The sun was glorious.
Kim lay stretched out on a deck chair, drenching herself in the healing dry heat. ll those months of boots and coats and scarves, of getting out of bed when it was dark and returning from work when it was dark were falling away now, one by one, melted off by the sweet caress of the sun.
"Kim, this sentence here about the previous research, I don't think it's strong enough," Kerry said from her shaded spot.
Kim suppressed a sigh. After all, she had asked Kerry to look it over. Except right now all she wanted to do was to fall asleep here in her bathing suit, while soaking up enough vitamin D to last through the next winter.
"What sentence, Kerry?"
Kerry read. "'While the conclusions of Guaraldi et al, (1995) point to the need for a universal protocol ... etc., etc.'"
"What's wrong with it?"
"I think you should be more forceful. Your proposal is a good one and you should be selling it more persuasively right from the start."
"What do you suggest?"
Kerry looked at the laptop screen. "Guardaldi et al (1995) and others clearly mandate the necessity of a universal protocol in this area, which until now has been elusive."
Kim cocked her head. "That does sound better."
Kerry typed in the changes and kept reading.
"Hey, Ker?" Kim called a moment later.
"Finn hasn't dropped by yet today. That's kind of odd, don't you think?"
"Yes, it is," Kerry said, craning to look down the beach. "Maybe he had to go to town with - wait a minute, I think that's him, there. He's just walking this way."
A few minutes later, he appeared on their beach, head down, without his knapsack. He ambled along, kicking the sand here and there until he felt Kerry's gaze upon him. He smiled weakly and climbed the steps of the deck.
"Hi," he said and there was no sense of life about him today.
"Hi, Finn," Kim said, sitting up to see the expression that matched the tiny sad voice. "How are you doing?"
He shrugged. "Okay."
"We missed you this morning," Kerry said. "I was even going to give you the morning off math today."
He nodded, his eyes far away.
"Finn, are you sure you're all right? You look a little ... sad," Kim said, swinging her legs around to a sitting position.
Finn studied his toes and sighed. "I have to tell you something," he said.
Kim and Kerry exchanged concerned looks.
"What, sweetheart?" Kerry asked.
He looked from one woman to the other. "Gran wants you to come to tea. Tomorrow."
There was a silence while the two women made eye contact again.
"Well, that's nice of her," Kerry said. "Inviting us over and all."
Finn fidgeted. "Yeah, I know, but ..."
"But what, Finn?" Kim asked.
He looked at Kim with pleading eyes. "Gran is kind of ... well ... she's kind of ... bossy." He said this last word with a wince.
Kerry had to cover her mouth with her hand to keep from smiling.
"Bossy?" Kim said, leaning closer to the little boy. "You mean like telling people what to do?"
"Yeah," he said, but his tone made it sound qualified.
"Or maybe more like telling people what she thinks all the time?"
He nodded. "Yeah, that too."
Kim nodded and looked like she was thinking.
"Are you worried that we won't like Gran?"
He shook his head. "No. Not really. You'll probably like her okay. Probably."
"Are you maybe worried that she won't like us very much?" Such a gentle voice, it sounded like she was holding him.
He met her gaze, two sets of blue eyes pleading with each other. He nodded hesitantly.
"Because we're lesbians?"
The words burst out of him. "She's really happy that I'm doing all this schoolwork and I'm actually learning stuff, but sometimes she says things to Estelle and to other people you know and it's just not nice because you guys are really nice. My Mom said it was because Gran didn't know any gay people when she was a girl but I don't see why she has to be so mean."
Kim was nodding and urging him on with her eyes.
"She says that I spend too much time over here but she doesn't understand that I like it here and it's really boring at her house cause she never does anything fun and it makes me miss my Mom more. And I really like you guys, you're my friends and who cares if someone's gay or something because they're just a person like everybody else. It's so stupid."
He crossed his arms and sank back into the lawn chair, his face awash in frustration and sadness.
Kim and Kerry checked each other's expressions once again and Kerry gave a barely perceptible nod.
Kim reached over and drew Finn out of the chair with gentle hands and sat him down beside her on the deck chair, then slung an arm around his small shoulders.
"Listen to me, Finn MacCool," she said. "You are our friend, mine and Kerry's and when we pick out a friend, we never change our minds. Nothing that could happen at tea tomorrow could possibly change that. Do you understand that? We're not going to change what we think of you even if your Gran thinks we're horrible people and chases us out with a broom. Got it?"
A small chuckle, no doubt at the visual, and a nod. "Okay. I've got it."
"As for your Gran ... well, sometimes things happen to people in their life, Finn. Things that hurt them or scare them, or things that they were taught are true. Maybe your Mom's right, maybe your Gran has never known any nice gay people, so she doesn't know much about gay people." She squeezed him in a one-armed hug. "And you don't have to worry about her hurting our feelings because Kerry and I have had other people say mean things to us because we're gay and we can decide not to let it hurt us. So no matter what happens tomorrow, we'll be okay, too."
He looked up at her, then across at Kerry, who sat watching and listening. She nodded her agreement.
"But the most important part is this, little man - you don't have to worry about your Gran not letting you come over here anymore because we are both going to do everything we can to make sure that she still lets you come over. We love having you visit, Finn and we're not going to let that change." She smiled at him. "At least not without a fight, and remember, Kerry's got those crutches."
He blinked, then started to giggle and flung his arms around Kim's waist.
"Okay," he said. "I'm not going to worry anymore."
"Excellent," Kim said and she dropped a kiss on the top of his fair head. "Hey, are you interested in some swimming?"
He was on his feet before she finished the sentence. "I've been working on my handstand. Wanna see it?"
"Sure," Kim said. "Let's go see it."
Finn tore down the steps then spun around to face the deck. "Hey, Kerry, you watch from there, okay? Watch for my handstand!"
Kerry waved. "I'll be watching."
Kim cast a look back at Kerry and Kerry arched an eyebrow and nodded. Yeah, she thought, we'll discuss Gran later.
"Kerry, this is a very bad idea," Kim said, rooting around in Kerry's predictably well-stocked medical bag.
"Nonsense," Kerry said. "A med student could take out stitches."
"Do you know when I was last a med student?" Kim asked. "The closest I've been to stitches in the last eight years was when I cut my hand slicing a bagel last year and even then, I went back to the ER to have them taken out."
"Oh, stop fussing. Snip, snip and you slide them out."
Kim stopped, gloved hands in mid-air. "But it's your face, Kerry."
"Kim, there is absolutely nothing you can do to hurt my face. The removal of the stitches in no way affects the final product."
"They have healed really well," Kim said, probing one of the cuts with her index finger.
"Good. So take the damn things out already, cause I still need to have a bath and wash my hair."
"You're sure you want me to do this?"
Kerry gave her a look. "You either take them out or I'll do it myself with a mirror."
"All right, all right," Kim said and she disinfected the blades of a pair of surgical scissors. "But I don't see why it couldn't wait another day or two and I could take you to see a real ER doctor."
"I am not going to visit that woman with my face looking like this," Kerry said.
Kim pursed her lips as she snipped a minute knot and slid a stitch out. "Yeah, I suppose the less ammunition she has to fire at us, the more chance Finn has of getting to hang out with us over here at Lesbian Central."
Kerry sat motionless while Kim worked her way along the largest cut, quietly snipping and tweezing away sutures. "How bad do you think it's going to be?" Kerry asked as Kim dabbed her face with antiseptic.
"I don't know," she said. "We'll have to wait and see. Personally, I always like to open with honey and switch to vinegar only when necessary."
"Are you saying we should try to charm her?"
Kim wiped a piece of nylon suture off her tweezers. "If Finn's description is only partly accurate, it may not be possible to charm her."
Kerry nodded and Kim held her head still with one hand.
"So we should just be our witty and sophisticated selves?" Kerry asked.
Kim laughed as she snipped. "Oh yeah, that'll work."
Kim pulled the Jetta into the huge semi-circular driveway, edging it up behind the silver Mercedes that was parked near the door. Rachel's house hadn't looked small until they'd pulled up here and Kim realized that the view they had of the Ryan house from Rachel's deck was deceiving - the place wasn't just big, it was palatial.
She popped the trunk and retrieved Kerry's crutches, then brought them to the passenger side door where she waited. She had insisted on the crutches, even though her stability on them was questionable, refusing to use the wheelchair, as if she felt it would take away from a potential position of power at tea.
Kim already felt the urge to roll her eyes and they weren't even out of the car.
They made their way to the front door, painfully slowly, Kerry teetering with each step, Kim standing close by, one arm extended in case she needed steadying. Kim could see the discomfort that every step brought and she felt in her pocket for Kerry's tiny bottle of painkillers. She had a feeling they'd be needing them.
Before they got to the massive front door, it flew open and Finn emerged at a gallop, making a beeline for them.
"Hi! Hi!" he said. "You're here!"
"We certainly are," Kerry said, with a smile. He took up a position on her left side, and mirrored Kim's protective posture as she crept towards the house.
"Hey, you're doing a lot better with those," he said to her, glancing quickly at Kim to catch her eye. "I think you must be getting stronger from doing your weights."
Kerry nodded. "I have a slave driver for a trainer," she said.
"Hey, look at how handsome you look," Kim said, "all dressed up."
He wore a jade green polo shirt and khakis with a sharply ironed pleat. His bare feet were gone, replaced with slightly worn deck shoes and his hair had been brushed and an effort at taming the cowlick had been made.
"Gran made me," he said, but his smile betrayed his pleasure at the compliment.
They were just cresting the threshold of the massive main doors when a woman with silver white hair and glacial blue eyes appeared. She was dressed casually in slacks and a cotton sweater with a necklace and earrings. Kim wondered if there was a section in the L.L. Bean catalogue called "Rich Ladies Of A Certain Age Having Tea." If there wasn't, there should be, and she knew who could be their first model.
"Oh, good heavens, dear, are you quite all right, there?" she said as she approached. "Now, Francis, don't get in the way."
Kim started to look around for this Francis and then remembered. Finn caught her eye and he smiled sheepishly.
"Well, now let's get you into a comfortable chair right away, dear," Gran said and she led the way out of the spacious foyer into a sitting room. "I'm Maureen Ryan, Francis's grandmother." She extended her hand to Kim in a position that made Kim wonder if she was supposed to kiss it or shake it. She opted for the latter.
"Kim Legaspi," she said, "and this is Kerry Weaver."
Everyone murmured the appropriate pleasantries as they made their way through the cavernous front hall into the cozy sitting room. Kim helped Kerry seat herself while Mrs. Ryan hovered nearby wringing her hands and saying "oh good heavens" and other such useful things. Finn pulled over a footstool and grabbed a pillow from the sofa for Kerry's leg and he expertly helped Kim to prop it.
Kerry settled in, took a deep breath and Kim saw her slide into social autopilot. A sparkling smile to Gran. "Mrs. Ryan, it's so kind of you to invite us over," she said. "We've heard so much about you from Finn."
Finn, who was perched on the edge of the sofa beside Kim, stiffened and Kim had to stifle a giggle.
"And you two are all he ever talks about when he's home," Mrs. Ryan said, sending her grandson an affectionate, yet slightly barbed look. He grinned in embarrassment and looked at his shoes. Something about this satisfied her and she turned her attention back to Kerry.
"Now what in creation happened to you, dear? You look like you've been through the wringer!"
Kerry took a deep breath. "I had an accident," she said simply.
"An automobile accident?"
Kerry's eyes flicked over to meet Kim's.
"Yes," she said.
"I trust your convalescence is progressing well and that my grandson's visits aren't tiring you out."
"Oh no, Mrs. Ryan. Quite the contrary, actually. Finn has even been helping me with my physiotherapy."
"Well, you've had quite an effect on his schoolwork, Dr. Weaver."
"Oh, please call me Kerry," Kerry said, turning up the voltage on her smile.
"Then you must both call me Maureen," Mrs. Ryan countered.
Everyone smiled a lot and Kim thought she might have felt the tension fall a notch.
"Francis, be a good boy and go tell Estelle that our guests are here and not to forget the sandwiches in the icebox."
"Yes, Gran," Finn said. He scurried away towards the kitchen.
"You have a marvelous grandson, Maureen," Kim said. "He's a remarkable little boy."
Maureen Ryan looked at the empty doorway. "Do you really think so?"
Kim's smile faltered slightly. "Yes, I do," she said, uncertainly.
"Well, I ask because Francis told me that you are a psychiatrist, and I wonder what he might have told you."
Kim searched the older woman's lined face, trying to divine where the hell she was going with this. Maureen picked up on it immediately.
"About his mother's suicide," she said, a hard look on her face. "He did tell you about that, didn't he?"
"He mentioned it."
"And does he seem all right to you?"
Kim risked a glance at Kerry before she spoke. "I'm not sure how you mean."
"Does he seem to you like the kind who would take their own life?"
Kim tried not to let her mouth fall open. "I beg your pardon?"
"I am told that these sorts of things can be passed on genetically and that simply being related to people who commit suicide gravely increases your chances of - "
Kim couldn't bear to hear the end of the sentence. "Mrs. Ryan, uh, Maureen, any research on that topic is extremely speculative at best. The act of committing suicide has a complex set of antecedents and no one has come up with a good predictor for it. It's impossible to tell."
"An entire army of psychiatrists was not able to help my daughter-in-law. Maybe that explains why."
"Depression is a difficult illness to treat," Kim said.
Maureen regarded her slyly. "Do you think that Francis is depressed?"
Kim shifted on the sofa. "I would have to conduct a proper assessment and interview with him before I could even - "
"Surely you have some idea. He's at your house four or five hours a day. Aren't you paying any attention to him?"
Kim felt her muscles tense, and she forced herself to breathe. This was for Finn. "I would have to say that when we first met Finn, he seemed unhappy and a little fearful."
"He wasn't sleeping, you know, at the start of the summer," the older woman said and suddenly, the doting grandmother was back. "The boy would hardly eat. We had to literally force him to eat anything. And now ..." She looked over at Kerry with an appraising eye and then back at Kim. "Well, now he's sleeping like a baby and eats three squares and as many snacks as Estelle can give him."
Kim smiled slightly. "He does seem happier these days."
The sound of tinkling china interrupted and Estelle and Finn arrived with a teacart laden with a silver tea set that had been polished to a high gleam. Bone china cups, saucers and plates were stacked on a lower tray and in the middle were plates of cookies, cakes, squares and tiny sandwiches.
Maureen smiled like the gracious hostess. "Thank you, Estelle. These are our neighbours, by the way, Dr. Weaver and Dr. Legaspi."
Kim stood to shake the woman's hand and Kerry nodded.
"So you're the ladies that Finn is always talking about. To hear him tell it, you're just about his best friends."
Kerry smiled and put her hand on Finn's shoulder. "Well, we're lucky to have him visit," she said.
Maureen efficiently poured the tea into the dainty cups and Finn delivered them, walking slowly and carefully, to Kim and Kerry. He helped Maureen distribute plates and then brought by the trays of sandwiches and cookies. Kim watched him as he performed his duties. He'd clearly done this before.
When everyone was served his took his cup of tea and plate of cookies and sat beside Kerry.
"Francis, we were just talking about your mother," Maureen said, languidly stirring sugar into her tea.
Finn's face fell slightly and he stopped mid-nibble on a piece of shortbread.
"What about her?" he asked and his voice was small.
"I wonder if you told these nice ladies that your mother was a painter?"
Finn's eyes traveled around the room before he answered. "Uh, no. I didn't."
"A marvelously talented girl," Maureen said to Kerry and Kim. "I always had a sense that her melancholy was more than the average brooding artist suffers, but of course, in the end, we were powerless to help her."
Kerry watched Finn's profile, saw the pain that was welling there.
"Maureen," Kerry said brightly, "I wonder what you think of Finn's latest marks from his tutor."
"Well, we're delighted, of course," she said, choosing a sandwich from the silver tray. "It's what we expect of him, you know. After all, Francis is a Ryan and a lot is going to be expected of him later in life."
"My tutor said that if I keep up the way I've been going that I'll be ahead of some of the kids at Blackburn, Gran," Finn said.
"Well, we'll see about that," Maureen said. "For now, you're going to keep working on your lessons because we won't have the same kind of embarrassment as we did last year. Isn't that right?"
Finn stared down at his teacup. "Yes, ma'am."
Kim stuck another sandwich in her mouth and chewed to keep herself from speaking and willed the time to pass more quickly.
"Finn," Kerry said, "did you tell your grandmother about the science project we're working on?"
Finn brightened a little and nodded. "You know, Gran, about the astronomy and planets and everything?"
"Ah, yes," she said, cradling her teacup in her hands. "He's having his father mail him books from New York on the subject."
"Kerry has a telescope and if Kim goes to Chicago one of these days, she's going to go and get it and bring it back so we can look through it at night on the beach."
Maureen listened attentively to him then raised her eyebrows. "At night on the beach?" she said. "It sounds positively dreadful to me, so I have no doubt that you shall enjoy it immensely."
Finn grinned at her. "You might like it Gran, you never know."
"Francis," she said, taking a sip of her tea, "by the time you get to my age, the only good thing is that you know exactly what you like and dislike."
Everyone chuckled politely.
"Which brings me to the reason for our meeting," Maureen said, placing her saucer and cup down on the low table in front of her. "I felt it was important that we discuss the fact that I am extremely uncomfortable with my grandson spending so much time with two homosexuals."
Kim nearly dropped her teacup. She juggled it to the nearest flat surface and put it down.
Kerry gave the older woman a smile. "I do admire your forthrightness, Maureen. Let's discuss it, shall we?"
Kim wasn't sure who was currently the greater threat to Finn's mental health and well being, Kerry or his Gran, but she did know that this was a conversation that he didn't need to witness.
"Hey, Finn," Kim said suddenly, "why don't you show me your room? You said I could see your collections and your toys and things."
Finn's eyes were wide and he appeared to be frozen in place. "Okay," he said vacantly and he stood up. He glanced back at Kerry, who gave him an encouraging nod and then he led Kim out of the sitting room.
"Is Dr. Legaspi uncomfortable with this discussion?" Maureen asked.
Kerry shook her head. "No, I think she probably just thought that it was best for Finn if he wasn't involved in the conversation just now."
"I see," Maureen said. "Well, I'll get right to the point. I don't think that it's appropriate for Francis to visit you anymore."
Kerry took a long slow breath. "What exactly is it that you're afraid of, Maureen?"
"I'm afraid of what might happen to him in your care, how his ... judgment may be warped. I'm afraid of what sort of deviance he might be exposed to. I'm afraid that he will begin to question the tenets of his faith, which teaches that homosexuality is sinful."
Kerry nodded and felt the aching in her leg intensify. "Do you have any reason to believe that those things have been happening to Finn? Do you feel he's being adversely affected by visiting us?"
"Well, it's impossible to know what diseased seeds are being planted now that will bloom later in life," she said. She stared hard at Kerry. "You must understand. Patrick, Francis's father, is my only child, Dr. Weaver. And Francis is his only child. The hopes of our family rest on the shoulders of this boy."
"And some days, Mrs. Ryan, he feels that weight very sharply."
Maureen Ryan's gaze did not leave Kerry's face. "I do not approve of you or your lifestyle. And I do not want you influencing my grandson."
"Mrs. Ryan, I am not here today to argue theology or morals or ethics with you. I doubt you and I will ever agree on most of those subjects. The only reason that I am here is because Finn is desperately afraid that you're not going to let him spend time with us anymore. I'm not sure what I can say to reassure you beyond what you already know. Kim and I are decent, hardworking people, professionals who devote our time to helping others. We are genuinely fond of your grandson and consequently would never do anything that might in the least way harm him. Since he's been dropping by, he seems happier, and you said yourself he's eating and sleeping again and he's devoted himself to his schoolwork like never before. If that's not enough to prove to you that he benefits from spending time with us, then I don't know what else to say. And although you are clearly a self-righteous, narrow-minded old bat, I think that you honestly do want what's best for your grandson. Because if you really wanted to end Finn's visits to us, you wouldn't have invited us to tea to tell us. You would've just stopped him from coming over."
Maureen Ryan regarded Kerry with a stony expression that gradually softened into something resembling a smile. "I admire your forthrightness as well, Doctor."
Kerry nodded. "Then?"
Maureen eyed her cautiously. "Francis will be allowed to continue visiting you. But I will be watching closely."
"I would be disappointed in you if you weren't," Kerry said. She picked up her teacup. "Now then, I wonder if I could trouble you for more tea?"
Maureen smiled and reached for the teapot.