“Do you remember that zombie-story dad told us, Tommy?” Kevin giggles.
“Do I ever.” Tommy points the bottle of beer at Kevin. “You didn’t sleep for 3 weeks!”
“That was because, you kept waking me up every night, convinced that the zombie was in your room.” Kevin defended himself.
“Kitty would pass the door of my room, dragging her feet and make a crooning sound, just to scare me! …. Not that she was successful….” Tommy quickly corrects himself.
“’Course not.” But somehow Robert and Jason don’t sound very convinced.
Justin is having the time of his life. For once, he’s terribly sober while Kevin and Tommy are wasted, and in all honesty, Robert and Jason are not far behind them. He wonders about Scotty. Every time he looked at Scotty, Scotty had a bottle in his hands, but he is either very sober too or he holds his liquor very well. Scotty doesn’t talk much, he just follows the conversations with interest.
Conversations that skip from one subject to the next. Whether it was Robert’s history teacher:
“She looked like cooked shrimp. Slightly pink and a round back, but, man, could she talk about history. She was there when Nero burnt Rome. She crossed the Alps with Hannibal on elephants, helped to built the pyramids in Egypt, survived the Spanish Inquisition….”
“She looked as if she had been there for the Big Bang.” Jason chimes in, remembering the woman who had seemed at least 107 years old in his mind and that was 17 years ago!
Or Kevin’s first case:
“Really, it was the biggest disaster EVER. I had to work with a guy called Max and he was as homophobic as one can get. But only when we were alone. In company he was so kind to me, so sweet, that I had instant cavities. He was terrible. Everything I said was a joke to him. He didn’t take me serious, no matter what I did.”
“What did you do?” Scotty asks interested.
“He lost a case. An important case. As we were walking away, he was so angry and I told him that he could have won, if only he had listened to me and he turned to me and told me that he would never listened to stupid queers… What he didn’t realize that our big boss was standing right behind him. The next day he was out of the company…. I was so sorry about that.” Kevin smiles joyfully.
The evening might have started with beer, but slowly the ‘stronger stuff’ was brought in and as the evening progressed, the men became less articulate and their conversation repeatedly lost focus. And now they were telling each other childhood stories. One more silly than the other. Justin merely enjoys the story-telling. From the corner of his eye he sees Scotty get up and clear the bottles and glasses a bit. He disappears down below and out of curiosity Justin follows him.
“Hi. Clearing up?” Justin asks.
“A bit. They are far gone, aren’t they?”
“Yes. Terribly. I wonder who’s passing out first, Tommy or Kevin.”
“My bet is on Tommy.” Scotty says, picking up a bottle of water.
“Mine too.” Grins Justin. “You haven’t been drinking, have you?”
Scotty shakes his head and holds up his bottle.
“I keep holding it like this. No one can see if there’s something in it or not, but it’s been empty for the last 2 hours. But I’m thirsty now…” He drinks some water. “… I’ve seen too many drunken people in my life. No fun.” He smiles. “Let’s get back up there.”
They arrive just in time to see Kevin rest his head on the table and Tommy victoriously boasts:
“Ha! Drank him under the table! So there!” Kevin however lifts his head and with a big stupid smile retaliates:
“Ha! Fooled… you!” He is trying to point at Tommy, but misses and his finger is pointed at the door…. Justin replies dryly:
“Yes, doors will believe just anything you tell them.”
“sright.” Comes Robert’s comment. He wants to take another drink, but his glass is empty. He turns it upside down, not a drop!
“Here, let me.” Says a voice softly and he looks up to see Scotty grab the bottle once more and re-fill his glass. He sips and sips again, and damn, they don’t make these glasses like they used to, for this one is almost empty again.
“Thanks, Scotty. You are a life-saver.” He says, a bit unfocused.
“You’ re welcome.”
“I think we should adopt him.” Robert says, trying to keep track of Scotty and above all, the bottle.
“Who? Scotty? Or the bottle?” Jason wonders.
“Ssscotty. Then he wouldn’t be lonely.” Jason mulls over Robert’s words, the meaning not quite sinking in. He gives up.
“Lonely?” he asks.
“Yes!” Robert says and he goes on with a triumphant look on his face: “There are 3 Walkers on board, 2 McCallister and one…. Scotty…”
“…Wandell.” Tommy fills in.
“Right, it is unfair that there is only one… what he said.” Robert points at Tommy.
“…Wandell.” Tommy fills in again.
“Exactly what I meant to say. We should even the score. Three Walkers, Three McCallisters.”
“You mean.. make him some honorary McCallister?” Jason suggests.
“Yes! Sounds good to me.” Robert beams at his brother’s idea.
Standing near the railing, next to Justin, Scotty turns to Justin.
“Should I inform them that this Wandell doesn’t wish to get confiscated by the McCallisters?”
“Nah, why upset the boys? They are close to passing out anyway…”
“You’re right.” Scotty agrees.
“Cute,” Kevin chimes in “… but not necessary. Your calculations is wrong, Robert. There are 2 McCallisters here and 2 Walkers and … 2 Walker-Wandells.”
Tommy lifts his head from his underarms. He opens one eye, unable two master two eyes at the same time.
“‘scuse me?” he then carefully asks.
“yup.” Kevin beams.
“You changed your name?” Jason doesn’t believe it.
“Yup.” Kevin repeats.
“Why?” asks Robert.
“’cause now we’re one and we should have one name.”
“That’s silly. Girls change their names when they marry, boys don’t.” Tommy argues.
“Well this boy did. And I’m kinda proud of it.”
“You are so not serious about this…”
“Yes, Tommy, I am.”
Tommy feels a desperate need to close both his eyes and figures he will discuss this with Kevin some other time.
“Someone needs to go to his little be-hed…” Kevin teases, rather unstable.
“Yes, and not just Tommy…” Scotty chimes in now. He takes Kevin by the elbow and Justin supports Tommy down the small stairs.
At the door, Kevin turns to Scotty.
“Put me in bed?” he begs.
“Sure.” Scotty replies.
“Do naughty things with me?”
“Don’t I always?” Scotty’s voice is very low and Kevin is all smiles.
Scotty puts him on the bed and Kevin’s head is barely on the pillow or he’s in a deep sleep.
Scotty bumps into Justin in the corridor.
“Out cold. Kevin?”
“Dead to the world…. Let’s get the McCallisters.” Scotty suggests, but Jason and Robert have already made it down the small stairs.
“Sea is getting rough... The boat is moving a lot... on the waves.” Robert states. Justin looks through one of the windows at the calm ocean and nods.
“I agree. Big waves. Best go to bed.” He then answers with a serious face. Justin and Scotty coach Robert and Jason to their cabin and once they made sure the McCallister are safe they return to clean up. As Scotty stacks the glasses, Justin wipes the table and chairs clean.
“Need more help?”
“No, thanks, Justin. Are you off to bed too?”
“No, not yet. I’m going on deck.”
“I will check on Kevin. See if he’s alright.” Scotty says.
Lying on his back on the deck Justin stares at all the stars in the sky.
“Mind if I join you?” Scotty asks.
“It’s a free ocean.” Replies Justin. Scotty sits down next to him. He has his sleeping bag around his shoulders. Justin give Scotty a quick look. “So, who’s snoring like that?”
“There’s a competition going on between Kevin and Robert.”
“So far, undecided, Robert scores points for consistency in his pattern, but Kevin is louder, but slightly tone-deaf. He falters here and there...” Scotty summarizes. Justin laughs.
“Kevin always snores when he’s drunk. I don’t envy you, having to sleep next to him.” Scotty grins at Justin’s remark and admits:
“Usually when Kevin is this drunk it has perks too. He gets very easy between the sheets.., but... I will spare you the details.”
“Thought you would appreciate it.” For a moment they make eye-contact and they both laugh.
“Thank you for staying sober tonight. It is no fun being sober alone.” Justin eventually says.
“You’re welcome. I know what it is like, I am usually the one driving. So I have to be sober and everybody around you is having ‘fun’, and you have no clue what is so funny.”
“I have to admit that lately Kevin offers more often to stay sober, so I can drink, but I don’t like alcohol that much, so staying sober is easier for me than for Kevin.”
“So, why ARE you still sober? Don’t like to drink?” Justin then asks.
“I’ve seen too much problems and misery from people losing their self-control. If I’d get ten bucks for every time that a party went sour because someone did something stupid under the influence of booze or pills, I’d be a lot richer.” Scotty laughs.
“I see what you mean.”
Scotty stares up at the stars and doesn’t notice how Justin is watching him. Justin feels as if he is looking at Scotty for the first time. They are about the same age. Yet Scotty is a sous-chef in a restaurant and Justin knows that, he has accomplished that without the back-up of some rich family, but by working 70 hours a week and by being dedicated to his study and work. Justin doesn’t doubt that Scotty married Kevin for love and not for his money and that they both try to make the best of their lives.
And he looks at his own merits. He has not accomplished much in life, aside from the 2 tours of duty that he did. He is not proud of his drugs-filled past. He hurt a lot of people. Disappointed many around him, including himself. He has no idea where his relationship with Rebecca is going and he has job with the army that makes him wonder whether he made the right decision. He sighs. He thinks of his father and everything Kevin has said tonight.
“It sure is weird.”
“Kevin and you… I mean, you know what happened between my father and my brother in a study several years ago. And I don’t. Nothing of what Kevin said shocked or surprised you. Or Jason, if I may add…”
“Jason is Kevin’s ex, it’s normal that he would know…”
“Then why did Kevin never discuss it with me, and, from the looks of it, he never talked to Tommy either?”
“And you tell your brothers everything? Always? Like you told everybody everything about Iraq?” Scotty asks and Justin falls silent.
“That is different. I don’t like to tell what I saw, heard or smelled there. It is not a nice story to tell.”
“But when you go to veterans-meetings, you can talk, right? And even if you don’t tell them everything, you fellow-veterans know what you are talking about. You don’t have to go into details, because there is something you have in common, some underlying knowledge that prevents you from having to dig up every little detail.
Jason, Kevin and I share such a knowledge. Our stories are different, but the basic story is the same. No one will joyfully tell his parents that he is gay, there are very few parents who will throw a celebration party because their son is gay… The level of fear is a variable, the reaction of the parents another variable. But the fear of telling and not being accepted is a basic fear.”
“I think I see what you mean. And you are right. It is nice to be at veterans-meetings. I usually just sit and listen. And think.”
“You’d rather forget, although you know you can’t? No?”
“Yes, maybe you are right, perhaps there are things you want to keep to yourself.” He is quiet for several seconds, then he looks at Scotty and he softly asks: “Do you know why I am here?”
“You want to watch the stars?”
“No, not really. I am not tired enough to go to sleep. If I am not tired enough, I start to remember… Afghanistan, Iraq. Those who died. The children I saw, the women, the men. I keep seeing them.”
Scotty nods in understanding. He pulls the sleeping bag closer around his shoulders and he looks at Justin, who’s a bit lost in thoughts. A memory comes to Scotty's mind and he hesitates before he starts to talk:
“I once met a soldier, when I worked as a bartender, ‘t was a few years ago. He was in Iraq, he was on furlough, would return to Iraq soon. His name was Dim, that’s what they called him. He seemed pretty smart to me. It was a quiet evening, so we talked somewhat and after a few drinks he became more talkative….” Scotty is quiet for a few moments and Justin sits up so he’s sitting next to Scotty.
“What did he tell you?” he eventually asks, dreading the answer.
“He told me that he was going to see a friend. Another soldier, who had lost his leg in the war. And he told me how. They were on a truck. For some reason, Dim could not remember, they stopped and pulled over. There were booby-traps along the road…. He said that all he could remember was the loud explosion. The truck got totaled. He, himself, was unharmed, barely a scratch. His friend, someone he’d been talking to only seconds before, …. He was screaming in pain, it wasn’t until they put him on the stretcher they found out a large part of his leg was severed from the rest of his body.”
Scotty’s voice is eerily little in the dark. Justin nods. He had seen things like that too.
“Those are the worst. There’s nothing you can do, but wait for assistance.” Justin says, staring into the dark, for Scotty’s voice has taken Justin back to the dusty roads, the frantic screaming, everyone wanting his attention, blood covered faces, not necessarily the blood of the person wearing it, could be that of the person who sat next to him before the blast. Of the one they were scraping of the road. The blood could come from a small cut or from major wounds.
But there was always blood and there was always the heat making the world around them move and there is the desire to drink. A smell of sweat and military gear. And fear. Always fear. “….Can’t let it control you, but it is always there.” Justin wakes from his trance by the sound of his own voice and realizes that he had been talking all along. Scotty sits quietly, listening.
Justin feels the tears in his eyes. He doesn’t want to cry. Not now. Not here. Scotty sees him struggle. He looks away. He feels that Justin is too proud to accept his shoulder to cry on, so he does the only thing he can think of. He looks away and playing with his hands he says:
“You know what was so freaky? This Dim… could have been me…” and gently joking “… had I been straight, married to a woman and the stepfather of a boy.” But his smile immediately disappears again.
“I sometimes try to imagine his life… what he saw.”
“Don’t. You can’t. You don’t want to.” Justin looks miserable, his shoulders sinking a bit. And this time when Scotty looks at him he seems defeated. Scotty carefully puts an arm around Justin’s shoulders, ready to retreat if Justin gives any sign that it is not appreciated. But Justin relaxes against him. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t make a sound. He just sits close to Scotty for several minutes, before breaking the touch.
“I’m tired.” He says. They both go quietly below. Scotty watches the door fall shut behind Justin and goes to find Kevin. He sits down on his side of the bed. Kevin raises his head.
“Hey, love.” He says, almost sober.
“I need a hug.” Scotty pouts a bit and unaware of how serious Scotty actually is, Kevin smiles.
“Come here… I love you.” His arm is tightly around Scotty and he falls asleep again and Scotty gives him a few little kisses. Kevin’s smile becomes even bigger, but he doesn’t wake up. Scotty closes his eyes. Safe in Kevin’s arms, he surrenders to his sleep.
END OF PART 5/6