Frame of Reference

an excerpt

Chapter One

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

6:12 a.m.

On the morning of Grant's move to Hollywood, he awakened early.

This much is true; I may awaken in this bed again, and in this room. But it will never again be my bed, or my room. It will never again be home.

That was a somewhat scary thought. Grant gulped as he looked around the only bedroom he had ever known. His eyes stopped at the Will & Grace poster that he had won on eBay; it hung on the wall, despite his father's initial protests. Next, Grant's eyes settled lovingly on the framed lobby card from My Fair Lady. Picturing Audrey Hepburn as Eliza at Ascot, the sun-faded souvenir was a treasure from his mom's youth.

Grant had briefly considered taking his bedroom treasures to Hollywood, minus mom's lobby card, but then he abandoned the idea. If I leave this room as is, then it will look more familiar when I visit. That was a comforting thought. His sentimental mother wouldn't change a thing, and his father never fooled with furniture and décor.

Grant's gaze shifted to his dresser. He smiled at the framed bathing suit photo he had taken with his best friend Greg Rockvam, four summers ago. It was one more thing of which Papa disapproved.

Grant remembered the afternoon that photo had been taken. It had been one of the many scorching summer days that he had shared with his best friend, diving, splashing and swimming, in Greg's back yard kidney-shaped swimming pool. Grant had been sexually stimulated whenever Greg left the water to step onto the diving board, his water-soaked bathing suit lowered somewhat, revealing tantalizing, white, muscled butt cleavage.

Although Grant was unfettered by what anonymous others thought about his gayness, he cared very much about what his best friend thought and, not knowing Greg's attitude about homosexuality, he had kept his sexual orientation, as well as his attraction to Greg, a secret.

But Greg's mother, Terry, had given Grant the chance to forever savor the moment, as well as her son's sexy butt cleavage.

"I'll give you boys a one, two, three," Terry Rockvam had said, eyeballing her son and Grant through the viewfinder of her brand-new five mega-pixel Canon. "One, two –"

Before Terry said three, Grant had turned Greg's back to the camera, thereby capturing his provocative butt crack on film. It had been an Auntie Mame moment, Grant thought gleefully. Just like when the camera finally revealed the plunging back on Mame's otherwise conservative black widow's weeds.

Although Grant didn't know how Greg felt about homosexuality, he found solace in the knowledge that his best friend had never referred to gay people as "homos," the way most of their classmates did. Nor had Greg ever joined in on the locker room harassment of the boys who were suspected of being gay.

These days, though, Grant didn't see much of Greg. Since graduating high school, the two friends had slowly grown apart. Greg was attending College of the Sequoias, his heart set on becoming a child psychologist. He was engaged to Linda Pollock, the only child of the owners of Pollock Funeral Chapel, Selma's highest profile mortuary. Grant felt a pang. Maybe, when he became a big star, he would invite Greg and Linda to his home in the Hollywood Hills, perhaps for a barbecue.

Leaving the "naughty" photo of Greg, Grant's eyes next swept over to the framed print of a very Caucasian, almost blond, Jesus. This artistic print constituted the compromise that had made it possible for Grant to display his Will & Grace one-sheet poster. He had agreed to give Jesus equal space with Will & Grace, thus placating Papa who thought Will & Grace inappropriate in a Christian home.

Enough of this, Grant decided, ending his nostalgic, sentimental journey. I want an early start. I'd better get going.

8:19 a.m.

Grant was showered, shaved, dressed, and the car was packed. It was time for good-byes.

He found Papa at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and reading the Bible. This was Mark Jackson's morning ritual.

"It's time for me to go," he told him.

"Interesting that you're leaving right now," Papa said, still looking down at the Bible. "I'm reading Luke fifteen, the story of the Prodigal Son."

Typical, Grant thought. He went over to Papa, and hugged him.

Still seated, Mark Jackson gave his son a perfunctory squeeze in return. "Don't forget to call your mother when you get there," he said, returning his attention to the Bible, and its story of that other wayward boy.

Grant's mother was still making a case for Grant to stay as he stashed the last box into his filled to the brim green VW Beetle.

"I still can't understand why you're leaving."

Grant didn't need, nor did he want, this last-ditch drama. But he didn't want to break his mother's heart, either. "Mama, you told me to leave."

Outside the car, Ellie Jackson was clueless. "I did no such thing!" she protested vehemently.

Grant returned her protest with a smile. "Remember Follow That Dream, the Elvis Presley movie?" he said softly. "We watched it together. You said we should always follow our dreams."

Ellie countered limply, "That's fine for Elvis- he isn't my son!"

Grant started the ignition. "I don't know what else to say, Mama, except that I love you."

He saw the tears standing in her eyes as he backed out onto the street. His heart broke a little. This moment felt like death. Perhaps it was the official death of his childhood. Unofficially, his childhood had ended during his first visit to Michael Quintana's house. But he told himself that everything would end up all right.

Mama will be all smiles on the Red Carpet when we attend the Emmys together, or maybe even the Oscars. And that's what we're going to do -as soon as I land my first television series.

Grant turned the corner and was gone.