As thousands died, the gay community rallied around itself for whatever protection it could find. Yet one man...one of their own...was deliberately spreading the disease. Hired to find and stop him before he killed more, Dick finds himself caught up in a rising tide of fear, mistrust, and grief that moved ever closer to home.
"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 turned quickly 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, and 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 was, 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, and 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 when, as I was in the kitchen rinsing off the dishes and putting them in the washer, Joshua came in and asked for another piece of cake.
"I don’t think that’s a very good idea, do you?" I asked, glancing through the door at Jonathan, who was engaged in conversation with the guys.
"It’s my birthday," he said plaintively, in case I may have forgotten. "Uncle Jonathan said it was okay," he added earnestly, 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, and at about 8:30, it being my turn to get Joshua ready for bed, I excused myself from the remaining group and went into Joshua’s 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 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 said, taking the wallet from him, then turning 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.
"Tell you later," he said.
About halfway through Story Time, Joshua announced that 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-pajama-ed, and returned to bed, Joshua insisted that one of us stay with him for comfort and moral support, and Jonathan volunteered.
"So did Jake and Jared say anything about why they were so quiet tonight?"I asked.
Jonathan sighed. "One of their friends died this afternoon. He was 31. He’d only been sick for two months."
I didn’t have to ask the cause of death. By that point in time, 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."