Chapter 2: Thinking the Unthinkable


Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Michael had been gone for a week, but it was Danny Kate couldn't stop thinking about. Unanswered questions about his broken engagement alternated with memories of his childhood. 

A "surprise" baby, Danny had been born ten months after Kate and Michael arrived in Hawaii. They had hoped their third child would be a daughter. While she was pregnant, Kate had even made a tiny pair of pink overalls, trimmed in lace. But there was no disappointment or regret each time they looked into the bassinet and saw Danny's big brown eyes studying a fist or lighting up with interest as the faces of his brothers came into view. 

Six-year-old Brenden was so eager to see his new brother that Michael had let him skip school the day he brought Kate and Danny home from the hospital. And even though Alex, at nine, was too grown up to admit his excitement, he headed straight for the bassinet the minute he got home from school. 

As the months went by, Danny came to look forward to the after-school reunions with his brothers as much as they did. Before long, it became apparent that it was going to take some doing to keep up with Danny. At first, the boys thought it was fun teaching him to crawl, but they soon thought better of it. He took advantage of his new mobility to get into everything within reach, including their personal possessions. 

As a toddler, Danny's zest for life had led him from one escapade to another, Kate remembered with a grin. Like the time he had retrieved an egg from the unguarded refrigerator door and cracked it on the arm of a living-room chair. Or the time he had put her plastic hairbrush in the oven to bake. She had discovered that when a terrible smell filled the kitchen the next time she turned the oven on. And then there was the time he liberally salted the living-room carpet while his baby-sitting brothers were engrossed in a game. But he was so cute and lovable that his mischief usually resulted in laughter rather than exasperation. 

And now, he's a handsome college junior who has just broken his engagement to a lovely girl, Kate thought, with a sigh. What could have happened? She was still puzzling over the mystery as she wandered into the living room and picked up the latest issue of National Geographic. Carrying it to Michael's chair by the fireplace, she sat down and began leafing through the pages. 

Suddenly, a chill tingled up her spine. She had turned to an article on Inverness, Scotland. The name triggered a deeply suppressed memory. She was transported back to a spring afternoon three years earlier. 

She and Michael had just returned permanently to the United States after fifteen years in Singapore and were visiting Michael's mother in northern California. Nonnie, as they affectionately called her, had provided a "home away from home" for Alex and Brenden when they had returned to the States to attend college nearby. 

On a pleasantly warm afternoon, they sat in green wooden lawn chairs under the ancient apple tree in the backyard. As Kate looked up into its gnarled branches, she remembered how her boys, one after the other, had learned to climb it and how they loved to eat the delicious applesauce Nonnie made from its fruit. She breathed in the cedar-scented air delightedly. How different this warmth was from the fierce heat of the tropics! 

They missed PaPa, Michael's father. He had died of a heart attack five years earlier. Alex was there with his adorable little daughter Amy, but a fresh sense of loss smote Kate's heart as she looked at him. Aileen, the beautiful Japanese girl he had married after dropping out of college, had left him, and he was struggling to raise Amy alone and finish his degree. Kate could still vividly remember the sick feeling she had had in the pit of her stomach when Alex had told them about his impending divorce. 

Brenden would fly home in one more week after his first year of teaching missionaries' children in Okinawa. And Danny, who had just graduated from twelfth grade at the mission school in Singapore, was enjoying a solo jaunt through England and Scotland to celebrate. 

Michael was entertaining them all with exciting stories about his travels throughout the exotic countries of Asia. Kate smiled in amusement at Nonnie's obvious pride. She understood. She felt the same pride in her boys' achievements. And she was proud of Michael, too, glad that he really enjoyed his ministry and was good at it. 

Nonnie disappeared into the house and soon came back out, carrying a tray with glasses, a big, frosty pitcher of lemonade; and a plate of chocolate-chip cookies. Setting it on the table, she proceeded to serve everyone, the ice cubes hitting the sides of the pitcher like melodious wind chimes. 

"Nonnie, I think your goal in life is to make sure no one ever has an empty stomach," Kate said, laughing. 

Amy reached eagerly for a cookie, then turned around to see if her daddy approved. He smiled and nodded. "Just one, OK?" 

Michael took a big sip of lemonade. "M-m-m!" he said, appreciatively. "This is fresh squeezed, isn't it?" 

Nonnie nodded. 

"Kind of makes me lonesome for Danny," Kate said with a faraway look in her eyes. "He loves to bake chocolate-chip cookies, and he's always making us fresh lemonade." 

"I wish Danny were here now, instead of traipsing around Europe all by himself," Nonnie said, with a worried frown. 

"He'll be fine, "Michael reassured her. "He originally planned to make this trip with a friend, but at the last minute, Max backed out, so he decided to go alone. It's really quite safe. Lots of kids do it these days, you know." Michael drained his glass. 

"Missionary kids are used to traveling, Nonnie," Alex added. "We're pretty capable and independent." 

"Well, I still can't help worrying about him," insisted Nonnie. She fidgeted with her hands, then found something for them to do. "How about some more lemonade?" She held the pitcher poised expectantly. 

"Sure," Michael said, holding out his glass. "You're just like Kate, you know. You should have heard her before Danny left." He mimicked Kate's voice. " 'Do be careful!' 'Be sure not to lose your plane ticket!' 'Keep your passport with you all the time!' 'Remember to keep track of your travelers' cheeks!' And 'Never lay your backpack down!' Honestly, you'd think she thought he was eight years old instead of eighteen." 

Kate grinned wryly. She remembered how Danny had given her a quick hug, laughed, and said, "Relax, Mom! I'm a big boy now!" 

"Well, I know how she feels," defended Nonnie. "A mother always keeps a little corner of her mind on alert when her child's away. I know I worried about you while you were overseas. All those plane trips and traveling in foreign countries." 

Alex brought the conversation back to the present. "I suppose Danny took his camera," he speculated. Photography was among Danny's multitude of interests. 

"Oh yes." Kate laughed as she pictured Danny shouldering his well-stuffed knapsack, slinging his camera case around his neck, and waving goodbye with a grin as he headed toward the immigration counter. "I believe his exact words were, "I shall take prize-winning photographs as I stroll through charming English villages!" 

"Where do you think he is now?" Michael asked, turning to Kate. He knew she probably had Danny's schedule memorized. 

"I think he was planning to be in Scotland today or tomorrow." she answered. 

The phone rang, and Nonnie hurried inside to answer it. Kate heard her say, "Danny! Where are you calling from?" Kate's heart skipped a beat as she jumped up and hurried into the house. 

"It's Danny. He wants to talk to you," Nonnie said, handing her the phone. 

"Hi, buddy!" Kate said, a smile wreathing her face. The joy of hearing his voice overshadowed any apprehension about why he might be calling. "How's your trip going?" 

"Oh....not too bad." Kate thought she detected a tremor in his voice. Could he be homesick? 

"Mom..., " Danny paused as if struggling to control his voice, and Kate's heart froze. 

"What is it, honey?" 

"Something happened, Mom." 

"What? What happened? Are you OK?" 

"I'm...OK. I guess I'm just a little shaken up, that's all." 

"What happened, Danny?" Kate asked quietly, trying to be calm. 

"Well, yesterday, I took the train to Inverness, but I didn't realize how late it would be when I got here. I asked about a bed-and-breakfast at the station, and the station master called a few, but they were all full. He told me the train stayed in the station all night and I could sleep on it if I wanted to." 

Kate murmured her understanding. "So what did you do?" 

"Well, a man who had been sitting in the waiting room came over and told me I could stay at his house." 

Kate caught her breath. Danny was too innocent and trusting. She realized belatedly that this was the very kind of situation she had unconsciously been worried about. 

"And what did you do?" she prodded. 

"Well, he seemed like a real nice man, and I thought staying with him would be better than sleeping on the train all night. But, Mom...... Danny's voice dropped almost to a whisper. "Mom, when we got to his house, I found out there was only one bed and we'd have to sleep in it together." 

Kate swallowed her rising panic, not wanting to hear the rest of Danny's story. But he went on. 

"Mom...he was a homosexual..." 

Kate realized Danny was crying. The hair stood up on the back of her neck as she fought the urge to claw that man's eyes out, to tear him limb from limb! She raged inwardly at her helplessness to save her child from the world's evil! 

"Oh, buddy," she murmured brokenly. "What happened?" 

"He didn't do anything to me, Mom," Danny answered quickly. "He wanted to, but I got up and slept in a chair and left real early this morning." 

"Danny, why don't you see if you can change your ticket and come home today," Kate urged, longing to see him. 

"I'll be OK, Mom. I'm going back to England now. I don't want to stay in Scotland. It's only two more days till I come home. I just needed to hear your voice. Don't you worry, OK?" 

"OK," Kate said shakily. "But do be careful!" 

"I will," Danny assured her. 

"And don't lose your plane ticket!" she added desperately. They had both laughed. 

Staring with unseeing eyes at the magazine on her lap, Kate realized that shock had blanked that moment from her mind until now. When they had met Danny at the airport, she remembered looking at him searchingly to see if he had changed, but they had never spoken of it again. 

Could that experience have affected Danny? she wondered. Laying the magazine on the lamp table, Kate stood up and headed for the stairs. On impulse, she paused as she passed the desk, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a packet of envelopes. Her mother had saved all the letters she had written from Singapore. Thoughtfully, Kate slipped off the rubber band and opened an envelope. There was something she remembered ... 

Yes, this was the one. "Danny and Julie are inseparable," she had written, "but they do have their problems. Julie always wants to play house, but they both want to be the mommy. Her mother told me the other day that Julie finally let Danny be the mommy, and he was so happy!" 

Slowly, Kate folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope. Somewhere, down below the surface of her mind, a frightening suspicion was beginning to grow. 

That night, as she tossed and turned, trying to get to sleep, another long-buried memory surfaced. She had been the PTA leader the year Danny was in sixth grade. One day Mr. Gibson, teacher of the upper-grade room, had called to schedule a special PTA meeting. "This will be for the parents only," he stressed. "See if you can get someone to supervise games on the court for the children." 

The guest speaker had talked about the growing numbers of openly homosexual men in the States. There was a real danger, he warned, that fathers who traveled extensively and were away from home for long periods of time were setting up their sons for the possibility of becoming homosexuals. 

For the most part, Kate remembered, his talk had either been received with indignation or had been laughed off by the fathers present. Some of the mothers had been concerned, but eventually their fears subsided. Their boys couldn't have that kind of a problem. Now she wondered if she should have taken the warning more seriously. Would God allow such an awful thing to happen as a result of fathers traveling in His work? There seemed to be no answers, only more and more questions. 

The next day, Kate stopped at the supermarket to buy salad things on the way home from the office. That evening, as she tore spinach leaves, chopped purple cabbage, and sliced a yellow squash, she felt almost paralyzed by a nameless fear. She couldn't bring herself to articulate it, but down in the murky depths of her subconscious floated a dreaded word. 

Kate choked down a few bites of salad, then got up and wandered aimlessly through the house. In the bedroom, she paused. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she stared at the telephone. Slowly, the conviction grew that she would find the answer in that telephone. At last, with great difficulty, she forced herself to face the terrible question. 

Is it possible that Danny could be a homosexual? The question, with all its implications, reverberated in her mind. 

She had to know about Danny, but she didn't dare ask him outright. What if she were wrong? But how could she find out? Then she thought of the pastor at the college church. Danny and Angela had gone to him for premarital counseling. Clinging to the hope that her suspicions were un- founded, she decided to call and ask him. 

Still she hesitated, dreading what she might learn, but at last, she reached out and picked up the receiver. Her hand shook as she dialed the number and listened to it ring. Her heart began to race as she heard a click at the other end of the line. 

"College Church, Bob Wright speaking," said a business-like voice. 

"Pastor Wright, this is Kate McLaughlin, Danny's mother." Kate paused. Her throat felt so tight she could hardly breathe. 

"Uh, Pastor Wright, I know Danny and Angela came to you for premarital counseling. I, uh...," Kate's voice was trembling uncontrollably, and she drew a deep breath, then plunged on. 

"I guess you know they've broken their engagement, and lately I have been wondering about Danny. I know you can't tell me anything he told you in confidence, but..." 

Again, Kate struggled to control her voice. "I have been wondering if Danny could be homosexual. Could you at least tell me if I should talk to him about it?" 

There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence while Kate felt sick with dread. Then the pastor answered, rather stiffly, "Yes, you should talk to him. But be very careful not to say anything that might drive him into a lifestyle neither of us would want." 

The moment Kate heard his "yes," she clamped her hand over the mouthpiece and began rocking back and forth, moaning softly. When he finished speaking, she hung up without saying goodbye, and a wild cry of grief tore from her throat. 

"God! What can I do?" she cried frantically. In a state of shock, she jumped from the bed and began walking blindly through the house, screaming in short, gasping breaths-screams of rage, pain, and disbelief-and pounding her fist against the wall so hard that her arm ached for days afterward. 

Back in the bedroom, Kate threw herself on the bed. She felt as if she were sinking into a deep black hole of despair. Sobs shook her body as she cried until there were no more tears left. Dark, torturing questions circled endlessly through her mind, like a whirlpool sucking her deeper and deeper. 

Is Danny eternally lost? 

Will he die of AIDS? 

Is this the end of all our hopes and dreams for him? 

Will he never have a wife or children? 

Why? Why? WHY? 

Is it our fault? 

What did we do wrong? 

Could we have done something to prevent it? 

An hour passed before Kate rolled over and stared blankly at the ceiling, an occasional shuddering breath all that remained of her tears. One last question filled her mind. 

What has this been like for Danny? 

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