“Hey guys.” Tina, Kit, Malcolm, and I approach the table with coffees in hand. I set my coffee down and pull a chair over for Malcolm. The ride over was less quiet than the previous days ride, mostly due to Tina. She has an easy way of drawing people out and in, and I’m grateful, specifically now.
We learned that Malcolm was first in his year of secondary school, which is the British equivalent of a valedictorian in High School. He was awarded a full scholarship to The University of Arts London, but instead went straight to work to help provide for Rosa. He lived with her and took care of her until she died but their home was not fully paid for, so it was repossessed. He was working as a plasterer, meaning he was hanging and finishing drywall for a local construction company.
Malcolm waits until we’re all seated and takes his seat nervously. I look to Kit and begin to address our quietly waiting friends. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Malcolm Young Porter.” I start pointing to each of our friends in tandem as the last name sinks in. “Malcolm, this is Dylan Moreland, Helena Peabody, Dana Fairbanks, Alice Pieszecki, Shane McCutcheon, and Carmen de la Pica Morales.” Malcolm says hello in his deep British accent and everyone greets him. “Malcolm is my…” I gesture to Kit. “…our…half-brother…”
The deafening silence is expected but somehow I forgot to account for Alice’s mouth. Her eyes are wide as she addresses me and Kit. “He’s your brother…from another mother? Like…seriously, another mother?”
I roll my eyes. “Yes Alice.”
Helena, having heard his unmistakable accent seems pleased and saves the awkward silence. “Pleasure to meet you. What region of London are you from? Is it Sussex?”
They smile at each other and replies, “Actually, Chelsea.”
She nods knowingly and her eyes take on a far-away look. “Lovely area…” She sighs. “I haven’t been there in ages…” She focuses on Malcolm and smiles. “I’m from Mayfair.”
He smiles back. “Ah, the wealthy aristocracy…wait…Peabody…as in the Peabody foundation?” She nods her head curiously and his eyes go wide. “Your family’s foundation granted me a scholarship to the University of the Arts.”
She smiles radiantly. “Congratulations. Mummy doesn’t award those scholarships lightly. You must be very talented.”
He blushes with chagrin before smiling and dropping the subject. I look to Tina who’s smiling smugly and sigh. I take a sip of my coffee and Carmen pipes in. “Malcolm should come to the party.”
She looks to all of us for support and Alice and I are the only ones that don’t say a word. Malcolm smiles and shakes his head. “Thank you, but Bette and Tina have been very gracious in letting me stay with them.” Alice’s wide eyes meet mine and I give her a knowing look. “I don’t wish to impose further.”
Carmen waves her arm at Malcolm dismissively. “It’s no problem. There’s going to be a ton of people there. It starts at eight and you are now expected. We live just next door, so just come on over.”
Am I the only one not living in a fantasy world of blind trust? I look again to Alice. No, I’m not alone. I look to Tina who’s smiling radiantly. She’s a gracious woman, and I love that about her, but inviting a perfect stranger to stay with us…become close…help him get on his feet, just because he claims he’s my brother, is completely beyond me. We know nothing about him but what he tells us, and there’s no way to prove any of it, at least not until we make a little stop at the clinic at eight.
I look down at my watch. We have a half an hour and honestly, I don’t want to wait around to let anyone else get any cozier. If he’s not who he says he is, then he’ll leave, and we could all get hurt. And Kit, she already seems so comfortable with him. Right now they’re laughing and smiling at one another as they talk. Am I being irrational? Is it just me? I look again to Alice and she knows.
I lean in and kiss Tina sweetly and she eyes me specutively as I stand. “Malcolm, we should probably get going…”
He and Kit turn to me from their laughter and everyone stares at me like I just belched unrepentantly, accept for Alice of course. I ignore them. Malcolm furrows his brows but stands and says, “Well, it was nice meeting all of you.” He turns to Carmen. “Thank you for inviting me.” He again addresses the table. “If I don’t see you sooner, I’ll see you all there?”
Everyone nods with a smile, except for Alice. I’m glad at least one person is on my side. I lean down and grab my briefcase and Tina grabs my forearm. I meet her gaze, her warm, honest, open and reassuring gaze and can’t help but give her another, more lingering kiss. As I pull away she buries her face in my neck for a tight hug and says, “It’ll be okay. Just give it a chance.” I sigh and she releases me with one more kiss. If nothing else, at least I have her.
Malcolm smiles warmly at me as we head toward the front door and I eye him skeptically as we make our way to the car. He seems to like that I’m with Tina, especially when we’re openly affectionate. In fact, his smile is still firmly etched in place. But I can’t figure out why. Don’t misunderstand, there’s absolutely nothing shameful about my relationship with my wife, but even Kit was a little shocked when she learned I was gay. I think for families it’s hard to move past the disappointment over the life they envision for you. I don’t get it, but it’s the usual. Hell my own father barely tolerated Ms. Kennard. “You like Tina, don’t you?”
His grin turns warmer as he says, “Who wouldn’t? She’s fantastic. You’re a lucky woman.” Fuck. I really want to dislike him but then he goes and says something like that. I smile back hesitantly and he laughs when he sees my face. “Bette, England has recognized civil unions for a while now, and this year they’ll actually be called marriages, but gay couples are everywhere and we aren’t skittish in the least. We British are pretty laid back…so long as you don’t interfere with our afternoon tea.”
Fuck. I can’t help myself and I laugh with him. I think I’m in trouble here. I can’t hate him and I refuse to love him. We settle into our seats and I start the car. He had better be who he says he is.
The clinic was in and out. I hate needles. They gave us the option for something more innocuous like hair or a cheek swab, but blood is most accurate. They said the results could take anywhere between two days and two weeks depending on the lab’s workload. I’m not sure what I want the results to be. I just can’t make up my mind. I do know that waiting and wondering makes me anxious, and I honestly don’t know why. Why is this so hard? Sigh…
I look up from my desk to see Malcolm return. He smiles shyly as he sets the portfolio in front of me. I pull it across my desk and open it nervously. What I see is a little shocking. It’s better than what you’d find at a local show, but it’s not his full potential. I flip through the pages and he rocks on his heels nervously, his hands in his pockets.
I get to one piece that’s particularly beautiful in its use of color and composition, but something’s a little…off…about it. It seems like he lacks direction. I shut the photo album and look up at him leaning back in my chair. “I’ll be honest with you…” His expression is nervous and crestfallen. I smile at him. ”…you’re brilliant, but you lack direction.” He smiles brightly. ”You need to take some classes.”
He lets out a breath and sits down. “I know, but it’s so expensive.” I furrow my brows at him and he meets my eyes. “Absolutely not Bette. I won’t consider it.”
Well, I wasn’t going to offer it, and he’s not going to get it. I’ll help a friend, a member of my family, but he’s really neither at this point. But there is something I can do, and I feel willing. It will at least pacify Tina. “Okay, here’s what you do. I’ll give you a job here helping with the displays. It’s basically grunt work, lots of manual labor, but we need someone and the pay is sufficient. You can work here and pay to go to night classes.”
His eyes light with the fire of determination and for a moment, I can see the Porter blood flowing in his veins. He walks around my desk and stares at me befuddled for a moment before leaning down and crushing me in a bruising hug. “Thank you Bette…thank you. I wasn’t sure what to do. There’s nothing left for me in England.”
I’m rigid but I pat his back and he finally releases me. I take a deep breath and he’s smiling so brightly I can’t help but return it. His excitement and enthusiasm is bursting from his voice as he asks, “When can I start?”
I smile again and hit the intercom. “James?” His disembodied voice fills the room as he responds. “I’m sending Malcolm out to you. Put him on the payroll as an Art Handler.” The disembodied voice agrees and then disappears, and I smile brightly at Malcolm. He leans in to hug me again and I instead take his hand and pat him hesitantly on the shoulder. “Go on out, he’s waiting for you.” His smile turns radiant and he nearly runs from the room. I shake my head and turn back to my work. It’s difficult not to like him but I just don’t trust him yet.