Home > A Heart Back Home

A Heart Back Home
Author: Andrew Grey


Chapter One



Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right?

I arrived at work to find my boss at the door telling everyone to go home. The printer I worked for had put out their last piece of mailbox-clogging junk mail. Not that I relished the job or anything, but it paid enough for me to make the monthly rent, pay for my car, and buy groceries.

“Will I get my last pay?” I asked, staring into the harrowed eyes of my once-confident manager. He was in his midfifties, but in a day, he seemed to have aged a decade.

“Yes. You will be paid, but that’s about it. I wish I had more answers for you, but I don’t at this moment.” As the others came in, he told them all the same thing.

Not knowing what else to do, I turned around and got into my four-year-old Camry, glad it was almost paid off, and tried to figure how I was going to apply for unemployment and then find another job. I was too stunned to think very much about anything else on the drive back to my tiny apartment in Schaumburg, Illinois.

When my phone rang, I answered through the car’s Bluetooth connection.

“Hey, Clay, how’s it going?” my best friend, Alan, asked. He always called first thing in the morning before I started work, while I was getting coffee, mostly so he could talk about his conquest from the night before.

“Crappy,” I answered as levelly as I could. “My company went under, and I’m driving back home. It looks like I’m going to need to polish up my résumé and try to find a new job.” In this economy, that seemed like a daunting task, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Hard work didn’t scare me, but I wanted more out of life. Though I’d been raised on a farm in Wisconsin, I had escaped the rural life for the wider world as soon as I was able to find a job as far away from that life as I could get.

“You’ll find something. I know you will. You’re one of those people who’ll land on his feet no matter what.” Alan barely stopped for a breath before he was on to another subject. “Man, you should have seen the guy I met last night….”

I drove away from the city, making the reverse commute that had been part of my life for the past five years and now was a thing of the past. I was still trying to figure out what I thought of that. The changes would sink in—I knew they would. It was just going to take some time to figure out and process. In the meantime, I listened to Alan, hoping for a sense of normalcy.

“Yeah, he was something else. I swear he must have started lifting when he was twelve or something. Huge arms, great legs, and a chest to die for.”

I rolled my eyes and pulled to a stop as a sea of red lights appeared ahead. “Yeah, but could he put two sentences together?”

Alan laughed. “That’s the really cool part. He’s a high school football coach, and he actually has opinions about shit.” I could almost see him sticking his tongue out at me through the phone. “And he was amazing once I got him back to my place. Like a yummy, delicious pile driver. And the best part? He left his phone number and took mine. He wants to see me on Saturday.” Alan sounded as happy as a pig in shit.

“Wonderful,” I told him, trying to sound like I meant it. Things had completely turned upside down for me, and it was difficult to get excited about anything right now. Thankfully, Alan didn’t notice and continued on with his tale of debauchery. “You know you’re talking to a guy who hasn’t had sex, let alone a date, in months.”

I knew Alan’s response by heart. We’d had this conversation multiple times. I mouthed the words as he said them: “Then why don’t you come out with me? You’re plenty cute, and you know the guys would like you.”

“Because those aren’t the kinds of guys I’m interested in.” I had gone out to the bars and clubs plenty of times, and I always came away disappointed and feeling like I was in a meat market. That wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was hard to explain that to Alan. He saw the world his own way, and I had long ago given up on making him try to understand. He was a good friend who existed in his own happy, gay, sex-for-dinner-and-breakfast kind of world. Who was I to try to burst his bubble? “I’ll be fine. You go on to work and have a good day. I’m heading home to sit in front of the television, eat my weight in chocolate, and try to figure out what my next steps are.” It was best to get him off the phone so I could be miserable on my own. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Sure,” Alan agreed.

Another call was coming in, and I said goodbye to Alan and answered it.

“Son, it’s Dad.”

I slammed on the brakes as the freeway come to another halt, grateful I didn’t rear-end the car in front of me. My father never called me… ever. He and I had barely spoken since I left home. It wasn’t just the gay thing, though that had started it.

“What’s going on?” I asked slowly, instantly on guard. I had been on the receiving end of enough of my father’s tirades and lectures to be wary.

He hesitated. “I need you, son.”

I swallowed hard, wondering just how much crow he’d had to swallow to say those words.

“I can’t do this anymore. If I don’t…. Shit!” he swore. At least with that curse I knew it was really him. “You’re going to make me fucking say it, aren’t you?”

“Dad.” I started the car moving forward. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? I’m not a mind reader, and I don’t have spies there that keep me updated on all the gossip.” All my life, he had expected me to pick up what he wanted or meant through goddamn osmosis. Getting Harvey Kartwell to actually speak plainly was like pulling teeth.

“I need your help here on the farm. I’m in trouble and I don’t know where to turn. I have the crop in, and it’s growing well. Acres of corn and fields of hay that will turn a good profit, I’m sure. But I can’t do it any longer.” For the first time in my life, I heard weakness in my father’s voice. “I’m going to lose the farm if I….” He stopped, the line went silent, and then… a sound I never expected to hear as long as I lived: a sniff, and then a cough. “Your mother and I built this place from nothing, and I can’t lose it.”

Holy hell, my father was crying, and he’d actually talked about my mother. That was totally new. Since the day she died, Dad never said a word. He’d grieved in silence at first, and then with such anger that I left, and we hadn’t spoken on anything other than holidays since.

“Give me a second. I’m in the car.” I made my way onto the off-ramp and took the exit for I-90, then pulled into a parking lot. “Sorry, Dad. I’m stopped now. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” I was trying to be as levelheaded as I could be.

“It’s my foot. I broke it a few weeks back, and it’s not healing. The doctor is mad at me, it hurts all the time, and I can’t put any weight on it. I worked all last year to try to keep this place up and I barely managed. Now I…. Shit… this was a mistake.”

“What?” I snapped. “That you asked for help? That you called your gay son, who you haven’t talked to in months and don’t return phone calls from, to ask him for help? Maybe the mistake was you being a complete ass since Mom died. Is that what you’re angry about?” It all came spilling out in a whoosh. “Because if it’s about calling your son, then maybe that the smartest thing you’ve ever done.”

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