The next day I waited patiently for Tomas to come over at his scheduled time. Since it was still ten in the morning, I had a pot of coffee and a box of cookies awaiting. He arrived exactly on time, knocking only once before patiently waiting for an invitation to enter.
It was actually kind of endearing. “Good morning, Tom,” I said a little too cheerfully, as I opened the door. He was wearing short-sleeved hospital scrubs most likely due to the weather being hotter than a pan of burnt caramel. “I have some snacks and coffee. Help yourself to something from the fridge, if you like.”
“Coffee is fine,” he said with his usual kind, fatherly smile. “Wow coffee and Pepperidge Farm variety pack, what’s the occasion?”
I took a seat, pursing my lips as I turned my focus to the package of cookies. “Did you have sex with my husband?” I asked, hoping to convey my lady-like sarcasm.
Tom nodded professionally, as he helped himself to a mug. “Is that what he told you?”
“All I know is something changed inside him, like a strange combination of love and fear.”
Tom bit his lower lip in contemplation. “Do you attend church?”
“On base, why?” I could only assume he was about to ask me to not turn him in (as a favor to a fellow church-going Christian.)
“You and your husband should attend my Sunday service. I promise you, it’ll be very enlightening.”
“Sure,” I said facing the window. “So what happens now?”
“Yes,” I explained, struggling to maintain composure. “My husband said he doesn’t want to see you.” I turned to see Tom nodding, casually, as if this was not a unique occurrence. “Did you hear me?”
“How long have you been married?”
“Twenty-three years, this September, why?”
“Are you aware of your husband’s history of sexual-emotional abuse?”
“Against who?” I instantly regretted my choice of words. Josh had never abused anyone. Clearly, Tom was pointing out past events that Josh suffered, something in his medical records that was never revealed to me in our decades together. “Are you allowed to tell me, with patient privacy an all that.”
Tom took a sip of coffee, casually looking me in the eyes. “Do you have any tattoos, Mrs. Miner?
“No, it’s against my Christian faith, but I don’t judge others who get them.”
“So, Josh had his cross tattoo from before you were married?”
I could tell he was trying to drop hints without violating HIPPA regulations. If I was just reciting the information I already knew, he was not betraying Josh’s medical privacy. “His mother died when he was fourteen, he got that tattoo when he was eighteen, about a month before our wedding.”
“Because he wanted her there, in spirit, at least that’s what he told me.” I couldn’t remember exactly when or why he got the tattoo.
“Fascinating,” Tom replied with a cheerful nod. “Let’s wake him up. I have some big plans for today.”
He stood up, walking towards the bedroom. I silently followed, staying a few feet behind. Tom seemed confident, almost abnormally so.
My husband was still in bed, with the dog having taken my space by his side. He opened his eyes with a shy, smile. “Hey Tom,” his sleepy voice sounded calm, soft, and sweeter than maple syrup. He seemed happy, or maybe high on pain meds.
“Hey, Josh.” Tom placed his hand upon Josh’s forehead, tracing a finger around his eye socket down his jaw.
Josh closed his eyes, savoring the other man’s touch. His eyes rolled back, drifting into a state of ecstasy. “Why do I feel this way?”
Tom cupped his face as he leaned in, to kiss Josh’s dry lips. “Because you’re human.” He reached for Josh’s hand as if to help him up, but Josh’s hand went to Tom’s neck pulling him close.
Josh kissed him softly and slow. Their lips met over and over, as their hands started to act all on their own, exploring under their clothing.
Before things could go too far, Tom separated himself. “Your wife told me you used to go to church? I thought maybe you’d like to check out my sermon.”
“At the biker bar?” Josh asked. It was clear they had talked about this before.
Tom turned to me with a chuckle. “It’s a truck stop, not a bar.”
“Because Bars serve alcohol?” I replied, hoping I was correct. I had heard of such pop-up chapels mainly frequented by truck drivers, drifters, and random travelers looking to film a blog.
“It’s a friendly enough place,” Tom chuckled. “You two will just need something to wear. Hence today’s road-trip activity.”
“You’re taking us shopping?” I asked. “Are we headed to the mall on base?”
“I actually know of a place.” Tom got off the bed, heading for the doorway. “It’s a little further out of the way, closer to the Louisiana side of things.”
Josh seemed perfectly fine with this idea. “Sure just give me a second.”
“You get ready while Carol helps me with something in the van.”
“Something in the van?” I walked to a nearby window and saw a VA hospital van with a wheelchair lift. Oh, that was not good.
Giving Josh a moment of privacy to get dressed, Tomas left the trailer. I followed him and watched in horror as he opened the van to reveal a hospital issue wheelchair.
My husband, of course, was using his walker, accompanied by his service dog. Even when he was sick with pain he could get ready for the day on his own (by that I mean he could put on a t-shirt and sweatpants.)
“I brought you a gift, courtesy of the VA.”
“A wheelchair?” Josh slumped back on to the bed, comically defeated. “I’m not going out in a wheelchair.”
“Not even for me?” Tomas asked with a pout. He rolled the chair closer, guiding Josh’s hand. “Come on, big guy. Where we’re going there will be no judgment.” Tomas motioned for me to take the dog’s leash while he flirtatiously guided my husband’s body; arms, chest, hips.
Josh was willing to melt into his loving embrace (and from there he was willing to sit in the old, manual, wheelchair.) He was loaded into the back of the van, strapped in for safety, while I sat in the front seat.
Our ninety-pound dog sat on my lap but the moment the van started to move, she went straight to her master. With the dog on his lap, Josh fell asleep for the majority of the hour-long drive. In the distance, I saw a thrift store, with colorful old-movie posters decorating the exterior. The name of the place was, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow,’ or ‘Soar’ as I would soon learn.
“Welcome to Soar,” said the pink-haired cashier who was organizing a collection of old VHS tapes. “Tommy!” She sprung up, rushing in for a hug.
Tommy was pushing Josh’s wheelchair. “Hey Katy, baby.” He greeted her with a hug, followed by European style kisses to each cheek.
“Who’s your friend?”
“This Josh, Josh this is Katy one of the managers here.”
Josh shook her hand. “Tom’s my big brother from the one last wish foundation.”
“L-M-A-O!” the cashier said with a sweet smile. All three seemed to disappear into a labyrinth of cloth racks. Tomas was pushing Josh’s wheelchair like an enthusiastic best friend (even hopping on the back for short distances, gliding like a skateboarder.) The store was clearly a repurposed warehouse or storage facility. But given it’s out of the way location, I was not surprised by the lack of customers.
When the cashier returned to her space, I asked about Josh’s service dog. “Are animals welcome here?”
“Of course,” she said sweetly. “Here at SOAR, we welcome all kinds.”
“Ok, um thanks.”
“Did you want to look around?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” I made myself comfortable in the waiting area, taking a seat on a colorful bench. There was a retro-rock station playing on a stand-alone radio, but other than that the store was a quiet as a tomb. My eyes felt heavy, my mind craving a chance to rest and let the world pass me by.
Just as I was about to succumb to sleep, the dog got a sudden burst of energy. “Pup, stop it!” Josh’s dog was trying to pull me in a very specific direction. Knowing I had no other choice, I stood up and was guided on a five-minute walk to a random corner near the fire exit. For a moment I wondered what was so special about this space, then I heard laughing.
“Try this one on,” said Tom’s voice. “I think it’s suede, but the inside feels like silk.”
I needed a better view. Creeping around, I checked the wall, until I found a space with a curtain covering several holes. The space was dark, hidden with a comfortable chair as if it was meant for voyeurs.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the cashier. “You can watch from the front cameras if you like.”
Before I could answer she had gripped the dog’s leash and started walking back to her station at the front of the store. I soon realized, that what I thought were VHS tapes were actually (piles and piles of)security footage from the dozen or so ‘changing rooms.’ SOAR was a sex club.
“Sorry about being so abrupt, in case you actually did want to watch from the audience plaza.”
“Yeah, it’s a place where other participants can watch, participate,” she explained as she logged on to the main computer. “I couldn’t risk the dog making noise. I mean, it is Josh’s service dog right? I imagine the poor dear is wondering where her daddy is.” She petted the dog’s head, coaxing the animal closer. “Here we go, room Six.”
With a click of a mouse, Josh and Tom’s footage feed was on the largest of the security screens. Josh was half-naked, sitting in his wheelchair, with Tomas on his knees. From the angle of the camera, I could see he was alternating between oral sex and peppering kisses along Josh’s stomach.
“Aw,” Katy said, crossing her legs. “Tom is always such a gentle lover.”
“Always?” What exactly was Tom?
“I don’t seem him very often, maybe once a month if I’m lucky.”
“Do they know they’re being filmed?” I asked, glancing at some of the other rooms.
“Yes, of course,” she replied, biting her lip to hide her smile. “They even pay extra.”
I wanted to ask who paid, Josh or Tom. But there was a more pressing question on my mind. “Is there any sound?”
“Of course.” Katy slid me a pair of headphones. “I just need to keep the sound muted in case I get any actual customers, for the thrift store section of the building. Senior citizens, selling off their old retro clothes, tend to get offended by the loud guy on guy sex.”
I was mesmerized by the sight of my husband. Josh was leaning back, holding Tom by his head. “I’m so close.”
Tom slipped his hands under Josh’s ass. Keeping his mouth firmly in place, Tomas managed to get my husband’s sweatpants off, stripping him nude while sucking him off. “You need to relax,” Tom said, as he came up for air. “Slow down, take it all in.” He spread my husband’s legs just far enough to finger fuck him. There was even a soap dispenser on the wall labeled as ‘Water-based lube.’
That was when I noticed he wasn’t fingering Josh. Tom was gripping his balls in a way that seemed to coax more semen into his already full testicles.
“Come on man,” Josh said with a groan. “You’re gonna give me blue balls.”
Tom laughed, temporarily releasing my husband’s cock. “What’s the magic word, Joshua?”
“Please,” Josh leaned his head back, taking a deep breath. He opened his eyes. somehow looking directly up at the camera. “Please let me blow my load all over your Chicano-fuckboy face.”
Was he saying that to Tom or putting on a show for whatever hypothetical gay male that might view the footage in the future?
Tom did not appear to appreciate my husband’s choice of language. “What did I tell you about talking like an uneducated cretin?” He held Josh’s cock in place as if threatening to end their session. “How would you like it, Josh?” Tom gave a hard slap to his lover’s thigh.
Josh moaned, gripping his chair. “I’m sorry.”
Tomas started to jerk off Josh’s well-lubed dick. “You’re sorry?” Working with his hands, Tom alternated between pumping Josh’s shaft and delicately rubbing his tip.
All while Josh was crying out, begging for a release. “I’m so sorry.”
“Apology excepted.” Tom chuckled, as he returned to oral, pumping nice and slow. He would lick and suck, treating my husband’s cock like an exquisite delicacy (or a really moist Popsicle.) “You white trash, inbred faggot.”
At the word, ‘faggot’ my husband’s body went stiff. He climaxed hard, shooting ropes of cum while his body convulsed.
Tomas cleaned him off with his mouth, allowing Josh’s cream to drip down his chin, on to his facial hair. “Good job, soldier.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Tomas stood up and leaned in, positioning his face over Josh. “I want you to taste your cum.” From the view of the camera, I couldn’t really see what he was doing, but I imagined it was an open mouth kiss. “Do you like it?”
Josh leaned back as Tomas straddled his hips. They were going to have sex in the chair.
“That’s all you are,” Tomas said in a seductive moan, “all you’re worth as a husband, a soldier, as a man.” There was a noticeable pause as Tomas started to undress. “It’s also your greatest gift.”
“Gift?” Josh snickered.
“It represents your love, your power. That’s why it’s better to cum in the belly of a whore, rather than spill your sexy seed all over some random gym sock.”
Both men laughed.
“Do you want me inside you, Josh?” Tom kissed him again, but then slowly started to remove himself from my husband’s lap. “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“I don’t know.”
“Is this too similar to what those men did to you?”
There was a long pause before Josh replied. “No,” his voice was breaking with emotion. “because you would never hurt me.”
Their lips met again and I took off the headphones.
I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry. So, I made the choice to return to the van, which I knew Tom left unlocked since we were the only vehicle in the parking lot. It was painfully hot and without the engine running there was no air conditioning. The dog was quite miserable but hopefully, Tommy and Josh would be done with their ‘shopping’ soon.
Alone with my thoughts, I decided to give my daughter a call. Usually, I would be afraid of Josh walking in on me, slamming my phone against the ground, and perhaps cursing me out using bible quotes before getting drunk off drain cleaner. Now, with how far gone his mind was, I figured Josh wouldn’t even notice.
I scrolled down my contacts, to the listing labeled as ’emergency.’ Yeah, that’s what this was. I clicked. One ring, two rings. If she didn’t answer by the next I was going to hang up.
“Hi, Mom,” Christina said happily.
Just hearing her voice was like a soothing cool breeze. “Hi, sweetheart.”
“So, what’s up? Besides the fact that Dad is going to die cursing my name,” she said with a forced laugh. “I figure that’s why you’re calling.” Her voice was already falling. “Is he okay?”
“No, um, I mean,” I paused pursing my lips. “It’s a long story.”
“You know, I always said, if you need more money you should really get a lawyer and sue for disability benefits,” Christina said with her usual sense of confidence and expertise. “Dad worked all his life as an electrician. Just because he wasn’t sick when he left the army, doesn’t mean the military shouldn’t be held responsible for his care.”
Christina always did have her father’s strength. If she was still in-state I might have tried. “Your father is being very well taken care of. He’s been assigned a nurse, an older man who, um… has a lot of experience.” I proceeded to tell her what happened in the changing room.
The response was silence. Christina took an audible breath. “So, Dad seems happy with a male partner? Wow, just wow.” There was a level of hurt and confusion in her voice. “So, does his doctors have any idea why this is happening? Is something breaking down in his brain?”
“I haven’t actually spoken to any of his doctors about it. I feel like it’s none of my business. And he’s just so happy.” I blinked tears from my sweaty eyes. “I can’t remember the last time I was able to make him happy.” Technically I could remember a time since the erotic incident on the bed happened less than twelve hours ago. In my heart that didn’t count, since something about that moment resulted in my husband suffering a mental breakdown.
“Dad deserves to be happy, that’s all that matters.” Christina was clearly crying, and I couldn’t blame her. She loved him so much. If only Josh could see that.
“I’m calling because I feel like if you wanted to come down to visit you could. I don’t know what side of him you’ll see, but-”
“I’ll talk to Chloe. If we can fly in, it will likely be a surprise, with our schedules and all. She just started a new job and-”
“I look forward to it.” If nothing else it would be nice to have someone to confirm that Tomas was real and not a figment of my imagination. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
As if on cue the van door opened. “Hey, Carol.”
“Tom!” I was about to hang up the phone, but my sweaty hand fumbled, dropping the device to the floor. “Crap.”
Tom took a seat by my side. Picking the phone off the floor he glanced at the name. “Were you calling emergency services?”
“No, it’s just the name I hide my daughter’s info under.” I reached for the phone but Tom seemed to want to look at it a little longer. “So, where’s Josh?”
“I gave him a little time to rest and recover,” Tom said as he stretched his legs outside the open door. “I take it Katy showed you the viewing room?”
I nodded. “Oh yes, she showed me the brains of the operation.”
“Hello? Mom? Who’s that?” Christina asked. Apparently, she didn’t hang up either.
“This is Tomas,” I shouted into the phone. “Your father’s nurse.”
“Might I speak to her?” Tomas asked, despite the fact he was clearly the one holding the phone.
“Sure,” I said with a polite smile. “Tom this Christy, Christy meet Tom. I’m just going to take a walk.” I stayed in the van just long enough to hear the start of their conversation; he pretty much invited Christy to come down for his Sunday service.
As I walked further away, I could no longer hear my daughter’s voice clearly. But there was a sense of happiness. Tom had a way with people. It was a blessing, right?
I found my husband outside the fire exit, smoking a cigarette while sitting in the hospital wheelchair. He was wearing all new clothes, including the suede leather jacket with the faux-silk interior. “Hi, Josh. You look good.”
Josh patted his thigh, motioning for me to come closer. “Don’t you want to know where I got the smokes?”
I took a seat on his lap. Much to my surprise, Josh put his arms around my waist, holding me close the way he did when we were young. “Ok, I’ll bite. Where’d you get the smokes?” I took the cigarette from his hand, taking a puff to see if I could wager a guess. It was, of course, a medical marijuana dosage.
“I have chemo tomorrow? Don’t I?” Josh’s voice seemed blissfully relaxed as if his soul was trying to vacate his body.
“Yes, sweetheart, but afterward we’ll get to visit Tommy at his roadside
speaking engagement.” I took another short puff. I’d never been good at smoking weed, so unfortunately I didn’t feel any of the relaxing effects (at least not at the moment.)
“Do you think he’s a real preacher?” Josh said with a dreamy laugh.
“Do you?” I always thought of a preacher as anyone who spoke to a crowd, not necessarily an ordained minister or religious leader.
Josh shrugged, reaching for his pot. “Any voice is a voice.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” I reluctantly returned the joint, allowing him to take a long drag.
“I got a secret to tell you. The cancer’s in my bones. Everything hurts so much, and it’s never going to stop.” His dreamy laughter turned to tears.
I got off Josh’s lap, fully intending on getting Tom’s assistance.
“Are you leaving?” Josh asked, his voice breaking with emotion.
“No, we’re going to head back to the van. Tom, your nurse is going to drive us home.” Tom had talked about taking us to lunch as a diner nearby, but I assumed, given Josh’s state that was off the table.
Tom emerged from the van with a cooler. “Here put this on your neck, it’s going to feel incredible.” he handed out blue towels filled with ice packs, which did indeed feel incredible in the mid-day heat. “I like to keep these around for long drives.”
“Thank you,” I said shaking his hand, “that was very thoughtful. So are we about ready to get back on the road?”
“I’d say so,” Tom replied as he started to maneuver Josh’s chair. Josh was of course blissfully comfortable.
We went back to the van. Once again I sat in the front with Tom, but this time the dog slept comfortably in my husband’s arms. In a short time, my husband and the dog were both asleep in the air-conditioned backseat.
Tom drove in silence until hitting the highway. Since we appeared to be going in an odd direction I asked, “Are we going for lunch?”
“Your husband has a fear of penetration.”
“So that’s a no.” I laughed at my own confusion. “You need to explain further, no more cryptic shit. I promise I’m good at keeping a secret.”
Tom sighed, looking out at the long empty road. “I’ve worked with men like Josh before; victims of abuse who pile on the drama until they can no longer see the original problem. They just think it’s gone forever.”
“Until brain cancer starts to ear away at their barriers.”
“Josh is unable to give or receive penetration, due to a series of incidents (sexual in nature) that happened around the time of his mother’s death.”
My mouth hung open. “But I’ve given and received penetration with my husband.” I’m still not sure why I felt the need to admit that out loud.
“Was he possibly in a sleep state at the time of these occurrences?”
I had only one occurrence on my mind and unfortunately, Tom’s theory would fully explain Josh’s behavior. “I’m not sure. It’s possible.” I crossed my arms over my chest, defeated.
“I cannot disclose anything more than that without Joshua’s express permission. Just know, that those events left him sexually confused and deeply ashamed. It is my professional opinion that his repressed feelings towards the aforementioned events are what cause his irrational aggression towards Christina’s life choices.”
“What can we do?”
“For starters, we can Get some of the best coffee and pie in the deep south.”
“I could go for some coffee.”
Tom placed his hand upon mine. “Just so you know, Josh really does know you care.” He turned, momentarily looking me in the eyes. “And he is grateful.”
I wiped tears from my eyes. “Thank you, that means a lot.”