Anything Could Happen
Blurb: Moving to Kansas City could be the best thing Austin Shelbourne has ever done. For a start, he can stop living a lie and finally come out of the closet. And there’s a chance, though slim, that he might be able to locate the love of his life, Todd Burton. It had seemed like a good idea when he seduced his friend, but Todd freaked out and vanished. Austin hopes to find Todd, make things right between them, and win his love. But when he meets actor Guy Campbell, things get even more confusing.
The moment Guy sets eyes on Austin, he knows Austin is The One. But Austin makes it clear he feels a responsibility to Todd, and Guy has some dark secrets of his own. He’s found redemption in acting and directing, but worries that if Austin learns the truth, he might not be able bear it. And what if Todd accepts Austin’s apology and the love Austin offers? Guy wants Austin desperately, but he also wants him to be happy. In the play of life, with the happiness of good men in the balance, anything could happen.
AUSTIN SHELBOURNE knew the minute he walked through his great-uncle Boden’s door that the old man was gay. There was no mistaking it—the most naïve person in the world would have figured it out. A mannequin would have seen it. It wasn’t so much the man. Uncle Boden was a rather nondescript older gentleman: probably in his late seventies/early eighties, balding, slim, blue-gray eyes, slightly stooped, and wearing gray slacks and a frayed brown sweater. Nothing obvious; no gay pride T-shirt.
No. It was the apartment that said it all. With the three-foot-tall, gold spray-painted statue of David just inside the doorway, the print of a nude young man on the beach on one wall, the fringe on the lampshades, and the scarlet Chinese pillows—not to mention the yapping red Pomeranian—the old man might as well have screamed, “I’m a homosexual!”
Gay? Uncle Boden, gay? Austin found all his anxiety and worries about his 200-plus-mile move to Kansas City were submerged under a wave of complete surprise.
“It is so good to see you, my boy,” cried Uncle Boden over the equally exuberant greetings of his little dog. “Lucille! Stop that! You’ve done your job. Be a good girl now and hush.” The dog stopped—mostly—and sat at her master’s feet, looking up with adoring brown eyes and only one or two barks.
“Ah…. Good to see you too, Uncle Boden.”
Leading Austin to a threadbare couch, Uncle Boden said, “Sit. Please. You must be exhausted.”
“Not too bad,” Austin replied, but took the offer of the couch. A small sculpture of two men wrestling, one actually clutching the cock and balls of the other, sat on the coffee table. He tried not to react.
Uncle Boden smiled and sat down next to him, and Lucille jumped up between them. “I am so honored you agreed to come stay with me for a while, my boy. My God, you’ve grown. Has it been… ten years?”
Austin thought about it a moment. Ten years might be right. He hadn’t seen his uncle since at least fourth grade. “It was the big family reunion,” he answered. He remembered a sad man, and yes, he remembered the dog.
“Yes. Yes, it was ten years. I was still driving then. They won’t let me now, the bastards. I miss driving. Now I have to depend on the kindness of a couple of the tenants when I need to get around. Shopping. Groceries.”
“Well, you have me now,” Austin said.
“For a while at least, yes?” Uncle Boden petted his little dog, who immediately climbed into his lap for more intimacy. “I am sure living with an old man will soon cramp your style. You’re on your own for the first time. You’ll want to sow your wild oats. You won’t want to worry about me. Or try to explain me.”
His uncle rolled his eyes. Spread his arms and waved to indicate the room. The painting of The Blue Boy on one wall, the small statue of a nude young man examining the bottom of his foot on the end table next to the couch.
Austin blushed. Uncle Boden was addressing the elephant in the room. Austin shook his head. It was all so weird. The last thing he’d expected was to arrive at his uncle Boden’s and find out the old man was gay.
Austin turned to his uncle, a hundred questions in his mind. Gay. His great-uncle Boden was gay. He didn’t know what to say. “You’re gay!” he blurted and clamped a hand over this mouth.
His uncle’s eyebrows popped up. “You’re surprised? I figured everyone in Buckman talked about ‘bachelor’ Bodie.”
“No,” Austin said. “I mean, Gram and Gramps call you a bachelor, but—”
“My dear boy.” His uncle chuckled. “That’s old-people speak for ‘queer.’”
“Oh,” Austin said. It was?
“What gave me away? Was it perhaps Hercules and Diomedes there?” He pointed at the wrestling statue. “They’ve got quite a grip on each other, heh?”
Austin felt his cheeks heat up even more but didn’t say anything. What was there to say?
“Can you imagine something like that in today’s wrestling? I would be addicted to such television antics. I might even go back to college and see if they’d let an old man join the team.”
Austin burst into laughter, then slapped a hand over his mouth once again.
“What? Am I embarrassing you?”
“I-I don’t know… I wasn’t expecting…. This is all such a surprise. And you’re so, ah—”
“Old?” Uncle Boden asked. “You didn’t think homosexuality was anything new, did you? I dare say Cain and Abel kept each other warm on a cold night. Brothers do, you know. And there were no girls. Maybe that’s the real reason Cain killed his brother. Maybe Abel was holding out—being a cocktease.”
Austin’s mouth fell open, and he quickly closed it. Was this really happening? “I was going to say ‘you’re so open,’” he said.
“Oh.” Uncle Boden rolled his eyes once more. “Sorry. It’s just so nice to have someone here I can talk to.” He looked at Austin for a moment, as if waiting for a reply. “Austin. My sister sent you to me for a reason. She said you had a mission. All fired up to move to Kansas City to look for some friend of yours. And considering my ‘disposition,’ she hoped I might be a good influence on you.”
Austin nodded. Gram had said something similar to him. Originally, it had been his plan to save up enough money to get his own apartment¸ but it had been her idea he stay with her brother instead. “Just until you get on your feet,” she’d advised. “You’d do him a world of good as well. You’re so handy, and you might be able to fix some things around the building. He’s the manager, you know. Plus, all his friends are gone. He needs the company. And you’ll have so much to talk about—you have a lot in common.”
We do? Austin had wondered that day. What would he and an old man have to talk about?
And then, sitting on Uncle Bodie’s couch, the light bulb went on.
Oh my God.
Gram knows I’m gay.
How? How had she figured it out? He hadn’t really known himself until a month ago.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He’d been figuring it out. He’d known. But not known-known. Not for totally 100 percent certain known.
“Are you all right, Austin?” Uncle Boden asked. “You have the strangest look.”
He turned to his uncle. Tell him. Just tell him.
But he couldn’t. It was like his tongue had frozen up or died or something.
For a second, Austin thought his uncle was talking to the dog. But wasn’t her name Lucille? “Sorry?”
“I thought I would pour us a little sherry.”
“Oh. Sure,” Austin replied as his uncle stood up. But before he could leave the room…
“I’m gay.” God—there it was. He’d said it. Said it out loud.
My God. I said it out loud.
And just like that, he felt a huge surge in his chest. Felt something enormous and infinitely heavy lift off his shoulders. And this tingling. This wonderful tingling all over his body. It felt amazing.
“First time?” Uncle Boden asked. “Saying it?”
Austin gave a nod. “Pretty much.”
“Let me get that sherry.” He shuffled out of the room in well-worn brown slippers.
Austin ran his fingers through the dark-brown hair hanging on either side of his face, then chewed absently on the tip of his thumb. Gay. My uncle is gay.
Just like me.
A moment later, Uncle Boden was back with a tray holding two tulip-shaped wine glasses filled halfway with a honey-colored liquid, as well as a cut-glass decanter. He handed Austin one of the glasses.
“Thanks,” Austin said and took a swallow of what turned out to be an overly sweet drink, almost coughed.
“Sip! Sip, my boy. Let it lie across your tongue—absorb it.”
Embarrassed, Austin nodded and put his glass down on the coffee table.
“Thank you, Austin.”
“For what?” Austin wondered aloud.
“For what you’ve shared with me. Letting me be the first. Did it feel good?”
Austin smiled slowly and realized he was feeling positively giddy. “It did.”
Uncle Boden grinned and looked away. “My God, it takes me back. I couldn’t have been too much younger than you are now,” his uncle said. “You’re around eighteen?”
“Twenty,” Austin said. “I’ll be twenty-one in a couple months.”
“You look younger. I know a young man hates to hear those words, but later in life you’ll be glad about looking younger than you are.”
“I was sixteen,” his uncle said, with a faraway look on his face. “I’d just given a boy my first blowjob—”
Austin’s eyes popped. Had his great-uncle Boden—an old man—just said “blowjob”?
“I didn’t know that’s what it was called. But I knew I wanted to do it. The first time I heard the word ‘cocksucker,’ I knew that’s what I was.” He laughed quietly to himself. “Oh, and Jimmy had such a nice cock.” The laugh turned into a cackle, and Lucille gave a single happy bark as if agreeing. Austin felt his mouth slip open and he forced it closed with a click.
“What?” Uncle Boden said. “Did you think your generation invented the blowjob too?”
“I guess not.”
“I should say not!” He slapped Austin’s knee. “You know, I have a picture of Jimmy I can show you.” He stood up. Lucille gave a happy bark and leapt to the floor. “No, girl,” he ordered. “You stay here with Austin.” He pointed to his nephew. “He’s our company.”
Lucille hopped back on the couch and climbed into Austin’s lap as her owner left the room, then stood on her hind legs and leaned against his chest. Austin looked into her joyous, adorable little face—muzzle all white with age—and couldn’t help but giggle when she offered him a few sweet little doggie kisses.
“Lucille! Stop,” Uncle Boden said, already returning to the room. “Some people don’t like that.”
“I don’t mind,” Austin said as she continued to lick his face.
Uncle Boden plopped down next to Austin, and Lucille immediately climbed down from Austin’s lap and into his.
“Here,” said Austin’s uncle, handing over a silver frame.
Austin looked down at a black-and-white photograph, yellowed with age. Two boys, teenagers, with short hair of an indeterminate color—brown? blond?—looked back at him, smiling, happy from some day long ago.
“Jimmy on the right.” Uncle Boden pointed. “Hot, wasn’t he?”
He was certainly cute, Austin admitted. But so was the other boy. “Who is the guy on the left?” he asked with an appreciative growl.
“Why, that’s me. I was hot too, wasn’t I?”
Mortified, Austin had to fight to keep his mouth from falling open once again.
“So Austin—this ‘friend’ of yours you’ve come to find. Is he—was he—your lover?”
Lover? Austin felt his stomach clench for a moment. “No,” he said sadly. “Not really.”
“Hmmmm….” Uncle Boden touched a finger to his lower lip, scratched his chin. “Not really? Is he gay?”
“I don’t know.” Austin moaned in frustration. “I’m hoping.”
“You’re in love,” his uncle sighed happily.
“I-I think I am,” Austin replied, felt his heart quicken.
“I was so in love with Jimmy.” Uncle Boden sighed again. Then: “Have you two at least been… how shall I say it? Have you two been physical? Have you fooled around?”
“Sorta… I-I….” Austin looked into his uncle’s face. The man was elderly, and yet in that moment, Austin realized the man was ageless as well. He saw the boy in the picture. Uncle Boden wasn’t just some old man. He was the boy in that picture, wasn’t he? Of course he was. The man hadn’t been born old. Austin clearly saw that there had been someone gay before him and… there would be someone gay after he was gone.
And suddenly everything seemed better. For the first time in his life, he felt as if there might be a place for him. And maybe, just maybe, everything would turn out right. Anything could happen. And he knew he could trust this man. That they could share intimate secrets. “I gave him a blowjob,” Austin said in a rush, before he could change his mind.
Uncle Boden’s cheeks pinked and the corners of his mouth flickered upward.
“What?” asked Austin. “Don’t you think men do that anymore?”
His uncle laughed. “I dare say they do!” he crowed. “At least I hope they do. Did you like it?”
Austin clutched a hand to his chest and felt his face heat up. “Oh my.”
“I know!” Uncle Boden laughed all the more. He glanced down at the coffee table and then reached out and picked up their glasses. He held one out to Austin and then said, “To a new chapter in your life.”
“To a new chapter,” Austin said happily, returning the toast.