|Chapter 13: Graduation|
|On a day nearly two months after the AIDS
Conference, Kate tore a page off the calendar and stared at the picture of
a mountain lake, framed by tall firs. June. Danny's graduation was
only three weeks away. For a moment, panic gripped her.
Against her will, she had begun to accept the fact that a relationship was developing between Danny and Steve.
With his father, however, Danny was much more reticent about mentioning Steve, and Michael seemed unaware of any such development. He was still convinced that Danny was just going through a phase, and Kate had not had the heart to try to share her unwelcome knowledge with him.
But what will happen when he sees the evidence with his own eyes? she wondered uneasily. Her apprehension grew as she imagined Michael's reaction when he realized that Danny and Steve were more than just roommates.
Kate turned away from the calendar and looked with a frown at the page she had unconsciously crumpled in her hand. She smoothed out the picture of rose and purple azaleas that she had meant to save for her bulletin board, then shrugged and tossed it in the trash.
In an automatic gesture, she rubbed her hand back and forth across her abdomen; her stomach felt tied up in knots all the time. She reached up to massage the tenseness from the back of her neck.
I'm so tired, she thought. Seems like I haven't had a good night's sleep for weeks. Her depression that, for a while, had lifted a little, once again clouded her life with hopelessness.
Just three more weeks until one of the most important milestones in Danny's life -- his graduation from college. This should be an exciting time of celebration, but instead, Kate looked forward to it with dread. Underneath was a dull anger that all the joy had been sucked out of this event.
And, of course, there'll be no wedding to look forward to, she reminded herself glumly. No grandchildren.
She knew Danny was eager for her to meet Steve. "You'll really like him, Mom!" he had assured her in his last phone call. "The two of you have so much in common."
Kate could detect a wistful undertone to his enthusiasm. I'm not at all sure, Danny, she thought. I'm not sure what my reaction will be to Steve. But what I am sure of is that you need our love and support more than ever now. I'll just have to make the best of the situation.
Nevertheless, as she and Michael settled into their aisle seats across from each other on a mid-June morning, Kate comforted herself that in less than a week they would be back home again, and the long-dreaded moment, for better or for worse, would be behind them.
As the plane took off, she opened her purse and pulled out a plastic bag containing brilliant triangles of scarlet, royal blue, purple, and black. Putting her mind in neutral, she began piecing them together to make blocks for Danny's quilt.
Stephanie and the girls met them at the airport in San Francisco. As soon as they got to Alex and Stephanie's condo, Kate called Danny. He had just gotten home from work.
"Tell you what," he suggested. "Why don't Steve and I meet the rest of you at The Good Earth for supper?"
"That sounds like a good idea," agreed Kate, with a sense of fatalistic inevitability. "Shall we meet you there in about an hour?"
Playing with three little granddaughters and visiting with Alex and Stephanie helped Kate keep her mind off the impending encounter. Alex, who instinctively recognized her apprehension, patted her arm and whispered, "Don't worry, Mom. Steve's a nice guy. You'll like him."
Somehow, that reassured her a little. And she realized she was growing eager to see Danny again, no matter what.
The restaurant had large half-moon windows fronting the street. Chattering and laughing, their entourage made its way inside. Kate took a deep breath, looked around, and spotted Danny sitting on a bench beside a tall, rather large man with curly blond hair, twinkling green eyes, and an engaging smile.
They stood up, and Danny introduced Steve to his parents. As Kate shook Steve's moist hand, she realized that he was nervous too. Her maternal instincts awakened, she knew that her job was to put Steve and Danny at ease.
"Let's see if we can sit upstairs on the balcony," Danny suggested.
Soon they were seated around a long table overlooking the courtyard below. "What do they have here for vegetarians?" asked Michael, opening his menu.
"Oh, they make a delicious broccoli-cheese soup," offered Steve eagerly. "And there's a very nice vege-sandwich too. Danny likes that, I know."
Kate was surprised at how easy it was to like Steve. He was a good conversationalist, and she enjoyed talking to him. Animatedly, he discussed his favorite composers, punctuating his remarks by pushing his glasses up on his nose. Meanwhile, Michael and Danny were engrossed in reviewing the many problems Danny was having with his car.
Midway through the meal, Kate looked around at the happy family group with a slight sense of unreality. Everything seemed so normal and ordinary. Time passed quickly, and it was late when they walked back to their cars through the warm spring evening.
The next afternoon, Kate and Michael picked Danny up at his office, and they drove up to the college for a special supper honoring the seniors and their parents.
One of Danny's classmates was a Chinese girl he had gone to school with in Singapore. Cheryl's father was a doctor at the hospital there. Cheryl and her parents were the first ones they spotted as they entered the cafeteria. Enthusiastically, Michael went over to greet them, with Kate and Danny following. Michael didn't seem to notice anything, but Kate thought she detected a certain stiffness and restraint as Dr. and Mrs. Ho returned his greeting. When she sensed that the Hos were not anxious to prolong the conversation, she steered Michael toward some other friends they had not seen for years. Glancing back, she saw Cheryl and her parents engaged in deep conversation as they looked her way.
"Do they know?" she asked Danny in a low voice.
"I'm sure they do," he answered. "I roomed with Cheryl's brother last year, remember?
On the way home that evening, they discussed plans for the next day. "I expect you'll want to go to church up at the college tomorrow, won't you?" Michael asked.
"Yeah," Danny agreed. "And I think Steve might come too."
Kate was aware that Danny had attended his own church very seldom during the past year. He had also told her that he was singing in the choir at Steve's church every week. At least he still feels a bond to our church, she thought gratefully.
"I've fixed potato salad and sandwiches and stuff so we could have a picnic lunch after church," she offered.
"Hey, that's great, Mom!" Danny exclaimed, smiling. "We can eat down at Alumni Park."
Once again, Kate experienced that strange sense of unreality as she sat between Michael and Danny the following morning in church, with Steve on the other side of Danny. She found herself trying to see the church through Steve's eyes. The soft light, muted to gold by stained glass, and dark walnut pews padded in wine velvet gave a dignified, reverent ambiance; the music of organ and choir was rich and glorious; the sermon was challenging and thought provoking. Did it seem that way to Steve too? To Danny?
How many of Danny's friends, to whom he had "come out," were looking curiously at them? Kate wondered.
It was a perfect summer day -- warm and sunny, with a bit of breeze as they drove to Alumni Park after church. Danny and Steve carried the picnic hamper and ice chest to a table while Michael got a couple of lawn chairs out of the trunk. Kate looked around at the little park as she followed the winding path up the hill. Angela and Danny had once considered the possibility of an outdoor wedding here, she remembered painfully. Was Danny remembering that too?
Kate had heard about Steve's gourmet cooking from Danny, and she felt a bit intimidated, so she was gratified to see that he seemed to like her tasty, but simple, meal. Sitting in the shade of a huge live oak tree, they enjoyed the pleasant afternoon long after they had finished eating.
The campus overflowed with throngs of friends and relatives and black-gowned graduates when they arrived early the next morning.
In the parking lot, Kate helped Danny slip into his robe and adjusted his mortarboard to the proper angle before giving him a hug and kissing his bearded cheek.
They headed toward the gymnasium, where the commencement exercises were to begin in half an hour. Danny found his place in line while Michael, Kate, and Steve hurried inside to find seats. Since each graduate was allowed only four reserved seats, Alex and his family had decided to stay home.
The auditorium buzzed with excited conversation as the huge crowd waited for the festivities to begin. At last, the organist began a stately processional, and everyone turned toward the back doors as faculty members, in their colorful academic regalia, began marching down the center aisle.
Michael took his camera out of its bag and left to find a position near the back entrance where he could take Danny's picture as he entered with the rest of the seniors. For a moment, Kate felt awkward, sitting there alone with Steve. But the moment passed, and they were soon chatting easily.
When the service was finally over and the nearly four hundred graduates had all received their diplomas, they formed a line to receive congratulations in the Quadrangle around the reflecting pool. Michael happily snapped away a roll of film.
They were back in their cars, heading down to the valley.
As they drove through the first town, Michael pulled up at the side of the road, and Danny stopped behind him. Michael got out and went back to talk to Danny.
"Do you guys know a good restaurant around here?" he asked. "I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry, and I think we should take you out to celebrate!"
Danny grinned. "I was just thinking the same thing!" he responded. "There's a good Italian place up this next street. I'll lead the way."
Bosco's was a quaint, crowded little place with atmosphere. They had to wait for an empty table on the sawdust-covered floor. Steve recommended the fettucini alfredo, and they had gelatio for dessert.
Kate's heart felt giddy with relief. It was over, and it had gone well! Nothing had marred this day that was meant to be happy. Either Michael had not noticed anything unusual about Danny and Steve's relationship, or he had chosen to ignore it. Kate sent a bewildered, but grateful, little prayer of thanks heavenward.
"Danny, you need a more dependable car," Michael proclaimed as they were finishing their dessert. "Let's stop at that lot by the fairgrounds where people park cars they're trying to sell."
Kate felt sure that this had not been part of Danny's plans for the day. She knew how he liked to procrastinate on big decisions like this. But she also knew that if Michael had made up his mind this was what needed to be done, nothing was going to stop him.
Danny had to be fed up with all the car trouble he'd been having. And since he'd never shown much interest in anything mechanical, he probably realized that his dad knew a lot more about cars than he did, so Kate wasn't too surprised when he acquiesced gracefully. Steve, however, wasn't interested in an afternoon of car shopping, so Kate offered to take him home.
If there was one pastime besides golf that Michael really enjoyed, it was shopping for used cars. He spent a happy afternoon checking out every car on the lot as Danny trailed around after him, alternating between interest and boredom.
"This Plymouth Colt is definitely the best deal here," he announced at last, patting the hood of a sporty-looking little fire-engine-red car they had just taken out for a test drive.
"It's in good shape and clean as a whistle. If you have it serviced regularly, it should last you for a long time."
Michael folded his arms across his chest and, leaning back against the car, looked at Danny. "What do you want to do?"
A warm wave of gratitude for his dad's concern and practical kind of love washed over Danny. "I think I'd like to buy it, Dad," he conceded with a grin.
"It's a sharp-looking car," Michael said enthusiastically. "But there's one thing you'd better remember," he warned. "Cops are on the lookout for red cars, so don't break any traffic laws, or you'll get caught for sure!
"I could get a loan application from the bank tomorrow morning, and we could go to the bank during your lunch hour," he suggested as they got back into Danny's old Renault. "There shouldn't be any problem getting it approved. Then we can go over and pick up the car after you get off work."
Danny turned toward Michael before putting the key in the ignition. "Thanks a lot, Dad," he said warmly. "I really appreciate your help."
"Danny..." The urgency in Michael's voice halted Danny as he was about to turn the key. He looked back at his dad.
At Bosco's, Kate had thought perhaps Michael hadn't noticed anything unusual about Danny and Steve's relationship. She was wrong.
"Danny," he said earnestly, "you're still young. It's not too late to change. You don't have to live this kind of life. You can get some help."
Danny stared painfully at his dad for a minute, then turned away with a sigh. He shook his head. "You just don't understand, Dad," he said in frustration. He started the engine. "I'm sorry. I wish it were that simple."
They drove back to Alex and Stephanie's in silence.