Lafe hears the doorbell ring on the spacious house he shares with his wife of 45 years one evening. From the hallway comes her voice in nervous surprise. “Connor!”
“Hi, grandma,” he sniffles, bruises visible on his face when Lafe joins his wife at the door. “Can I come in?”
“Of course! Let me… let me get you an ice pack.” Connor gives a weak smile in thanks and follows his grandfather into the living room.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Something tells me you’ll find out anyway.”
“Here you go, sweetie,” Elaine Smith says with a pasted smile, handing Connor the ice pack.
“Who did this?”
“Umm… dad. It was dad.” Lafe sits up in anger as Elaine gasps.
“Why would he do such a thing?!”
“Because he… he saw me and Vik. Together.”
Lafe storms to the fireplace vibrating with rage as Elaine tightens her lips in a firm line and removes her hands from her grandson’s shoulders.
“You should go,” she says quietly.
“Okay,” Connor whispers.
“Not so fast,” Lafe interjects. “Elaine, give us a minute, please?”
“Now, please.” She glares and disappears upstairs, fear and resignation clouding Connor’s eyes. Lafe struggles for calm and resumes his seat before his grandson, giving him a deep and thoughtful look.
In his day, Lafe Smith had a notorious penchant for sleeping around Washington. It would perhaps be surprising to note in the late 50s— though not nearly as much after the turn of the millennium— that some of these late-night rendezvous were not with women. This never really bothered him that much. But he knew it bothered other people, and it simply wasn’t talked about, so he didn’t. As a public figure, the last thing he needed was to draw unnecessary attention to himself for something that was only a small part of him. Of course, he didn’t realize just how high the stakes were on that front until it killed his best friend.
As the decades passed, the gay rights movement broke ground and blossomed into a strong advocate for reform in the realm of sexual identity and sexual expression. The senator from Iowa watched these struggles with fascination, mild amusement, and a nagging sorrow about the timing. He heard the stories of lives being saved simply by being honest with oneself about how they feel towards another human being of the same sex, and it made him wonder if maybe Brig could have been saved the same way. He wondered what would happen if Brig knew he could trust him with this.
He made a promise when the senior senator from Utah died that he would never tell anyone what Brigham said in his letter to Orrin Knox. He decides that now is the time to break that promise.
“When I was in the Senate in the late fifties, the President nominated Robert Leffingwell to the position of Secretary of State. A friend of mine, Brig, opposed the nomination— and with very good reason, we soon found out. He had the whole Senate at a standstill, and the President wanted things to move along. One of Brig’s personal photographs ended up, via a few bad men including the President, in the hands of Fred Van Ackerman, who threatened to expose Brig’s secret to the world if he didn’t back down. He shot himself because of it.
“I was so terrifically angered by this. The devastating knowledge that these men I knew and worked with had the capacity for such evil, it haunts me to this day. Brig was a good man, the most honest man I ever knew. Hell, you might say I had a crush on him. He was my best friend, and they got to him with their dirty dealings. It was so senseless, and over something so innocent and pure. It sickened me that he couldn’t trust me with something so simple, because it would cost him his life.
“Connor, I’m telling you this because the picture was of Brig with another man, and he felt so much shame and fear because of it he killed himself. I refuse to let you suffer the same fate. I couldn’t stop it back then, but I can stop it now. You can stay here as long as you like. I’ll talk to your mother and see if she can’t reason with him. Until then, you’re safe here. Always. Don’t you dare doubt it.”
It is only when he sees his grandson’s tears that he registers his own. He reaches desperately for Connor’s hand and squeezes it, sending him all the strength he wishes he could have given Brig.