“Whatdaya mean, the Ragin’ Cajun’s closed?” Dave asked his boyfriend. It was nearly two o’clock and after trying for more than two hours to place an order for lunch from the Ragin’ Cajun through GrubHub, they’d finally been told that GrubHub was unable to reach anyone at the Ragin’ Cajun, even by phone.
Figuring that Asher was probably busy in the restaurant’s kitchen, Josh texted Asher’s boyfriend, Seth, to ask what was up. That was when he discovered that the Ragin’ Cajun was closed for the foreseeable future and possibly for good. “The fuckin’ Feds seized both of the Whites’ restaurants,” Josh went on to explain. “They just barged in last night and seized everything. Seth says it’s all because they’re trying to pressure his dad into a plea deal on the bogus corruption charges they’re holding against him.”
“What a crock of shit!” Dave responded. “The Ragin’ Cajun is one of the best restaurants in town, but the whole neighborhood relies on the Asian place. It’s the go-to place for Chinese food on the Lower East Side. It’s so unfair.”
“What are we gonna do about lunch?” Josh asked. “I’d make somethin’, but the cupboard’s pretty bare and we can’t exactly wait a couple of weeks for our groceries to be delivered.”
“There’s plenty of cereal,” Dave pointed out, earning a ‘yeah right’ look from his boyfriend.
“Lots of empty calories, and not even a carton of milk or yogurt with which to eat the cereal,” Came Josh’s retort, “and don’t even suggest eating it dry.” Then pausing for a moment, he continued, “I’ll text Robin and see if my sisters can pick up some basics at the local Swine Fare, and then maybe later, they can pick up more stuff at Trader Joe’s.”
“It’ll be nice to see Robin, if only from a distance, but what the fuck is Swine Fare?” David asked.
“You never heard it called that?” Josh asked, incredulously. “It’s what a lot of people call the Fine Fare across the street. In the meantime, why don’t I order a pizza from Alfonzo’s?”
“There are better pizza places by far,” Dave countered. “Besides, I’m really hungry. How about El Castillo De Jagua?”
Nodding his head, Josh replied, “I could definitely go for Dominican.”
Dave replied with, “Make it so, Number One.”
Faking a gag, Josh replied, “I get enough of that Star Trek shit from my sister, and Asher and Seth are Trek fanatics. For that, you can make the call.”
“Which means that I get to choose what to order,” Dave replied.
“Why not?” Josh asked. “You’re my boyfriend and you know what I like, and I trust you.” The kiss that resulted from that remark quickly led to more, and another half-hour passed before the starving teens got around to placing their order.
Alan Simon disconnected the call as the airplane he and his husband were taking taxied up to the gate at the McNamara Terminal, at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He’d traveled through this airport on many occasions, and always thought it strange that Delta’s primary hub would be given the name ‘Metro’, particularly when it was less than an hour’s drive from the Canadian border. He could think of many so-called international airports that lacked even the most rudimentary facilities for customs and immigration. Detroit Metro, in contrast, was a major international hub.
“Are the boys doing alright?” Alan’s husband, Peter, asked him.
“Dave still sounds like he’s in a bit of a daze,” Alan replied, “but his boyfriend seems to be helping his mood immensely.”
“That’s good,” Peter acknowledged. “I just hate to think of what may lay ahead.” They’d already discussed the possibility that Dave’s mother, Alan’s sister, Sandy, might not survive. Indeed, the odds against her seemed overwhelming. More than eighty percent of patients admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 pneumonia didn’t survive. Alan had been in contact with the doctors at Belleview and he knew that her course had been surprisingly rapid, and she was already on a ventilator, having presented with symptoms less than a day before. More typically, patients incubated the virus for a couple of weeks, developing symptoms long before the need for a ventilator.
Although the presentation of her pneumonia had been rapid, Sandy Schuster did have a number of things in her favor. At 38, she was much younger than most patients admitted to intensive care, and she had no significant preexisting medical conditions. Most people who succumbed to Covid-19 pneumonia had at least two confounding medical diagnoses. Even so, she was a nurse and healthcare workers even younger and healthier than her hadn’t made it, including the doctor who tried to warn the Chinese of the seriousness of the threat of this novel coronavirus. He was only 34.
No sooner had the plane come to a stop and the fasten seatbelt sings been turned off than the few passengers onboard, all of them socially distanced within first class and Comfort Plus, were up in the aisles, collecting their bags from the overhead bins. With so few passengers onboard, the plane was completely emptied and ready for deep cleaning in under five minutes.
Alan and Peter each had a roller carry-on bag and a backpack that together contained everything they might need for the next few weeks in New York. There was a shared garment bag in checked luggage, but neither man wanted to think of the contents, as it contained a pair of dark suits and dress clothes. The only reason they might need those was if there were a funeral to attend.
In happier times they’d have brought a lot more clothes for going out on the town. They loved all of the things that New York had to offer, from fine restaurants to outstanding theater, to some of the best LGBTQ nightlife the world had to offer. In happier times they would have spent countless days and nights in The Village, in Chelsea and places straight people didn’t even know existed. In happier times, they’d have endeavored to introduce Dave and Josh to some of the better places where gay teens could go. The boys were too young to go clubbing, but there were some great places for gay teens to meet other gay teens. But everything was closed.
McNamara was the main terminal for Delta Airlines at Detroit Metro, but with so few people flying, it was practically empty. Designed to funnel passengers from all over America as well as international passengers to connecting flights, it was a city unto itself, with numerous shops and restaurants all along its length, all of which were closed under the orders of the Governor of Michigan. There were a few shops open, offering essential items travelers might need, and there were numerous restaurants offering takeout service. However, Alan couldn’t really see the difference between buying food at a takeout counter and eating it in one of the waiting areas, versus sitting down and eating the same food at one of the tables that would otherwise be available for sit-down dine-in service.
Alan and Peter quickly located the gate for their next flight, which would be leaving in less than an hour. They didn’t bother with getting food in the terminal, such as it was. As passengers in first class, they’d been kept well-fed on the flight from Seattle, and they’d likely be well-fed on the flight to New York. Even though their original tickets were for economy seats, the boarding passes in their pockets had been upgraded to first class.
The departure gate was at the other end of the mile-long A Concourse and so the two men backtracked a bit and boarded a tram, which took them the rest of the way there. Not long after they arrived, the flight opened for boarding. As with the flight from Seattle, the airplane was an Airbus and not a Boeing aircraft – an A220 on the first leg and an A219 on the second. After stowing their carry-ons and backpacks in the overhead bins and taking their seats, a cute male flight attendant came by and took their drink orders. Alan sent a quick text to Dave to let him know they’d soon be on their way, and Dave texted back to wish them a safe flight. Alan and Peter both switched their phones into Airplane mode as the aircraft door was closed.
The pilot wasted little time in getting the plane underway, as with all the flight cancellations, the wait for a runway was less than half the usual time. The flight attendants had to rush through the safety demonstration before taking their seats for takeoff. With just over an hour of actual flight time, there was no meal served in the main cabin, and only a light meal served in first class. The meal was surprisingly good, though, consisting of a personal vegetarian pizza, a salad with greens and Mandarin orange wedges, and a brownie.
After landing at JFK’s Terminal 4, Alan and Peter went straight to the baggage pickup and found their garment bag already circulating on the carousel. Grabbing it, they bypassed the car rental counters and headed straight to the Arrivals area, taking a Hertz shuttle to the car pickup area a short distance away. As a Gold Priority corporate member, Alan could choose any available car parked in a Gold Priority space. There were a number of luxury vehicles available, but they chose a Nissan Rogue because of its good visibility, maneuverability and range on a tank of gas – an important factor in Manhattan with its dearth of gas stations. The ignition was keyless and the fob was in the cup holder. After sending a text to the boys to let them know they were on their way, they stopped at the toll gate to pick up the rental agreement, and then entered the Van Wyck Expressway. Traffic was nonexistent and the trip to the Lower East Side only took them a half-hour.
Upon arrival, they realized it was too late to pick up the parking pass and transponder that were waiting for them at the co-op office, so they waited under the Williamsburg Bridge, on Delancey Street, until another vehicle opened the gate to park, and then followed it inside. Parking in their assigned space, they sought out the security guard and showed her the letter acknowledging their temporary rental of the space. The rental car would have undoubtedly been safe if left overnight in the fenced lot, but Alan and Peter didn’t want to take a chance on it being towed.
Retrieving their luggage from behind the back seat, the men walked the short distance to the Hillman Cooperative Apartments, on Abraham E. Kazan Street and had the security guard let them into the building. Within moments they were standing in front of the Schusters’ apartment door. Alan didn’t hesitate to knock on the door, even though doing so represented a momentous step. Although he and his husband weren’t in any high-risk groups, the moment Dave opened the door, they’d both be all-in with respect to Covid-19. If Dave had the virus, then it was very likely they too would soon be infected. It was a significant commitment to make, but their nephew needed them now more than ever.
Alan shuddered to think of the possibility that his sister wouldn’t make it, even though the odds weren’t in her favor. He’d always looked up to his older sibling and she was the first person who knew he was gay. Indeed, it was she who helped him to accept himself for who he was. She was such a vital, vibrant woman and the one person he knew he could turn to for advice besides his husband. Losing her would leave a major hole in his heart and in his life, but that was nothing compared to what it would do to his nephew.
Dave had no other living relatives who could take him in. Dave’s life was in New York, but Alan’s life was in Seattle, as was Peter’s. If Sandy didn’t pull through, not only would Dave be devastated by the loss of his mother but unless Alan and Peter moved to New York, he’d be torn away from his life – torn away from his boyfriend and forced to move some three thousand miles away. That possibility was something Alan didn’t want to think about just now, although he knew he and Peter were committed to Dave’s well-being, no matter what.
The door opened and within an instant, Alan had a sobbing fourteen-year-old boy in his arms. As Alan held his nephew tightly, Josh thanked Alan and Peter profusely for flying across the country and he invited them into the apartment and closed the door behind them.
“How’s Sandy doing?” Peter asked as he passed.
Sighing, Josh replied, “There’s been no change. She’s in serious, but stable condition.”
“Well, stable’s better than the alternative,” he added.
“You got that right,” Josh agreed, then continued. “I’d offer you guys something to eat, but there isn’t anything left to eat in the apartment. With his mother working such long hours, Dave was ordering most of his meals out, even before Sandy got sick,” he apologized. “When he remembered to eat,” he added.
“I take it that by breaking quarantine, we’re not exactly free to go grocery shopping either?” Peter asked.
“I’m not sure, but probably not,” Josh answered. “However, my sisters will go shopping for us in the morning,” he added. “With three of them to lug it all back, they can pick up enough food from Target and Trader Joe’s to feed an army.”
“Or at least two teenage boys,” Peter responded with a laugh.
When Kyle turned over in bed and felt only empty space where his mind told him his boyfriend should be, he awakened. Coming to full consciousness and realizing that indeed that Freck wasn’t there, he headed out into the hall and went to look for him. The bathroom door was wide open and it was dark inside, so Kyle presumed his boyfriend hadn’t gotten up to take a leak. The loud snoring coming from the bedroom next to his told him his brother was fast asleep.
Walking across the entry foyer, he crossed over to the other set of bedrooms, passed the guest room and checked inside Freck’s bedroom to find that it too was empty, as was the bathroom in-between. His house was a front-to-back split level, built into the hillside, such that bedrooms and the entryway were on the top floor. Most of the houses of similar design around them had long ago been torn down to make way for ostentatious mansions that allowed their owners to show off their wealth. Kyle’s house was designed to blend into their surroundings, and it had been beautifully renovated, so his family saw no need to replace it. Besides which, the design afforded them complete privacy and since they were all guys, it was possible for them to forgo wearing any clothes as Kyle was doing now.
Heading down the first set of stairs, Kyle saw that the great room and kitchen were dark, making it extremely unlikely that his boyfriend was there. Kyle wasn’t expecting to find Freck on the main level in any case. Heading down the next set of stairs brought him to the level under the upstairs bedrooms, which included the utility room, laundry room, his fathers’ workshop and the master bedroom suite. Kyle didn’t even bother stopping as he descended the final set of stairs, bringing him to the lower level, with the rec room and indoor pool. The sound of splashing water told Kyle he’d found his boyfriend, right where he expected to find him.
The pool was originally built as an in-ground outdoor pool and later enclosed, adding a terrace directly above it that led off the great room upstairs. The addition of floor-to-ceiling glass French doors between the pool deck and an outdoor patio allowed for the pool to be fully enclosed in the winter months, but could be opened when it was warm outside. As it was still April, it was too cool to open the doors and so the sound of Freck’s splashing echoed loudly in the pool room. However, as Freck was an experienced swimmer and on the Stuyvesant swim team, the splashing was much more muted than it would have been with a less experienced swimmer such as Kyle. It was ironic that Freck, who’d never learned how to swim before coming to live with Kyle, had become an expert swimmer whereas Kyle, who grew up in a house with an indoor pool, was a mere novice.
Freck hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights in the pool room and so he swam in the dark, illuminated only by the pool’s safety lights, which always remained on. The effect was of a soft glow that suffused the room, with shifting patterns of light as Freck disturbed the surface of the water. Apparently, he hadn’t heard his boyfriend enter, as he continued to swim his laps. Under different circumstances, Kyle would’ve dived in and gotten under him and grabbed his dick, but this was not the time for that. Clearly he’d gotten up because something was on his mind and he couldn’t sleep.
Rather than diving in, Kyle sat down on the side of the pool and let his legs dangle over the edge and into the water. He figured the disturbance would be enough to get his boyfriend’s attention, and it did. Swimming up to the side of the pool, his head popped out of the water and he pushed himself out the rest of the way, turned around and sat next to Kyle.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Kyle asked his boyfriend.
“Way too much on my mind,” Freck acknowledged. “This whole Covid-19 thing has upended our lives. The dads are busy beyond belief, school’s ground to a halt and although we’re nearly done for the year, some of our friends are struggling to finish up online. Just when I was beginning to reconnect with my mom, we went on lockdown and I have to settle for texts, FaceTime conversations and plain old email.
“We’re supposed to start fellowships at the American Museum of Natural History in the summer, but now we’re gonna hafta stay home and do our fellowship online…”
“At least they weren’t outright cancelled,” Kyle pointed out.
“Yeah, I know I should be glad that Seth’s Grandfathers are willing to let us do that,” Freck acknowledged.
Then turning his head to face Kyle directly, he continued, “I got the strangest email from Josh early this morning.”
“Is Dave’s mom okay?” Kyle asked. “Did Dave’s uncles arrive okay?”
“There’s been no change with Dave’s mom,” Freck answered, “and he didn’t even mention his uncles, so I presume they got in fine. I guess he was having trouble sleeping and he sent me an email asking if I knew anything about Kawasaki Disease.”
“Isn’t that a rare kind of inflammatory vascular disease in children?” Kyle asked.
Laughing, Freck responded, “I told him he shoulda asked you. I hadta look it up, which of course he’d already done.”
“What in the world does Kawasaki Disease have to do with anything?” Kyle asked.
“He got a call from his old boyfriend,” Freck answered.
“Dmitri?” Kyle asked.
“Damn, you have a good memory,” Freck responded. “I guess Dmitri called Josh while he was waiting for Dave’s uncles to arrive. Of course, Josh was more intent on helping his current boyfriend rather than the one who broke up with him, but it turned out Dmitri called cause he’s in the hospital. He’s in Maimonides Children’s Hospital and they think he has Kawasaki Syndrome, or something like it.”
“Fuck, it sounds serious,” Kyle responded, “Maimonides is in Borough Park. It’s a pediatric trauma center. The only one in Brooklyn, I think.”
“Shit, do you ever forget anything?” Freck asked rhetorically, and then continued. “Apparently they’ve seen a few cases in the last two weeks and they think it may be associated with Covid-19.”
“Dmitri has Covid-19?” Kyle asked.
Shaking his head, Freck answered, “He didn’t have any symptoms, but apparently Manhattan Beach is a major hot spot in New York, and it has one of the highest death rates in the city.”
“Fuck,” Kyle quietly exclaimed.
“So Dmitri didn’t know what was going on when he developed a fever and red patches spread all over his skin,” Freck continued. “He was admitted to a local hospital and then transferred to Maimonides when they found he had pericarditis and an irregular heartbeat. Of course they tested him for coronavirus but it wasn’t until after he’d been transferred that the results came back. The test was positive.” To most kids, the term ‘pericarditis’ would have left them scratching their heads, but Freck and Kyle both knew that the sack that surrounds and lines the heart is called the pericardium.
“So how’s he doing?” Kyle asked.
“According to Josh, other than feeling like there’s fire running through his veins, he feels okay,” Freck answered. “I guess they’re giving him IV immunoglobulin and high-dose aspirin, and it seems to be working. Of course Josh is pretty broken up about it, now that he’s had some time for it to sink in. He’s been preoccupied with Dave, but Dmitri was his first boyfriend and they were together for a long time before Josh moved to the Lower East Side.”
“You know, this could be huge,” Kyle commented. “If the SARS-CoV-2 virus is somehow responsible for Dmitri’s Kawasaki Disease, then maybe it could cause other autoimmune disorders, the way you can get shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia as an adult from having had chicken pox as a kid. Or long-term disability, like with rheumatic fever or Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
“Now that’s a cheery thought,” Freck replied. “But there could be a silver lining. Maybe if Kawasaki Disease turns out to be associated with Covid-19, then kids won’t be so cavalier when it comes to social distancing and the like.”
“Nor will their parents,” Kyle agreed. “They may not care about grandma getting sick and passing away, but they might think twice when it comes to their kids.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” Freck countered. “Look at all the anti-vaxers. Science and logic go out the window when they hear about conspiracies on Fox News or read about them on Facebook.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Kyle responded. “Wouldn’t it be rich if scientists come up with an effective vaccine in record time, only for people to refuse it?”
“Better to let millions die of Covid-19 than to take a chance on a vaccine developed by those evil scientists who are doing the Devil’s work.” Freck agreed.
“Yes, I see,” Dave heard his Uncle Alan say into his phone. Dave had just gotten up to use the bathroom, when he heard voices coming from the kitchen. He entered the kitchen, just in time to see Alan disconnect the call. Alan looked up at Dave with an unreadable expression as Dave just stood there silently.
Dressed only in his boxers, Dave hadn’t planned to do more than go to the bathroom and go back to bed. Yesterday had been exhausting and his body was telling him he needed more sleep.
Josh, similarly attired, walked into the kitchen and slipped his arm around his boyfriend and asked, “What’s up?”
To the uncles it was still very early back in Seattle and their jet lag was only compounded by having gotten to bed very late. Alan nevertheless had woken early, partly because the light streaming in through the bedroom window told his brain it was later than he felt it should be, and partly because he was very worried about his sister. He and Peter had already showered and gotten dressed, and were in the process of making coffee and attempting to put together some semblance of breakfast.
At least there was enough coffee in the apartment for two adults and two teens, but otherwise there was only an open box of dry cereal and no milk or yogurt with which to eat it. He’d just located an unopened jar of applesauce that he thought might serve as a substitute, but then his phone rang.
“That was the hospital,” Alan began. “Your mother had a very rough night. They had to increase her ventilator pressure settings, just to keep her oxygen saturation up, but they’ve run into difficulty keeping her blood pressure up. Apparently, the two things are connected because increasing the pressure in the chest reduces venous return of blood to the heart, lowering blood pressure. It’s a bit of a ‘Catch 22’.
“They’ve downgraded her condition to critical,” Alan continued, “but cautioned against treating it as anything more than a precaution. Her doctors are still confident she can pull through this, Dave. Your mother’s a fighter. She didn’t allow the virus to keep her from treating her patients and it won’t keep her from returning home to her son.”
Sensing his boyfriend’s building panic, Josh pulled Dave into his arms and held him tightly, rubbing his back and soothing him as Dave began to cry in earnest. Josh himself was going through a lot. In addition to dealing with his boyfriend’s mother’s illness, he’d just learned that his first boyfriend, Dmitri, was in the hospital and battling some sort of mystery illness himself. He was no longer close to Dmitri, but they’d been boyfriends for three years and Josh was worried about him.
Putting his hand on Dave’s shoulder, Peter said, “I know how hard this is on you, Dave, and the worry about your mom is only part of it. Not knowing what’s going on and not being able to be there must be horrible, isn’t it?” Dave merely nodded his head through the tears. “If anything happened to my mom,” Peter continued, “I wouldn’t find out about it until I read her obituary in the newspaper, and I wouldn’t dare attend the funeral. I’d totally be shunned. Since coming out, I’m no longer welcome by my family.”
“Are you sayin’ my mother’s gonna die?” Dave asked.
Realizing the colossal mistake he’d made in his choice of words, Peter countered, “Of course not. I was just trying to tell you that you’re not alone. We’re here for you, Dave. We’ll always be there when you need us. But your mother’s strong and she’ll pull through this.”
Looking at the items on the counter, Josh responded, “Please tell me you weren’t planning to serve us Cocoa Puffs with apple sauce.”
Chuckling, Alan answered, “It’s not like we have an extensive menu from which to choose, you know.” Even Dave laughed at that.
“Speaking of menus, why don’t we just order out?” Josh suggested. “Zafi’s is on the next block and the food’s not bad as traditional diners go. They do a first-class breakfast.”
“Yeah, Zafi’s is a great idea,” Dave agreed wholeheartedly as he grabbed his iPhone, saw the shattered screen and threw it back down in disgust. “It’s easier to see the menu on a larger screen anyway,” he said as he retreated to his bedroom and returned a moment later with an iPad and pulled up the menu on GrubHub.
“Isn’t Katz’s Deli nearby?” Alan asked. “We ate there the last time we visited, and the food was excellent.”
“Yeah but it’s a deli,” Josh countered. “It’s great if you want a pastrami on rye, but not good if you want a frittata or a lox omlet. Russ and Daughters Café’s around the corner from Katz’s, and they have a much better breakfast menu, but their prices are more appropriate to the Upper East Side.” Dave pulled up the menu and the four men and teens poured over it.
“I think we can handle it,” Alan replied as he suggested ordering a platter and some sides. They ended up agreeing on a smoked whitefish and salmon platter, which came with a basket with breads and bagels, and also ordered side dishes of potato pancakes, knishes and blintzes to share.
“Any word on Dmitri?” Dave asked his boyfriend as they waited for the food to arrive.
“Dmitri?” Peter asked.
“He was my first boyfriend,” Josh explained. “We were together since the sixth grade, but then he broke up with me when we moved to the Lower East Side. Anyway, Manhattan Beach, which is where we used to live, is a major hotspot for Covid-19, with one of the highest death rates in the city. I think maybe it’s because orthodox Russian Jews aren’t prone to social distancing, but in any case, Dmitri’s in Maimonides Children’s Hospital with some kind of syndrome with a Japanese name. They think that maybe it’s somehow related to the coronavirus. Dmitri tested positive for it, but he didn’t even know he had it.”
Doing a quick search on his phone, Alan asked, “Is it Kawasaki Disease?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Josh acknowledged.
“That sounds like it’s pretty rare, and it usually affects kids a lot younger than someone your age,” Alan continued.
“Yeah, Dmitri said that Maimonides usually sees maybe one case a year, but now they have three or four cases like his,” Josh explained, then added, “I’ll send him a text to see how he’s doing.” Moments later, his phone rang and Dmitri’s smiling, twelve-year-old face appeared on his lock screen. “Josh answered, “Dmitri?”
“Hey, Joshy,” Dmitri replied. “Sorry to call, but it hurts to text. This Kawa-kooky thing’s painful as shit and my fingertips are peelin’, man.”
“Fuck,” Josh responded.
“It ain’t that easy to talk either,” Dmitri went on, “so I’ll keep it short. The important thing is that the docs say I’m gonna be okay. My heart’s back to normal and I guess the blood tests look good. I still don’t have no symptoms of Covid itself. If I keep gettin’ better, they think maybe I can go home in a few.”
“That’s good,” Josh replied.
“Anyway, how’s Dave’s mom doin’?” Dmitri asked.
“She’s about the same,” Josh answered. He didn’t think it was worth telling Dmitri that she was a bit worse, and he didn’t want Dave to think about it either, and so he kept it to himself.
“Tell Dave I hope she gets better soon, then,” Dmitri responded.
“I’ll do that,” Josh agreed, and added, “You too, bud,” and then terminated the call, just as the food arrived.
Seth turned over in bed and reached out to snuggle with Asher, only to find that he wasn’t there. Opening his eyes, he saw that the other half of the bed was empty and so he got up, slid on a pair of boxer briefs and went in search of his husband. To Seth it still seemed surreal to call his boyfriend that, but legally they were now married and there was nothing he could or would do to change that. From a financial standpoint, the marriage might end up being a disaster, but Ashe was the love of his life and for a year-and-a-half, it had been a matter of when and not if they married.
First stopping in the bathroom to empty his distended bladder, Seth headed out into central area of their apartment. As he did so, it dawned on him that today was Asher’s sixteenth birthday. As he entered the dining room, which served as the nexus between the two apartments they’d joined together, Seth spotted Ashe in the kitchen, dressed in khakis but barefoot and shirtless. Seth thought the contrast of his husband’s mocha-colored skin against the light tan of the khakis looked incredibly sexy.
Asher was busy at work preparing something for breakfast. If it were anyone else, Seth would’ve told them to relax and let someone else do the cooking on their birthday, but cooking was Asher’s way of unwinding. There was no place where Asher felt more at home than in the kitchen.
“Whatcha making?” Seth asked.
“Breakfast pizza,” Ashe answered.
“What the fuck’s a breakfast pizza,” Seth couldn’t help but ask.
“A pizza with eggs, shrimp, bacon, spicy sausage, bell peppers, jalapeños and creole salsa,” Asher answered.
“Sort of like a cross between huevos rancheros and shrimp creole pizza?” Seth asked.
“Exactly,” Asher replied.
“Sounds yummy…” Seth responded, “If it doesn’t erode the lining of my stomach, that is.” They both laughed at that.
“So how long before it’s done?” Seth asked.
“Fifteen… maybe twenty minutes,” Asher replied.
“Good,” Seth responded. “That’s enough time for me to grab a shower and get dressed.”
“Only because you don’t need to shave,” Asher teased.
Sighing, Seth responded, “Sometimes I hate it that I have such a baby face… that I still look like I’m twelve…”
“I happen to love that baby face,” Asher countered.
“I know you do,” Seth answered, “and I’m not complaining about not having to shave, but for fuck sake, I’m almost fifteen.”
“And perfect,” Asher countered as he gave Seth a brief peck on the lips, “just the way you are. Now go take your shower, before your breakfast gets cold.”
“Yes sir,” Seth replied with a salute.
Asher briefly enjoyed the view of his husband’s retreating back side, and then he returned to kneading the dough for his creation. When he was satisfied with the consistency of the dough, he spun and tossed it with ease into a perfect circle and placed it onto a circular baking sheet. It fit perfectly. Frying up a package of turkey bacon on the built-in griddle on the stove, he cracked open a dozen large eggs into a mixing bowl and whisked them to perfection. Slicing and crumbling the crisp turkey bacon, he added it to the eggs, followed by his home-made turkey sausage and shrimp after browning them on the griddle as well. He quickly sliced, diced and added a couple of red and green bell peppers and a couple of jalapeños.
After covering the pizza dough with a layer of grated mozzarella, he stuck it under the broiler for a minute to melt and brown the cheese. Asher then poured the egg mixture over the pizza and then slid it back under the broiler until the eggs had set. he removed the pizza, added a layer of his home-made salsa followed by a layer of grated parmesan, and then slid the pizza to a four-hundred-degree oven. A few minutes later, he removed the golden-brown pizza and sliced it four ways with a pizza knife, into eight slices. It smelled heavenly.
He was just getting the coffee maker ready to grind and brew a pot of coffee when a bleary-eyed Frank Moore strolled into the kitchen, followed by his wife, Julie. Asher greeted Seth’s parents, and Julie asked, “What’s that wonderful smell?”
“An experiment,” he replied. “It’s a breakfast pizza… kind of a mix of American, Italian and Cajun traditions.”
“Based on the success of your past experiments, I’m sure, it’ll be an amazing success,” Frank chimed in.
“One of these days I’m gonna flop,” Asher countered.
“I seriously doubt that,” Frank responded. “I have no doubt that you’ll be successful no matter what you do. I’m more worried about the restaurant business in general.”
“A lot of places aren’t gonna make it,” Asher agreed. “It kills me that they took my parent’s takeout place, though. They were actually making more money during the pandemic than ever before. If they can just get their restaurant back, I think they’ll do okay. It might be just as well that we lost the Ragin’ Cajun, though,” Asher continued. “We were probably gonna hafta start over anyway, so it’s probably for the best that we’re bein’ forced to sit out the pandemic. Maybe after Seth and I finish college, we can start over when there’s already a vaccine for the coronavirus, so we won’t hafta worry about it. But even if it’s still around, I have some ideas for how to design a pandemic-proof restaurant.”
“How would you do that?” Seth asked as he returned from his shower, dressed similarly to Asher in only a pair of khakis.
“There are basically three ways of transmitting a virus,” Asher responded. “There’s the so-called fecal oral route, physical contact and respiratory transmission. Coronaviruses in general can be transmitted all three ways. The only risk of fecal transmission is in the restrooms, where we’ll use self-disinfecting toilets and contactless faucets and soap dispensers. The use of hand sanitizer at the table should be sufficient to prevent contact transmission, but just in case, we can provide hot, moist disinfectant towels to each patron at the start of the meal. No one will turn down a hot moist towel. Of course we’d completely disinfect the seats and table’s between patrons. Dilute bleach would be sufficient for that.
“That leaves airborne transmission as our primary worry…”
“And masks would work great for that, except that you can’t wear a mask while eating,” Seth interrupted. “Maybe you could have an ultraviolet spotlight above each table,” he suggested.
Laughing, Asher replied, “Not only would you burn people’s skin off their hands, but it might not even be strong enough to kill the virus before it traverses the table. That might be a quick way to disinfect the seats and tables between guests though.
“No, we have to isolate each table from the others and help to isolate our customers from each other. I can design a restaurant with all booths and partition them so there’s no contact between them. The issue is to prevent friends from giving the virus to each other. Coughing is the most visible way that happens, but there’s good evidence that the virus is aerosolized by the vocal cords and can be transmitted, just from normal conversation. Nothing’s a hundred percent, but if I put a HEPA filtration unit in the center of each table, I think I could capture nearly all the viral droplets before they get beyond each individual patron.”
“Wouldn’t there be quite a draft from all that air flow, Asher,” Julie asked.
“Not to mention how noisy that kind for air movement could be,” Frank chimed in. “It would defeat the purpose if people have to speak so loudly to overcome the noise that they expel more virus in the process.”
“I’ve got some good ideas for both issues,” Asher replied. “Firstly, by using large vents and large diameter ductwork, we could keep the actual flow rate very low. It’d be a laminar flow system like what you have in hospitals, so it’d be quiet and there wouldn’t be any draft. The key is to design the restaurant that way from the ground up. Retrofitting an existing restaurant could be prohibitive, although I might be able to develop a portable unit for places that can’t afford anything else.”
“You could make a business of it,” Frank suggested. “You could design virus-free restaurants for a living… maybe you could go into business with Freck. I’d be willing to invest in it too… if I don’t end up going to jail, that is.”
Shaking his head, Asher responded, “But the time Freck and I finish school and are in a position to go into business together, the pandemic will be over, one way or the other. If it’s not, we’ll be in much graver danger than that from failing restaurants.
“Anyway, let’s eat.” As expected, Asher’s pizza was extraordinary.
The sound of a chime playing on Jeff’s phone let him know he had a new text message. Picking up his phone, he saw that Home Depot had sent a text indicating his order had just been delivered. Turning to face his partner, Paul, he announced, “Looks like our stuff’s here.”
“Thank God for that,” Paul responded as he polished off the last of his pancakes, popping a last forkful into his mouth. “Any more food like this and we’ll both need to buy a completely new wardrobe every three months. I’m not getting enough exercise as it is, and my metabolism can’t keep up with a diet of take-out food.”
No doubt about that,” Jeff agreed. “Let’s go grab our packages and set up our temporary kitchen.”
“You want us to grab our packages in our temporary kitchen?” Paul asked teasingly. “Wouldn’t it be more fun to grab each other’s packages?”
“Very funny,” Jeff replied. “We can grab those later, after I review the submissions that arrived in my inbox this morning.” As the editor in chief for a couple of major astrophysics journals, Jeff never lacked for things that kept him busy. Between editing papers, reviewing grant applications and serving on committees and study sections, it seemed he spent far more time on other people’s research than on his own. That was the price of success. “In the meantime, let’s go grab our Home Depot packages.”
Much as they hated to cook, the cereal and toast they usually enjoyed in the morning and the prepared meals they usually nuked in the evening were significantly healthier than what they were eating now. Biting the bullet, they decided to buy some makeshift appliances and set up a temporary kitchen in the dining room. They also realized they needed to resume physical activity as much as possible, but at their age, exercising outdoors among other people carried some risk.
They spent a fair bit of time reading articles from Consumer Reports and reading online reviews of appliances and exercise equipment. For the kitchen, a small refrigerator and microwave oven would suffice, but there were so many options for exercise equipment, ranging from free weights to elaborate home gyms that the reviews left them baffled.
“None of the exercise equipment will do us any good if we don’t use it,” Paul had commented in frustration.
“So maybe we should focus on an internet-connected home gym with a simulated trainer to whip us into shape,” Jeff had replied. “Most of them are very expensive, and they have a monthly fee, not unlike a gym membership.”
“Nothing is more expensive than medical care,” Paul had commented, “and the cost of having a coronary would be much worse than the cost of a home gym, not to mention that I don’t want to take a chance on losing you, Jeff.” A lot of tears had been shed after Paul made that comment.
In the end, they decided on ordering a connected stationary bicycle and a compact, connected home gym. Both had stellar reviews but with the lockdown, they were backordered and would not arrive for months. Paul hated to pull strings but in his role as a museum director, he spent much of his time hobnobbing with rich donors. He put out some feelers and was surprised when it was Freck’s biologic father, Frank San Angelo, who came through for them, arranging for delivery and installation of a top-of-the-line home gym, exercise bike and treadmill, all at cost. Frank and Paul mused at how Freck’s dad could be so generous when it came to his personal contacts, yet so distant from his own son.
Ordering appliances for their temporary kitchen went much more smoothly, and they were even able to find a line of retro appliances in a red finish from Galanz that would blend quite well with the appliances they would be installing in their new kitchen. As such, they could continue to use them afterwards, perhaps in their den. Better yet, they were in stock at both Home Depots in Manhattan and available for immediate delivery. They ordered a small seven-cubic-foot refrigerator and a microwave oven, as well as a dual-burner induction hotplate as a safe, temporary stovetop for things they couldn’t nuke.
Donning their masks, they opened the door to find it virtually blocked by three large boxes. “Shit, how are we supposed to get those boxes inside here?” Paul asked.
Resting his chin on his right hand as he stood in front of the door, Jeff responded, “Perhaps we could push the two boxes on the right the side just enough to climb over the bottom one. Then we can open the boxes while they’re still in the hall, where there’s more room. Once we have everything inside, we can break the boxes down and take them downstairs for recycling.”
Sighing, Paul agreed, “I guess that’s a plan.”
More than three hours later, the refrigerator, microwave and hotplate were plugged in and operational and the boxes were broken down for recycling and downstairs – and the two men were both hungry. Rather than ordering out, they decided to pick up some groceries instead. They grabbed their cart and headed to the West 82nd Street Grocery, over on Broadway. It was their first time venturing out of their apartment since the city went into lockdown, and both men couldn’t help but be struck by how quiet the streets were. They literally encountered only a handful of other people, also heading out to do their shopping, and not a single person in a car.
“Something sure smells good,” Freck commented as he sauntered into the great room.
“It’s grilled salmon, with wild rice, braised carrots and creamed spinach,” Kyle’s brother, Roger answered.
“How were you able to find the ingredients for that?” Freck asked. “I thought the stores were out of anything that’s decent, and deliveries are running way behind.”
“I subscribed us to a meal plan,” Roger answered smugly. “Three meal plans actually. There are a lot of companies taking advantage of the lockdown, and the whole meal kit thing’s become popular, but mostly with young singles and couples. With everyone staying home, they see this as a chance to attract families to buy their products, so several meal plans are having sales. I signed up for Blue Apron, Home Chef and Sun Basket.
“Since the dads are eating nearly all their meals at the hospital these days, meal plans designed for a family of four are perfect for three teenage boys, and we’re paying half the regular price. The meals range in price from about ten to fifteen dollars per serving, and so we’re getting a great deal for the first few weeks, paying only twenty to thirty dollars per meal for all of us. Even if we stick with one or more of the plans after the special is over, it’ll still be cheaper than ordering out for meals, and healthier too. Besides which, I enjoy cooking… just not the prep work, and this takes care of that.”
“You cook it, we eat it… it’s a perfect division of labor I think,” Freck added
“So how long before dinner’s ready?” Kyle asked as he entered the kitchen and joined in on the conversation.
Shrugging his shoulders, Roger answered, “About twenty minutes.”
“That’s enough time for a quick swim,” Freck responded as he turned and ran naked down the stairs, heading toward the pool. Kyle followed, intent on something that had nothing to do with swimming.
“You’re sure she’s doin’ better?” Dave asked for about the third time.
“Yes, David, the proning seems to be working,” the resident physician taking care of Sandy Schuster confirmed. “Her O2 sats are up, her blood pressure’s up and her fever’s down. Not that she’s out of the woods, but she’s no longer in critical condition.”
“Thanks Randy,” Dave responded, calling the resident by his first name as he’d insisted on being called. “Thanks for giving me the first good news I’ve had since my mom got sick.”
“Hey, we take care of our own,” Randy replied before disconnecting the call.
“So I take it she’s doing better?” Alan asked with hope in his voice.
“Yeah,” Dave replied. “They’ve been trying something new,” he continued. “They’ve found that Covid-19 patients do way better when lying prone, lying on their stomachs rather than on their backs. They don’t understand why, but it seems to work.
“Anyway, if she does well overnight, they’re gonna put in a tracheostomy tube tomorrow, ’cause she’ll need to be on the ventilator for a while and it’s easier to prone someone with a trach than if they have a tube sticking outta their mouth. It’s supposed to be minor surgery, but they’ll need to call you in the morning to get your consent, since Mom can’t exactly give it and I’m a minor, and you’re her healthcare proxy.”
“Of course I’ll give consent,” Alan responded. “This really is good news,” he agreed.
Although it was still pretty early in the evening, Alan and Peter were tired from waking up early. Their internal clocks were telling them it was only the afternoon, but the fading sunlight in combination with the lack of sleep was convincing their bodies otherwise. Further, it had been a very busy day and they were utterly exhausted.
Much of the day had been spent making arrangements for a virtual patient visit of Dave with his primary care physician, and for testing him for the coronavirus. It was time well spent, however, as the visit yielded critical information – that Dave’s self-quarantine could be shortened if he twice tested negative and remained asymptomatic. The reality was that by the time he got the second test results, it would be nearly two weeks anyway, but of greater significance was that Josh, Alan and Peter would not need to self-quarantine at all unless Dave either became symptomatic or had a positive test result.
With the city on lockdown, that still didn’t allow them much freedom, but since the uncles had access to a rental car, they could actually go out on errands and shop for groceries. They’d already made arrangements to take Dave to a drive-through testing facility in Queens in the morning. Robin brought them a few basic food supplies earlier in the day, but tomorrow they’d drive across the bridge into Brooklyn and pick up a ton of groceries at Wegman’s. It was a chain Alan and Peter had heard about but didn’t have in Seattle. Actually, neither Dave nor Josh had shopped there either, because it was fairly new and because it took an hour by public transportation to get there. By car, however, it was less than ten minutes away, as it was within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, just across the East River from Co-op Village.
Although they all went to bed early, Dave was still too fearful for his mom to even think about having sex with his boyfriend. Instead, the boys cuddled in bed and talked into the early morning hours. They didn’t talk about anything in particular, but it was their first real bit of quality time together. The talked about school and whether or not they’d be able to have physical classes in the fall. They talked about what it would be like for Dave to attend Stuyvesant High School as a new freshman while Josh continued there, now as a sophomore. They talked about the search for a vaccine and other treatments for Covid-19, and what Dmitri’s illness could portend. They talked about the coming presidential election, about who the Democrats might select for vice president and the pros and cons of particular women that had been mentioned as candidates. It was as they were talking about if and when the city might start to open up again that first Dave, and then Josh fell asleep.
All too soon there was a knock on the door as Alan came to wake the boys. To both boys it felt like they had just gone to sleep but as Alan reminded them, Dave had an appointment for Covid-19 testing in less than two hours. There was barely enough time for them to dress, grab a quick breakfast and drive out to Queens in time for the appointment. They were heading across the Williamsburg Bridge by 9:00 and were soon heading up the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or the BQE as it was affectionately known to New Yorkers. Traffic was nonexistent on the BQE, as it was on the Long Island Expressway, the LIE, which more often than not was described as being the world’s longest parking lot. They arrived in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park well ahead of schedule, but soon found themselves stuck in a long line of cars that were waiting for coronavirus testing. Flushing Meadows was the sight of the 1964 World’s Fair and the Unisphere, the very symbol of the fair, still dominated the sprawling park. The park now housed the Queens Zoo as well as the Queens Museum, which was the home of the world-famous Panorama of the City of New York – a scale model of the entire city that was featured at the fair and later updated for the museum. Although the Panorama was prominently featured in the Amazon movie production, Wundstruck, neither boy had ever seen it in person, nor would they today, as the museum was closed because of the pandemic.
A tent was set up at the far end of the park for drive-through coronavirus testing and the line of cars waiting their turn seemed endless. Although it was a drive-through testing site, patients still need to present with a physician’s prescription in hand and they still had to have made an appointment online. Due to the nature of the pandemic, facsimile prescriptions were allowed and so Alan had printed out the one that Dave’s physician had sent as a PDF attachment via NYU’s online patient access site. As they finally got close to the front of the line, a man wearing a mask and gloves knocked on Alan’s window and then handed Alan a couple of forms through the window. Alan signed the consent form and filled in a lengthy questionnaire to make sure Dave qualified for testing, and then handed both forms, along with the prescription, back to the man as he stood outside the car door. The man then handed back an instruction sheet with general information on the test and instructions on how to access the test results online. Moments later, Dave was instructed to roll down his window and a woman dressed in full Hazmat gear unceremoniously stuck a long cotton swab up Dave’s nose, and then planted it inside a matching plastic vile that was labeled with Dave’s name, date of birth and a patient ID number. The vial was dropped into a plastic zip-lock bag, which was dropped into what looked like a ballot box, and then Alan was instructed to drive away.
It would have been a simple matter to stop at Wegman’s on the way home, but Dave was still under quarantine and so they drove back home to drop the boys off first. Alan and Peter then headed back to Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge and with the aid of Peter’s phone and navigation skills, were soon parked in Wegman’s parking lot. The store itself, which was much larger than most grocery stores in New York, was considerably smaller than the sprawling suburban stores for which the chain was known. It reminded Alan of the Whole Foods on Houston Street that he’d visited the last time he’d been in town. However, Wegman’s clearly catered to a broader clientele, with many less-expensive alternatives and their own store brand alongside the gourmet brands they featured.
The store was relatively compact, with shelves extending well overhead and both wheeled ladders and helpful store personnel to retrieve the items located on the highest shelves. Fully half the floorspace was devoted to fresh, prepared foods on a much grander scale than any they’d previously seen. Not even Whole Foods could compare, as counter after counter of self-serve buffets offered every kind of food imaginable, but all of them were closed. There simply was no way self-serve items could be sold in the face of a global pandemic, and so only the deli counters were open, serving take-out items prepared by people dressed in full PPE regalia. Remembering hearing the boys complain about how their favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in the East Village had closed, even for takeout, the men decided to pick up a full assortment of sushi to take home after they finished the rest of their shopping.
By the time Alan and Peter finished at Wegman’s some two hours later, they’d bought enough groceries to completely fill the back of the small SUV they’d rented, as well as the back seat and the floor of the back seat. They only hoped they could find enough room to put it all away when they got back to the apartment.
“What’s wrong, Hun?” Paul asked his partner, sitting down next to him on the living room sofa.
At first, Jeff didn’t seem to hear him as he just stared off into space, but then he turned to face Paul and replied, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong, really. It’s just that the isolation is beginning to get to me. I just finished conferencing with the twins and I’m missing them, you know?” Jeff was referring to his twin sons who lived in The Village, Brad, who was the chairman of Economics at New York University, and Lyle, who was the dean of the Business School.
“Don’t I know it,” replied Paul. “With a daughter in Australia, I don’t see her much anyway, but I have a son, a grandson and now a grandson-in-law, right here in New York. Not seeing them other than by FaceTime is killing me.”
“And we lost a colleague and for me, a friend today,” Jeff continued.
“We did?” Paul asked.
“Did you know Sam Weiss?” Jeff asked.
“Not well, but of course I’m familiar with his work and we’ve funded some of his research at Princeton,” Paul answered.
“Sam and I had become good friends over the years,” Jeff responded. “He and I served on many of the same committees and we went on many of the same site visits for the National Science Foundation. Sam had a wife and kids, and grandkids, so it’s not like we had a relationship or anything, but we became close enough that we sometimes shared a hotel room when we attended meetings. He’s one of the few people who knew I was gay, even when I still had a wife myself.
“His wife called me just before the videoconference with my sons,” Jeff continued. “Apparently, Sam came down with Covid-19 a few weeks ago and ended up in intensive care at Tom Jeff in Philadelphia. Sam passed away last night and of course the funeral’s for the immediate family only. His family couldn’t even be with him when he passed. How cruel is that?”
Putting his arm around his partner, Paul responded, “Gees, that could have been either of us.”
Turning back to look directly at Paul, Jeff agreed, “I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you, particularly after finding you again after all these years.”
“You know I feel the same,” Paul added, and then he put his hand behind Jeff’s neck and pulled them together into a long and passionate kiss. It was as if each one was trying to protect the other through their love, and it didn’t stop with just a kiss.
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.