New York Stories

Shelter In Place

A New York Pandemic Story by Altimexis

Posted July 25, 2020

 

Part Three – Uncertain Future

Frank Moore was stymied by the need for a reference. In more ordinary times he’d visit the famed law library at NYU, ranked sixth on the National Jurist’s list of the top 199 law libraries in the United States, but the library was closed because of the lockdown. The same was true of the Columbia University law library, ranked twenty-third, or the Fordham University law library, ranked forty-sixth. Even if he took the time to drive to Ithaca upstate, the Cornell law library, ranked tenth on the list, was also closed. Most of the resources of the libraries were still available online, including those of the top-ranked University of Iowa, second-ranked Yale, third-ranked Indiana University and fourth ranked University of Pennsylvania, but some of the older, more obscure references in case law could only be found in print. At times, the particular location of a case in a particular book on a particular shelf would lead to other cases in other books on other shelves. The loss of that physicality was especially troubling to Frank as he tried to pull together the elements of the book he was writing.

And then there was the fact that he was writing a book at all. He should have been up in Albany, working with the governor at such a crucial time. He didn’t even have more time to spend with his wife. Since the start of the Pandemic, she’d hardly been home at all, spending many nights sleeping at the hospital. Starting her day as early as 6:00 AM, by the time she finished her day of caring for cancer patients at 11:00 PM or even midnight, she was just too tired to drive home. She had a car and the drive was only about twenty-minutes on the FDR, but that extra forty minutes of sleep saved by crashing in the on-call room made all the difference to her.

At least there were his son and his son-in-law. Both were busy with their online studies, but they were home all the time and were keeping him well-fed. Indeed, were it not for Asher, Frank would probably be skipping far too many meals and would have wasted away by now. The boys helped keep him grounded. They kept him sane.

Of course Frank also worried about his father, the eminent Dr. Paul Moore, who was the director of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Although Dr. Moore lived with his partner on the Upper West Side, he might as well have lived on the Upper West Coast, given Frank’s inability to see him. Although Paul was very active, in his work and otherwise, he and his partner were both over sixty and thus much more susceptible to the complications of Covid-19. Frank didn’t know what he’d do if he lost either one of them. The thought of it terrified him.

The sound of keys in the front door lock pulled Frank from his reverie. When he went to investigate, he found his wife in the process of hanging her jacket on a coatrack by the door. She looked beyond fatigued and there were deep lines etched into her face where the N95 masks she wore had dug into her skin.

“You’re home,” Frank exclaimed as he moved to hug her, but her outstretched hand kept him from advancing further.

“Let me take a shower first and then we can hug,” she responded. Frank knew she had good reason to be cautious. She had been hired to serve as a research assistant by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, perhaps the best-known cancer center in the world. It had been more than a decade since she’d last seen patients and the research assistantship was supposed to help her ease back into her role as a clinical oncologist. Her role in actual patient care was supposed to be minor, but with the pandemic, a majority of the oncologists and all of the residents had been diverted to caring for patients with Covid-19, leaving Memorial itself understaffed.

Unlike with most other medical care during the pandemic, nothing about cancer care was elective. The patients’ cancers didn’t stop growing, just because people were dying from something else. Surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy had to continue, and interrupting the research studies that were underway would have been pointless. Participants would have still needed treatment and the research team would have had to discard months or years of data and start over. Hence, in addition to her duties as a research assistant, Julie Moore took on a full load of clinical responsibilities, including admitting patients, ordering, managing and sometimes even administering chemotherapy, and ordering, interpreting and responding to lab tests and imaging studies.

Worst of all were the transplant patients. One of the protocols she administered as a research assistant included stem cell harvest, followed by high-dose chemotherapy with radiation and then autologous bone marrow transplant. With the other physicians reassigned to care for patients with Covid-19, Julie had had to take on responsibility for the clinical care of her patients on the transplant unit. There was a full-time oncology fellow assigned to the unit, but with the medical residents all pulled to provide care for Covid-19 patients, the fellow was overwhelmed with her own patients. Hence, Julie had no choice but to step in and care for the subjects in her research protocol herself. These were very sick, immune-compromised patients with numerous complications that required an extraordinary amount of close attention. Her daily routine now involved tracking her transplant patients’ metabolic panels and cell counts and dealing with critical values as they arose.

Twice she’d had to run codes on transplant patients when they went into cardiac arrest. Neither patient survived, but that the one she’d lost that evening was still in his teens weighed heavily on Julie and she couldn’t help but think of her own son and son-in-law. Standard procedure required that she notify the director of the transplant unit and when Dr. Varpetian heard Julie’s voice, she knew instantly that Julie was on the verge of burnout. Dr. Varpetian insisted that Julie finish up her work and go home, and that she take the coming week off. They could find other oncologists to cover for her, but a burned-out physician could cost patients their lives, which was unacceptable.

Exiting the shower, Julie donned a robe and crossed the hallway to find her husband asleep on the bed, on top of the bedspread and still fully clothed. The poor guy probably fell asleep waiting for her, she thought to herself. She gently shook his shoulder and at first he was startled, but then he sat up in bed. Noticing the tired smile that seemed out of place with the look on his wife’s face, Frank asked, “What’s wrong, dear?”

Sighing, Julie sat down next to her husband and related, “It was a very rough day, and then one of my patients coded. It was the second time I had to run a code. I thought the advanced cardiac life support training was just a formality. Who knew I’d need to use it?”

“Did they make it?” Frank asked.

Shaking her head, she replied, “He was only nineteen, Frank, but because of the cancer, he looked so much younger than his age. He looked like he was fifteen at most… he reminded me so much of Seth… without the hair, that it really hit me hard. Notifying the family was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Putting his arm on Julie’s shoulder, Frank responded, “Honey, we don’t need the money, if that’s what you’re worried about. We’ll get by. You don’t need to do this if it’s too much.”

Giving a laugh in return, Julie answered, “This has nothing to do with money. Yeah, I decided to go back to practicing Medicine as a fallback…”

“In case I go to prison?” Frank asked and Julie nodded. “Even if we have to go to our parents, we have resources to fall back on.”

“Yes, but I’ve missed practicing Medicine,” Julie countered. “You know I always intended to go back to it. I only stopped to get your political career off the ground, and then I ended up staying in politics.”

“You were a fantastic political manager,” Frank replied.

“Yes, I was,” Julie admitted with a laugh, “which was why I kept with it, but there’s a good chance you won’t be going back to Albany, and a career in Congress, let alone the White House, seems so far away now. It’s a good time for me to return to Oncology and if you ever do end up in the Governor’s mansion or in Washington, you deserve someone with far more experience and training than I.”

“But this is killing you,” Frank countered. “It’s too much.”

Shaking her head, July replied, “All the physicians in New York are working extra hard now. They’re even calling doctors out of retirement and waiving continuing education requirements, and some of them have major risk factors too. They’re that desperate.”

“But you won’t do them any good if you burn out,” Frank pointed out.

“Which is why Dr. Varpetian told me to take the next week off,” Julie responded.

“That’s still not much time,” Frank lamented, “and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to be intimate.”

“That it has,” Julie agreed as she cuddled up with her husband. “Not tonight though,” she continued. “After what happened today, I don’t think I can give you the closeness you deserve.”

With a laugh, Frank answered, “I’m with you there. I’ve been at the book steadily for six or eight hours, since I ate dinner. I think I’d fall asleep in the middle of it if we tried.

“Why don’t you go to bed and I’ll go shower and get ready, and I’ll join you in a few,” Frank suggested. “We’ll plan our date for tomorrow night.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Julie replied as she stood and removed her bath robe, and then slipped under the bedcovers. She was fast asleep before her head hit the pillow.

Undressing down to his underwear, Frank quietly slipped out the door and made his way to the bathroom. They’d given over the master bedroom and bathroom to the boys some time ago. Originally, he and Julie spent most of their time up in the state capitol in Albany and thus their bedroom in the city was seldom occupied. They never expected to be in town full time, let alone on lockdown. Therefore, they used one of the other two bedrooms and the main bathroom, which was the only other full bath, but it least it was a fairly large one.

Just as he was about to step into the bathroom, he heard a young, adolescent voice call out to him. “Dad, is everything alright?” came the sound of Asher’s deep baritone voice, softened to a whisper. “We heard voices.” It pleased Frank that his son-in-law called him ‘Dad’.

Turning to face Ashe, Frank replied, “Of course it is. Mom came home very late. She had a rough day. She’s been going at it steadily for the last two weeks and she needs some rest, so she’s taking the next week off.”

“It’ll be nice to see her for a change,” Asher agreed with a smile. “I’ll make something special for brunch.”

Laughing, Frank responded, “You’re always thinking about feeding us. Get some rest, Asher. Go back to Seth and snuggle up with him and show him how much you love him. You can worry about brunch when you guys get up.”

“Are you telling me to go have sex with your son?” Asher asked.

With another laugh, Frank responded, “You’ve been doing that for a year-and-a-half. Besides which, he’s your husband now. You know I love you every bit as much as I love Seth. I consider you one of my own.” Asher couldn’t help it as tears came to his eyes. “I’m not going to tell you when to make love and when you need to sleep. That’s between the two of you. You’re sixteen, Ashe.”

“That’s right,” Asher realized, “I had a birthday. I’m nearly an adult now.”

Chuckling yet again, Frank replied, “Asher, none of us is ever truly an adult. The law considers you an adult when you reach the age of majority, which is when the majority of your rights are under your own control. There are still some things you can’t do at eighteen, and there are many things you can do at sixteen or even younger. In marrying Seth, you became an emancipated minor, so the law already considers you an adult. In truth you’ve been playing the role of an adult since your mother was injured and you had to take over running the Ragin’ Cajun on your own.

“That child inside of us is something that never goes away though, Asher. If you’re lucky, you’ll never lose that sense of wonder. Maturity, which is what makes us adults, is something we acquire over our entire lifetimes.

“Now go back to bed so I can get to my shower and get some sleep myself.”

Frank started to turn around but before he could do so, Asher pulled him into a tight hug, holding him for several seconds before releasing him. Ashe loved Frank and couldn’t fathom how the Feds could accuse him of corruption. However, Asher knew it was all coming from the top, for having thwarted an attempt to draw the U.S. into a needless war with Iran. Not that Iran was entirely blameless, but there was no way they had anything to do with the air traffic debacle of the previous Thanksgiving. That was the result of a software glitch and nothing more. Frank had done what was necessary to prevent the president from using it as a pretense for war. Now he was paying the price of doing the right thing. Far too many people had been thrown under the bus by this president – friend and foe alike.

Asher returned to the master bedroom and slipped under the covers, snuggling up with Seth. Seth asked, “Is everything okay?”

“Mom’s home,” Asher reported. “Her boss gave her the next week off,” he added. “Dad told me to go back to bed and snuggle up with you, and to get some rest.” Asher was actually doing a bit more than snuggling, however, as he rubbed his hand over Seth’s chest and used his thumb to play with Seth’s nipples.

“If you snuggle like that, you’re not gonna get much rest,” Seth replied. Rather than answer him, Asher slid his hand down lower and grabbed his husband, finding him to be just as aroused as he was. Seth moaned with pleasure, and then turned around to face Asher, kissing him deeply. That led to much, much more.

 

“Something sure smells good,” Peter said as he walked into the kitchen, where Josh was busy browning ground beef in a skillet.

Looking up, Josh did a double take when he realized Peter wasn’t wearing anything. He was so startled that he exclaimed, “You’re naked!”

“Well yeah,” Peter answered. “Alan and I both sleep in the nude. Is this a problem?” Peter asked. “I can put on some boxers if my nudity bothers you.”

“No, it’s not a problem at all,” Josh answered as he added a package of frozen peppers and onions and a tablespoon of minced garlic. “I just wasn’t expecting to be flashed by such a handsome man so early in the morning.”

“Now I know you’re lying,” Peter responded with a laugh. “I’ll take the complement, though, even if it’s misguided.”

Josh turned back to the counter, added a fresh filter to the coffee maker, measured out the requisite amounts of coffee and water and turned it on. As he got out a half-dozen extra-large eggs and proceeded to crack them open and whip them, Dave entered the kitchen.

Dave was obviously freshly showered and had a towel around his waist, but when he saw that Peter was nude, he removed the towel, draped it over one of the kitchen chairs and said, “Good morning, Uncle Peter. Didn’t know breakfast was au naturelle today.”

Josh drained the skillet, added the eggs, sprinkled in some black pepper and paprika, stirred the mixture and re-covered it. “If I’d known it was clothing optional, I’d have opted not to get dressed.”

“Yeah, like you’re wearing a tux or something,” Dave replied. “I know that t-shirt and shorts must’ve taken forever to put on. Besides which, you never cook without a shirt, ’cause splattering grease burns.”

“Boxers. You forgot I’m also wearing boxers… and it does at that,” Josh agreed as he turned down the heat on the skillet and dropped four slices of rye bread into the toaster.

Just then Alan entered the kitchen, dressed in a polo shirt, khakis and flip-flops. “Shower’s free, Babe,” he announced, and then added, “That smells wonderful, Josh.”

“I’ll go take my shower,” Peter announced, and then exited the kitchen.

With both Josh and Alan fully dressed – actually, Josh was barefoot in contrast to Alan’s flip-flops, but otherwise was clothed, that left Dave as the only one in the nude. “I guess I’d better get dressed too,” he responded as grabbed his towel and left the kitchen.

“So you guys really walk around naked all the time?” Josh asked as he grabbed the toast, which had popped up, and dropped another four slices into the toaster.

“Only occasionally, before we shower,” Alan answered. “We usually dress after showering in any case. You never know who’ll show up at the door.”

Laughing, Josh responded, “You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught by Jehovah’s Witnesses with your pants down.”

“For them I’d make an exception,” Alan chided, and they both laughed.

“Dave and I have a couple of friends who really are pretty much nudists,” Josh noted as he lifted the lid on the skillet, sprinkled a mix of shredded cheddar and mozzarella on top and replaced the lid. “They’re seniors at Stuyvesant, they’re boyfriends, and they’re only eleven and thirteen.”

“I think I remember them from when we visited,” Alan responded. “The thirteen-year-old had lots of freckles and I think his nickname was Freck, and his boyfriend, Kyle, had hair down to his tush.”

“Exactly,” Josh chimed in. “Anyway, they both live with Kyle’s dads in a large house in Riverdale that’s built into a hillside. They have an indoor pool and it’s completely private, so they usually don’t bother with clothes.”

“I suppose they don’t have to worry much about people stopping by out in the suburbs,” Alan commented. “We, on the other hand, live in a high rise in downtown Seattle and we have a lot of friends who think nothing of stopping by without notice… at least they used to.”

“Sounds a lot like the way we live… or used to,” Josh responded.

“What about the way we live?” Dave asked as he returned to the kitchen, this time wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

“We were just talking about how, when you live in the city, you can’t really go around naked the way Freck and Kyle do, because friends can stop by at any time,” Josh answered.

“Well, technically Riverdale’s in the city,” Dave pointed out.

“Technically, a tomato is a kind of fruit,” Josh responded, “but you wouldn’t eat one in place of an apple. I realize Riverdale has its share of high-rises, but you can’t compare a house in Riverdale to a high-rise apartment in Manhattan.”

Peter returned to the kitchen, just as the second batch of toast popped up from the toaster. Josh took each slice and added it on top of a slice from the first batch, with a pat of butter melting between them. He then cut the toast along the diagonal. Getting four dinner plates out of the cupboard, he set the table and added the toast to each one. Turning off the gas on the stove, he divided the simmering frittata into four equal portions and slid one onto each plate. Placing the pot of coffee on the table along with carton of orange juice and a jar of salsa, he said, “Breakfast, is served.”

“It smells fantastic,” Alan responded as he sat down at the table, with Peter sitting down next to him.

“I’m not in the same league as my close friend, Asher White,” Josh countered, “but I do okay. I saved a lot of time and work by using frozen peppers and onions, pre-minced garlic and frozen hash browns. If I’d done it all from scratch the way Asher does, it would have taken me over an hour. No offense, but there’s no way I’d spend an hour on breakfast, even if I was tryin’ to impress my boyfriend’s uncles.”

“Well It tastes wonderful, Hun,” Dave responded after spooning a healthy amount of salsa onto his frittata and taking a bite.

“Uncle Alan,” Dave began, “Mom’s gonna recover. I know she is, but if she doesn’t,” he continued as tears came to his eyes, “Would you guys take me in? Would I hafta go live with you in Seattle?”

Josh hadn’t even thought of what would happen to his boyfriend if he lost his mother, and his pulse quickened when he realized that he might lose his boyfriend for good.

“Sandy’s going to be fine, Dave,” Alan reassured his nephew.

“But that could change,” he countered as tears streamed down his cheeks. “Most people don’t survive.”

“Most people are elderly and have major risk factors,” Peter pointed out. “Your mother’s young and healthy.”

“But if she dies, you guys and my grandparents are my only living relatives,” Dave countered. “If you don’t take me in, I’d either have to live with your parents in Florida or go into foster care, but would I have to move to Seattle?”

Looking over at Peter, who merely nodded, Alan realized he was going to have to broach a topic he had hoped would never come up. “It’s complicated,” he began to explain. “Unless there’s already a guardianship order in place, you’d become a ward of the state. Relatives are always given preference when it comes to placement, so long as they’ve played a significant role in the child’s life as we have, but there has to be an investigation and background check to determine that we’d be suitable. Your grandparents couldn’t take you in unless they moved back to New York and for a variety of reasons, I don’t see that happening. In the meantime, you’d go into kinship care.

“A close relative or even a friend of the family can take care of you under kinship care with much looser rules than with foster care, but there’s a problem… we don’t live in New York. To qualify, we’d have to change our residence at least temporarily to New York and agree to remain in New York to care for you.”

“But you live in Seattle,” Dave again pointed out.

“Yes, but I was already working from home because of the pandemic and can do so as easily here as there,” Alan pointed out.

“And I’m currently unemployed,” Peter added.

“In any case, it could take some time for CPS to conduct their investigation and it could take months to get full custody,” Alan continued. “Plus, we couldn’t take you out of New York at all, so instead we’d hire an attorney and petition the court for adoption. Since I’m your Uncle and Pete’s my legally married husband, the adoption would be fast-tracked and could be complete in a matter of months rather than years.”

“And then I’d move to Seattle,” Dave added dejectedly.

“Only if you want to, Dave,” Alan responded and Peter nodded his head in agreement. “I can work from New York indefinitely if need be, or I can get a job here. I’ve had offers. Both Google and Amazon are expanding their operations in New York. Not to toot my horn, but I’d be a plumb acquisition for either of them.”

“And my chances of finding a job in the aerospace industry are actually better on the East Coast than in Seattle,” Peter added. “There’s less competition for candidates here.”

“I thought Amazon decided against setting up operations in New York,” Josh interjected.

“That whole stunt was a ruse,” Alan explained. “They always intended to expand in New York. They just never anticipated the stiff community opposition and, more importantly, the proposed site in Queens was in a major flood plain. With sea level rise, they’d have been dealing with flood mitigation by mid-century. The tax abatements wouldn’t have come close to covering that.

“Amazon never intended to abandon New York, but by walking away from the deal, everyone was able to save face. Instead, they’re renting brand new office buildings in Hudson Yards, right in Midtown, so they won’t have to build from scratch and can be up and running in under a year.

“Better still, however, I could work for Google in Chelsea. I’ve heard it’s a great place to work and Chelsea’s a great place to live for gays.”

“But your lives are in Seattle,” Dave countered.

“Don’t get me wrong… we love Seattle and we have lots of friends there, but we love New York too,” Alan responded. “You’re family and we love you. Family comes first. However, we’d welcome you to move to Seattle if that’s your choice, but only if it’s your choice.”

“Your mother’s going to recover, Dave,” Peter added, “and we’d be delighted if you and your boyfriend would spend the summer with us in Seattle. At least you should know what it’s like there. I’ll warn you though, that summers are nice, but you may have heard a lot about it raining all the time in Seattle. We have a lot of sunshine in the summer, but it drizzles the rest of the year. The climate’s very similar to that in England and it does take some getting used to.”

“Regardless of where you live, however, things would be much easier if we already had guardianship of you,” Alan went on. “People in their thirties rarely think of such things, but when your mother recovers, we’re going to initiate the process to obtain the right of guardianship so that if anything happens in the future, we’ll have the legal standing to care for you if your mother can’t.”

“You really think Mom’s gonna recover?” Dave asked.

“I’d bet my life on it,” Alan responded, bringing yet more tears to Dave’s eyes.

Realizing that no one had touched their breakfasts, Josh suggested, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll nuke all your plates. This was meant to be a hot breakfast and it’s not very good when it’s cold.” Everyone chuckled with that.

 

The call came when Freck and Kyle were both online, participating in a school lecture for a class they shared. Freck briefly looked at his phone, saw that the call was from his mother and silenced the phone. Whatever it was that she wanted, undoubtedly it could wait until after the lecture. When he failed to answer and instead sent the call to voicemail, however, his mother followed it with a text message, ‘Urgent. Please call as soon as able.”

For his mother to call it urgent meant that it was far more important than a lecture, so he tore himself away from the computer, walked out into the hallway and called his mother back. “What’s wrong?” he asked before his mother could even open her mouth.

“It’s your father,” she responded. “Your biological father, that is. When he failed to respond to calls and texts this morning, the police were called. They found him in the penthouse. They say he’d probably been dead for several hours at least, probably from a heart attack, but it was evident he’d been snorting cocaine.”

“I don’t believe it.” Freck practically whispered as he sunk to the floor.

Hearing the thud of his boyfriend as he hit the floor, Kyle appeared in the doorway and asked, “Is everything okay?” but Freck didn’t answer.

It had been a very long time since Freck felt any affection toward his father, yet tears came to his eyes, as much to his surprise as anyone’s. Kyle sat next to him on the floor and put his arm around him, holding him closely.

Speaking back into the phone, he asked, “How are Debbie and Lisa taking it? How are you taking it?”

“Debbie and Lisa had even less to do with him than you did, Freck,” she responded. “They hardly reacted at all. As to how I feel about it? Technically I was still his wife, but we were separated and any affection I had for him was long gone. For all the prestige I got from being the wife of the CEO of a prominent brokerage, there was nothing he gave me that I didn’t earn for myself on my own. The one thing he gave me that I value is my children, and I abused that gift for a long time. That well could’ve been me that died alone in that penthouse, were it not for my own near-death experience.

“So now how do I feel? I feel grateful that he was the father of my three incredible children, but most of all I feel sad that his life was so shallow. I feel sad that for all his wealth and stature, he died alone.”

“I guess I feel the same way,” Freck responded. Then after nearly a minute of silence, he asked, “Is there gonna be a funeral?”

“Of course there’ll be a funeral, but it will be for immediate family only and with strict social distancing,” Freck’s mother responded. “I’ve just started to make plans for it for next Saturday. He’ll be buried in the family plot in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.”

“We have a family cemetery plot?” Freck asked.

“His family does,” she answered. “I have no intention of being buried there, and whether or not you’re buried there is up to you. Which reminds me, I need to contact his family. He has three brothers and two sisters, and of course there are his parents.”

“His parents are still alive?” Freck croaked. He was shocked. He’d never met any of them, and now he found out there were aunts, uncles and grandparents he never knew he had.

“Of course they’re still alive,” Freck’s mother answered. “Why wouldn’t they be? He came from a large Catholic family, but he wasn’t close to them. Not that he was estranged from them, but his focus was always more on money than on family as I think you know.”

“But they’re his family,” Freck countered. “You don’t turn your back on your family.”

“When you meet them, you’ll understand why they weren’t close,” she explained. “If it were now, I’d probably intervene to make sure at least you and the girls got to know them, but now you can.” When Freck didn’t say anything, largely because he was still in shock, she continued, “There won’t be a visitation or a wake or anything like that, under the circumstances. There’ll be a simple graveside service, and I’ll let you know the details when I have them.”

As Freck ended the call, he turned to his boyfriend and said, “My father’s dead.”

“So I gathered,” Kyle responded.

“I was never close to him, but…”

“You still feel a sense of loss,” Kyle answered for his boyfriend.

“I don’t understand why but yeah,” Freck agreed. “I guess for all his shortcomings, he was still my dad. I never thought much of him, but already I feel his absence. I just never knew he had a large family. I always assumed since I never met anyone, he didn’t have any family. It’s so weird at thirteen to discover I have grandparents, aunts and uncles. They’re strangers to me.”

“Perhaps you’ll find a connection with them that you never had with your father,” Kyle suggested.

With a snort, Freck responded, “I’ll believe that when I see it happen.” Then after a moment, Freck asked, “Is the lecture still going on?”

“It was finishing up when you got called,” Kyle answered.

“In that case, I’m going swimming,” Freck replied, and then he ran down the stairs, threw off his clothes and dove into the water.

 

“Thanks for letting me know, Freck,” Seth responded. “I know you weren’t close, but he was still your dad. I understand why the funeral has to be for immediate family only, but you know that Ashe and I will be with you in spirit if not in body.”

As Seth hung up his phone, he turned to Asher and said, “Frank San Angelo, Freck’s biologic father, passed away last night.”

“So I gathered,” Asher responded. “Was it because of Covid-19?”

Shaking his head, Seth answered, “It’s possible the stress of the lockdown was a factor, or maybe it had something to do with failure to seek medical care for fear of catching it, but he was using cocaine, so he probably had a cocaine-induced heart attack. Of course, because he died alone in his apartment and because of who he was, there’s gonna be an autopsy. The funeral’s being postponed until Saturday to allow for an investigation.”

“Well that sucks,” Asher responded. “I can imagine how it’s affecting Freck.”

“Not half as much as finding out he has grandparents, aunts and uncles,” Seth countered.

“He what?” Asher asked.

“It turns out Freck’s father’s parents are still alive, and not only that, but his dad had two sisters and three brothers,” Seth explaind. “Freck never knew they existed. To him they’re all strangers.”

“That’s crazy, man,” Asher agreed. “I take it his father wasn’t close to his family.”

“I asked Freck if his father was estranged from them, but his mother denies it,” Seth filled in. “I guess he just went his own way and left his family behind. It’s not like he cared much for his kids either.”

“That’s true,” Asher agreed. “At least Freck’s mother has come around, and Freck is so lucky to have the support of Kyle’s dads too.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that your dad was serving as Kyle’s guardian,” Seth pointed out. “There was a time when his father was so involved in his work that he was AWOL when it came to providing for the needs of his kids. And his mom was an alcoholic and was incapable of caring for him.”

“How his life has changed,” Asher agreed, and then changing the topic, he continued, “So if we can’t attend the funeral to show our support for Freck, can we at least send flowers or something?”

“Maybe we can send flowers to the graveside for the funeral,” Seth suggested, but then asked aloud, “I wonder if Freck’ll sit Shiva. I wonder if his mother will, being she’s half-Jewish.”

“We can send food to both if you want,” Asher suggested. “It’s never inappropriate to send food, and we can send flowers too. Freck and Kyle are our best friends. They’re family.”

“That they are,” Seth agreed.

Just then, Frank Moore entered and immediately announced, “I just got word that Frank San Angelo died.”

“Yeah, Dad, I just got off the phone with Freck,” Seth responded, “I guess they’re gonna delay the funeral so they can complete an autopsy.”

“His death is all over the news media,” Seth’s dad continued. “They say he died of mysterious circumstances and there’s a lot of speculation that he may have had Covid-19 and not been aware of it. The coronavirus affects the heart and it can lower blood oxygen levels too, all before a person has symptoms.”

“Yeah, that’s possible, but the police think it’s more likely the cocaine that did him in,” Seth responded.

“He was using cocaine?” Frank asked. “You’d think the media would be all over that.”

“They’re probably afraid of being sued,” Asher suggested.

“It’s a sad day when the media censor themselves,” Frank Moore responded.

“The truth will come out,” Seth chimed in.

“How’s Freck taking it?” Seth’s father asked his son. “How about his mom?”

“Frank San Angelo burned his bridges with his family a long time ago,” Seth answered. “Freck feels badly about it, but he doesn’t feel grief. He’s stunned that he has grandparents, aunts and uncles though. He didn’t even know that they existed. His father didn’t even have contact with his own family. He died alone.”

“How sad,” Frank Moore responded. “No matter how busy we were, even as we split our time between the City and Albany, we always made time for you, Seth. I think you know that.”

“’Course I know it, Dad,” Seth replied. “You’re the best dad ever. A role model. My hero.”

“I feel the same way,” Asher agreed.

Frank couldn’t help it when tears came to his eyes.

 

The news on his mother’s condition continued to improve and although Dave still wasn’t allowed to visit her in the hospital, he was getting steady reports on her progress from her doctors and nurses. Earlier in the day, she’d actually managed to sit up for a brief time. She still was on the ventilator but now that she had a tracheostomy tube – a tube inserted directly into the trachea through a surgical hole in the neck, she no longer needed sedation to prevent her from gagging on a tube down her throat, or from fighting the ventilator. The ventilator was set to assist with her breathing rather than to substitute for it, and with her in complete control of her breathing, she was now fully awake and conscious.

With a tube in her trachea, she couldn’t yet talk, but she was able to communicate by writing short messages. Although the method was too cumbersome and tiring to hold a conversation with her son, she was able to tell him that she was okay and that she loved him, and he was able to let her know just how much he loved and missed her.

Dave remained in quarantine pending the results of his second Covid-19 test, which was scheduled later in the week. The first one turned out to be negative, much to everyone’s surprise, and he remained symptom-free. Until cleared, he remained dependent on his boyfriend and uncles for shopping and errands. His iPhone, which was barely useable due to a badly cracked screen, sat on the desk in his room. He wasn’t inclined to do anything about it while his mother was in the hospital anyway.

He had, however, taken the time to check on Apple’s website and for $150, they would have sent him a pre-paid box to send it back to them for repair. He’d have had to rely on the uncles to drop it off at the FedEx store on Houston, but Apple would have returned it to him, good as new. The trouble was that it wasn’t worth spending $150 on a three-year-old, factory-renewed iPhone 7. He wasn’t looking forward to talking to his mother about replacing it, but he had no choice. Maybe this time he could talk her into splurging on a brand-new iPhone SE, which cost $400 for the standard model.

It was as they were eating dinner and discussing sending a platter of food to Freck for his father’s passing, that the doorbell rang. Since Dave was still in quarantine, Josh went to the door to see who it was. After a short time, Josh returned to the table, carrying a small package.

“It’s for you, Dave,” he said as he started to hand it to his boyfriend, but then thought better of it. “Maybe I’d better open it first, just in case. I’ve already touched it, but there’s no reason you have to.”

As Dave grabbed a scissors from one of the kitchen drawers, Dave asked, “What is it? Who’s it from?”

“Not sure,” Josh answered. “It came by FedEx and I had to sign for it.” Then shrugging his shoulders as he began to cut away the tape, he added, “The label says it’s from Apple!” Within moments, Dave had exposed a shiny white box with a picture of an iPhone on the cover. Josh carefully dropped the box onto the table and set the shipping box aside, to be recycled later. He thoroughly washed his hands before sitting back down.

In the meantime, Dave looked at the box in front of him and exclaimed, “What the fuck! It’s an iPhone Pro!” He knew his mother was in no shape to get him a new phone, and he doubted Josh could’ve afforded something that expensive. Looking up at the only other person he could think of who knew about his broken phone and who had the resources to buy a new one, he saw that his Uncle Alan was smiling. “This is too much,” he responded.

“Davy, you should always come to me when you need a new phone,” Alan responded. “You might not think of Microsoft when you think of Apple, but Microsoft Office remains one of the most popular packages on the Mac, the iPad and the iPhone. I’m in charge of the Office development team for iOS. I got you that iPhone at below cost, and I can get you a new iPad Pro, MacBook or iMac for next to nothing.”

“But still, this phone musta cost you hundreds of dollars,” Dave countered. “You already spent a fortune to come here. At least let me pay for the phone.”

Waving his hand, Alan answered, “There’s no need. I can call you a beta tester and write it off as a business expense. It’s costing me next to nothing, so quit harping about it. I got you the Pro model because it didn’t cost me that much, and I wanted you to have the better camera and display. Likewise, I maxed out the memory so you could capture and edit some amazing video if you want.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Dave responded.

“There’s nothing you need to say at all,” Alan countered. “Just do great things with it while you’re at Stuyvesant next year.”

 

The steady arrival of deliveries of food was a surprise to Freck. He had a lot of friends from school and from the synagogue where he and Kyle were studying for their Bar Mitzvahs, but he’d never expected such an outpouring of support. He was well aware of the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva, which usually meant staying at home for a week after someone died and receiving visitors who wished to pay their respects. People were expected to bring lots of food, and to partake in eating lots of food, and there were prayer services held to remember the deceased.

Of course the pandemic allowed for none of that. Their rabbi led a twice-daily minyan online, so they were able to pray even though the participants were apart. And people still sent food – huge platters of smoked fish, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, blintzes and latkes, bagels, bialys and knishes, and of course all kinds of cakes, cookies and other sweets. It was enough to feed an army, but the army never came. There were no guests to feed and so everything that could be saved went straight to the freezer. Even with two teenagers and a healthy pre-teen in the house, the food was more than enough. From what Freck heard from his mother and sisters, they were experiencing much the same thing in their brownstone on the Upper West Side.

The autopsy on his father had been completed but they were still waiting on the results from toxicology. The surprising thing was that Frank San Angelo had died of Covid-19 after all. His lungs were full of fluid and he’d been severely hypoxic. It was a well-known fact that younger patients who acquired the virus were sometimes unaware their oxygen levels were dropping, much less that they had pneumonia. With an oxygen saturation level that was likely in the range of 20%, his heart simply gave out. He literally drowned in his own fluids. Less clear was the role that cocaine might have played. Regardless, the news media had yet to pick up on the fact that he’d died while using cocaine. That the police were suppressing the point likely reflected the reach of his father’s influence and wealth – reach that even extended from beyond the grave after death.

The funeral still hadn’t been scheduled. Things were up in the air, not only until the investigation into his death was complete, but there was a tremendous backlog of burials at Green Wood Cemetery due to the number of deaths from Covid-19. They’d been told it could be a matter of weeks before he could be buried there. It was a good thing his father was Catholic, as the delay would have been a major problem if he were Jewish. Even so, the delay was troubling. Just not knowing when his father could be laid to rest weighed heavily on Freck. He needed to move on.

At least there was his swimming. Short of mind-blowing sex with Kyle, nothing was a more effective distraction from all the shit that was goin’ on in his life than swimming. To think that before he met Ky, he couldn’t even swim! Not only was he on the Stuyvesant swim team now, but he was one of their fastest swimmers.

He’d always enjoyed participating in light team sports and prior to moving in with Kyle’s family in Riverdale, he’d been in a youth soccer league, but that was because it gave him a chance to feel like a normal kid for a while. Now he was on a varsity team! He was a serious jock – well, as much as that was possible for a thirteen-year-old, even though he was a high school senior. In fact, swimming was one of the few high school team sports he could participate in at his size and age. The thought of playing, say, varsity basketball, was enough to make him laugh.

But then the smile faded from Freck’s face as reality once again intruded on his thoughts. Who knew when he’d have a chance to swim with the team again? At least he still had his boyfriend’s family’s pool. No one he knew had a setup like theirs. No one had year-round access to an indoor-outdoor in-ground heated pool, 24/7, but he did. Freck’s one regret about the design was that the ceiling height was barely eight feet, leaving no room for a diving board. At least he got ample diving practice at school, when it was in session. He might not be able to do a summersault off the high dive, but he could still take a flying leap into the water from the side of the pool. It was potentially dangerous, particularly when done from the pool’s shallow end, but Freck was an expert diver and he sliced into the water, barely creating a ripple.

Surfacing and opening his eyes, he noticed that Kyle was descending the stairs that led into the rec room. Pulling himself out of the water, Freck went to greet his boyfriend as he entered the pool room.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Kyle asked as Freck approached.

“I had enough trouble sleeping, even before my father died. I read in The Times that a lot of people have been having trouble sleeping, due to worry about the pandemic,” he added. “Now, with my father passing away, it’s just another abrupt change in my life. Not that we were close, but he was such an imposing figure in the world of finance. The thought of him not being there is kind of surreal, you know?”

“I can imagine,” Kyle answered. “Not that it matters, but do you think he left you any money in his will?”

Barking a laugh, Freck responded, “You know, I never thought about it.” Turning to look directly into Kyle’s eyes, he continued, “You know I have a trust fund worth millions. You and I could live off of it indefinitely, even with the losses we’ve suffered from the stock market tanking, but a life of leisure is not who I am. It’s not what I want. I intend to use that money to create the largest sustainable architecture business in the world. If there’s anything left over, I’ll use it for pro bono work to help mitigate the effects of climate change on those who are environmentally disadvantaged. Environmental justice will be served.”

Looking away, Freck continued, “I doubt that my father even gave thought to changing his will after he and Mom separated. He was only forty-one. Who the fuck thinks about dying when they’re that age? I expect that he left everything to Mom, but if he didn’t, it won’t make much difference. She has her own billions and she intends to give most of it away to help the homeless. If Dad left her his billions, she’ll probably use it to help that many more people. However, if he did leave any of it directly to me, it’ll allow me to better use my skills as an architect to help save the planet. With billions, I could hire a team of architects to redesign cities to survive in the face of climate change. I could fund projects around the world to ease the transition away from fossil fuels. I could invest in high-rise hydroponic technology so that food could be produced locally. Millions of acres could be returned to the wild, to be covered with forests that absorb carbon and replenish the earth’s oxygen.”

“And billions of people will shake their fists at you, complaining that your technology has left them behind with no means of supporting themselves,” Kyle countered. “Hydroponic farms can be run by robots.”

“That’s already happening with traditional farms,” Freck countered, “and what difference does it make to truckers if you eliminate the need for long-haul trucking, or just automate it. Better to be alive and unemployed than to leave behind a dead planet,” Freck responded, “but you’re right of course. The next major challenge after climate change will be how to provide for everyone’s needs in the post-employment era.”

“There’ll have to be a major change in how people view the relationship between work and money,” Kyle acknowledged. “Just to get past the notion that people should have to work to put food on the table, or for clothing and shelter. No one should have to beg for food, or live homeless in filthy clothes on the streets. That’s just barbaric. Everyone should be able to have the basics.”

“Yeah, but why would a jock who’s just not good enough for professional sports, for example, do anything to give back to the community when there’s no reward?” Freck countered. “Most of our high school gym teachers and coaches are failed professional athletes. Why would they bother to become teachers when they already have what they need? You know they wouldn’t be paid enough to make it worth their while.”

Sighing, Kyle responded, “The reality is that when people with no desire to get an education run into a world of plenty, none of it available to them, they’ll riot. They’ll try to take what the rest of us have and when we protect ourselves within enclosed enclaves, they’ll scale the walls and destroy everything we have…”

The two boys talked well until after the sun was up, discussing problems and solutions for a world they could never truly understand. Little did they know that events would soon overtake them, forever changing the world and the way they saw their roles within it.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude, Codey’s World and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Although reference is made to the political figures, any resemblance to a particular figure, past, present or future, is unintentional. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.