January 11 2006
The voice on the other end of the phone was one he had not heard in the past few years. It was Bryce, his old friend from undergraduate school. The two had gone to college together and while Jim went on to seminary, Bryce had gone on to graduate school and finished his masters in education. His intention was to be a teacher. Jim had encouraged him in this. Bryce was smart, and he had a big desire to pass on his knowledge to young minds. He had lost touch with him in the last few years, and often Jim would wonder what happened to him. He was so glad to hear his voice.
“Well, I was hesitant in calling you because I had no clue if you would even remember me, Jim”
“You’re crazy man. Forget you? It’s only been a few years. How have you been and where are you?” Jim was smiling from ear to ear and temporarily he had forgotten all that was troubling him this morning.
“Well, I have been great. Still a bachelor, but you never know. I have been teaching down in Macon for a while. But I interviewed last week at a private school there in North Atlanta. They called me yesterday and offered me the job. And even better, an classmate of mine from graduate school is on the staff at a community college there in town and he helped me get an adjunct job teaching a course at night. So, I thought about you, remembering that you were headed to a church in the area after seminary, and I decided to call and find you. They told me at that church I called that you were promoted to senior pastor and were at a new church. How wild is that, man?”
“Yep, I’m here. Man that is great to hear. So you are moving to Hotlanta, huh?”
“Oh yeah. I may even come and visit your church. But you know, I need to know about the caliber of the pastor first.” Bryce laughed as he delivered that last line.
“Yeah, I hear he is a little spacey. You gotta watch these Baptist preachers. They can be a bad influence,” Jim laughed along with Bryce as the two teased one another as they always had in college. That is what Jim liked about Bryce. He had a great sense of humor and was able to find humor in anything. He was glad just to hear the sound of his friend’s voice.
“The last I heard you were teaching down in Macon.”
“Yeah, I’ve been here for a few years now. The money is just a lot better in Atlanta. You know me. I’m shooting for my first million by 40.”
“Keep dreaming, dude. Keep dreaming.”
“So, lets get together soon. I would like to see you and you can show me some places to look for an apartment in Atlanta.”
“Yeah, that would be great. When are you gonna be in town?”
“I am coming up on Friday morning. I took the day off from school. I told my principal yesterday that I would be moving. She wasn’t that happy, but understood. She agreed to let me take a personal day to come up and look for a place. I’m really excited.”
“I’m excited for you, Bryce. Let’s get together on Friday. Hey, listen. My mom and dad are coming into town to take me out for my birthday. I want you to join us. It will be their treat for me, and my treat for you.”
“No, I can’t intrude like that. Enjoy your family.”
“Mother would love to see you too. She asks about you from time to time.”
“If you think it would be okay.”
“I do. And I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Then, it’s set. I will be up there early Friday morning then.”
“Well, why don’t you just come up tonight, spend the night at my place, and we can spend tomorrow looking around town. I usually take a day off during the week since I have to work at the church all day on Sunday, so this week, I will take tomorrow off. It will be like old times. We can sit and catch up and talk about nothing on Thursday night, and then look around town for you a place on Friday. How about it?”
“I won’t argue with that. That sounds like a reasonable plan. If you will email me directions, I will see you later this evening.”
Jim was excited. This would be a chance to see his old friend and get his mind off all that was bothering him. He took down Bryce’s email address and then finished his conversation. After he hung up, he emailed the directions to Bryce. As he looked at his watch, he noticed that it was getting close to 10:00, time for the finance meeting. He gathered his notes and files together and headed off for the meeting.
As the day moved on, Jim was very excited about seeing Bryce again. They had a great time in college. Bryce was the type of guy who was careful enough not to get into trouble, but had a very curious mind. He was a nice looking guy, but his good looks were of the classical sort. He was much the gentleman. The girls that went out with him always commented that they felt safe with him because he was decent. He knew how to take care of himself and look out for others at the same time. Bryce once told Jim that he always wanted to be a teacher. He liked history and literature, so that is what he taught. He was smart. At a moment’s notice he could recall facts, trivial and important. He was a lot of fun to talk to and even more fun to hang around. Jim always felt like he could talk to him about anything, anything except the secret that tore at his soul. Bryce was a very understanding guy, but he was also straight laced. His politics were conservative; his clothes were conservative, and he lived conservatively. He would not understand this. He was also a man of faith, and Jim knew how he might feel about gay people. No, it was best not to tell him. He would not ruin this friendship. After all, this was his chance to reunite with his friend, not a time to shock him. Besides, he could not be sure of the ripple effects of telling Bryce. For now, he would live in this world alone.
Jim headed home at the end of the day and made arrangements for Bryce’s visit. He made sure that the guest bedroom where Bryce would sleep was clean and the bed had clean sheets. He put an extra set of towels and bath cloths in the guest bathroom. As he made his way around this house getting everything ready, he realized that he had not heard from his mother today. She said that she would call. Then, as he thought about her, he remembered her picture was still in the drawer of the coffee table in the living room. Slowly he walked into the living room and stopped just in front of the coffee table. He reached down and pulled out the drawer to reveal her picture lying face down inside. He reached in and pulled it out. The silver frame that he had put it in glistened in the light coming from the ceiling light above. He loved this picture, and although he had a tension filled relationship with her, he loved his mother too. Her pose in this picture was from several years back when he had given her a free sitting at a portrait studio near home. She wore a beautiful green dress with black trim in the picture. She was sitting in front of a table and her hands were placed in front of her on top of the table as she stared into the lens of the camera. It wasn’t anything spectacular. He just loved the picture because it truly characterized his mother. Julia Branigan rarely smiled, and when she did, it was a small, somewhat forced smile. True to form, in this picture, she was forcing a smile again. That’s why he loved it. Unlike the fake poses you see a lot of people make in these kinds of pictures, this was his mama, appearing in the picture just like she did in life. He took a depth breath as he held the picture and stared out in front of him. “Oh mama,” he thought, “I wish you only knew who your son really was.”
There again, there was something strange about the way he felt and the anxiety he encountered when looking at the picture. Normally it would be shame that he felt when thinking of how disappointed she would be if she knew. But there was something else at work here. Yes, there was some disappointment mixed in there, but there was something else. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was more to it. As he stood there, the doorbell rang bringing him back from the deep ocean of his thoughts.
“This has got to be Bryce,” he said to himself as he put the picture back on the coffee table and walked to the door.
When he opened the door, he saw his friend Bryce standing there with a smile on his face that reminded him of his happier, younger days. Jim was overwhelmed. As he reached out to shake his hand he pulled Bryce in and hugged him.
“How’s my favorite teacher?” Jim asked as he let go of Bryce and looked him in the face, both men still wearing huge smiles.
“He’s great. Even better now that he is back in contact with his favorite preacher,” Bryce said with a little laugh.
“It has been too long man. We should have kept up with each other. Here, let me help you with your suitcase.”
“Just sit it down in here someplace, Jim. I want to sit down and start catching up.”
“That’s okay with me, man. So sit down here on the couch.”
Jim sat down across from Bryce in an armchair and continued to smile at his old friend. As he thought he might, Bryce was dressed in his usual conservative manner. He was wearing a pair of black dress pants with a white pull over shirt. Jim glanced down at his feet and pointed at his shiny penny loafers.
“I’ll bet those are the same ones you had in college.”
“Naw, man. I buy a new pair once every year. I have to keep up appearances you know.” The two men enjoyed a laugh out of that comment.
Jim was glad to see his old friend. He was just the way he remembered him. His dark brown hair was cut short and combed to the right. His clothes were ironed and neat, and who could ever forget that deep southern accent. Bryce often described himself as a twenty nine year old Matlock. Bryce was close. All he needed was the gray, striped suit and he would have it. Jim remembered once when the two of them flew to Philadelphia for a conference that they were sent to by one of the organizations they were in back in college that all the people who were from New England or other parts of the Northeast would stare at him when he spoke. He was eloquent and sounded very knowledgeable, but the accent was what captivated them. Bryce was often asked to repeat his order at restaurants there several times for several different waitresses. He didn’t mind. He knew what was going on. He just smiled and enjoyed the attention. He would often kill the stereotype that many had of men from the South with that kind of accent, that being one of slow and ignorant. No, Bryce was not slow or ignorant at all. He was just Bryce and he was here. Jim could not be happier.
“So tell me about your new job,” Jim said as they sat together in the living room.
“Well, its gonna be great. I am going to be teaching both American History and American Literature. I will only have four classes a year opposed to six where I am now. The money is great and the people I will be working with will be even greater. I am really looking forward to this.”
“Well, I couldn’t be happier for you,” Jim replied. “But I have been thinking about this all day, well since you and I talked earlier. You need a place to stay, and I have more of a house here than I really need. Why don’t you just stay here with me until you find what you want? There is absolutely no need to rush. You and I could split the bills and I bet you would come out a lot cheaper than trying to rent something here in the midtown area or in the northern part of the city. Even the suburbs are expensive up there. That way, you can put some cash in the bank and save up for a down payment.”
“No, Jim. I can’t impose on you like that. I mean you have your life and your church work and I would just be in your way…”
“Hey, dude. Do you always argue with your preachers?” Jim asked while he looked at Jim and smiled. “I am serious. I would like this. It would be fun, and it would help you out. Plus, it will give you some wiggle room while you try to get used to living in Atlanta again.”
Bryce had lived in Macon, a smaller city about an hour south of Atlanta, and although it was a large place, it was not nearly the size of Atlanta. Bryce was actually born and raised in Andersonville, the site of the Civil War camp. It was also near Plains where Jimmy Carter was from. Bryce had gone to college with Jim in the suburbs but never really came to the city for much. He would from time to time, but he never lived downtown or in midtown. This would be a little different for him.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Would I lie to you, Bryce?”
“Well, I guess not. Hmmmm…okay, I guess I can do that for a little while if you insist.”
“Well, I do. So its settled. Before you head back to Macon we can discuss the details. Why don’t you stay until Sunday and you can go to church with me Sunday morning?”
Bryce smiled. “Yeah, I thought you would insist on that one, so I brought my church suit. It’s still in the car.”
“Well, we’ll go get it in a minute. Now, you did remember about tonight? I’m gonna call mother and tell her that we will have a guest for dinner tonight. She will be excited. Let me show you your room.”
Jim walked Bryce to his room for the weekend, which in a few months was going to be his home. As they chatted a little more Jim remembered that he had to call his mother and tell her about Bryce joining them and where he wanted to eat. He was so excited about all of this. He felt in his heart that with Bryce there, he would feel better. Maybe Bryce could help him forget about Phillip and all the torture in his soul. He could lean on him and borrow his strength without ever telling him what it was that was tearing him apart. Things were looking up now. The day had started awful, but it had ended beautifully. He headed into the living room to call his mother and let her know about Bryce being there and to tell her his choice for a restaurant. He picked up the phone and dialed. It was harder than he thought. Even though Bryce was there, he was still going to be talking to his mother for the first time, the first time since he had had sex with a man. His hands shook as he dialed.