Zane and Gus had coffee and pastries set out for whoever came to the meeting. Gus had approached Zane with the idea that LGBTQ2 over 35 (or so) really needed their own group to socialize with. He explained that he had been talking with a few friends and they were upset everything was being directed at or done for the younger LGBTQ2 where the older members were really ignored by the community.
The response was surprising for Gus when 28 men and women showed up for the meeting. The ages ranged from 35 to 55 for the majority but there were also two men who were a couple at 75 and 76. The group discussed their needs and some possible solutions. The overriding theme for this group was almost the same as the youth group. They wanted a place to meet with peers, participate in some organized activities and a place to make friends.
After the meeting and planning portion of the evening, the people broke up into smaller groups with some playing cards, scrabble or even some getting a game of badminton going in the gymnasium. Two women who were obviously a couple were trying to get a friendly game of poker started. At another table, a group of both men and women who were sportspersons and gun enthusiasts were talking about their collections along with their hunting history. Gus had been watching one particular man at the meeting who had been doing his best to be invisible. He didn't sense any ill will towards the group from the man, just that he was trying to hear what was being said but not seen. As everyone was moving off to participate in the various activities, the man had looked at the ground for a long moment before quietly heading to the door. Gus had anticipated the move and had positioned himself to intercept the man.
Gus approached him, extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Gus." The man was startled, actually jumping as Gus spoke to him. Gus continued, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you like that."
The man looked at Gus and replied, "My apologies. My mind was elsewhere and you startled me." He reached out with his hand, grasping Gus's firmly as he said, "Hi Gus, I'm Bert."
"Are you going to join in with the activities?" asked Gus.
Bert shook his head while looking at the ground, "No, in all honesty, I was leaving."
"Is there something which we could include in our activities which you would enjoy doing? This is the first night and we're wide open for suggestions on what to do."
Bert began to look nervous, borderline panicky as his eyes darted between Gus and the door to leave. "It's alright Gus. I wasn't sure what to expect so I just thought I would take a chance and drop in."
"Please, stay and join in with the activities or eat some food. I don't want to take any home with me because my husband will eat it all resulting in either indigestion or a fat ass."
Bert smiled at the comment, "I'm sorry, but I have to watch what I'm eating. The food looked fantastic so it took every bit of my willpower not to eat it."
"I can bring special food to the next meeting. Do you need diabetic snacks, lactose-free, gluten-free? What can I do so you can enjoy the food while you're here?"
Bert looked at the ground, then up at Gus. He took a deep breath before saying, "I truly appreciate it Gus but I'm not going to be around here much longer. I just thought I would check the meeting out." Bert looked around the room quickly, almost in a panic. His pupils were now dilated fully as he scanned the room for the locations of everyone, and to identify all the exits. He looked at the ground again before looking up at Gus again. "I appreciate your offer Gus, but I need to get going."
Gus was not liking what he was hearing and seeing as he was talking with Bert. Gus raised his hand and called out, "Zane, have you got a moment?" He turned to Bert and commented, "Before you go, I just wanted you to meet Zane. He's the man who is the director of this centre."
Zane approached Gus and Bert with his hand extended, "Hi, I'm Zane. Outreach Centre Director." Bert grasped his hand, shaking it firmly.
"Zane," said Gus. "Bert was leaving now and I wanted him to meet you before he left. I had asked about a special diet for him as he wasn't eating the food and he mentioned that he wouldn't be hanging around much longer."
Gus was looking into Zane's eyes as if he was trying to pass a message of 'help.' Zane was still shaking Bert's hand so he looked the man in the face and opened a link. Bert felt a shock on his hand similar to static from a carpet; he also knew what it meant. The intensity of helplessness, hopelessness, and haplessness along with despair absolutely shocked Zane for a moment, causing him to snap his head up to look into Bert's eyes. It was only for a brief moment before the link was gone, just like someone had slammed a door closed. Bert finished the handshake and retracted his hand. He unconsciously rubbed it where the shock had touched his skin.
Bert's demeanor changed immediately, as did the way he carried himself. The man appeared to be 55-60 years old, shaved head, dark brown eyes, salt and pepper moustache, medium skin tone, 5'11", broad shoulders, a little extra for weight, and he was dressed in jeans, running shoes, a drilling company polo shirt along with a building company's logo light jacket. His clothing was clean but well worn. Bert had stood up straighter, lifted his shoulders, and tensed his arms muscles as soon as the link had been cut off. His voice was now very controlled to make it honest but portraying fake happiness. "Zane, it is such a pleasure to meet you. This is a fantastic place you run here."
"We're pretty proud of it" Zane responded as he was trying to analyze Bert's body language. "We've already established a youth group, and Gus wanted to organize this adult group. This is what we're here for, to try and provide a service to any member of our community. No matter what they need."
"Very admirable Zane, and long overdue."
Zane was passively trying to sense Bert's emotions while at the same time interpret the behavioral cues. Zane had never before experienced anyone who could shut down their aura as well as his mind link with them. His muscular changes in the way he was standing could be either the preparation for a fight or a flight. Zane just didn't know which way it could go. When he looked into Bert's eyes, the brown had now turned to a black colour which just swallowed light. They gave no clue of the thinking in the brain behind them.
Zane wanted some time to figure this out. "Would you like a tour of the facility?"
Bert was still standing rigidly straight, his eyes constantly checking the exit door. "Perhaps another day Zane; I truly appreciate the offer. I really need to get going." Bert's eyes immediately shifted to identify a new voice.
"Bert, it's wonderful to see you," said the man as he approached them with his hand extended. "I didn't realize you were here."
"It great to see you Derek, but I was just leaving."
"Bert, please come have a cup of tea with me so we can catch up a bit."
Bert looked at Zane, Gus, and Derek for a long moment before his body muscles began to relax again. "Derek, I can't say no to you. Do they have decaffeinated?"
"There's a selection of different tea over there Bert," Gus stated quickly.
Derek reached out to grasp Bert's upper arm, acting as a guide for him towards the couch and chairs. "Bert, I haven't seen you anywhere for such a long time, what have you been up too?"
As the two men walked away. Both Gus and Zane heard Bert answer, "Well Derek, you know I don't like crowds, so other than work I volunteer at the SPCA as well as play in my flower gardens."
The two men sat down; Derek on the couch and Bert in the armchair. "You haven't adopted more pets, have you?" Another man joined them and sat next to Derek.
"Bert, it's great to see you. It's been too long," said Ted.
Bert smiled at the man, "Ted, you're looking good. I see Derek is still managing to keep you away from the Cheetos."
Ted laughed at the comment, then added, "He found all my secret hiding spots."
"It was a challenge Bert, and it took weeks," Derek said as he took Ted's hand into his. "It's what you do to keep your husband alive."
"Ted, you really look great," Bert said.
"I appreciate it, Bert," replied Ted. "So what have you been up too? I heard you say you were volunteering at the SPCA or did you open your own."
Bert chuckled, "Maybe a couple more cats, and a dog, and a kid who ran from alcoholic and abusive parents."
"Good god Bert, you haven't changed. Only one kid, one dog, and two cats? I would've expected more."
"Two kids actually, one after another. They've moved to stable places now."
Gus approached the two men with a pot of tea and two cups. "You said decaffeinated? I made some decaffeinated jasmine tea."
Ted smiled, "Thanks for that Gus. I haven't got a piano tied to my ass; I could've got it myself."
"Ted, you barely have enough ass to hang those jeans off after getting your Cheetos cut off let alone enough of it to attach a piano to," Bert said with low voice.
"You're such a bitch," Ted replied through laughter. The three men began chat quietly, but it became more animated very quickly.
Zane stood off next to the snack table and watched the men chatting. Zane was trying to figure out exactly how Bert had blocked him and how he was hiding his aura. Scanning through the memories of his ancestors, he just wasn't finding anything which mentions blocking a Shaman's gifts.
Zane was jolted back into the present by a gentle touch to his right elbow. "Huh?"
"I'm sorry Zane, I didn't mean to startle you," Gus said apologetically.
"No problem Gus, just deep in thought."
"Zane, could we step over there," asked Gus indicating the hallway. "Ted has asked to speak to us."
"Absolutely Gus. Lead on," Zane replied as they both started walking. In the hallway they found Ted looking at his smartphone. He looked up when he heard the two men approaching.
Ted offered his hand to Zane. "Finally, it's a pleasure to meet you, Zane. You are so well spoken of by the community for the work you've been doing."
Zane's face felt warm as he blushed with the compliment. "Thank you. I do what I can."
"May I explain our reaction to Bert coming to the meeting?" asked Ted.
"No explanation is necessary, but please continue" Zane replied.
"We've known Bert for the past twenty years. He was married with three stepchildren at one point but ended up divorced. She was quite the work of art so he wasn't allowed any contact with the kids, the result was they were mentally poisoned by his ex-wife. They grew up with him, and he even got along very well with their natural father so when he was cut off from them it hurt him bad. Years after the divorce, he accepted what he had been fighting for years and identified himself as gay. He was a police officer until he retired and had seen some terrible things in his job. Back then, real men didn't need psychologists and were shunned or denied promotions if they ever saw a counselor."
"We'll do whatever we can to help him," Zane quickly commented.
"I appreciate that. So you know, Bert has no family left anymore, they've all died. Although he's belonged to every public service group to help others, he's still a very private person. Zane, he's really isolated socially," explained Ted. "He's confided in us that he's tried numerous dating sites online. But, everyone now wants a young guy, not anyone over 30 let alone over 50. He's accepted that he will be without a boyfriend or husband, probably dying alone. The gay dating scene is so different from the hetero dating scene he had experience in. Now, the gay scene you trade dick pics and meet up for a hookup. It's so different from the hetero dating where you chat and go out on a few dates before going to bed."
"The hetero dating scene is changing too. More and more hookups there too," added Gus.
"It so different for an older person let alone someone who is only familiar with hetero dating practices to try and get into the gay dating." Ted was getting upset. "I know my husband and I agree with Bert about hookup sex, commitment, and even exclusivity but that doesn't seem to be common in the gay culture."
"The values are changing," said Zane. "I don't know if it's a good or bad thing overall."
Ted exhaled audibly as he said, "I do know his accepting that he will never have a boyfriend and dying alone is not a very positive influence on his thinking. His entire life has been devoted to helping people as a police officer as well as all the volunteer groups he worked with. He's done everything he can to help youth even taking them in with no financial aid until they could move on. No one else realizes that he has such despair with feelings of isolation. To see him here today absolutely stunned Derek and I because he never goes anywhere to help himself, just others."
Gus was getting upset, "Those are the very reasons we formed this group. To try and help older LGBTQ2 people network or get help if they needed it."
"Is he reaching out?" asked Zane.
"I honestly don't know, Zane. He's also talked about carrying on the charade of being straight and going back to dating women again. He thinks that would give him a possibility for company even if it's living a lie."
"That sounds very reactive or impulsive," Gus said as he was in deep thought.
"He can do things impulsively, it's very rare but he does do it occasionally. Right now he's enjoying himself yakking with us; without including his pets he will go to an empty home. He now works at a department store stocking their shelves; something way beneath his skill set. Bert loves it because it keeps him busy but after work, he goes home and doesn't come out until work the next day."
"There are so many middle-aged and older LGBTQ2 people in the same situation," Zane commented. "The social scene is set up for the young, and the bars are not very welcoming to anyone over 30 let alone 40," Ted added "Even the pride parade is now just young people in speedos or similar wear dancing or showing off. The LGBTQ2 community has embraced youth as the desired commodity, socially isolating all the people who have done the fighting which got us the rights they are celebrating. Today, Pride in Canada has become a young meat market. Originally, it was everyone coming together as brothers and sisters to fight for LGBTQ2 rights, now it's worse than the UN; all mouth with no action. Just a big show."
"I take it the Pride groups in the cities fighting to exclude all police from the parades due to past social injustice hurt him deeply?" asked Gus.
"Very much so" Ted agreed. "He's not even welcome in the parade to celebrate the rights he helped win. Bert suffered the injustice of the dominant culture against the LGBTQ2 people, and now he suffers it again from his own community. He has always tried to be a role model to the youth, and now as an LGBTQ2 retired police officer, he could continue doing that. But, they don't want him either as a police officer or as an older person. I know him very well and he's been walking the edge of suicide for a few years."
The last statement got both Zane and Gus's attention. "Is he suicidal now?"
Ted shook his head as he answered "No, he's not. I guess my being a social worker may be working overtime on this but his coming to a meeting like this really caught my attention. It's just out of his normal behavior pattern."
"My husband's a police officer," Gus stated. "I understand what you're saying very clearly. What I've noticed is our community is spending too much time internally fighting each other now. With the rights of equality, many believe the rights are a licence to be ignorant, rude and self-important."
"That's the attitude of the current generations of all people in our country," added Ted.
"Without getting into that debate, how do we help Bert?" asked Zane.
"I don't know. Is there any volunteer positions open here at the centre to help keep occupied constructively?" asked Ted.
"The food bank is always looking for help. We could ask him about it," replied Zane.
"That would be wonderful, Zane. He's always had the ability to make you feel better as you talked or told your problems to him."
That caught Zane's attention. "How do you mean?"
"Hard to describe but he always seemed to draw people to him who needed help. He would sit and listen to their problems but they felt different by the end. They felt more positive just from talking to him."
The lights were beginning to go on in Zane's head. Zane was now suspecting Bert was a very strong sensitive who had developed the ability to turn off or block the emotions around him from years of practice. In fact, he would have to be a very powerful sensitive to block a shaman as powerful as himself or he had discovered a previously unknown technique. "That's very interesting to me."
Ted smiled, "It's amazing actually. People just seem to open up to him so easily. I've seen Bert just sit relaxed in a chair in front of a young man who refused to speak. Within moments, the young man was having a soda while telling Bert his life story."
"I'd like to talk him more about how he does it," Zane said while in deep thought. "What can we do to help right now?"
"Well, having you and Gus know about him is a big help. Like I said earlier, my husband and I have known Bert for 20 years. We're more than friends but less than family, although we have always thought of him that way."
"I'll do whatever I can to help him," replied Zane.
"I appreciate that," replied Ted as he extended his hand to shake. Zane took it and shook it firmly. Ted left to join his husband and Bert on the couch.
"Well Gus, this is why you wanted to set this up and I agreed it was a need."
"I didn't think anything would happen the first night."
"Sure proves there is a need for it. I'll approach Bert when he's going to call it a night and ask him if he would like to help at the food bank," Zane said with ulterior motives beneath his words.
Gus was all smiles as he said, "John is going to be so impressed. He was working late tonight but will come to the next meeting."
"I should invite Grandfathers Mathew and Tom to the next meeting. They're always looking for someone to play cards with."
"I think it's a great idea."
Zane laughed before adding, "Watch the two of them if they start playing poker. Either of them could win the poker championships, but they just enjoy the game."
"Thanks for the warning. John and I love a good challenge at poker so we might have to throw down the gauntlet."
Zane smirked, "It's your money."
Short stories I have written: