A few nights later, Rodney awoke on the king-size platform bed that he and Meg had bought in New York ten years ago. So much water under the bridge since then. It was now located beneath the three jalousie windows as Jeanine had suggested. A wall switch within reach permitted him to flash a floodlight on and off in case a feral cat failed to heed the lamp operated by the motion sensor. It had worked. The cats stayed away, and the room was much more comfortable with the bed where it belonged.
Samantha and Geri were asleep in their rooms, the house was dark, and Liza was standing in the doorway. “Honey, is that you?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I just got home from the party. Are you awake? Can I talk to you?”
“Of course, sweetheart.” He patted the mattress. “Come sit. Did you have fun?”
She sat beside him in the moonlit room and took his hand. “It was a nice party,” she said, holding her emotions in check, “but then they played a kissing game, and every girl in the room got kissed except me. Not one boy wanted to kiss me.” Her voice broke. “Oh, Daddy, what’s wrong with me?” Tears flooded her cheeks.
“Honey, nothing at all. It’s just too soon. The other girls have become women and it’s happening a little later for you.”
“I’m a woman. I have periods.”
Rodney’s eyes went wide. “When did that happen?”
“Just after we arrived.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“There was no reason. I told Geri. She showed me how to use tampons. No big deal, except sometimes I feel a little cramp. So, I have breasts and a period and no one kissed me. What am I missing?”
“Not a thing.” Thank heavens for Geri. “Do you remember The Ugly Duckling from your Hans Christian Andersen tales when you were little?”
“I guess. What about it?”
“Well, do you remember how it ends? In a few months, your braces come off and we’ll get you contacts so you can dispense with glasses. I’ve already noticed that your waist is smaller and you’re developing a set of very curvaceous hips. You were overweight in a bathing suit when we arrived, but soon the word to describe you will be shapely.”
“Are you sure? It doesn’t feel like it?”
“You’re emerging from the awkward stage, and in a few months, I absolutely, without a doubt, guarantee you will become a swan; a graceful white swan who happens to be catnip to teenage boys.”
“You’re not pulling my leg?”
“Is your father in the habit of pulling your leg?”
“No. It’s just so hard to believe.”
“Ever watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? That’s hard to believe. A little patience, darling, and you’ll be shooing the boys away with a stick. Trust good old dad.”
Liza’s tears stopped, but her eyes still glistened in the moonlight coming through the window. “Thank you. I feel much better. Goodnight. I love you.” She bent forward and kissed her father.
“Goodnight sweetie. I love you, too.”
He lay awake in the darkness and considered the misunderstood duckling that turned into a swan. Both he and Liza were standing on cusps, undergoing metamorphosis. She would become a swan in natural progression; whereas he, in ignorance, had waddled like a duck for forty-four years until Kerry happened by and made him see who he was.
Better late than never. It feels really good to be a swan. It feels good to know who you are. Hell, I always was a swan; I just didn’t know it.
Swans slept well.
He arranged a Saturday afternoon alone by asking Geri to take the girls to see Herbie Goes Bananas at the Aikahi theater. The girls were bananas over the little car.
Then he called Jeanine to tell her truthfully what had happened in the six months since she had visited. When they communicated by letter, Rodney had purposely omitted Kerry and the changes in his life.
“Well, hello stranger. How have you been. It’s been ages.”
“Hi dear, are you sitting down?”
“Oh, it’s serious. What’s the matter?”
“I met a man, and I’ve been sleeping with him.”
There was a pause as Jeanine digested what he might mean. Then, in half disbelief, she asked, “Are you telling me you’re gay?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so.” He rushed forward. “I didn’t expect it; it took me by surprise. But I’m afraid there’s no denying it now, and I wanted to tell you so you won’t continue to see me as a viable love interest.”
“That means we aren’t sleeping together anymore, right? I don’t think I mind that. The idea of sharing a guy’s penis with a man doesn’t appeal to me.”
He breathed a sigh. “You’re taking this so easily. Did you have an idea?”
“Not an inkling; but I always knew you didn’t come on like other men do. You were concerned with running away, not pressing forward. I just told myself, that’s what makes you, you.”
“How are you doing? Got some men on the string?”
“Oh, the usual number. They come and go. I still see Josh Payton, the teacher at Loyola. He’s the only sane one.”
“Any thoughts about marrying again?”
“ I like it this way. Are you coming in December?”
“Yes, but I don’t think we should see each other. It would be too weird. I never faked my feelings for you. Let’s let them rest. It would be way too complicated if they stirred up again.”
“I agree with that. But you can still call. We can be friends.”
“We’ll always be friends. You were a huge part of my life, for which I will be forever grateful.”
There was silence at her end. Then Jeanine said, “I’ve got an academic question. I doubt there’ll ever be anyone else I can ask. What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“To enter a man’s anus. What does it feel like to fuck a man? Is there a difference?”
Now the silence was his. He thought about it for the first time. “I guess there is. I mean there’s the physical difference of getting past the sphincter, which is essentially a firm elastic ring. But once inside, it’s soft and warm, and surprisingly clean. Done properly, there’s not even aroma.”
“Then what about it do you prefer?”
“Now, you’ve got me. I’m working on that. It’s not the getting off, which I can do with my hand. There’s something else, I guess. To use my new friend’s word, there’s a different dynamic between two men, as opposed to a man and woman.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” she asked.
“As I said, I’m working on it. I’m not quite sure what it is that attracts me. But it does. It’s the piece that’s always been missing. I need more experience to figure it out.”
“Will you tell the girls?”
“Not yet. I need to know more about myself before I spread the news. But whoever I tell will have to keep mum about it. My job would be in jeopardy if anyone knew. I’m only telling you because you need to know the reason our relationship has changed.”
“I thank you, and you have my word. It’s not something I’ll repeat to friends or family.” She laughed. “I assure you I’ll make up a much more believable story.”
“Thank you for being so rational about it. I appreciate the absence of histrionics.”
“Life is what it is. It’s our job to make the best out of what we’ve got.”