Mikey stared sightlessly at the glare from the copy machine as it strobed across the wall. The thump and hiss of papers being copied and collated lulled him into a half daze, and he let the memories of his night with Benny washed over him. After they hadn’t done more than exchange a few lazy kisses in the morning. They hadn’t done anything else that night, both too scared to move fast. At least Mikey had had the great good fortune to know what sex with someone you loved could be like. Benny had never had that. He was right to be scared.
Kevin Seaton, the founder of the small law firm, stopped in the doorway to smile at Michael. “”Yeah, I have that reaction to that stupid copy machine, too. Bet they didn’t tell you in law school that ninety percent of the job was making copies, filing copies, and mailing copies of paperwork, did they?”
“They might have been saving it for the third year.”
“I really appreciate you doing all of that. I know it’s no fun.”
“No problem, Mr. Seaton. It’s my job.” He grabbed the stack of copies from the sorter on the side of the machine and handed them to Mr. Seaton.
Kevin flipped through them. “I’ll get you to call me Kevin one day if it’s only when you’re cursing me out as you run out the door, hands bloody with papercuts, and the alphabet song stuck permanently in your head from all the filing.”
Michael laughed, shaking his head and sent a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that Mr. Seaton stayed healthy. Michael needed this job. Not that the old lawyer was near death or anything. On the contrary, Mr. Seaton looked at least a decade younger than his seventy-five years and played tennis or squash or whatever it was rich white men did at the gym. He claimed that being married to a younger man kept him young at heart. “Yeah, I’m a real spring chicken. Sixty-five is the new thirty, don’t you know,” Vincent had said to Michael after Kevin had introduced him as his boy toy.
Sometimes Michael felt like twenty-six was the new forty. He kept that thought to himself.
“I’m not going anywhere. I promise,” Michael said to Kevin.
“Oh, you’re going places. You just don’t know it yet.” Kevin looked closer at some pages at the bottom of the stack. He spread them out on the nearest desk and flipped through them. “The Gorman case?”
Michael nodded. The Gorman case was a particularly ugly child-custody case that Kevin was handling pro-bono through the legal aid society. Michael was getting to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the case, and he found it a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he loved doing the work, loved getting to act like the full lawyer he still hoped to be one day.
On the other hand, it served as a constant reminder of how carefully he needed to tread with Julia’s parents. Their polite but constant offers to take Jasmine off his hands, to give her all the advantages their wealth could offer, were nothing but lightly veiled attempts to take her away from Michael. And that was going to happen only over both his and Julia’s dead bodies. But he needed to be politic; to keep reinforcing that he knew they were important to Jasmine and that he had no intention of separating her from her mother’s family. No matter how strong the mutual distrust between him and them.
The formal but polite back and forth they had going on could easily turn into a legal battle. One that Mikey knew as a young, single black man with only a bachelor’s degree, he could easily lose. They had money and stability on their side. Both of those things went far.
Kevin motioned for Mikey to follow him as he walked back to his office. They stopped at the break room to top off their coffee, and Michael made his daily promise to cut back on caffeine. Tomorrow, for sure.
“So how was your weekend?” Kevin asked, settling in behind his big wooden desk. His office looked exactly like a lawyer’s office should. Leatherbound editions of legal journals filled the floor to ceiling bookshelves, Kevin’s degrees and awards hung on the walls, and pictures of his family sat on the desktop. Mikey sat across from Kevin at the desk and looked at the wedding photo of his boss and his husband.
They hadn’t been married that long ago. They’d waited until it was federally legal. Smiling ear to ear, they stood next to each other in matching tuxes, hands clasped. He bent forward to look at a photo he hadn’t noticed before. It looked old and faded. A skinny young man carrying a big gun stood in front of some palm trees and a helicopter.
Kevin noticed him looking at turned the picture so Mikey could see it better.
“May I?” he asked, hand hovering over the frame.
Up close, he could see the photo was the classic Vietnam vet pose. It looked like a movie prop. “Is this you?”
“No. It’s Vincent. He was a Marine in Vietnam. Did two tours before he was twenty-two.”
Mikey stared at the picture, trying to imagine Benny in his fighting uniform. He had no idea what Benny had done with the Marines, no idea where he’d been, or why he was out now. Had he gone to Iraq or Afghanistan? Where else did Marines go? What even did they do? They couldn’t all just shoot guns, right? Some people had to be supported.
Vincent looked so young. He had been young, younger even than Mikey and Benny were now. God, they had been literal babies when Benny left. How could something as important as war be the purview of children?
He placed the picture carefully back on the desk.
“Did Mr. D’Amico hate it? Being a Marine? Being in Vietnam?” He wished the stupid question back as soon as it left his mouth.
“Well, I can’t say as it was his favorite vacation spot, no. He came back pretty destroyed. It took years, decades before he felt even a little at peace with what he’d done. What he’d seen.”
What had Benny seen? Mikey wondered.
“You’re not thinking of joining the military, are you?” Kevin frowned.
“No, sir. I ran into an old friend, my old best friend actually, this weekend down in Denver. He was in the Marines. We didn’t get to talk about it much. I was just curious.”
“That must have been fun. Vincent and I were thinking of going down to the Pride Celebration. We try never to miss it. I still remember the very first Pride parade in Central Park. One year after the Stonewall riots. It was amazing. Amazing how far we’ve come.” He touched his wedding picture and smiled. “I never imagined…” He trailed off, voice choked. “Anyway, we were sad we couldn’t go, but Vincent wasn’t feeling well, and the heat was supposed to be brutal.”
“It was brutal. Had to be over a hundred degrees in the shade. And there wasn’t any shade on the parade route.”
“You went to the parade?” Kevin asked, surprised.
“Vanessa and I took Jasmine before she went to visit her grandparents. I, um, stayed down overnight. With my friend.”
Kevin nodded but didn’t say anything, letting the silence stretch.
Most of the time since he had started at the law firm, Mikey didn’t feel the age gap between him and Kevin very much. Kevin was a youthful seventy-five, and Michael was an old twenty-six. But now he felt the weight of history between them. All the world-shaking events Kevin had lived through that Mikey had only read about in history books. He did some quick subtraction in his head. “You were born in 1941?” he asked Kevin.
“Scary, isn’t it?”
“So you’ve lived through World War Two? And Martin Luther King. And Stonewall.”
“And Korea, Vietnam, JFK, Rosa Parks, LSD, EST, HIV, hippies, and yuppies. All of it. More than you can imagine, son.”
Mikey sat back in his chair. “Wow.”
“You are making me feel like I should be in a museum or something.” Kevin laughed.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to.”
“It’s just… I was at the parade with my daughter. And it was hot and crowded, and there were all the corporate floats, and business groups marching. And I just thought,” he searched for the right words, “I thought, what’s the point? No one cares anymore.”
Kevin looked like he wanted to say something, but Mikey just plowed on. “But it matters, doesn’t it? There’s a history. A legacy. Something people like you fought for.”
“Yes. Fought and died for.”
Mikey had never seen Kevin’s expression so solemn.
“Was it hard when you came out to your family?”
Kevin twirled the wedding ring on his finger. “I’m embarrassed to say I never did. I never had to. Both my parents died while I was still figuring things out. Not everyone knows everything about themselves right away. When I met Vince, it changed everything. Do you know what I mean?”
Mikey barked out a laugh. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”
Kevin eyed him shrewdly. “Does this have anything to do with your old friend?”
Mikey felt a twinge of fear. He’d kept his attraction to men squashed way down inside of him for so long; not even Julia had known about it. He figured life was hard enough for a black man, the last thing he needed was to add faggot to the list of things he got called.
He couldn’t hide being black. He’d grown out his hair to show he wasn’t trying to hide it; that he was proud of who he was. He knew what he looked like, knew people could be scared of him – a young, muscular, black guy with dreadlocks – so he tried hard to be non-threatening in every other way. Clothes, demeanor, actions. He flashed back to the men he had seen dancing on the floats at the parade. Half-naked and masked in a club was one thing. Mikey didn’t think he could ever be that out and proud in public.
“Michael?” Kevin asked after Mikey didn’t answer his questions. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, sorry. Just got lost in my thoughts for a second.”
Kevin smiled. “Right after I asked about your friend? Hmm. So is he more than just a friend?”
Mikey blushed. He could feel the heat of it and for the millionth time in his life, was glad it was hard to see flushed cheeks on dark skin.
Kevin waved a hand at him. “Don’t answer that. It’s an inappropriate work question, and I’m just a nosy old man. Don’t sue me for sexual harassment. Please.”
“I promise.” Mikey looked around the office. “Is there something you wanted to talk to me about?”
Kevin looked puzzled. He looked at the pile of papers on his desk, and then checked his calendar. “If there was, I can’t remember it. Add senile to the list of my faults.”
Mikey stood up. “I’m sure you are far from senile, sir.”
“Good lord, Mr. Seaton is bad enough. Stop sir’ing me.”
“I’ll try. But I make no promises.”
“That’s the most I can ask. Did you have any questions about anything you’re working on?”
“No, sir. I’m good.”
“Okay then. If I remember what I wanted to say to you, I’ll track you down.”
“You know where I work.” Mikey smiled at the old man, then turned to leave. Before he reached the door, he stopped and turned back. “For the record, he is more than a friend. I think. It’s complicated.”
Kevin sighed. “It always is. I know I’m not your father, grandfather even. But you can always talk to me if you want. Or Vincent, if you’d rather not talk to your boss about that kind of thing. Lordy, that man loves to give advice about other people’s love lives.”
Mikey looked down the hallway to make sure he was alone and walked back closer to the desk. “Actually, I was thinking of taking him to Vincent’s for lunch. He lives in Red Deer. He’s been here almost a year, and I didn’t even know it until yesterday.”
Kevin leaned forward, eyes alight. “So he got here before you? And you didn’t know? And you were best friends in high school?”
“Vincent is going to die. I’ll give him the head’s up that you’re coming. He’ll take good care of you. Take all the time you need. Take the rest of the day off after lunch.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Kevin waved him away, already reaching for the phone. “I have total faith that you can do all the work you had planned before lunch. And this way you’ll owe me one.”
“I promise I will. Thank you.”
Kevin covered the handset of the phone with a hand. “Just have fun. Talk to him. Sounds like you have a lot to talk about.”
“We definitely do.” Mikey shut the door on his way out.