My heart sinks as I hide out behind the large curtains in the ballroom. Beau and Stevie can’t see me. They are talking and it’s clear Stevie is trying to calm Beau down. I can’t hear everything they are saying. I need to get closer. I need to hear what’s going on.
I sneak closer. I go underneath the table in the ballroom and try to shift the chairs. One of the chairs must be old because it makes a strange noise that echoes through the ballroom.
“What’s that?” I hear Beau stay.
His eyes dart across the ballroom. They are looking for something. They are looking for me. I stay still. I stay perfectly still trying to avoid making any other moves.
Somehow Stevie says something to Beau. I’m not sure what it is but for some reason, they start leaving. The two of them just start leaving out together. It becomes perfectly clear to me that Stevie must have been buying me time. He must have been doing what he could have to distract Beau. I didn’t have any time to waste.
I run over to the captives.
“August,” June Bug realizes, “Oh thank god. Thank god. Let us out of here.”
“Are they gone?” I ask.
“Yes, Stevie convinced him to leave. I heard the door close. They are gone,” June Bug assures me.
I start untying him first. The only one that isn’t tied up at this point is Mary Flannery. She looks up at me with these desperate eyes.
“That nigger is crazy,” she is telling me with tears in her eyes.
“Mary calm down. Go to the kitchen and call the police,” I tell her, “I’ll get them up…”
She nods and takes off. I am immediately starting to untie June Bug. As soon as I’m done with June Bug I move on to Chuck.
“He was helping him,” Chuck states looking at me.
“Stevie was helping him,” Chuck responds, “He was goddam mixed up with the whole mess. He’s just as bad. I promise you. He’s just as bad.”
Chuck looked pissed the hell off.
“If it wasn’t for Stevie calming him down you’d probably be dead now dumbass,” I tell my cousin finally releasing the last knot that was keeping him tied up around his abdomen.
Chuck is angry though. He has this looked of a man who has had his heart broken all over his face.
“You so sure about that?” Chuck asks.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Chuck, what the fuck did you mean by that?”
Chuck shrugs, “All I’m saying is Stevie seemed awfully sympathetic to that mad man.”
“They grew up together. They are friends?”
“Seemed a little bit more than that if you ask me,” Chuck states.
I don’t know why that makes my stomach turn. I don’t know why the thought of it makes me so uncomfortable.
“It’s all fake,” I reassure him, “Stevie was just trying to give us time.”
“OK, if you say so…”
Chuck gets up. By now June Bug has released Carol and Sissy. Mary Flannery joins in the room at that point and she runs over to Carol to comfort her, but Carol is already getting comforted. She’s already being comforted by Sissy.
“What’s this?” Mary Flannery asks.
Carol has her hands on Sissy’s chest. The two seem to not care at this point what other people think about them. The embrace they are sharing is real. It’s beyond real at this point.
“They’re lovers,” I state.
Mary Flannery looks shocked. She looks completely shocked. Almost immediately I can see the judgment in her eyes as she looks over at Carol. It was the clearest look of disgust that I had ever seen in my entire life.
“We should sneak out the back,” June Bug states, “Make a run for the neighbors.”
“The police are on their way,” Mary states.
“He’s gone,” Sissy states, “Stevie talked him out of it.”
“Who asked you?” Mary Flannery asks.
They all look at Sissy with some hard look. The hardest look I could ever imagine.
“She’s trying to help,” Carol states, “She knows that boy more than anyone.”
“I had enough of their help,” June Bug grunts, “We should have never had these niggers working in our house in the first goddam place. Goddam nigger bitch.”
The anger in June Bug’s tone is clear. Hearing him call Sissy a “nigger bitch” right to her face crosses a line that I didn’t’ think existed. I don’t know what comes over me at that point but hearing him talk to Sissy like that pisses me the hell off. I hit him. I clock June Bug right in the jaw. No one is expecting it. No one expects me to hit my favorite cousin. June hits the deck as hard as he can.
“Well damn,” Chuck states.
Just at that moment, we hear a car pulling up from the open windows of the ballroom. At first, I think it’s the cops but then I realize something else.
“It’s Uncle Charlie,” I realize.
Uncle Charlie and Aunt Loribeth were being dropped off. I watch as they step out of the car and hear the car drive away. I take a look over at June Bug on the floor. It was all over but at the same time, I didn’t feel any better about any of it. None of these people had learned a goddam thing from any of it. If anything they were all just angrier. They were all more hateful than ever.
We all walk towards the foyer in hopes of meeting Uncle Charlie and Aunt Loribeth. When we get to the foyer my mouth drops.
Standing in the foyer is Stevie and Lonny.
Stevie has tears in his eyes.
“Stevie?” I ask.
I take a few steps towards him but then I hear a voice. A deep ass voice that booms at the thought of me approaching Stevie.
“Step away from him,” the voice demands.
It’s Beau. They were back. They had come back. Beau had his gun pointed at me. The others gather around. He was at the top of the stairs. He has all of us in his view now. He could probably take us all out of if he wanted to!
The door opens and Uncle Charlie and Aunt Loribeth walks in.
Uncle Charlie notices Lonny first.
“What’s going on here?” Uncle Charlie demands.
It doesn’t take him long to realize it though. When he and his wife walk in Beau’s silent figure is at the top of the stairs casting some sort of unnaturally long shadow over the rest of us. Almost immediately Aunt Loribeth begins to scream. She starts to scream like a mad woman. It takes Mary Flannery to run over to her and hold her tightly before she stops screaming.
The rest of us are silent. So silent.
All of us terrified by the sound of Loribeth’s scream.
Beau looks over at Stevie.
“Stevie take Lonny and your sister. Get out of here. I don’t want you to see what happens next,” Beau explains.
Stevie doesn’t budge. He doesn’t move. Not even a little bit. Seeing him stand strong at that moment makes me think so highly of him. He doesn’t even budge. He looks so handsome there standing in defiance.
“I’m not going anywhere Beau,” Stevie says, “Nowhere. If you going to do what you going to do, then you’ll have to do it knowing that I am watching you. You’ll have to do it right in front of me Beau. You hear that?”
It strange that he says that. It’s even stranger that Beau shuffles a little bit. The idea of doing this in front of Stevie makes him uncomfortable…for some odd reason.
He looks like he’s about to address Stevie again and a part of me wants him to. Somehow Stevie is getting to him.
But before he says something to Stevie, he is interrupted.
“How much you want?” Uncle Charlie offers.
Hearing Uncle Charlie throw that out at that moment was almost like hearing a cat die. It’s disgusting. He just stares confidently as Beau too. I’ve never seen someone so completely detached from his emotions. Doesn’t he see the pain in Beau’s eyes? Did he really plan on buying him off?
“You don’t got enough money in the world to pay me to let you go,” he tells Uncle Charlie.
I don’t think Uncle Charlie quite understands what he’s trying to say because he quickly shifts, “Well then just me and my son June Bug.”
I think half of us in the room drop our jaws.
“What?” Chuck states.
“10 million,” Uncle Charlie states, “20 million if you let me and June Bug out of here right now.”
“June…” Mary states.
June Bug looks at his father, “This isn’t my idea. Dad, Mary’s pregnant…”
“You can have another baby,” Uncle Charlie states, “This is life or death son. This negro has murder in his eyes.”
June Bug seems disgusted at his father. I can tell by how he looks at him. Hell all of us look at him. He was so ready to give up the rest of his family. There was no love loss with the fact that he wasn’t going to offer a ransom for me. I didn’t expect it. The fact that he wasn’t doing it for his other son or his wife blew me away though. Aunt Loribeth is the only one in the room that doesn’t seem surprised.
“You piece of shit,” she states but she isn’t shocked. She knew more than anything the man she married.
Uncle Charlie ignores her, “Just two people. Let us out and you’ll be the richest Negro in the south.”
Uncle Charlie’s offer opens the floodgates. Almost immediately Chuck looks over at Stevie, “Stevie don’t let him do it. Ask my dad how your mom died. Go ahead. Ask. My dad poisoned her because she was pregnant.”
“Wh—what?” Stevie asks.
Stevie finding out what happened to his mother like this was beyond. Uncle Charlie immediately tries to deny it but he didn’t even look the least but creditable especially when his own wife starts to back up what Chuck is saying. A million voices are talking at once but the only one that matters is the voice I can’t hear. Stevie. He’s so still. He’s so upset. I wish I could just run across the room and hold him. I can tell Beau has his eyes on me though like a goddam hawk. He won’t let me go anywhere near Stevie.
“Go ahead, ask August,” Chuck states, “He knows all about it.”
That’s not true. That’s not true! I didn’t know all about it. I can’t even open my mouth to deny it though because of the chorus of other voices throwing each other under the bus.
“Carol should be the only one that dies,” Mary states, “She started all this. She goddam lied. Go ahead Carol tells them how you lied on the niggers. Go ahead admit it.”
“Wasn’t it your June Bug who suggested burning down Stevie’s house to the Klan?” Carol shoots right back.
Allegations spread across the foyer like wildfire. It isn’t until a gunshot breaks out. We all hit the ground. All of us at the same time.
It was nothing but a warning shot though. That’s all it was. We look up and Beau has shot a hole in the ceiling.
“Shut up,” he states, “All of you. You’re nothing but a bunch of fucking cowards. All of you deserve to die.”
“Do it,” Lonny is saying to Beau, “Do it for Shug.”
Beau is ignoring Lonny though. There is only one person he is looking at. He’s looking down the steps at Stevie. His eyes are locked on Stevie in a way that I don’t understand. Why is he looking at him so hard?
Stevie seems removed from everything. It’s almost as though he doesn’t have any hope left in him. He just looks at the ground. He looks so sad. I would give anything to make him feel better at that moment. The look on his face is a true pain though. I can feel it. I can feel it all over him.
“You all deserve to die,” Beau says at that moment, “But I don’t deserve to kill you. I don’t deserve having that on my soul.”
Stevie finally lifts his eyes up. The way he looks at Beau at that moment makes me feel…empty. It makes me feel so fucking empty. There is a love there. There is emotion. As Beau walks down the steps Stevie makes his way towards him. He makes his way towards Stevie.
The look of love in their eyes looks so real. It looks so fucking real. And I can’t help but hate every moment of it as they start towards one another.
Right before they get close the door breaks open though.
Beau still has the gun in his hand. He still has the gun in his hands when the shots break out!
Two hours have passed.
I see Stevie sitting. He’s sitting next to the fireplace in the Crawford’s mansion. He has a blanket over him. I’m just watching him as he’s sitting there.
“Tell Stevie he can stay as long as he like,” a voice states.
I turn and notice Uncle Crawford standing there. I’m surprised he says it. Maybe it was the fear of his life that all of a sudden changed him into a man who gave a fuck about the welfare of anyone else. It sickens me that he is showing Stevie any sort of pity. I hate the idea of it.
“He doesn’t need to stay here,” I offer.
I almost spit the words out at Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie shakes his head and starts walking away. He’s a piece of shit and now his whole family knew it.
As soon as he leaves I start toward Stevie. Seeing him sitting there looking at the fire just makes me sick to my stomach. I sit next to him though and put my hands on him. He allows me to do it. He isn’t crying. I expect him to be crying but he almost seems empty. It’s almost as though all the emotion has already left his body before I got here.
“I’m sorry about Beau. I’m sorry about Lonny.”
“He dropped his gun. Lonny didn’t even have a gun,” Stevie realizes, “They killed them both. They shot them both dead anyway.”
He explains it to me as though I wasn’t there. It’s clear the memory is outlined in his head. I remember how Stevie screamed when Beau was gunned down. Partially I blame myself. I should have never told Mary to call the cops. I should have known what was going to happen. I didn’t think that Stevie would cause Beau to drop his gun. I didn’t think it was possible, but that’s exactly what happened. He was able to get to Beau.
Beau wasn’t the monster that I thought he was.
“It’s this place,” I assure Stevie, “We need to get out of this place.”
He rolls his eyes, “And go where.”
“Carol and your sister want to take us away with them,” he explains, “We can go up north. We can live peacefully. Things are different up North. They are better.”
“And do what? What do we do when we get there?”
He looks at me as though completely confused. I grab his hand. I put my hand in his. It felt so…right to me. There was nothing that I wanted more than the feeling of what I was feeling now. I let our hands heat up in one another as the heat from the fire heats up our faces. When my face is warm enough I pull his face over to mine.
I begin to kiss him softly. I kiss him slowly.
But I’m realizing. He’s not kissing me back.
“You knew what happened to my mother?” he asks me after the awkwardness of my attempt.
“I wanted to tell you but things were already complicated enough.”
He nods, “You didn’t think I could take it.”
“I wanted to carry that burden for you.”
There is a pain in his eyes though. I knew almost immediately that this was something that was on his mind for a long time. There is a reason he didn’t kiss me back. There was a reason this was one of the first things he brought up.
“You hate me for it?” I ask.
He shakes his head slowly, “No. You’re different August. I don’t hate you. I have so much love for you. You’re an amazing person.”
Hearing him say that is everything that I always wanted.
“So, then you’ll come with me?” he asks, “We’ll leave together?”
There is a silence. It’s the kind of silence where you know someone is thinking of the best way to deny you. It’s the longest few seconds in my life. I feel so empty feeling it. My mouth gets dry when I look over at him and see him looking at the fire. He’s thinking of someone with love but I don’t think it’s me. I don’t think he’s looking at me the same way that I am looking at him.
“This isn’t the time for us,” he explains to me.
He removes his hand from mine. I didn’t want to beg him but I cared about this boy more than I cared about any other boy before.
“This isn’t your fight,” he explains to me getting up at that moment, “It has never been. It has never been your world. It’s never been real to you. It’s just been an experience. But this is my life. This is my world. I can’t leave it. I promised Beau that we’d find a way to fight. I mean to keep my promise. I don’t know how. I know I won’t kill. Don’t ask me to kill. But I will fight that feeling that I felt when they gunned down Beau. I’m going to stay. I’m going to find a way. I don’t want anyone to feel the same feeling that I felt. This isn’t our time, August.”
With that, he walks away.
I want to call out to him. “Stevie, you’re mine, you’re mine.” But that isn’t the truth. Stevie didn’t belong to anyone. Not Chuck, not me and hell not even Beau. It seems as though for the first time he’s realizing that. He’s making his own decisions and he’s made up his own mind. So I let him walk away. I allow him to leave.
“I’ll never forget the first love I met that August of 1967,” I tell my grandson.
Clarence is old enough to hear the story. He just turned 21. He’s the same age that I would be. I’d had his father shortly after 1967. I felt at that point that I’d never been able to love another man the way that I loved Stevie. I dated a few women. Had a son. Sooner or later though, you become yourself again. I’d fallen in love with another man. I found love again.
“Whatever happened to Stevie?” Clarence asks.
“Well, I went back up North so I don’t know for sure. But I hear my Uncle Charlie died shortly after. Aunt Loribeth poisoned him the same way he poisoned my mother. She went to jail shortly after. June Bug and is wife had already denounced the family and moved West by then. That left Chuck with everything. Chuck surprisingly changed his stripes by then. Together with Stevie, they used the family fortune to help the legal defenses of black men wrongly imprisoned in the south.”
I know what Clarence is going to ask me. He wants to ask me if Chuck and Stevie ended up together. For so long I had wondered the same thing. It was one of the greatest mysteries for the good part of my life. A part me was always afraid to get the answer. So many times I’d heard from Sissy and Carol everything about Stevie’s life. I heard how he played such a major role in the Civil Rights movement and again for Gay Rights and now he fought for women’s rights in the workplace and Muslim rights. He was married to these movements of equality and freedom.
“No,” I respond, “Just close friends. Carol made sure to tell me that before she died.”
It was a long drive all the way to Birmingham. We are pulling up to the funeral now. The first person I see is Peter. I’m shocked when I see the old driver pulling up. He gives me a look. He smiles. I don’t.
“It’s her funeral we are going to right?” Clarence asks, “Carol.”
I nod. I was 72 now. Carol and Sissy had been together this whole time. It had surprised me when Sissy reached out to let me know that Carol had died and that we were going to her funeral.
“When my husband died they were there for me,” I explain, “So I want to be there for them. That’s how these things work. Even if it means coming back to Birmingham.”
“I’m shocked you came here,” Clarence states, “Especially in fall. It’s still humid from the summer but no where near as beautiful as the Spring. August in Birmingham is where everything comes to die.”
The city had changed but it was still beautiful. As we pull up to the church I see the leaves falling. They were so many different colors. It reminded me of the first time I came to Birmingham all those years ago.
“There’s beauty in August in Birmingham,” I explain to my grandson.
As fall progresses, Autumn shows his head. I can tell my grandson is sad by the story I told him. He wanted a happy ending. His face sours up like it used to when he was a kid.
I wasn’t sad about the death of the leaves. I wasn’t sad back then when Stevie left me. Not for long at least.
Because there is a beauty to August. There is a beauty to the Autumn. Birmingham is lush with forests that offer leaves rich in deep reds, golds, russets, purples, and yellows.
“Not everything is meant to last forever,” I tell him, “Not everyone you meet is destined to be in your life forever. But when they are there it is up to you to love them and cherish them. Sometimes a tree has to shed its leaves to grow more. That’s what August is. That’s what Autumn is.”
I would not have grown into the man who I was going to be if it weren’t for that August in Birmingham. I wouldn’t have realized love when I found love if it weren’t for the time I spent with Stevie. I had taken the values I learned that summer and had given it to my son, who had given them to my grandson. We had changed the narrative of what it meant to be a Crawford man into something good. This was something that I should be proud of.
So I wasn’t upset about the fall. Because I knew everything must die in order to grow again. I found beauty in all the colors of August.
“Good afternoon, August,” a voice states.
I turn. There is a man. He’s just as old as me. Handsome in his age. He glares at me and I glare at him. The recognition that we have together is something real. We don’t run into each other. We don’t give a long embrace. Those years and those feelings had passed such a long time ago. The memory was still there though.
The memory is enough to make me smile at him. We smile at each other. A simple smile. Then we walk past one another.
Clarence notices how I stare at the man as he walks away. I’d never been good at hiding my feelings. The man walks into the Church in order to pay his respects to Carol.
He was as handsome as ever.
There was still beauty in the colors of August.