Sean O’Malley was thinking about the future. He loved his work as proprietor and pharmacist at the O’Malley Pharmacy on Westbrook Pike, a store which had been in the family for generations. He had inherited it from his great uncle, John Michael, when the old man got too old to carry on. Several of the younger O’Malleys looked as though they might be interested in continuing the tradition, although it was too soon to tell for certain. But, in the spring Patrick Doyle would graduate from the School of Medicine at the University with his degree in pharmacy. Patrick had worked at the O’Malley Pharmacy for ten years, since high school, and was living in the apartment above the store with his wife and two young children. Of course, Sean and Kira Endicott were the registered pharmacists now working at the store. Could the O’Malley Pharmacy support three pharmacists? Business had picked up since the lean years about twenty years ago, when John Michael feared he might have to close the store rather than sell out to some chain. But still, three full time pharmacists would be stretching the budget quite a bit.
There was an alternative. A few blocks in town from the O’Malley Pharmacy was another pharmacy, which had been engaged in a generations-old friendly rivalry with the O’Malleys. This was the Stafford Pharmacy, located at 1019 Westbrook Pike, owned by Henry Stafford. Henry Stafford had been to see Sean, offering to sell his stock. He said he was liquidating the business, as debts connected with his wife’s illness required it. Sean had commiserated, and offered to come see what was being offered. No specific time had been set, so Sean simply took advantage of a slow weekday afternoon, and walked down to Stafford’s.
When he arrived, he encountered Henry’s son, Edward behind the pharmacy window, but Sean knew of no reason not to do business with Ed.
“Hello, Ed. I’ve come to look over the stock.”
“What? Why would you do that?” Ed asked.
Sean was confused. “Didn’t your father tell you? He came down to my place two days ago and asked whether I’d like to take over the stock, since you’re closing down.”
“No,” Ed replied with bitterness. “My father never tells me what he’s doing. So, he’s really going to close the pharmacy, is he?”
Even more confused, Sean replied, “That’s what he said. He mentioned that your mother’s medical condition and doctor’s bills required that they liquidate everything and move to the Southwest for the dryer climate.”
“Oh, no! It’s that bad, is it?” Ed slumped against the counter.
“What’s going on, Ed? You act as though this were all news to you.”
“It is, Sean. It is. I knew my mother was ill, but I had no idea it was this bad. And only this morning I got a note from my father telling me to look for another job, as he was selling out, but no details.”
“A note? That’s all?” Sean asked in amazement.
“That’s right. For the past eight years, my father has not spoken a word to me. If there is something he absolutely must tell me, he leaves me notes.”
“That’s terrible,” Sean said. “I had no idea. What caused the split?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m gay,” Ed responded.
“That’s it? That’s the only reason for this alienation?”
“If there’s anything else, my father never left me a note telling me what it is,” Ed responded with bitterness. “All I know is what I get in the notes, like this one,” he said tossing down a folded piece of notebook paper.
Sean opened it, and was immediately appalled. It began: Hey Queer! I’m selling the business. Find yourself another job. H.S. Sean trembled at the hatred which oozed from the few lines. He looked up to see tears in Ed’s eyes.
“I take it you have no part ownership or anything,” Sean asked.
“No. Nothing. I love this place. I’ve worked here since my grandfather ran the place and I was a fourteen year old delivery boy. All I ever wanted was to be a pharmacist at the family drug store. I never even considered anything else. I stayed on, despite the cold war, the nasty notes, everything, because I love this place. Now, there’s nothing.”
Ed sounded so depressed that it bothered Sean. “Hold on there, Ed. Something might turn up, yet. When did all this abuse begin? I had no clue.”
“We didn’t exactly make a public announcement. When did it begin? I can tell you the exact time. I knew for years that I was gay. Ever since high school. But I never let on, because I knew my folks would be hostile. I had no idea how hostile. I went through the University, got my D.Pharm. Began work here. My mom in particular began the constant litany: ‘Are you seeing anyone? Do you have a girl to bring home? When can we expect grandchildren?’ Week after week it was the same thing. Seldom more than two or three days went by without something along those lines. Well, the truth is, I was seeing someone, but it was another guy. Eventually, it got to the point where we were serious, and wanted to live together. I knew then I had to tell the folks. It was the 23rd of May, 2006. I was not prepared for the violence of the reaction. When I told my parents that I was gay, and was going to be living with another man, there was a dead silence. Then my father began yelling. He called me every name in the book. Then he told me to get out, he wanted nothing more to do with me, ever. I left right away, absolutely devastated by his reaction. The next morning, when I turned up for work, the notes began. The first one said I was not to speak to my father, and he would not speak to me. All my possessions were in the back yard. If I did not get them that day, they would be taken to the land fill. He had thrown everything out the back window. A lot of stuff was broken. I’ve never been in the house, or spoken with either parent, since that day.”
“Geez, Ed. That is really sad. I’m so sorry,” Sean said. “I don’t know how you put up with it.”
“Neither do I,” said a voice behind Sean.
He turned to find a man about his own age, of fairly ordinary appearance except for his shock of red hair. From the concerned look on the man’s face, Sean immediately knew he was Ed’s partner.
“Hi. I’m Sean O’Malley, another pharmacist,” Sean said, extending his hand.
“I’m Jim Throckmorton. Sorry, but I’m an architect, not a pharmacist,” the man said, shaking Sean’s hand.
“Jim is my partner,” Ed said simply.
“I kind of figured that,” Sean said with a smile. “Do you always show up when you’re being discussed?” he asked the newcomer.
“No. I got a message on my cell. I was in a meeting with a client.” This last was directed to Ed.
Ed silently handed Jim the note from his father. Jim read it rapidly.
“That bastard! After all you’ve put into this place! I ought to wring his neck!” Jim exclaimed.
“Sean says my father told him Mother was so ill they were moving to the Southwest for the dryer climate,” Ed said emotionlessly.
Sean felt he needed to think about this situation, but not right there with Ed and Jim. He moved towards the door. “I need to get back to my place,” he said to Ed. “I’m really sorry to hear about all this.” Then, to Jim, he said, “May I have a word with you?”
They moved away from the pharmacist’s counter, out of earshot of Ed, who obviously knew they were taking about him, though. “When I mentioned that Ed’s father had offered to sell me the stock because his wife was so ill they were liquidating everything and moving to the Southwest, it took Ed by surprise. I did not know any of the background until just now,” Sean explained. “Ed looked so despondent, and sounded so hopeless, that I’m worried about him. You will keep an eye on him, won’t you?”
“You bet. He kind of knew something was brewing, but I guess this is more than he was prepared for. His old man is a real bastard,” Jim said.
“Sure seems that way. I never realized … Well, you look after Ed, and I’ll see what I can do about the pharmacy,” Sean said as he left for his place.
When Sean got back to the O’Malley Pharmacy, he gave the unhappy situation at his rival place some serious thought. He called his wife, Dr. Kayla O’Malley, at the Todd Medical Clinic where she was a partner, and asked whether Mrs. Stafford were a patient there. Kayla did not think so, but would check, especially after Sean gave her some idea of what was going on. When Kira came in to take over the evening shift, and Patrick arrived from campus, Sean dropped some hints that something was up, but would say no more.
Patrick desperately wanted to stay on at the O’Malley Pharmacy, as he felt absolutely at home there. He had been hoping Sean would make him an offer, but at the same time he knew having three pharmacists would stretch the budget quite a bit. Kayla also knew of Patrick’s desire, and sympathized. She even considered accepting an offer from another pharmacy, but it was one of the big chains, and she would have no say in the running of the store. Still she was almost prepared to accept for Patrick’s sake. He was a good kid, just completing his degree, and needed a low key, family place like O’Malley’s to get started, at least. That evening, she and Patrick speculated about Sean’s hints.
At home, when Kayla arrived, she had some information. Mrs. Stafford was not a patient at the Todd Medical Clinic, but she was at University Hospital. Her condition was serious, so she was not expected to live more than a year or two, no matter what. The move to the Southwest mentioned by Henry Stafford might slow the end by a few months, but that was all. It was a move taken out of desperation, if taken at all. Mrs. Stafford was scheduled for a new round of tests at the Hospital the following week, but nothing was expected to come of it. That made the situation all the more tragic for the entire family. Henry was selling out the family business in a futile effort to prolong his wife’s life, while Ed was denied even news of his mother’s condition, much less a future at the pharmacy he loved.
Sean and Kayla put their heads together. There was a daughter, but they did not know her situation. She was older than Ed, most likely married, and they did not know her married name. So she was out of consideration for the moment. Sean shared with Kayla the plan he had worked out while pondering the situation that afternoon. He would purchase Stafford Pharmacy, keep Ed on, and put Kira in charge, then hire Patrick at the present location. Kayla kissed her husband, appreciating his generous nature, which she had experienced many times before. The only issue was financing, and for that they would call on Kayla’s half-sister, Sandy Todd. Sandy had inherited money, and she was generous. Kayla put in a call to her sister that evening, explaining the circumstances. As expected, Sandy guaranteed the O’Malleys would have the financing they needed.
The next morning, Sean went to see Kira at the pharmacy. The schedules were such that they alternated day and evening shifts, so Kira worked last night and this morning, while Sean worked the previous morning and this evening, and so on. Consequently, she was surprised to see him strolling into the pharmacy.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you getting forgetful in your old age? This is my morning to work,” Kira greeted him.
“I know, you spring chicken, but I’ve got something to discuss with you.” The teasing about age was a standing joke, even though Sean was only 36 and Kira was 34.
“It’s about time. Patrick and I nearly went crazy last night trying to decipher your cryptic remarks as you left yesterday.”
“Then pay attention, and you’ll find out,” Sean admonished. He proceeded to relate what he had discovered about the Staffords. Kira was astounded, and angry at Henry, and concerned for Ed. She knew Jim Throckmorton slightly, and thought he was related in some way to Professor R. Bruce Throckmorton, who had been so influential in all their undergraduate careers. Sean mentally kicked himself for not having considered that, as Throckmorton was not a common name. Then Sean shared with Kira the plans he and Kayla had worked out the previous evening. She was delighted at the prospect, for herself, for Ed Stafford, and for Patrick Doyle. Her only reservation was whether Ed would agree to work for someone else in what had been his family’s pharmacy. That would have to be worked out, of course.
With Kayla, Sandy, and Kira on board, Sean called Stafford Pharmacy to make sure Henry was there, then walked down again as he had the day before, but this time with a very different agenda. Doing his best to hide the loathing he now felt towards the older man, Sean began bargaining.
“Henry, I’ve been thinking about the offer you made me the other day with regard to the stock. My place is pretty well stocked for now.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. It would be so much easier and quicker if I could have someone just take over the whole stock instead of trying to dispose of it piecemeal,” Stafford replied, clearly disappointed.
“I thought about that. Your place is in pretty good shape, isn’t it? I mean, the building is sound and all?” Sean asked.
“Oh, sure. It’s a lot like yours, you know. Storage in the basement, apartment above. Kitty and I …” Henry got a catch in his throat when he mentioned his wife. “Kitty and I moved out of the apartment a couple of years ago when the stairs got to be too much for her. The place is rented to a couple of college kids, but I expect they’ll be gone by the end of May. The new owners will have to deal with that.”
“Oh, you have someone lined up to purchase the building?” Sean asked.
“No. Thought we did, but it fell through because the buyer could not get the financing. But we’ll sell everything,” Henry insisted.
“I was thinking about that. You know, we’ve been doing pretty well lately, and I’ve sort of considered branching out.”
“Yeah, you know. Start an O’Malley chain of pharmacies. Maybe by the time I’m your age, we’ll rival CVC or something,” Sean laughed.
“You’re crazy, O’Malley.”
“Well, crazy or not, I talked it over with Kayla, and we decided to make you an offer for the whole business, not just the stock.”
“Really!” Henry replied excitedly. “That would sure solve some of my problems. Are you serious about this?”
“Yeah. It would solve a personnel problem for me as well. You know Kira Endicott has been with me for nine years now. I’d like to put her in charge of this place. Then, Patrick Doyle will finish his degree in May, and I just know he wants to stay on with me at the old place,” Sean elaborated.
“That sounds great! Kira’s a good pharmacist. I’m sure she’ll make a go of it here. But, uh, how about the financing? That’s what caused my last prospect to back out,” Henry asked.
“No problem. Kayla called her sister, Sandy Todd, and Sandy promised to back us,” Sean assured him.
“It must be nice to have rich relatives,” Henry commented.
“It sure comes in handy,” Sean agreed. They discussed prices for the entire business, including the building and all the stock. Stafford’s even had a lunch counter, which served simple fare at breakfast and lunch, and ice cream desserts all day until the counter closed at five o’clock. In addition to Ed Stafford, there was a short-order cook and the usual complement of delivery boys and clerks. Sean carefully avoided mentioning Ed until they had agreed on a price. “I’ll want to keep on the present staff, but I assume Ed will be going with you and Kitty,” he probed.
“Ed has his own plans,” Henry said tersely, which told Sean not to pursue that line of questioning.
“One more thing,” Sean said. “How would you feel about me keeping the Stafford name?”
“Why would you want to do that?” Henry asked.
“Well, you have a lot of customers who have been coming here for years. Maybe even generations. If the name stayed the same, maybe they’d feel some kind of loyalty, and stick with me under the new arrangement. Besides, it would make the paper work easier. You know government agencies.”
“Don’t I ever! Well, Kitty and I will be moving away, so I guess it really won’t matter to us about keeping the name here. Sure! Keep it!” Henry agreed.
The two men shook on it, and Sean told Henry he would contact Arnold Williams to handle the real estate paper work immediately. Henry was clearly pleased, and began making plans to move to Arizona even sooner than he had expected. Sean called Ed Stafford, and arranged to have lunch with him.
Over lunch at La Cocina Latina, where Ed assured Sean his father never ate, Sean laid out what he had been up to the previous evening and that morning. He then asked Ed if he would stay on under the new management.
“I know this is awkward, Ed. By rights, you should be inheriting the business, but I think you will find Kira easy to work with,” Sean concluded.
Ed sat there for several seconds without responding. Then he said, “You’re right, I should be inheriting. But I won’t be. There is no way in hell my father would leave me the pharmacy, even if I were the last man on earth. He never asked me about taking over. Hell, he did not even tell me he was selling out until that note yesterday morning. I’ve been nothing more than an employee for years. He consults me about nothing. I’m kept on because it would be awkward explaining to old customers that he had fired his gay son. As I told you yesterday, I love the place. I stayed on because I love it. I haven’t had a raise in pay since I got thrown out of the family home. I could have done much better financially to find a place elsewhere, but I wanted to be at the old place. Sure, I’ll stay on. It’s a hundred times better than anything else I could imagine.”
“How are you fixed financially? Are you in a position to be a partner?” Sean asked.
“You’d do that?”
“Yeah. It could be arranged so that, after your parents left, you could buy a percentage of the business. They need never know.”
“Well, I’d love that, but I have to decline. As I said, my father paid me as little as he could get away with. It’s been rough times for me and Jim these past few years.” Then, Ed laughed. “If I win the lottery, I’ll take you up on that.”
“The offer will remain open, Ed. Now, let’s go tell Kira the good news.”
They walked across to the O’Malley Pharmacy, where Ed and Kira were soon engaged in deep conversation about the conditions and customers at Stafford Pharmacy. Sean departed to see about the financing, meeting with Sandy and with Ben Seagraves, the manager at the Westbrook Pike branch of Merchants Bank. Over the next few days, all the details were worked out, and on the 15th of February title passed from Henry Stafford to Sean and Kayla O’Malley.
Meanwhile, Sean passed on to Ed the information he had from Kayla concerning the condition of his mother. Taking a chance, Ed showed up at the hospital at a time when he knew his father would be busy with the transfer of the pharmacy to the O’Malleys. He was told to ask for Audrey Merkel, who was the nurse in charge of that particular corridor. Audrey showed Ed to the room, but admonished him that he would have to leave if the patient became too agitated. Ed cautiously entered, to find his mother hooked up to all sorts of instruments.
There was a stirring in the bed, Catherine Stafford blinked, trying to focus. “Ed? Is that you? You shouldn’t be here. If your father …”
“Don’t worry. He’s busy selling the pharmacy. He’ll be at the bank for at least another half hour. I had to see you, Mom. I didn’t know how bad you were until Sean O’Malley told me. I would have come, even if my father were here.”
“Oh, no! You mustn’t do that. It would be terrible. I can’t stand it when Henry gets so angry.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I never wanted to hurt you. I had to come when I found out what your situation was, and that you were moving away. I couldn’t let you go without saying good-bye.”
Ed and his mother hugged each other, and held onto each other until the nurse returned to say he should leave. They never mentioned the matter which had led to the estrangement. Catherine did not mention the visit to her husband, either.
Impressed with the way Williams Property Management handled the transfer of the pharmacy to the O’Malleys, Henry Stafford entrusted the sale of his house out in the suburbs to them, and he and Catherine left for a retirement complex in Arizona only a week after the sale went through. During the time between receiving the note about the sale and the time his parents left town, Ed took leave from Stafford Pharmacy. He left his father a note, saying he was seeking alternative employment, and simply did not show up. A notice was posted on the door to the pharmacy announcing that the store would be closed for a week for inventory, with a number to call for emergency prescriptions. Inventory was actually taken, but in addition the O’Malleys had Ed Stafford and Jim Throckmorton to dinner, along with Mark and Kira Endicott, and Kevin and Gina O’Malley. Sean joked that he invited his brother so that Jim would have someone to talk to when the rest of them got into medical matters. As it turned out that was an inspired decision. Kevin was also an architect, working for Kendall & Associates. Jim admired the work that firm did, and was dissatisfied drawing up plans for shopping malls at his present place of employment. Over the next few weeks, Jim looked over Kendall & Associates, and they looked him over, so that before March was out, Jim had become a new associate. That evening, it was determined that Jim was a second cousin once removed of Professor Bruce Throckmorton. Like the Professor in his younger days, Jim sported red hair, although he was not nearly as flamboyant as the Professor.
But Jim’s relationship with the Professor was not the only family matter discussed. Kayla asked Ed about his sister.
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “That should have warned me about my father’s temper. My sister is named Joanne. She was cut off just like me, but for very different reasons. Joanne had the misfortune, in my father’s eyes, to fall in love with an Hispanic fellow. Then, she made the situation even worse by becoming Catholic, and marrying him. She’s Joanne Calderón now. Has been for nearly twenty years. She’s older than me, you know. I’ve sort of kept up. Ramón, her husband, is a decent sort. I did tell Joanne about Mom, and about the move to Arizona.”
“Where are your sister and her family now?” Kayla wanted to know.
“Oh, they’re here in town. They’re having a rough time of it, too. I believe Ramón lost his job some time ago, and hasn’t been able to find work. And they have four kids.”
“What does your brother-in-law do?” Sean asked.
“He’s a carpenter. Does pretty decent work. I’ve seen some of the work he’s done around their place, and Jim and I had him over when we had a little problem in our apartment. But the construction industry seems to be glutted or something, and he is getting on. From what I understand, a forty year old man is just not marketable,” Ed replied.
“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see what we can do,” Sean said.
“You’ve already pulled off one magic sleight of hand. What else do you have in your bag of tricks?” Ed kidded, but sounded hopeful.
“Surely you’ve heard of Harvey Brothers Construction Co. You can’t have been in our neighborhood for the past twenty years and not know about them,” Sean suggested.
“Sure, but what makes you think Ramón would be taken on by them?” Ed asked.
“Not directly. My sister is Irene Harvey’s niece,” Kayla said.
“Your sister? That’s …”
“Sandy Todd,” supplied Kira. “Not only the richest woman in the neighborhood, but also the one with the biggest heart. If your brother-in-law is as good as you say, David will hire him on Sandy’s recommendation.”
“And if I ask her, Sandy will recommend him, again provided he really is that good,” Kayla stated.
“You really do have a bag of magic tricks, both of you,” Ed decided.
Kayla did speak to Sandy, of course, and Sandy spoke to David Harvey. Unlike some other companies, he had plenty of work going. The renovation of the Victoria, a vintage apartment building, certainly seemed to justify hiring another carpenter, so David agreed to give Ramón Calderón a trial run. Although Ed pronounced his brother-in-law’s name as though it were English, Kayla immediately made the transition, and used the Spanish pronunciation when she called the Calderón residence. That got things off to a positive start. Ramón was just a bit skeptical of an offer coming out of thin air, but he was desperate for work, so he showed up at the Victoria, and was given a day’s work by David. At the end of the day, after being carefully observed by both David and his son, who was supervising that job, Ramón was hired at a better wage than he had been getting before losing his previous job.
But the connections forged by way of the O’Malleys did not end there. Sean discovered that Ed and Jim were living in subsidized housing, and offered them the apartment above Stafford Pharmacy once the lease held by the college students expired at the end of May. That really appealed to Ed. He and Jim managed to put together a small amount of cash, and purchased one percent of the business, just so he could say he was co-owner without lying. Most of the customers assumed Ed was the new owner after his father retired, and both Sean and Kira were perfectly willing to allow them to go on thinking so. It was good for business.
About six weeks later, Sean received a letter from Henry Stafford asking that copies of the documents relating to the change in the business license be forwarded to him. He turned that matter over to Arnold Williams at the realtor’s office, but also showed the letter to Ed Stafford, who up to this point had no information as to exactly where his parents had relocated. Ed in turn talked with his partner Jim, who suggested checking out the retirement facility on the web. They found a web site for the facility, which looked very inviting. But, as they perused the Lifestyle page, they broke into raucous laughter. The site clearly stated that the facility was gay friendly. How Henry could have missed that was a mystery, but it served him right.