Adam looked at Fiona and Jasper.
“Good. Everybody’s here. Now we can sort this out.”
No one had ever seen him in business mode, when he set aside his normal persona for the clinical, insightful norm that he used at work for discussing the market, or which shares to buy, or the Reserve Bank’s next move on interest rates. Fiona stared at Adam in some surprise. He had always been the brother she had had to help and protect, even though she was the younger of the two.
Mark knew only that he could rely on Adam for his strength, that Adam was his friend and that Adam loved him and cared about him. He trusted Adam. He knew Adam would help him.
Jasper looked at Adam, and remembered the many times Adam had comforted him and been strong for him, and was all at once immensely grateful that he was Adam’s friend. He knew he didn’t deserve this help, or Adam’s compassion, and he resolved privately that he would in future be less arrogant, less selfish. He hoped he was going to be given a second chance – with all of them. He wanted them all to be his friends. He needed people like this in his life. Yet in spite of his doubts, he had an absurd sense that everything would be all right.
Adam went and stood next to the dresser, where they could all see him without straining. In a conversational tone, he began.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. She had a nice castle, and a passable carriage, but she was lonely. One day, while she was riding in the forest, she happened upon a handsome prince. They looked at each other and liked each other at once. Now, I should tell you that the beautiful princess had been unable to find a suitable prince before, for princes can be such ponces. She had almost given up hope.”
Jasper was staring at Adam as if he’d gone quite mad. Mark was smiling, abruptly sure that it would be all right. Tom was watchful, waiting patiently to see what Adam was up to. Fiona felt the peaceful languor that had always come over her when Adam had told her a story when she was a little girl. She was prepared to wait. This new, competent, efficient Adam might have answers for her. Maybe it was time that he found her a solution to her problems instead of her finding solutions to his. Maybe having Tom love him had given him the necessary resources and strength.
“Well, the princess and her prince grew happier and happier with each other. Soon they were deeply in love. But the Prince had friends. And the princess was unhappy with that. ‘Why can’t you just love me?’ she asked, irritably. ‘I love my friends, too,’ he replied. But as each day went by, the princess got more and more annoyed, and at last he told his friends that he could no longer love them, and that they must go away. The princess ought to have been glad about this, but she wasn’t. Because the prince was sad. He tried to smile whenever she was around, but as soon as she’d gone, he’d stare into the fire or out the window, and his face would fill with melancholy.”
Adam stopped and stared at all his listeners. They were as rapt as any group of toddlers listening to a tale at playgroup. He knew he would have to get the dénouement exactly right. If he mucked it up, it would be hard to retrieve the situation. He went on.
“One day, the prince said that he wanted to go for a walk in the forest. He said it would cheer him up. By now, the princess was in despair. She loved the prince more than she could say, perhaps more than life itself. So she let him go, and stayed behind in the castle, walking up and down her flower garden, noticing neither the flowers nor the looks of her ladies-in-waiting, but able only to see her prince’s face as he went off to the forest.
“That night, the prince returned. He was happy, and she was too, for she loved him. This happened again and again. Each time he returned he was happy again. After a few days, he would start to get depressed, and then he would come to her and say that he was going off to the forest.
“One day, she suggested that she go with him, but he seemed strangely reluctant to accept her presence. So when he left, she secretly went to the stables, wearing a concealing cloak, and saddling her horse herself, set off into the forest just out of sight behind him. The prince made his way through the forest and came at last to a small timber cottage. As he arrived, the door was flung open, and all the prince’s friends poured out of the cottage, shouting out welcomes. They were so glad to see him! And the prince’s face was transformed. He was smiling and laughing too.
The princess came out of the shadows where she had been hidden and confronted the prince. ‘I told you to get rid of your friends,’ she said, very angry. ‘I never want to see you again!’ And ignoring his cries, she galloped back to the palace, and closed herself in her room. She refused to see anyone, not even her old nurse, and remained hidden in her room for months. At last, sure that the prince had gone, she came out of her room and gradually began to live the normal life of a princess again.
“A few years later, her father the king died, and she became queen. She never found anybody she loved as much as the prince. She never married. When she was herself old, she decided to go and visit the cottage where she had last seen her beloved prince all those years before. She could not go alone, because she was the queen, but she took as few people with her as possible. She almost got lost, but somehow she found her way through the forest to where the timber cottage had been. The jingle of the horses’ tack and the neighing were noisy in the quiet of the forest. As she arrived at the door, an old man came out, and peered at her, shielding his eyes with his hands from the sun.
“She looked at him for a long time. She recognised him. It was her prince. He looked at her, and tears filled his eyes. ‘I always knew you would come,’ he said. She dismounted and went over to him and took him into her arms. She knew then she loved him as much as she’d always done, that she had made a terrible mistake. ‘So many wasted years,’ she said into his wrinkled neck, stroking his grey hair, conscious of her own folly. ‘Do you live here alone?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I sent away my friends as you asked. I have lived here alone all these years, hoping that compassion would enter your heart and you would return.’ ‘Were you not lonely, my love?’ she asked, her heart pierced with sorrow by his story. ‘Very, light of my life. But I kept on hoping that you would come. And you have.’
“‘I have been a fool,’ said the queen. ‘Come back with me to the castle, and be my love. For I love you more now than I did all those years ago. And if any of your friends are alive bring them too. For even a part of you is better than nothing. We could have been happy together all these years.’
“They made their way back to the castle, and the queen held his hand all the way, and neither saw that the other was old and wrinkled and grey, but saw only the beautiful and attractive person they’d loved so long ago. And that night they made love, in the queen’s chambers, and in the morning when the chambermaid came in to bring them water for their wash and a cup of tea to wake them up, she found them as if fast asleep in each other’s arms, with smiles of pure happiness on their faces. But they were dead.”
Adam stopped abruptly and looked at Fiona and then one by one at each of the others. Fiona was crying quietly, and he walked over to her, and hugged her.
“Well?” he asked, letting go, his eyes looking into hers.
“I’m a fucking fag hag,” sobbed Fiona. The men looked at each other, not sure where this had come from.
But Adam understood. “Tom isn’t a ‘fag’,” he said gently. “And Mark isn’t. And Jas isn’t. Only I am. And you’ve always known that. And you are not a hag.”
“I am a fag!” said Tom proudly. They all began to laugh, the image was so absurd. Relief made them all a little light-headed.
“Fee, you love Markie. He loves you. Do you want to find out, when you’re old, that you’ve made a terrible mistake?” Adam’s voice was gentle.
Fiona shook her head. “I… it’s just that I was so hurt. I had dreams… ”
Adam took her in his arms, and kissed her forehead. “We all have dreams, sis. We all want to find our true love, someone who’ll be there for us always. And you have. Markie loves you, sis.”
“I know.” Fiona sighed. She pushed Adam away and turned to Mark. “I love you Mark. I’m sorry that I was… ”
Mark walked over to her and put his arms round her and squeezed her tightly. When he let her go, Fiona walked over to Jasper, and stared at him for a moment. The tension was electric. The onlookers didn’t know whether she would hit him or hug him. He stared back, conflicting emotions moving across his face – sadness, hope, defiance. She took his hands in hers, never letting her eyes leave his. “Jasper Sutton, you have always been more trouble than you’re worth.”
Jasper smiled warily. “Sorry, Fee. I’ll try harder in future.” Then he impulsively lifted her hands and kissed them.
“I will say this for you,” said Fiona, still looking at him, “you’ve improved.” They could all tell that she was close to tears.
His smile was wry, a little bitter. “I started from a very low base, Fee. Will you forgive me, for everything, the way I treated Adam, for Mark, for being a selfish arsehole?”
“I’ll try.” All at once she pulled him into a tight clinch, and he in turn embraced her, his arms tight around her. She could feel his heart beating, and now, now that it looked as if things were finally going to turn out all right, she could feel his tears against her neck.
“Don’t cry, Jas,” she said, suddenly filled with a tenderness and compassion for these her men, all damaged by fate, given a dud card by the bad fairy, yet all trying to live with it with courage and integrity and a sense of humor. She turned her head towards her brother, remaining in Jas’s arms, leaning against him. “OK, since you’re so willing that I share the man I love, let me ask you this: would you share the man you love?”
Adam smiled at her ironically, his eyebrows curved in the way she knew so well. “Yes. Think about it Fee. I thought he was one hundred percent straight. I thought I would always have to share him with his wife, all the time never letting him know what I truly felt deep down. Everything I have now is a bonus.”
“For you I’m one hundred percent gay.” Tom’s voice was filled with certainty. He wanted Adam to understand.
“Tom, my sweet, I saw how you looked at Fee at the cottage. I know you saw me in her and were attracted to it. It was the same, I think with Mark and Fee. He saw me in her and was drawn to her.”
“You mean you were lovers!” The realization hit her. Was there to be no end to the revelations of that evening? Yet the fact that Adam and Mark had once been lovers was less of a shock than it would have been just a few hours ago.
“Yes. You dill, it was years ago! We’ve been friends ever since. Hasn’t that happened to you? You meet someone who reminds you of someone you were fond of, and immediately you like them better for it.” Adam smiled at her. There was compassion and understanding in his face. She remembered how he had always been patient with her, kind to her, how he had spent time with her doing things he probably had been bored by.
Mark was talking. “I was drawn to you, Fee, in the way Adam said. But I love you for you, not because I see Adam in you. You’re different from each other. And anyway, I never loved Ads as deeply as I love you.”
“Thanks,” said Adam dryly.
“You know what I mean, Ads. We were always friends more than lovers, almost from the beginning. That’s why we are still friends.”
“So,” said Fiona scornfully, “you’ve all been buggering each other.” She was still annoyed that she hadn’t been told about Adam and Mark. She admitted to herself, also, that she was afraid that Mark had chosen her because she was a substitute for Adam, even as she conceded that Mark and Adam hadn’t been lovers for years. She vaguely remembered some mention of Mark’s name over the years, but Adam had never mentioned his surname nor what he did for a living. He was just ‘Mark’.
“Well, Tom has only been buggering me.” Adam gave her a lazy smile, the kind he’d always given her when he was teasing her. His eyes were glinting with amusement.
“I so didn’t want to know that!” The abrupt release of stress made her want to giggle stupidly.
“And I don’t know what Mark and Jas do to each other, but Markie and I used to… ”
“Too much information”, “We don’t want to know”, “Hey, is nothing sacred?” were their simultaneous responses to him. In a moment they were all laughing.
“Anyway,” said Adam, determined to finish what he’d begun, “I don’t care if Tom has a woman as long as he comes home to me.”
“I’ll never have a woman again, Ads. I love you.”
“You might, Tom. Maybe you’re one hundred percent gay now, but you had a wife for years. And you had good sex with her too, and I know, I know, Tom, love, that you loved her. I can tell it from the way you talk about her. So maybe you will one day feel the need for a woman. And I won’t stop you or stand in your way – I want you to be happy. As long as I see you some of the time. As long as you come home to me.”
“But who will I go home to?” asked Fiona, suddenly filled with a deep melancholy that it might after all not work out, that it was too hard, too complicated, even without a hostile society or blinkered parents.
“To them, of course.” Adam smiled at her, his face tender, amused. “You great hairy nong, all three of you will share a house. How you arrange the beds is your business.”
“Don’t call me a great hairy nong, you brat!” A smile flickered over her lips. She couldn’t help it. She loved Adam so much. They were closer than any other siblings she knew.
Adam went over to her and put his arm round her waist and turned toward the others. “See, guys, Fiona and I, on top of everything else, have one thing in common. We are monosexual. That’s a good word, and I’ve just invented it.” He bowed, as if to applause. “That means that she will always be het and I will always be gay. She will never need a second lover in her life, nor will I. Maybe we will accept one, but we won’t need one. You blokes, on the other hand, are bi, or have been, or maybe always will be. Jasper tried to persuade me he was gay, but it’s bull. Shut up Jas, and listen. Mark loves Fee and Jas, equally. And Tom was married for ages. You guys have that in common. And that means that some part of you will always need the love of both genders. Shush, Tom, I’m not finished. Now we who love you,” and he squeezed his sister’s waist as he spoke, and she felt a sudden fireworks burst of happiness inside her, “we will have to be prepared to share you.” He stopped and stared at them, at each face, dear and familiar in its own way, Jas, his best friend, Mark his quondam lover and friend, and Tom the man he would marry, and he said, “There are a few ground rules. No casual flings. No relationships with the wrong gender – I mean, for example, Tom can have a woman but not a man. Jas and Mark have to stick with each other. They can’t have other blokes in their lives.”
“Don’t want a woman,” muttered Tom mutinously, his brows drawn down in a disapproving glare.
Adam smiled at him, his eyes filled with such profound love that Tom felt his annoyance vanish. He had the sudden urge to go over and grab Adam and kiss him and hug him and hold him forever. The impulse had little to do with desire and much with love. Tom knew that he had never felt that for Anita. Grief at the mistakes we make in our lives filled his heart. He wondered whether she would have been happier with someone else, whether if he had loved her better or more, she would have been OK, instead of in a ‘home’.
He turned his attention back to what Adam was saying.
“I know, Tom. But in five or ten years’ time, maybe you’ll feel the need. And then I want it to be somebody who matters to you. As for you two,” he went on sternly, looking at Jasper and Mark, “No women or men for Mark. He has Jas and Fee. And after all your fervent declarations, Jas, you’d better have a more than usually silver tongue to explain yourself if you get yourself a woman.”
“Think it’d work?” asked Jasper, looking at Adam and Fiona, the hope in his face taking away the strain which had rendered him so plain over the last few days, and making him once again good-looking and appealing.
“What could be worse than not trying? What could be worse than giving up right now, because it looks so hard? Dammit, Jas, why not have the fucking courage to try, to see whether you can live together and be happy?”
Tom had been listening in silence, for the most part, except for the occasional interjection. “Won’t work!” he said, firmly.
They all turned to look at him, their faces falling.
He grinned back at them, enjoying the tease. “You guys would never work it out unless Ads and I were with you.” He smiled triumphantly.
They all stared at each other in silence, and then, as the idea grew and flowered, they began to smile. Their bodies relaxed. Mark reached out and took Jasper’s hand. Tom yawned and stretched.
“I’m not doing all the cooking and cleaning!” said Fiona, staking out her position at once. “Just because I’m the only woman. And I so do not want a classic bachelor’s pad – no smelly socks and jocks in the sitting room. No spew on the dining room carpet.”
“It’ll be like a student house,” said Mark, excited. He’d always enjoyed shared digs. And he was lonely in his small flat.
“Eww! Gross! That’s what I was afraid of!”
“Only better,” Mark added quickly. “We’re richer and more sensible now.”
“Yeah?” said Jasper, ironically. “I still have to get a job.”
“What happened? Ads lost his, too. But he’s going to start up his own business.” It was Tom.
“My boss at the law firm was a homophobe born-again Christian. You know the kind… ”
“ …Yeah, “interrupted Adam, “a Bible on their desk, lies on their lips, and envy, greed and spite in their hearts. Just as well all Christians aren’t like that. Or they’d get a bad name.”
“ …so he made up a reason to get rid of me. And my parents threw me out when I told them.”
“We’ll get you a job, Jas-baby,” said Adam. “Together, we have lots of contacts. Or you can start your own practice. So it’s all settled then? We find a house that takes five, and we live happily ever after. Sis, you got any champagne?”
Fiona went to the fridge and took out a bottle. “There’s a second one,” she said. “We can enjoy ourselves.”
Fiona opened the special set of champagne flutes Adam had given her for her twenty-fifth birthday. Adam poured, and when they each had a glass, they stood facing each other and raised their glasses simultaneously.
© Nick Thiwerspoon 2015. All rights reserved.