Authors: Dorien Grey
The Dream Ender
By Dorien Grey
Copyright 2016 by Gary Brown, Executor of Roger Margason/Dorien Grey Estate
Cover Copyright 2016 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 2007.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by Dorien Grey and Untreed Reads Publishing
A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954–1956)
Short Circuits: A Life in Blogs (Volume 1)
The Butcher’s Son
The Ninth Man
The Bar Watcher
The Hired Man
The Good Cop
The Bottle Ghosts
The Dirt Peddlers
The Role Players
The Popsicle Tree
The Paper Mirror
The Dream Ender
A Dick Hardesty Mystery
To those who were lost, and those who fought to save them.
Dreams define humanity. They give us hope and point us to the future. They are our birthright, and they affect not only us but those we love and who love us.
Some dreams are universal and live on from generation to generation, but an individual’s dreams most often die with the dreamer. Death and the end of dreams is the price we must eventually pay for the gift of life.
Because of our need to understand that which cannot be understood, we often refer to death in human terms by capitalizing the word and giving him a number of appellations—primarily, The Grim Reaper, which creates a vivid image of both Death and his purpose. The Reaper has a variety of scythes at his disposal for ending dreams, and illness has always been one of the sharpest and most dreaded. And when AIDS appeared in the mid-1970s, the Reaper strode through the gay community, ending the lives and dreams of tens of thousands of gay men and sending waves of helplessness and fear through us all.
Because we could not depend on our government to protect us, we tried to protect ourselves by establishing an unwritten code of ethics to which we were honor-bound to adhere. Those who were aware they had contracted the disease were obligated by our common humanity to inform prospective partners of the risk. Most did, but incredibly, a few who knew they were sick chose to ignore the code and wittingly infect others. By so doing, they incomprehensibly and unforgivably forfeited their humanity and usurped the Reaper’s dominion as the Dream Ender.
“How’s he doing?” I asked as Jonathan returned to bed.
“He’ll live,” he said, pulling the sheet up to his chin. “It’s all your fault, you know.”
“My fault?” I asked. “And exactly how did you reach that conclusion?”
“That kid can con you out of anything and he plays you like a fiddle. You had to let him have another piece of birthday cake!”
“Well,” I said in my own defense, “it was only a very small piece and it was his birthday, after all. He doesn’t turn five every day.” It was a weak excuse and we both knew it. “He told me you said it was okay,” I added lamely.
Jonathan spun onto his stomach and plumped his pillow a little more vigorously than was probably necessary.
“The defense rests,” he said.
It was hard to believe Joshua had been with us for nearly a year. While I was truly amazed at how well he had outwardly adjusted to his parents’ death, there was ample if subtle evidence of how deeply it had affected him. One obvious manifestation of this was his being an absolute sponge for affection and reassurance. While both came naturally to Jonathan and me, he was not above occasionally provoking us or pitting us against each other, as if testing to see if we really did love him anywhere near as much as his parents had.
His fifth birthday had been, therefore, a cause for special celebration. The Bronson sisters, who ran the day care center Joshua attended, had a party for him with milk and cake and games. Then, because it was a Friday, our little clique of Phil, Tim, Mario, Bob, Jake and Jared stopped by after dinner for another small party with another birthday cake. Joshua was his usual subdued self, bouncing off the walls, running from present to present, generally hamming it up and finding time somehow to convince everyone that of all the people in the room, the one he was conning at the moment was his very favorite. So, I guess I really should have known better when, as I was in the kitchen rinsing off the dishes and putting them in the washer, he came in and asked for another piece of cake.
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, do you?” I said, glancing through the door at Jonathan, who was engaged in conversation with the guys.
“It’s my birthday,” he answered plaintively, in case I may have forgotten. “Uncle Jonathan said it was okay,” he added, climbing up onto his chair at the kitchen table.
Hey, would a five-year-old kid lie?
So, rather than interrupt Jonathan for verification, I cut him a small piece and gave him a juice-glass of milk to wash it down. He finished it in under a minute and hopped down from the chair to run back into the living room for more attention.
Bob and Mario left early, since they both had to work at their respective bars. At about eight thirty, it being my turn to get Joshua ready for bed, I excused myself and went into his room for his pajamas then led him, under protest, into the bathroom for the evening undress-bath-pajamas-toothbrush ritual.
When we emerged, the others were getting ready to leave—it was a Friday night, after all, and they had places to go. I reflected yet again on the time before Joshua entered our lives, when Friday night was more than just another evening at home, and I had just a twinge of nostalgia for the “good old days.”
Both Jared and Jake had been uncharacteristically quiet during the evening, and I’d wondered if anything might be wrong. They’d been gone no longer than a minute when Joshua came running over.
“Look what I found!” he said, holding up a wallet.
“Where did you get that?” Jonathan asked.
“Over there,” he said, pointing to where Jared had been sitting.
“Thank you, Joshua.” Jonathan took the wallet from him then turned to me. “Maybe I can catch him,” he said and hurried from the apartment.
I took Joshua into his bedroom, listened while he said his prayers and tucked him into bed with Bunny, his favorite stuffed animal. He’d already picked out a book for Story Time—another evening ritual—and I’d just sat down on the bed and picked up the book when Jonathan returned.
“Catch him?” I asked, and he nodded. “Everything okay?”
“Tell you later,” he said.
About halfway through Story Time, Joshua announced he wasn’t feeling very well, which he shortly thereafter demonstrated by vomiting what appeared to be half a birthday cake.
To the bathroom, bed sheets changed, re-pajamaed and returned to bed, Joshua insisted that one of us stay with him for comfort and moral support, and Jonathan volunteered, joining me when Joshua finally fell asleep.
“So, did Jake and Jared say anything about why they were so quiet tonight?” I asked.
He sighed. “One of their friends died this afternoon. He was thirty-one. He’d only been sick for two months.”
I didn’t have to ask the cause of death. By that point, with friends and acquaintances dropping like flies, no gay man had to ask the cause of the sudden death of another.
“Jeez, I’m sorry!” I said, and meant it. “It’s getting really scary out there.”
Jonathan moved closer to me and put his arm across my chest.
“That’s one more reason I’m so glad I have you,” he said. “Even if you do let Joshua get away with murder.”
As I’ve often said, having a kid ain’t like having a puppy, and there’s one hell of a lot more involved in the way of responsibilities than many—probably most—gay men would want to deal with.
It was a pretty busy time at work, and I was concentrating on squirreling away cash—kids are also expensive—against the next dry spell, which this business has taught me was always just around the corner. Jonathan, too, was putting in quite a bit of overtime, which meant a lot of juggling of schedules and logistics to pick Joshua up each day from day care.
But we managed, though it didn’t leave nearly as much time as we’d have liked for going out or getting together with our friends. And weekends were devoted to those things we didn’t have time for during the week: laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning, etc.
Since living in an apartment is pretty limiting for a small boy, we made an effort to set aside at least one weekend afternoon to do outdoor things with Joshua—the zoo, street fairs, picnics, hikes, swimming, and the like. Then, before we knew it, it would be Monday again, and we’d start the whole process over.
About once a month we were able, with effort, to squeeze in a just-the-two-of-us night out for dinner or a movie, thanks to seventeen-year-old Craig Richman, son of a senior officer with the city police. Craig was at the very top of Joshua’s list of favorite people—an admittedly long list—whose services as a babysitter were indispensable.
We did get to see Phil and Tim a couple of times, either having them over for dinner or going to their place, and we talked on the phone to Bob and/or Mario, who worked nights, but when I suddenly realized that nearly a month had gone by without any word from Jake or Jared, I began to get concerned.
So, after dinner Tuesday night, while Joshua and Jonathan were feeding the goldfish and watering the plants, I gave Jake a call. He wasn’t home, so I left a message on his machine then decided it was worth a long-distance call to Jared in Carrington, where he taught Russian literature at Mountjoy College.
He answered after the third ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jared,” I said, “it’s Dick. Haven’t heard from you in a while so thought I’d give you a call.”
“I’ve been meaning to call you, too,” he said, “but I’ve been really busy getting ready for the next term.”
“I understand. We really should have called sooner. How’s Jake?”
There was a slight pause, then, “He’s fine. He was up last weekend. He’s got a couple of new construction projects going on, and he’s been working his tail off, so…”
I detected something in his voice, though I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“I didn’t have a chance to tell you I was sorry to hear about your friend. Jonathan told me.”
Another pause. “Ah…yeah, thanks. Mike was a great guy. Always on the go, always making plans to climb some mountain or other. It was all so damned sudden. One minute he’s here, the next minute he…isn’t. We saw him just before he…found out…and two months later he’s dead.”