Barbara and Damien came into the waiting room at Emergency and paused at the door, searching the room for the right person to talk to, to demand information about their son. The room was jammed with people, but Barbara didn't see them as people. They were either obstacles between her and Stanley or potential sources of help. She scanned the crowd. Ah, there was Fraser, standing to one side of a bank of plastic seats.
She took Damien's arm and with the other hand, pointed his attention to Fraser. "Huey said Fraser was also hurt. What is he doing standing here?"
None of them wanted to waste time with preliminary questions. As soon as they were close enough to hear him over the din of the crowded ward, Fraser announced, "He's in surgery. There's extensive internal damage. They . . ." he gestured vaguely in the direction of the cubicles where nurses sat, ". . . promised to let me know whether he . . ." he Fraser gulped, ". . . if at any point . . ."
Barbara grasped her husband's arm for support. "It's that bad?" she barely breathed the words.
"I'm afraid so, Barbara." The Mountie then cast his eyes around the packed room. "There's nowhere here for you to sit. We may be a long time. Maybe we could find an unused lounge somewhere. I could come and get you when there's any news."
"Didn't you have a mother, Fraser?" Barbara demanded.
The Mountie was taken aback. Then after a moment's reflection, he said. "Oh, I see."
Then, Fraser ran down for them the events of the night. A drug bust was planned, Ray heading up the operation, with Fraser and Huey helping and a backup squad of uniforms stayed a block away in case of need. No detective or uniform had noticed the squad of goons protecting the drug dealer. Fraser didn't remember what happened after the first attack of the goons; he was knocked unconscious right off.
The rest of the story Fraser only knew as it was told to him by Detective Huey. One of the goons had had previous unhappy dealings with Detective Kowalski and took the opportunity for some personal revenge. So of the three of them, only Detective Huey escaped still in operational condition and he mobilized the uniforms. All wrong-doers ended up in custody.
Fraser himself awoke in the corridor outside the emergency. Huey was with him and he assured Fraser that he had called Barbara. Huey brought Fraser up to speed and Fraser launched off to get news of Ray. Huey had been waiting patiently to hear – Fraser added here that he didn't blame Huey for this; Huey had had an exhausting night for sure. Still Fraser wasn't going to remain passive. He set off and bothered anybody in white coat until he learned which operating room Ray was in, the extent of the injuries, the name of surgeon working on him. Then Fraser insisted that Huey go home, promising to update him as soon as there was any news. Fraser had made a similar promise to Welsh. And, he added, Diefenbaker was being taken care of by Shaynie who lives across the hall from the apartment he and Ray shared.
"Fraser, didn't anybody check you out? You could have a concussion. Or worse," Barbara said.
Fraser rubbed the back of his head. "I have a headache, that's all. I'd have had to wait around for hours for someone to check my head. I had to go find out about Ray. You know, the Emergency staff are so over-worked, none of them noticed when I hopped off the gurney and went about my business."
"How long has Stanley been in surgery, then?" Damien asked.
Fraser looked at a clock on the wall. "As best I can tell, about four hours. I'm sorry I can't be more precise. They were already working on Ray when I regained consciousness, so I don't know exactly when he went in."
Barbara slipped out of her jacket, slung it over her arm and took a good long breath, as though settling in. "A long time is good, right Fraser? They're still working on him so that's a good sign?"
"I would say so," Fraser said.
"So, we wait," said Damien.
"All we can do, right now," Fraser agreed.
For another three hours they waited, measuring the time in the slow sweep of the Emergency clock, trips to the coffee machine, observing the passage of other people through the sacred doors leading to treatment rooms, and the arrival of new sick and wounded.
At length, a woman with a clipboard, one of many men and women with clipboards who came and went from the waiting room, announced, "For Stanley Kowalski".
Immediately Fraser and the Kowalskis surrounded her. The corners of her mouth twitched upward into a tired smile. "He's out of surgery and in recovery."
"Then, he's going to be all right? Any permanent damage?" asked Damien.
"We're expecting him to recover fully."
Barbara and Damien clung to each other while Fraser exhaled loudly as though letting out five hours of tightly held breath.
"I want to see him!" both Fraser and Barbara blurted out at the same time.
The clipboard woman looked from one to another. "After recovery he'll be moved to Intensive Care. You'll be able to see him there. I'll make a note of your names and relationship to the patient so the intensive care nurses will know to expect you."
"Barbara and Damien Kowalski. We're his parents," Damien spoke for the two of them, and the woman made a note on her clipboard.
"Benton Fraser. I'm his partner," said the Mountie.
The clipboard woman looked up at him. "Partner? As in . . .?" she paused.
Fraser shot a quick look at the Kowalskis before saying, curtly, "Yes."
Barbara and Damien exchanged a look between them, then Barbara asked how long it would before they could see Stanley. The woman told them it would at least another four hours and wouldn't they want to go rest a little in the meantime. Mr. Kowalski would be hospitalized for at least two weeks and there would be plenty of time for them to spend with him. With that, she turned from them and announced the name of another patient. A woman and a cluster of children hurried over. Fraser, Barbara and Damien moved away.
Fraser said, "If I know hospital procedures, and I do, ‘at least four hours' could easily mean five or six. That woman's suggestion is a good one. You two could drop me off at the apartment then go home and try to relax a little. I can gather up some of Ray's things to bring back with me."
"I suppose," Barbara said, and group moved towards the exit.
Once they had settled in to the car, Damien driving, Barbara beside him in the front and Fraser in the back, it was Barbara who was first to address the elephant in the vehicle.
"Fraser, about what you said in there. About being Stanley's partner. . . " her voice trailed off.
Damien swung his head around briefly to add "Yeah. About that?"
Fraser said, "This isn't the best time to talk about it, I mean – while you are driving, Damien."
"I can pull over. This is important."
A few minutes later they came upon a doughnut shop and Damien pulled into its parking lot. "Let's go inside."
Barbara said, "Damien, shouldn't we all just get home? We can talk about things later. Stanley's going to be okay. Isn't that the important thing?"
"It isn't the only important thing," Damien shot back. "A few more minutes won't matter. We can have a bite and you won't have to cook when we get home."
The three went into the shop and found a table. Once coffee, some doughnuts and a couple sandwiches were laid out on the table, Barbara started the conversation.
"Fraser, when you and Stanley came home from that trip up north, you told us you there was a new administrator at your office and he didn't like having anybody living in the consulate full time. Insurance risk, you said. And you said you and Stanley were going to get a big apartment for the two of you and the wolf to live in. To save money, you said."
Fraser said, "What we told you was true."
Damien said, "But it wasn't the whole truth, was it? There was something more."
Fraser sighed. He took a sip of his coffee and a bite of a tuna salad sandwich before continuing. "Yes, there was more. But Ray and I didn't want to burden you with that ‘more'. We didn't think it would make you happy. Barbara, Damien, I hope you know that Ray wants now and has always wanted for you two to be happy."
"But maybe that wasn't all he wanted," Damien put in.
"No. But, Ray hasn't wanted you to know about us. He'll be upset that that I've dumped out the beans. But, I had to make sure that the Intensive Care staff would let me in. They are often very picky about only letting in immediate family. A simple room-mate, or a police partner, might not have passed muster with them. And at that moment, I was so relieved that I would not lose Ray, it felt like the right time to tell the truth."
"When you two boys went up north, I was afraid you'd get into some kind mischief," Damien declared.
Very quietly, Fraser said, "It started before that, Damien. A good year before. Ray and I got together the second year after Ray Vecchio left, but we were unsure. We didn't know whether our relationship was meant to be permanent. But then, alone in the wilds, we came to realize . . ."
"I don't want to hear this!" Damien interrupted.
"Hush," said his wife, "Just listen."
"We realized it was more than just a physical attraction. We realized we really were in love."
At this Damien flinched first, then coughed a mouthful of doughnut into a napkin. Then he glared at Fraser. "This is your fault! My Stanley was a normal man before he met you."
Barbara said, "Be fair, Damien. We knew Stanley had problems. He couldn't stay married to Stella. He didn't have any steady girlfriend after her. We might have guessed there was something wrong."
Fraser said, "I know this is a shock to you, especially after the fright of Ray being in danger. But one day I hope you will see that your son is not ‘broken'. There isn't something wrong with him."
"My son is a fruit," Damien muttered.
"Your son is an admirable man in every respect. And, as I think you already know, and at the risk of being immodest, most people would say I'm a reasonably good man as well. Let's not dwell on this too much right now. And let's not tell Ray that we've had this talk. At least not until he is much stronger. Let's agree, at least, that what we all want is for him is to recover his health as quickly as he can. I don't want him fretting about the two of you."
"Now listen here, Buster. You want to protect my son against his own parents? You, of all people?"
Barbara again interposed. "Damien, Fraser isn't exactly hurting Stanley."
"Not hurting! Barbara, he's turned our son into a freak!"
"Not now, Damien," Barbara insisted. "Let's do as Fraser says. Let's just focus on getting Stanley better."
"And the minute he's better, that Mountie is going to . . ." Damien rumbled on.
"Not right away, Damien. Ray will need a long recovery." Then he turned to Barbara. "I'm sorry I said that, Barbara. I didn't mean to be flippant. It just slipped out. We're all under a lot strain."
"Yes we are," Barbara agreed, "and the best thing for us all is to just go home for a few hours and recharge. We want to be strong for Stanley."
The head nurse of the Intensive Care Unit wasn't going to let three people crowd around Mr. Kowalski when he was just gaining consciousness. But Fraser's persuasive powers got the better of her. When Ray woke up to full awareness his first sight was the three people he cared most about in the world, all arrayed at the foot of his bed and smiling at him. He craned his neck upwards towards them, but his head sank right back down into his pillow. "You're all here," he said, dreamily, and then sunk back into sleep.
But all was not so dreamy among the three watchers. The nurse told them the patient would drift in and out for a while longer and suggested they all go get some coffee to pass the time.
"In other words, she wants us out of her scalp," Fraser observed. "We might as well come back in an hour."
All the time they spent together, in the car, coming into the hospital, coming up the elevator, and walking through the corridors, was strained. Damien made a point of not talking to Fraser, leaving Barbara in the position of interpreter between them.
"Let's go, Damien," she said to her husband. Only then did he move into the corridor and the three walked to towards the elevator. "I don't want coffee," Damien groused, "I want to see my son."
"He's not going anywhere," Barbara told him. "We all want to see him, and we will."
Damien made a point of giving Fraser a poisonous look as Barbara pushed the elevator button.
Once Ray was out of Intensive Care and in his own room, there were no restrictions on when his parents and his partner could visit him. For the first few days he was so loaded with pain medication that he barely knew who was beside him. Slowly he became aware enough to talk to his visitors. He looked equally happy to see parents or Fraser.
Left to his own devices, Damien would have sat day and night by his son's bedside. Barbara, loving Stanley surely no less, was hard pressed to get her husband away every night. She insisted that they leave every night by nine. To Damien's protests that she only wanted to allow that depraved Mountie time alone with Stanley, Barbara didn't argue. Nor did she attempt to persuade him that no depravity was happening, and even if it were, the Mountie was not alone in it. The time wasn't right to argue with her husband about this. And, thinking it over, she realized she would be ill-equipped to make the argument. Sure, she was glad that her son had found someone to love. But she, too, was uneasy to think of her son as a homosexual. Although, when she tried to pin herself down on this, if Stanley were inclined to love a man anyway, Fraser was someone she wouldn't mind having in the family. And it was surely better for Stanley to be in a stable relationship than to be like those gay men she saw on TV, flitting from one lover to another.
It was only after a week that Ray said to Fraser. "You're never here at the same time as my parents. Does that mean anything?"
Fraser avoided the question by telling the literal truth. "I suppose we are here at different times, Ray."
But Ray knew him well enough not to be taken in by the verbal trick. "Level with me, Fraser."
"Ray, this isn't the best time," Fraser said. He got up and started pacing the room, going back and forth to one side of Ray's bed and then to the other.
"You're making me dizzy, Buddy. Spill."
Thus appealed to, Fraser stopped her perambulation and settled back into the chair beside Ray's bed. But still he did not speak. "
You outted us to my folks, didn't you, Fraser?" Ray said, finally.
Fraser only nodded sheepishly.
"Well that's just great. I thought Pop was acting all weird just because he was afraid I would die. This makes a lot more sense."
"I'm sorry, Ray. At the time it seemed the right thing to do. I was wrong. I'm sorry."
Ray thought this over. "Well don't go all hair-shirt on me, Fraser. It had to come out some time, I guess. Maybe the timing isn't too bad after all. He can't kill me. It'll look too suspicious in a hospital. So, is he ready to disown me?" "He's blaming me. I'm a corrupting influence. It seems to make him feel better."
"And my Mom?"
"It looks to me as though she's trying to keep the peace."
"That's Mom. What'd'ya think, Fraser. Should I talk to him about it?"
"Ray, I wish I knew. I've been thinking what I would tell my Dad and Mum if they were here. But they're together now, somewhere Beyond. I hate to think of that as an advantage but sometimes I do. I have no advice for you, Ray."
"You with no advice? It's almost worth getting beat within an inch of my life to hear that." Ray laughed, then winced. "Hurts when I laugh. Almost worth it. Not quite."
Ray chuckled and winced again. "I gotta sleep this shock off, Fraser. Get lost for a while."
"Suit yourself. But this is me, sleeping." Ray closed his eyes and within a minute his description was true.
As Ray grew stronger he wanted more and more of his own things in his hospital room. He demanded boxes of Smarties for his coffee, his own pajamas, his own deodorant, his tablet to play Angry Birds. What Fraser did not bring from their home, Barbara and Damien picked up at stores. The parents had no reason to go into Ray and Fraser's apartment. Not even Fraser's charms could get Diefenbaker into the hospital.
Shaynie took excellent care of the wolf, allowing him to sleep wherever he wanted in her apartment. Usually, on her living-room sofa.
In all their visits, Barbara and Damien said nothing to their son about his relationship with Fraser. Avoiding conversation wasn't hard, since the Kowalskis were not a talkative family in any case. Damien's conversation was seldom more than asking Ray, "How you doin' today, son?" and listening to his son's simple response. "Better, thanks Dad". Barbara made whatever small talk was needed to pass the time. As Ray mended and was able to eat solid food, Barbara brought goodies for Ray to eat, which helped prevent a need for talk, since she had trained Ray since early childhood not to talk with his mouth full.
One evening Fraser forgot Ray's hand cream, his preferred brand, back at the apartment. The gift shop in the hospital was closed and Ray hadn't wanted Fraser to go to the trouble of going back for it or to a store at night for some substitute.
"I'll ask Mom and Pop to stop by the apartment and get it for me on their way tomorrow."
"What, and ask your father to step through the threshold of our den of iniquity?"
"Should be okay as long as you aren't there. You'll be at work. Just to be safe, I'll tell him to wear rubber gloves," Ray answered. "Problem is, that's probably not a joke."
Fraser had to agree. He handed Ray the telephone beside Ray's bed, so Ray wouldn't cause himself pain by reaching for it, and Ray called home. He hoped his mother would pick up, but his father did instead. Damien must have realized Ray had wanted his mother because he explained, "Your mother is up to her elbows in soap suds just now. Couldn't get to the phone."
Ray explained the errand he wanted done. There was silence at the other end of the phone.
"Pop, did you hear?"
"Sure, son. You want hand cream." R
ay cursed under his breath in response to the tone of disgust in his father's voice. "Pop, the air in this hospital is totally dry. My hands are hurting me. You know I've got sensitive skin."
"Yeah, I know. Sensitive skin."
"Geez, Pop, give me a break. You know Mom always taught me to protect my skin. Ever since I was a kid. I got a fair complexion. I chap easily."
"Yeah, son. I know about your complexion. I'll see you tomorrow morning." And Damien hung up without another word.
Ray handed the receiver to Fraser who replaced it in its cradle.
"Definitely not time to talk to him about us, Fraser," Ray said.
"Say amen to that, Ray."
The next morning, Barbara and Damien stopped off at the apartment their son shared with Fraser. Barbara let them in with the key she always kept in case of emergency.
Damien actually paused in the corridor and did not follow her inside. "What is it, Damien?"
He looked at her through the doorway. "I'm about to enter the house of a fag. Two fags, Babs. And my son is one of them."
"It's not like cooties, dear. You can't catch it from coming in their place. Come on. Stanley didn't say where he keeps his cosmetics but we should be able to find the cream without disturbing him. He still naps after breakfast."
Damien stepped gingerly into the apartment. Barbara was already in the bathroom, rummaging through bathroom cabinets. Damien stood behind her, saying, "Ought you to look in there, Babs? God knows what you might find."
"Really. This is our son's home. You've been in here hundreds of times. I don't see hand cream here. I'll go check his bedroom."
Without looking, she knew that Damien was tensing up. But then he said something she didn't expect. "I'll go look."
She couldn't think of a reason to prevent him, so she just said she would go look in the kitchen, then.
There were two bedrooms in the apartment. Damien knew that one belonged to Fraser. At least, he had always believed that, but now he knew the boys slept together. Or did they? What did two grown men do after they had sex? Did they cuddle in the same bed? He didn't know. He didn't care to know.
He went first to Fraser's room and opened dresser drawers and rifled the contents of the night table. Nothing here he wouldn't expect any man to have. Was this the bed where he and Stanley . . . He cut off the thought before finishing it – too horrible, too horrible. Fraser had a powder room off his bedroom. Damien told himself he was checking there for Ray's hand cream but he knew that he really wasn't. Fraser had minimal toiletries here. The most interesting items were an old straight razor, shaving cup and brush. The items gave Damien pause. Not what he expected a fruit to use. Maybe Fraser kept them there as a ruse.
He gave up his snooping in the Mountie's room and went to his son's room. No hand cream was visible on any particular surface. Damien paused before pulling open dresser drawers. This felt too much like invading his son's privacy. For Fraser he had no such concern; the pervert had no right to expect privacy. But looking at Stanley's things? Why, even when Stanley was a teenager, Damien had never done it.
He heard his wife call from the kitchen. "I'm not having any luck. How about you?"
"Just give me a minute". He took his wife's words as permission to look in Stanley's drawers. He opened the top one of the dresser. He found socks: only a few pairs rolled together, otherwise a drawer of loose socks. He shook his head. He felt around inside the drawer, and his hand came across some papers. Abandoning any pretence that he was not snooping, he took a bundle of papers from the drawer.
Most were mundane. Parking receipts. The unused parts of movie tickets printed on line. Mail from his police pension plan. Then he noticed his wife's handwriting. Had Babs left Stanley a note? Silly. She would have to know their messy son would never find it in his jumble of socks. The paper turned out to be an envelope, he saw there was another paper inside.
Damien pulled out what looked like a letter. He scanned it, picking out snippets:
My dearest son:
I want to tell you that you can never have too much love in your life. Never turn away someone who offers you love, my child. There's no limit to the room in your heart.
It would upset me to see that I had so failed in my duty to raise you as a good man that you would reject someone's honest affection for you.
Damien put the letter back in its envelope and tossed it with the other papers back into the drawer. He didn't bother to try to make it look as though he hadn't touched anything. Stanley was a messy enough kid that he would never notice the difference. And Fraser – that neat freak – it was clear that he never went into Ray's sock drawer.
He closed the drawer, thinking. Well, that's one way to put it. Who ever thought my own son would end up with another man getting into his sock drawer.
He stood thinking about what he had read. It was just like Barbara to try to make everything better. That's what a mother was for, he guessed. Love. He didn't think about love much but really, wasn't that what it was all about. Making folks feel better. Hadn't Stanley had a rough enough time? Maybe it wasn't wrong for him and Fraser . . . if it made Stanley happy. It didn't make his parents happy, God only knew, but maybe that wasn't the most important thing.
He heard his wife calling again. "Found it! In the cookie jar."
Damien emerged from his reverie. "Cookie jar?" he called back.
"It's wrapped in a plastic bag. Fraser must have done that so the chemicals wouldn't leach out into the cookies. Anyway, mission accomplished. Let's be on our way."
Damien turned to leave the room, then stopped and returned to the dresser drawer. He removed his wife's letter and, clutching it, came out to meet her. He found her in the living room, putting on the coat that she had draped over an armchair when they entered.
"You wrote Stanley a letter." He shoved the envelope at her. She didn't take it. She said, "Two years ago, yes," Barbara said, "I guess you read it."
"Yes. Stanley had it in his sock drawer. This had something to do with Mrs. Vecchio and her family?"
Barbara patted the sofa beside her and Damien sat down.
"Yes. It was when Stanley first started working at the 27th, when he was pretending to be Ray Vecchio. They used to hang out at the Vecchio's and Stanley got to know them. Seems that everybody who knows Mrs Vecchio calls her ‘Ma'. Even Fraser. But Stanley didn't want to. And he didn't like going over to the Vecchio's, which bothered Fraser because he's very close to them. Stanley was worried about me, Damien. Wasn't that sweet. He thought it was disloyal to me to call someone else ‘Ma'."
"He doesn't call you ‘Ma', Babs. He calls you ‘Mom'," Damien pointed out.
Barbara patted her husband's knee. "Ray's not as literal as you are, dear. He felt bad. Funny. I could see he was upset but I didn't know why. It was Fraser that explained it to me. Smart man, Fraser. You have to admit that, Damien."
"Never said the man wasn't smart. Doesn't mean he isn't a pervert."
Barbara stood up. "You read my letter but you didn't really understand it. Oh well. Stanley did and it helped him when he needed it." She headed towards the door, saying "Now put that back in Stanley's sock drawer. You've no right to snoop around in his things, you know."
Damien, however, put the letter back in his pocket.
At the usual time, 8:45 at night, Barbara began tidying up the area around Stanley's bed. She packed away her knitting. She gathered the Tupperware containers and cutlery that she had brought so that Stanley wouldn't have to subsist on hospital food. Stanley was getting stronger and more alert. It was a good sign but it also meant he was getting bored staying in bed. When there was sports on the tiny television over his bed, he and Damien watched together. They limited their conversation to the activities on the screen. She had sports magazines when the television failed to provide distraction.
With all her trappings packed and ready to go, Barbara started to leave but Damien said, "Let's stay a little longer, Babs."
"But, Fraser will be here at nine."
Barbara wasn't sure it was, in fact, okay. Her husband had been behaving well enough so far, not confronting Stanley with his relationship with Fraser. When she had seen her letter in his hand she had hoped, briefly, that it would have some effect on Damien, but those hopes had been quickly dashed. Some day, perhaps, they could all be family. In the meantime, the most important thing was to avoid a fight.
Or was it? Having had the Vecchio family brought to attention that morning, she thought about them again now. I bet they're not quiet at home. I bet they don't mind having arguing in the house. But I wasn't raised that way. And I didn't raise Stanley that way. Barbara found herself wondering whether the way she had always lived and raised her son was the right way. Maybe Damien and Stanley should have things out. Maybe they should clear the air.
She shuddered to herself. That might be okay in principle but the thought of her husband and son shouting at each was enough to make her cringe. No, that isn't our way, she concluded.
Then she remembered her husband had been speaking to her. "Sorry, Damien. What was it you were saying?"
"I was saying we'll stay a little while longer."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. Let's go home." She tried a distraction. "I'm tired; I want to turn in early."
Ray had been tapping at a computer game and tuning out his parent's conversation but hearing his mother complain of tiredness grabbed his attention. It was out of character. He knew the signs that showed his mother was tired: a slump of her shoulders, a slowing down of her swinging of the chamois along a kitchen counter, a pause in her wiping of pan. She wound down slowly, silently, never announcing it out loud.
Ray glanced at his wrist, forgetting that he only had a hospital bracelet there, not his watch. He asked his father the time and Damien told him it was nearly nine.
What? Fraser would be walking in any minute. What was wrong with Mom? She should be getting Pop out of here. Mom would do anything to avoid a fight.
Damien wriggled in his chair and announced. "I'm staying put. Get your knitting back out. We'll be here a while."
Barbara was stuck. She didn't take out her knitting, but only sat in her chair, hands folded in her lap, waiting.
Damien then leaned over Ray and tossed Barbara's old letter on to his son's chest. "I found that in your sock drawer," he said. "I was supposed to be looking for your hand cream but really I was snooping. I wanted to see if you had any gay faggy stuff in your room."
Ray was aghast. It was fortunate that he was already lying down, he would surely have staggered and fallen down from shock otherwise.
"Damien, really," Barbara admonished her husband. "What a way to talk."
"And I found this. I didn't know your mother had written it back then," Damien went on.
Ray only managed one syllable. "So?"
"So you know I don't hold with talk about love and all that, but your mother has a point. She does sometimes, y'know."
Ray managed another syllable. "Yeah."
Damien was coming to the end of his ability to maintain a conversation. "Yeah," he repeated. But for his wife and son, it was eloquent enough.