rainbows and the chorus ends with the words 'the lovers, the dreamers and me.' I will never think of that song now that I don't think of Tommy."
She paused. "One of Tommy's friends asked me if she could say a few words today. I think that's very appropriate and I think Tommy would have liked it a lot." She looked out into the gathered people. "Ms. Desmond?"
Amanda and Lee turned in surprise to see Francine composing herself before rising and making her way to the podium. She stood there for a few minutes, looking out at those before her, then she began.
"I knew Tommy Lucas for fifteen years. We were as different as night and day, but that never stopped us from being the best of friends. Tommy helped me the way I'm sure he helped a lot of you, by never letting us lose sight of the fact that life isn't always dark. There are always... rainbows and silver linings. When I first met Tommy, I didn't know he was gay. I never thought about it one way or the other. Tommy never spoke much about his personal life, although he never seemed to tire of listening to me go on and on about mine." She smiled a little self-consciously. "We used to have coffee every day. It was something I looked forward to, because Tommy had a way of lifting your spirits. If you didn't know him well, you might never realize just how smart he was, because Tommy never came off as a brain, except when he started rattling off computer jargon as he tried to explain exactly what he was doing. On the surface, he was often clumsy. I don't think there was a waste basket in the office that he hadn't tripped over at least once! And he could come up with the funniest things to say, you know, the kind of things that would make you shake your head and wonder where this guy had been for the past ten years. The fact that he didn't recognize references to things we would all take for granted had nothing to do with his intelligence, it was just his unique take on things, his very own point of view that saw things in a different light.
"It wasn't until Tommy started getting sick that he admitted he was gay. It wasn't as if he were ashamed of it, but I think he felt it was easier for others to accept him as a friend and a co-worker if they didn't know. His family had never really accepted him and I think a part of him didn't want to risk that happening with his friends. I guess it made a difference to some people and they just quit talking to him, or joking with him. Some were embarrassed, some were shocked, some were angry as if he had purposely set out to deceive them for some bizarre reason. When he told me he was gay, it was at the same time he told me he had AIDS. Looking back, I guess there had been a lot of little things that should have made me realize Tommy was gay, but somehow, it never mattered enough to think about. But when he told me, it suddenly mattered. Not that he was gay, but that he was dying and we both knew it." She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a moment to try and marshall her emotions. "Someone at work yesterday told me he wouldn't be coming to this service because he felt by doing so, he would somehow be implying he approved of Tommy's lifestyle. He said he couldn't do that because he could never accept anyone who was gay. He believed it was morally wrong and he wouldn't associate with 'that kind of people'. When he said that, something in me snapped. 'That kind of people' was my friend. Tommy wasn't 'one of them', he was Tommy. How dare this man, or anyone, lump my friend into a group of people that he felt deserved his contempt. Well, I'm afraid I told him exactly what I thought of him and since we're in a church, I won't repeat any of it here." There was a smattering of quiet laughter.
"I've never trusted lumpers: people who insist on lumping others into groups. You can't judge people in lumps. You have to take them one by one. There's no black and white in the world. As the song says, there are only shades of gray. If you judge the value of another person by the color of his skin or the clothes he wears, by the religion he practices or whom he chooses to love, you're not seeing the person himself. None of those categorizations matter. What matters is who the person is deep down in his heart. Tommy taught me that. He enriched my life and I'm proud to say he was my friend."
She stepped away from the podium and made her way back to her seat next to Amanda. Lee stood up just before she could sit down and pulled her into a brief hug.
"I'm proud to have you as my friend," he whispered before releasing her and taking his seat again. As she sat down, Amanda put her arms around her.
"Tommy would be proud of you, too," she told her.
"I hope so, Amanda," Francine replied, dissolving into tears in the other woman's arms.
Amanda bent to pick up Matt's discarded jacket as she worked to straighten the four-year old's room. Something in the bookcase near the small stereo tape player Lee had bought his son caught her eye. She stepped over, dropping the jacket on the bed as she reached into the bookcase for a particular audio tape. It had belonged to Phillip and Jamie. It was more from their generation's childhood than Matt's, but then, the Muppet's would never go out of style. She took the tape out and dropped it into the stereo, cuing it up to one particular song.
Why are there so many
Songs about rainbow
And what's on the other side?
She sat on the edge of the bed and closed her eyes, letting the words flow through her. She had heard this song a thousand times, but this was really the first time she had truly listened to it. As she did, she thought of Tommy and she thought of Francine, then she thought of her own family and just how very lucky they were that they were all happy and healthy.
"Mom?" She looked up and saw her youngest child standing in the doorway. "Whatcha doin'?" he asked.
"Just thinking about a friend of mine," she replied. "And how smart frogs can sometimes be."
"You got a friend who's a frog?" the little boy asked with a laugh.
Amanda smiled. "Don't be fooled, Matty," she told him, gathering him into her arms. "Inside a frog, you just might find a prince."
I've never been too shy about expressing my opinions. In this case, I let Francine do it for me. The character of "Tommy" is based very closely on a good friend of mine who I miss very much. Alas, he isn't the only friend I've lost to the plague of the 20th century. This is my humble attempt to point out that the victims of AIDS and HIV are people, important to those whose lives they've touched, and are too often taken from us all far too soon. You also might need to know that this story is based in an alternate Scarecrow & Mrs. King universe found in the Relativity fanzine series several years after the end of the series.