|Fools of Us All, Big and Little So, Run, Fearless Boy, Run
Author: Diary PM
Warning: Touches on the subject of suicide. AU. A year after George's heart attack, he continues dealing with the good and bad of life. Kenny is along for the ride, though as what, neither is sure. Complete. Edited.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Drama - George & Kenny - Words: 3,985 - Reviews: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 11-28-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8745635
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own A Single Man.
I gave Charlotte and her son, Clay, the surname Williams. Clay isn't an original character; he was briefly mentioned in the film, as well talked about in the 1964 novel of the film.
"I'm not quite sure Rimbaud is appropriate reading for a ten-year-old."
Kenny Potter shrugs, studying the chessboard. "Her teachers keep telling her that poetry has to rhyme; they don't encourage her, sir. June's gotten to where she hardly ever writes in her diary, anymore, and she's losing interest in reading," he informs the professor, referring to his younger cousin.
"That is a tragedy," George Falconer agrees. "However, perhaps, you can encourage her development into a poetess with some poetry more suitable for general audiences."
The doorbell rings.
"I've got it," Alva calls.
"What kind of poetry did you read when you were that age, sir?"
"I mostly didn't," George answers. "Charley, like many of the other girls, refused to read beyond class assignments. I spent many a night blackmailing her into trying different books, sure she'd make a good reviewer once she found something to spark an interest in literature. Unfortunately, it turned out her taste ran to science fiction."
Making a move, Kenny looks thoughtful for moment. "Sir, did she literally blow up one of your partner's projects?"
"In a way," George confesses, smiling through his somewhat sad tone. "Science fiction isn't known for its scientific accuracy, but it did get her interested in the subject. I sometimes wonder how she would have ended up if she'd decided to try to challenge social norms and attempt entry into the scientific field. However," he says, gaining an advantage on the board, "the story is: She was once looking at some plans Jim had drawn up, and she realized he'd made a mistake. Jim refused to listen, and to prove he needed to correct it, she gave a practical demonstration of what potential dangers lied in wait."
Alva appears. "Professor, a Mister Clay is here; he says he's Miss Charlotte's son?"
"Oh," George says, quickly getting up. "Excuse me, Mister Potter."
Kenny follows them.
Waiting by the front door is a man, a few years older than him, with auburn hair and hazel eyes. "Uncle George," he says, smiling and stepping forward.
"Hello, kiddo," George says, stepping forward and hugging him, kissing him on the head. "Is everything alright? It seems as though you've lost weight."
Sighing, Clay breaks the hug. "I don't think Mary and I can work this out; it looks like divorce is the only option left."
"I'm terribly sorry," George says, sympathetically, rubbing his back. "Elisabeth?"
"I don't know," Clay answers, helplessly. "Mary wants full-custody, and since she takes after her in color- Uncle George, I was wondering if I could stay with you for a week or two. I've taken a vacation week, and we both know how Mum is. And Dad," he shakes his head.
"Of course," George answers. "You know you always have a place here." Spotting Kenny, he says, leading the man over, "Clay, this Kenny Potter, a former student of mine; we were just playing a game of chess. Kenny, this is Clay Williams, Charley's son."
Clay studies Kenny, offering his hand. "Nice to meet you."
"You, too," Kenny says, shaking his hand and giving an easy smile. "Sir," he says to George, "I'm ready for a rematch whenever-"
"Don't leave on my account," Clay interrupts. "I was hoping to have a quick shower followed by several hours of sleep."
"Do you have your luggage?"
"In the rental outside," Clay answers George.
"Go take a shower, kiddo, and I'll bring it in and have Alva set up the guestroom for you," George says, leading him to the bathroom.
"Thank you. Sorry to interrupt your game," he apologizes to George and Kenny.
"It's not a problem," George insists.
After Clay's in the bathroom, Kenny says, "I'll get the luggage, sir, while you talk to Alva."
Deliberately ignoring him, Kenny slips out, causing a sigh in George. He goes to the kitchen where Alva is sewing a button on what he suspects is Kenny's jacket. "Alva, Clay's going to be staying here; I'm not sure for how long. Is that Mister Potter's jacket?"
Nodding, Alva answers, "I'll set up the guestroom in a few minutes, Professor. His button fell off; the iron should be done getting warm soon."
"Alva, there's no need to-"
"Professor Falconer, ever since Mister Jim's death, there isn't much for me to do. You keep everything so clean on your own, and Miss Charlotte hardly ever comes over."
"If you would-"
"I'm too old for classes," she informs him, finishing with the button and standing up. "Go finish your chess game."
"You're never too old to learn," he says, firmly, before leaving to call Charley.
"I'm sorry for all this."
Kenny grins. "This is the most exciting Saturday I've had in a while. I didn't know Ms Williams had a son, let alone any grandchildren." He studies the board for a moment. "Sir, what did he mean by his daughter taking after her mother in colour?"
"Mary's a Negro," George answers, moving a pawn. "Charlotte's always been supportive of the relationship, but the same isn't true for her ex-husband. I sometimes think," he muses, aloud, "that Clay marrying Mary was the last straw for their marriage."
After a few silent moves, George looks up, catching Kenny's eyes. "I can hear you thinking, Kenny. You should know by now that, whether we disagree or not, you can always speak freely around me."
"Sometimes, I wonder why people take the risk," Kenny says, frowning. "People like you and Mr Ackerley, and Mr Williams and his wife. I understand the answer's to keep fighting social stigmatization. But still, sometimes, I wonder- I don't know."
"I'm afraid I don't have the answer," George replies. "In the case of Jim and I- well, we were mostly able to go unnoticed. The important people knew, and the unimportant people either didn't or were content to keep their suspicions to themselves. The discrimination Clay and Mary face, the discrimination that will only get worse for Elisabeth as she grows older, is different. I suppose it comes down to deciding whether one has it within themselves to face the daily battle of an unforgiving society."
"But you can't answer why."
"I don't imagine anyone can. 'Love makes fools of us all, big and little,' as our friend Mr Thackeray put it. I never intended to fall in love with Jim, but I wasn't given much choice in the matter. I simply did, and much like you, he was brave, almost to the point of foolhardiness, and refused to let me live a life of solitude and celibacy."
"You think I'm brave?"
"I know you are; there are times, Mister Potter, that I wonder if you deliberately hide how truly fearless you truly are."
"Why would I do that, sir?"
"So as to not scare off those who aren't as brave," George answers as Kenny wins the game.
That night George cooks hamburgers and opens a bag of potato chips.
"I haven't had soda in ages," Clay says, opening his. "Thank you for doing this, Uncle George."
"It's good to have you, kiddo," George answers. "A colleague of mine has a brother-in-law who specializes in unusual family cases; if you'd like, I can see if he'd be willing to take yours."
Nodding, Clay says, "I know that Mary's parents are already trying to convince her to keep Elisabeth away from me. I can't let that happen, Uncle George. Whether she looks completely Negro or not, she's my daughter, and I have a right to be a part of her life."
"I completely agree," George assures him. Leaning back, he asks, gently, "You do understand, don't you, that it might turn out that your race is the only solid advantage you have, to the point of it may be your best shot as a defence?"
Sighing, Clay looks down.
Reaching over, George pats his shoulder. "I'm sorry. Now really isn't the best time to discuss this, is it? Let's have a nice evening, and tomorrow, we can start worrying about everything else."
"That sounds swell to me," Clay answers, gratefully. Taking a bite of his burger, he says, "So. The man who was here earlier. Is he like Uncle Jim?"
"Oh, for heaven sakes. I don't know what I'm going to do with you and your mother. Clay, he's about five years younger than you."
"Uncle Jim was younger than-"
"The age difference between Jim and I, while significant, wasn't that drastic. Do you realize that while I was helping your mother bathe you and taking pictures of you on your first day of school, Kenny was little more than a newborn?"
"But he is a homosexual?"
"I don't know," George answers, taking a sip of his own soda. "I don't feel it's my business. And it most certainly isn't yours, young man."
"You like him," Clay says, simply.
"He's a friend," George responds. "He saved my life, and he knows about Jim. Along with your mother, I count him as one of my closest friends. The difference is, he and I can discuss literature."
"Debating Asimov suddenly isn't good enough for you," Clay jokes.
Reaching over, George ruffles his hair.
At Lois Yamaguchi's, Kenny asks, "Do you think I'm fearless?"
Lois blows out the smoke. "You're impulsive and optimistic," she answers. "You like to think you're cynical, but when it comes down to it, no matter how many times you're kicked down, you keep believing that getting back up will eventually result in something better."
"Professor Falconer says he thinks I deliberately hide my bravery."
"Brave, scared witless, it doesn't matter," she says, handing the joint over to him. "The brave people need someone to defend, and the cowards need someone to defend them. If there's no one to defend, what's their purpose? And if there's no one defending them, they're screwed."
"Something about what he said, though- maybe the way he said it."
"There are two differences between him and Benny Clyde: One," she says, "is that he actually has an attraction to other men, and two, he's got a lot more than a year and a half up on you."
"He doesn't make fun of my-"
"Kenny, everyone makes fun of your continuing devotion to weekend cartoons. If the professor doesn't, that's only because you've made the sensible decision to not tell him."
"You still make your parents pay fifty extra cents just so you can read the Sunday morning comics."
"There are bullshit reasons people are harassed, and then, there are legitimate reasons to mock people. Publicly gushing over cartoons past the age of ten, maybe thirteen, is one of them. I keep my shameful secret private because I recognize that my enjoyment of something aimed at pre-school children is-"
"You always go on about the witty dialogue and subtle social commentary."
"My contentment with not moving is the only thing saving you from being smothered."
They find themselves laughing.
When they stop, she gropes around, finding his hand. "You tried to seduce him that night he had his second heart attack. I can read between the lines, y'know. And you've eased since then, but the truth is you still dream of him waking up and seeing what's standing in front of him. For as long as I've known you, you've been afraid of a lot of things, but when you've felt a connection to someone, you've gone after them, even when you knew it was a stupid idea that could get you hurt. Bravery, stupidity, whatever, not many people have the instinct to take that kind of risk, especially once they find themselves burnt once or twice."
"Where does me hiding that come in?"
"It's just who you are."
"I don't understand."
"I don't think I understand, right now," she confesses, laughing as she pokes the air.
"Come in, Kenny," George says, later in the week, trying to repress a yawn.
"If this is a-"
"No, of course not," George says, motioning for him to step inside. "Clay has been working non-stop on reading through legal briefs; I finally had lock them up and threaten to call Charley. He's sleeping."
"You sound- I don't know," Kenny notes.
"I sound like a man who's done this before," George supplies, closing the door. "Clay had a rather severe case of colic as an infant, and Elisabeth refused to go to bed the last time she visited."
"What's on your mind, Mister Potter?" George asks as he makes a place for Kenny to sit.
"I got the job."
Pausing, George takes in the news, and then, surprising them both, he wraps Kenny in a hug. "Good," he says, softly. "I'm very proud of you, Kenny."
Returning the hug, Kenny sighs. "Thank you, sir."
Breaking it, George asks, "When do you start? You understand I'm required to tell Alva; if she isn't allowed to throw you a party, I fear she'll take extreme measures to terminate my employment of her."
"I start next Monday," Kenny answers, proudly. Then, he continues, "Sir, it really isn't necessary-"
"It is to her," George insists. "And to me. It'll be difficult and sometimes painful, but I believe this will be a wonderful experience for you."
"Do you think I could use this to convince her to attend some classes?" Kenny asks; like George, he is determined Alva will take some basic classes. Whereas, George has offered to pay for such classes and help make enrolment at the university as easy and quick as possible, Kenny's tactics have consisted of pleading and trying to use her affection for him as a sort of kind emotional manipulation.
"I certainly won't dissuade you from trying," George answers as they sit. "Don't be too nervous; you're more than qualified."
Kenny nods. "I just- This is important; I could make life-changing differences in people's lives."
"Kenny," George says, softly, "what do you think you've done? It's no secret what I was planning last year; not to you, at least. It seems, Mister Potter, you have an innate ability to change lives within you. There will be times you can't save someone, a fact you need to be prepared for, and when that happens, you might realize that working there is detrimental to your well-being. If that happens, I assure you that no one important will think any less of you. But until it becomes necessary to make such decisions, I sincerely and completely believe you will do provide invaluable help."
"Thank you, sir," he answers. "Especially for your recommendation. Are you sure a celebration is a good idea? With Mr Williams's-"
"Relaxing outside of sleep for a few hours is exactly what Clay needs," George assures him.
"Hello, Professor," Alva calls from the backdoor. "I noticed Mister Kenny's motorcycle."
"Hi, Alva," Kenny calls going to help her with the groceries. "You know that job I applied for at the crisis hotline?"
"He is rather young," Charlotte acknowledges, sitting down next to George as they watch Kenny and Lois dance.
"Yes, he is," George says, firmly. "I like to consider myself something of a father-figure to him."
"You like to, darling, but it doesn't mean you are."
Sighing, George remembers Kenny stripping down when they went swimming; he remembers the younger man running around in his trousers, and then, just a towel. George, for all his heartbreak over Jim and depression with life in general, was still a sexual being, still a man who reacted to such things, if only in the safety of his own head.
He still is, and he'll admit the deeper friendship he's developed, becoming even more closely and personally involved with the brave, interesting, kind young man has only intensified his lust. It's lust, however, and George has never been one to have causal sex. That's all it would be.
Kenny is too young and free to be involved with someone like him. Kenny still lives with his parents and has all sorts of dreams for the future; aside from Lois, he's never been in a relationship with anyone.
George knows Kenny will do great things, will see some of his dreams come true, and will experience so many different things, some wonderful, some terrible.
Charley has heard of all of it, and even now, she's unimpressed. "I can see your thoughts," she says, leaning against him. "Do you remember that night, George? When I accused you of not having something real with Jim?"
"Of course, I do. It's not the thing one tends to forget."
"I was wrong, and I'm sorry," she says. "You've heard that, before, I know. But I am. Now, you're doing the same thing. You're making the decision for Kenny that he wouldn't be interested, that he isn't mature enough, that something between you will never be real."
"Charley, I don't even know if-"
"You know that if you asked, he'd give you an honest answer."
In truth, George doesn't know.
He remembers Kenny stripping, again, in front of him, looking at him in expectation, though for what, George has never found the courage to ask. He knows Kenny would do almost anything for people he cares about; he knows how worried Kenny was for him that night. George isn't sure Kenny, regardless of preferences, wouldn't have fallen into bed with him that night in an effort to help keep George grounded. He doesn't know if Kenny wouldn't do the same now if George made his interest explicit, admiring and wanting to please his old professor.
"Go dance with your son, Charlotte, before he sneaks back into my office and breaks the papers out."
Kissing him, she complies.
"Out," Alva demands after the party has ended as she physically pushes Kenny and Clay outside. "You two will just wake the others if you try helping."
Clay laughs as the door clicks shut. "Is there anything good to do around here at this hour?"
"How do you feel about swimming?"
"As long as it doesn't require a bathing suit," Clay answers, yawning.
Smiling, Kenny nods for him to follow.
At the lake, they swim until they're too cold and tired.
"You took my uncle here," Clay comments as they make a fire.
"Yeah," Kenny agrees. "He scared me to death by almost drowning. He cut his forehead."
Clay's quiet for a long moment, face thoughtful. "He told me you know about Jim."
"Losing him almost killed Professor Falconer," Kenny answers, quietly. "I didn't know about him for a long time. It's just, one day, Professor Falconer was normal. Then, he misses a class and comes back different. That day, before his heart attack, I could just feel something was even more wrong than usual."
"Then," Clay says, discomfort tinging his voice, "I hope you can understand me asking you to be careful with him. He's extremely fond of you, and I'm not sure what you- what your feelings are; as my uncle said, it's none of my business. But if you're interested in him in such a way, just, please, be careful."
"Fair enough," Kenny says, examining him closely. "He might be the one to hurt me."
That causes laughter. Clay catches himself and says, "I apologise. I just can't imagine Uncle George intentionally hurting anyone. He loves too deeply for that."
He loves so deeply, he refused to bother anyone with his the true extent of his pain, even when it got to point he was planning suicide. Kenny saw the letters, the keys, and the money for Alva in the freezer. He's not sure what the sleeping bag was for, but some morbid part of him fears Professor Falconer was planning to make clean-up as minimum as possible.
As much as he respects Professor Falconer, he hates what he had planned. Obviously, he'd never say such things to him or a caller. Suicide is a morally neutral action, is one of the first things he's supposed to say, and on one level, he honestly believes suicidal people are simply people who are dealing with intolerable pain and need kindness and help in getting past that pain enough to see the better options available.
Yet, he also finds that sort of selflessness utterly selfish. Kenny wouldn't have been okay if Professor Falconer had gone through with it or if he'd died of the heart attack. Neither would have Alva, Ms Williams, her son, or her granddaughter.
"Can I ask you a highly personal question?"
"Why did I marry a Negro?"
Sighing, Clay leans back. "Away from home, from everything I'd ever known, I felt disconnected. Then, I met Mary, and suddenly, I felt connected. I was back to being me. And my mother and Uncle George had always taught me to pursue happiness, even if it was risky."
"She felt the same way, and we swore society and disapproving family members wouldn't tear us apart. The happiest day in my life was when Elisabeth was born. I knew what it meant, but still, I was happy she had her mama's skin and hair. She has my eyes, you know."
"But society did."
"Sometimes, people get lucky, like Uncle George did," Clay answers. "He had over two decades with a person he was connected to. And in the end, it was death rather than choice that separated them." Clay shakes his head. "Sometimes, love really isn't just enough; luck doesn't always hold. I got twelve years, and I have my little girl. In the end, I think I'd do it all over again."
"If there's anything I can do-"
"Keep being a good friend to him. If you become more, be careful. I'm happy he's found someone besides Mum he has a connection with."
When they come back, Clay makes his daily morning call to Mary and Elisabeth while Kenny has coffee with George.
"Thank you for taking Clay out," George tells him.
"He's a swell guy," Kenny answers.
He looks around; Alva has left, Lois is still snoring on the couch, and Charlotte has yet to emerge from the Clay's room. "Sir, I'm going to speak freely to you."
Looking up, George says, surprising tinting his voice, "Of course, Kenny."
"I don't know what I am. But what I do know is that the connection I feel with you isn't completely platonic. If you're not interested, I hope we can keep being close friends; I promise I won't bring up again. If you are, though, I am old enough to know I want to see if you and I could forge a different, deeper connection."