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Midway through the day on Thursday, I realized my boss hadn't contacted me. The first meeting of Ian's project was the previous evening. We learned Ian wanted to rework the curriculum and create an integrated course that included all the various disciplines. I had suggested the use of masters' students to facilitate the creation of the curriculum and perhaps actual lesson plans.
I called Katie, Ian's administrative assistant, to find out where the boss was hiding.
"Hey Katie, how are you doing? I think I owe you a visit and another muffin as soon as my boyfriend's life returns to normal. By the way, the boss wanted me to call if he hadn't touched base by noon. Do you know where he is?"
"Tony, I heard about Marcus's Dad. The last thing you need to worry about is muffins. I hope he's doing better. You do need to stop in and say hello soon though. Dr. Hunter is in his office, hold on I will put you through."
"Good afternoon, Tony. First, I talked to Jon last night. Not only is he on board, but he's fairly confident the School of Education will jump at the chance to help us with the new curriculum. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have the project receive this kind of attention. The help from the university will be invaluable. This will be such a boost to the whole project.
"Second, I want you to help me make a presentation to the Dean of the School of Education. I think you would best be able to describe how we could benefit the students and what they can do for us.
"And finally, I have the list of peer educators. I want to schedule a meeting next week. Is there any afternoon that fits into your schedule?"
"I'm a little overwhelmed. I'm sure someone else could do a better job meeting with the Dean. Any one of the building principals or department heads would be better equipped to sell this project."
"Actually, I disagree. It was your idea and you are closest to having completed your degree. I think you are best able to explain how our needs can be fulfilled by the students, and at the same time how the project can benefit the students and the university. Trust me; this is too important for me to not send in my best." Ian replied.
"Just tell me when and I will do whatever you need. As far as the meeting with the peer group, my days next week in the high school are Tuesday and Wednesday. That would be the easiest for me."
"Good, I will get back to you on both as soon as I get more information. Thank you again, Tony. This idea of yours is going to pay huge dividends. I will give you the meeting details as soon as I have them."
"Very good, I will talk to you soon. And thank you for the confidence you have in me."
That night Danni and Hunter were due for dinner. The only time we had seen Danni since the night Hunter arrived was when he visited the hospital. I chatted with him a couple of times, and he seemed incredibly happy. I needed to figure out a way to get him alone for a few minutes. The jeweler had called and the ring would be ready the next day. My idea for the proposal included Danni, so I needed to make plans with him to pull this off. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I intentionally left a bag in the car.
Hunter and Danni arrived promptly at six. Since Danni was always thirty minutes late, Marcus and I weren't expecting dinner until seven that night.
Marcus started busting on Danni as soon as they arrived.
"Well either Hunter is a great influence on you, or the Diva can finally tell time."
"Well, for some ungodly reason my boyfriend thinks when people say six they actually mean it. We all know you always tell me at least a half an hour before you expect me to be there. This on time thing is complete nonsense. He had me running around like crazy to get ready. You know you can't rush perfection."
Hunter spoke right up, "Get used to it sweetie, I run a tight ship. I don't tolerate lateness, no matter how good the finished result ends up being."
"Holy shit, I am beyond fucking impressed. Hunter you have gone where no man has ever dreamed of going. Getting Danni to be anywhere on time is worth at least a special Tony Award." Marcus burst out laughing.
"Okay, first you lie and tell my man I'm way older than you, and now you throw shit around about my being fashionably on time. Marcus Lucas Taylor, you are walking on thin ice here. If I didn't love your boyfriend to pieces, I would give you such an attitude adjustment."
"I told you, Hunter. You have to nip these two in the bud before they get completely out of control." I said. "Why don't you go outside on the balcony and help my boyfriend get the table and chairs set up? We might as well take advantage of the unseasonably warm night. I'll take the Diva and get the last few items out of my car."
I got Danni outside the door and grabbed his hand. "Look, I really only left a bag in my car so I could get you alone for a minute. I need to talk to you seriously. Can we do that quickly before we go back into the condo?"
"Sure, what's up? Why so secretive?"
"Well, the jeweler, where I took my grandmother's rings, called. The new ring will be ready to be picked up tomorrow. I want to propose to Marcus at Noah's. It's the place we met the first night he was so amazing. I think I want to propose to him while you are singing a number. I need to figure out when you will be back, and how long you're staying."
"Oh my God, I'm so thrilled for both of you. Do you know what song? Do you want him to be on stage? Are you sure you want to do this in front of the whole bar? Holy fuck, I'm so excited to be a part of this."
"I'm not completely sure about any of it. I'm not even sure we are ready for this yet, but I know in my heart Marcus is the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I know I'm rushing things here; we've only really been a couple for two months. I just think we are ready. I only know I really want you to be a part of it. I was thinking of the song, 'From this Moment'. It's kind of smaltzy, but it feels right. Although, I would love it if you could come up with a better idea." I said.
"That's a sweet song. It's really perfect for a proposal or even a first song. How about this? I get up to perform a number, and you are backstage with me. You come out on stage, and walk towards Marcus. I let the spotlight follow you, instead of me; damn I really must love you guys... And you do the whole knee thing. Are you sure you want to make that big a scene? It doesn't seem like your style."
"I don't know. I really think I want it to be at Noah's, but maybe I could do it at the state park where the pride picnic was that year. Or if I had the patience, I could wait until next summer and do it on a whale watch boat... I really don't know yet. My only real thoughts were Noah's and you; I didn't even think about how public it would be at Noah's."
Danni looked deep in thought. Finally, he spoke. "Look you have time to decide. I will be going down to New York City with Hunter this weekend. We have musical and dance rehearsals for three weeks. I get a week off right before Thanksgiving. And then it's full bore complete show blocking and dance numbers; I really hope Hunter and I can survive those rehearsals. But, I should be home for that week. The only issue I see is... you know how crazy Noah's gets during the holidays. All the queens who come home need to escape family for a few hours. The place will be wall to wall."
I knew Danni was right. Noah's was a good place but would be way too public for me. I needed to think it through. And then I thought what about the condo? Really incredible moments for us happened here.
"You are absolutely right. It's way too public for me. The condo would be a better place. I came home with Marcus that first night, and get your mind out of the gutter, he was a complete gentleman. And the night we got together, I barged in on him. Our first kiss happened here..." I got a little misty eyed.
"You forget I know the whole story. I think I knew Marcus was in love with you even before he did. The week he spent with you after your Mom's heart attack... well he called to apologize to me for missing my show when he drove you to New Hampshire. I could hear it in his voice, he was smitten even then. I think the condo is the better place by far.
"But Tony, think about making a new place with memories that are just about each other. Hell, come to NYC... you can take a carriage ride, do touristy stuff, and even propose at Rockefeller Center at Christmas. Really the possibilities are endless."
"You're right. Obviously I need to spend time thinking about it. I need to use my imagination. Now, we better get back before they notice we are missing."
Dinner was fun. Hunter was a total match for Danni. He was quick witted, funny, and charming. Every time Danni thought he could get one up on him, Hunter put him back in his place. The two of them had Marcus and I cracking up the whole evening. It was nice to see the stress that had built up for Marcus surrounding his Dad, leave his body. I know I was doing my usual beaming at the whole scene.
"So Hunter, are you coming back up with the Diva here when she gets some time off next month?" I asked him. "You know we are going to have one hell of a celebration to send him off on this tour. By the way, have you figured out all the logistical things he was stressing over?"
Hunter grinned, "Well, that return trip will be up to Danni... Hopefully we won't be at each other's throats by then, especially since he is going to be living with his boss down in 'The City' to save a little money. He may need a vacation from me too. And the logistical things are falling into place."
"Hunter, darling, I think you are the one who might need a vacation. I have every intention of being a raging Diva bitch at rehearsals. Those boys won't know what hit them. This is my fucking moment and they will bust their collective asses to make me look good. You'll only need to tell me once what you want... "
"Danni, my pet, I need you to love the boys, and for them to love you. Let me be the raving bitch. I will make sure they know exactly what needs to be done to make you look amazing. You need to trust me on this one. I know how to make the show work."
Marcus and I watched the two of them like it was a tennis match.
"Seriously, sweetie, you really think I should be all Olivia De Havilland and not Joan Crawford."
"Oh my God, leave it to you to come up with that analogy. Yes, you need to be all Olivia from 'Gone with the Wind' and not 'Mommie Dearest' for this one. There are too many things the other players could do to make you look bad. I need you to let me be the bad guy."
"I'm so much better at 'Mommie Dearest' though. Channeling Olivia will be much more work for me... But I guess I need to trust you on this one."
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore.
"Are you kidding me? I was more worried you'd go all Bette Davis on them... but Olivia De Havilland? How is that even possible?"
Marcus started laughing, as Hunter and Danni just looked at me. You could tell it was all Hunter could do to not burst out laughing himself.
"Bette Davis, huh, well, haven't we come a long way since you were that scared young man at his first pride picnic? Marcus, what the hell are you teaching this boy? The next thing you know he'll be telling me to be all Judy from 'The Wizard of Oz'."
"Actually, I was going to say all Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey... but it didn't fit with the dead cinema icons you were spouting."
I knew Marcus was overtired by this point. He could barely catch his breath while laughing. The tears were running down his face.
"I hate to put an end to all the fun, but I think my boyfriend might have a heart attack if he keeps laughing like this. Hon, I think you are still exhausted. I guess it's time to call it a night. Hunter, if you have any issues with the Diva here at rehearsal, just call. We won't be able to help, but it will be fun to hear all about it... "
"Tony and Marcus, thanks so much for watching out for Danni. I want you to know I love him, and I'm sure we can get through whatever 'bumpy nights' come our way." He grinned, "Seriously, I'm going to bust my ass to see we leave work at rehearsals. And when we go home at night it will be Hunter and Danni, and not the Musical Director and the Diva. Damn that could be the title of a show. Maybe I could get Neil Patrick Harris to star in it for me?
"You ass... " Danni started. Hunter, however, pulled him in for a kiss. Unbelievably, that shut Danni right up.
"I'm sure I will see you both soon. Marcus, I wish your Dad a full recovery. Thank you both for everything. C'mon Olivia, let's go back to your place. We need to finish packing."
I wrapped Danni in a huge hug and whispered in his ear. "I love Hunter. You did good. Please call if you need anything. If you come up with any ideas about that other thing, let me know. I'm going to miss you."
"Thanks, I'm going to miss you too, but I am so excited about this, both the show and the gorgeous musical director. I will see you in three weeks."
After our guests left, Marcus and I finished cleaning and headed for bed. He was asleep in seconds, but I was thinking about Danni and Hunter, meeting Marcus's Mom, Ian and the Dean of the School of Education, and proposing to the man of my dreams. Finally, my brain shut down and sleep took over.
The door slamming shut shook the whole condo. I was on the phone with my Mom when Marcus came home.
"Mom, Marcus just got home and I'm guessing something is seriously wrong. I need to go. I will talk to you soon. I promise we will get home to see you before Thanksgiving. Love you.
"What the hell? Hon, what happened? I've never seen you like this."
"My mother is a... I don't understand. I finally get my father to accept me and in swoops the bitch on wheels."
"Marcus, calm down. Tell me what happened."
"Well, I went to the airport to pick up my mother. Jamie called and was running late so he asked me to go get her. I got there as fast as I could, but apparently it wasn't fast enough. She started with a lecture about making people wait. I tried to explain I wasn't originally the one coming to pick her up. She didn't want to hear excuses.
"Then she started in on me, 'Haven't you gotten over that phase yet? Seriously, I expected you would have found a wife to settle down with by now. Don't you want to be happy?' I tried to tell her it wasn't a phase and I was deliriously happy. Did she want to hear anything about my life? No. She then had the nerve to ask me which one of us played the woman?"
I couldn't help it. I started to laugh. I let loose and couldn't stop.
"Did you tell her we took turns, and that I was still a virgin when we met?" I continued to chuckle.
"Anthony Michael Wallace, this is so not funny," Marcus started to smile, despite himself. "I told her neither one of us was the woman. We were both all man and we loved it that way. Will you stop laughing? This is serious. She started into the whole homosexuality is a sin thing and I lost it."
"Hon, I'm sorry. I really don't mean to make light of the situation, but I had no idea one of us was supposed to be the woman. I'll have to ask Danni if I can borrow an outfit before he leaves."
Finally, Marcus started to chuckle and pulled me in for a kiss. "Thanks, Babe. I just got so mad at her I couldn't even speak. I guess we never really talked about it before this. I mean she knew I was gay, but since I haven't been serious with anyone; she could ignore it completely until now. What the hell am I going to do?"
"Look, I could always go see my parents for the weekend if that would be easier."
"Bullshit, now don't you piss me off. She will not come between us. She will not make you leave your home just to make it easier for her. She is just going to have to deal with life. I love you with all my heart and that's not going to change. What are you going to do; run to your parents whenever she comes to town? And exactly how will I explain that to our kids? 'It's ok, Susie, Grandma Taylor is coming to town so Poppa Tony has to go away for a few days.' Yeah that's going to work!"
"Well I can tell you one thing... No child of mine will ever be named Susie." I just beamed at him. "Seriously, Hon, I'm sorry. I can't imagine what that whole conversation was like. I'm so lucky my parents accept me and love you to pieces. Look maybe we should just move Sunday dinner, I could stay home while the Taylor's deal with, what did you call her? Oh yeah, the bitch on wheels. Tell me what you want."
"I'll tell you what I want. You are going to totally be yourself on Sunday. That will just kill her with kindness. If she can't accept me and our love, then she can make the choice to not be around us. If she wants to be in my life, she needs to accept that you are my life."
"So, what's the menu? What exactly do you serve a bitch on wheels?"
Marcus pulled me in for a kiss. "Thanks... I love you so much. I just wanted her to give you a chance. I don't know what the bitch on wheels deserves, but I think your Mom's meatball recipe needs to come to the rescue. What do you say? Spaghetti and meatballs will make the rest of the family happy, especially the twins."
"Well, since you are the son of a bitch on wheels, I'd better just nod my head in agreement." I burst out laughing again.
"Now you are just trying to push my buttons. You are such an ass. How did I get so lucky?"
"Back up, I'm the lucky one and don't forget it. You know maybe it will be okay now if you tell her I'm good in bed. Heck, we are going to hell anyway. I mean at least she should know just how good you have it... "
I kissed him and took his hand. "Hon, maybe we should skip dinner tonight and go right for dessert."
"I love that plan."
Sunday morning I crawled out of bed to find Marcus already cooking.
"Hon, you spent all day yesterday making meatballs and sauce. What the heck are you making now?"
"I'm making homemade bread. I figure garlic bread will be awesome with the spaghetti. Jamie and Sarah are bringing an antipasto, and Nick and Jessica made a minestrone soup. I just need to pull a cake out of my ass to bring to Dad's room for dessert and it's a done deal."
"I'd offer to help, but you would just take it away and do it yourself anyway."
"Not this time. You are going to knead the dough for the bread while I make the cake. I know how good you are with your hands," He winked. "So wash up and get to it. You have 5 minutes before the first kneading gets done. Just enough time to wash up and start your first cup of coffee. No lollygagging today."
"Seriously, I got up for this? I'm going back to bed."
"Not a chance. I promise plenty of rewards for being a helpful little boy today."
"Again, with the little... Okay old man I need my first reward. And a peck on the lips won't suffice, I need a real kiss."
Marcus and I had a fun time getting dinner ready. I got lots of rewards for my good behavior, and the promise of a great big reward before bed that night.
"Well, I'm not sure 'great big' is the right terminology. But it's plenty big enough."
"That remark will cost you twenty demerits. You have a lot to make up for now if you still want a plenty big enough reward."
"No fair, I have been slaving away this morning. Heck, I even cleaned the bathroom. I think I've already made up those demerits... "
"Well maybe, but I think Mr. Smartass needs to hide for a while. My mother needs to meet my Prince Charming. Have you seen him hiding any where?"
I was so nervous to meet the woman who in my mind was the future mother-in-law. I wouldn't even get the chance to let the twins take my mind off things. She would be coming with Jamie, Sarah, and the boys. Eventually, the family started to arrive. Nick, and his family, actually showed up first.
"Well, thank god we got here first. If I would have shown up after Mother, I think she would have picked at us for hours." Nick sighed.
"Oh, so it's not just the homos who are getting grief." I replied.
Nick burst out laughing, "Oh that sounds ominous. I'm guessing Marcus got an earful on Friday. Tony, you know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well in this case, absence made the heart forget just how much of a pain in the..."
"Nick, not in front of your daughter; you know she'll repeat everything she hears." Jessica whispered. "Be nice, she will go home soon and the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief."
Marcus joined the conversation, "Amen to that. I wish I had never talked her into coming up here. Is it just me or has she gotten worse since her last visit?"
"Oh no, she is worse. But in all fairness, the last visit was when you were Mr. Sad Sack." Nick added.
I finally said, "Let me guess, I was dating a certain idiot and things were going badly."
Marcus got a sheepish look on his face. "Well she didn't ask why I was down, although now that I think about it... That could be why she was in a better mood. Wonderful, should I apologize now for being so happy? If so, I'm terribly sorry, Nick and Jess, apparently my mother doesn't like when I'm happy."
Just then the door bell rang, Nick, Jessica and I basically ran in the opposite direction, leaving Marcus no choice but to answer the door.
"Hello Mother, please come in."
"Uncle M, where's Uncle T, I gots to show him something?" Stephen burst out.
"Stephen Taylor mind your manners. We don't just burst into someone's house. You need to behave like a gentleman."
"Yes, Grandma Taylor. I'm sorry." Stephen paused for just a second and then ran over to me.
I bent down to give him a hug and whispered in his ear. "Stephen, give me a minute to meet Grandma Taylor and then you can show me, okay buddy."
"Okay, Uncle T." He whispered back loudly.
I stood up to find Marcus's Mom standing right in front of me. Under most circumstances, I would have backed down and tried to sneak off into a corner after being introduced. But this was my house too, and I wasn't going to be anything but Prince Charming today. "You must be Grandma Taylor, I'm Anthony Wallace. It's a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to our home. May I offer you a beverage?"
"Anthony Wallace, I see. Where are you from? What do you do for a living? How exactly did you meet my son?"
"Mother" Marcus sighed.
I offered my arm to lead her into the house.
"Marcus, Be a dear and get your mother some iced tea or perhaps a ginger ale... " I walked with her into the living room. I could feel every Taylor eye watching the two of us.
"Iced tea would be lovely."
"Well, Mrs. Taylor. I'm originally from New Hampshire. I have recently started teaching in a local district and am working on my doctorate at the university. Your son and I met when I literally ran into him three years ago. He was the most amazing friend I have ever had. About two months ago, a mutual friend opened my eyes and helped me to figure out just how much I loved your son. Frankly, these last two months have been the happiest of my life.
"One of the best parts of being in love with your son has been getting to be a part of his family. You must be very proud of your sons and their families and how close they all are. It's such a pleasure to count them as my family, too. Marcus, where is that beverage for your mother?"
The entire family was frozen waiting for a reaction from her. She looked at me like I had given her a bite of the most hideous piece of candy ever, but to her credit she remained civil and polite when she replied.
"I am very proud of my family, thank you."
"Why don't I see about that iced tea, it seems to be taking much longer than it should." I smiled as I walked away from her. Once in the kitchen and out of her eyesight, I slumped against the wall and took a few deep breaths.
"Babe that was unfucking believable. Are you okay?"
"Well, you asked for Prince Charming... I think I need a kiss."
When I returned to the room, I handed her the glass. "Excuse me, but I think Stephen had something he wanted to show me. If I can get you anything else please don't hesitate to ask.
"Okay, buddy, what did you need?"
"Uncle T... " Both boys grabbed my hands and lead me to the balcony.
Dinner was a very subdued meal compared to most Taylor family gatherings.
Josh took a bite of his meatball and said, "Uncle M. These meatballs are yummy."
"Joshua, we do not talk with our mouths full."
"Sorry, Grandma Taylor, but the meatballs really are yummy."
I gave Josh a wink and tried to deflect attention from him.
"Well, Josh, Uncle Marcus used my mom's recipe for the meatballs. And when you meet my mom, you can tell her how yummy they were. Hon, you did an awesome job. They are as good as hers."
"It's Tony please. I usually only hear Anthony when Marcus or my parents are upset with me."
"Well Anthony, what do your parents think of you and my son being together?" She had that look on her face again.
"Actually, Mrs. Taylor, my parents love Marcus to pieces. When I chatted with Mom Friday night she asked when we were coming to visit. I'm sorry, hon; I forget to tell you in the confusion that was Friday night. I guess Dad wants to spend some more time with the old albums, and Mom wants to have you try her recipe for lobster ravioli.
"Marcus helped my parents out tremendously when my mother had a minor heart attack three years ago. When they found out we were a couple, they were thrilled. Dad and Marcus share a love of photography and Mom loves sharing recipes with him."
"Oh, I see."
"Well everyone, Uncle M made a chocolate cake to bring to Grandpa Taylor. I think there is even some vanilla ice cream to go with it. What do you say we load up the dishwasher, and head out to have dessert with Grandpa?"
"Nilla ice cream, my favorite," Stephen yelled.
"Mine too!" I raised my hand to give him a high five.
Marcus just smiled and started to clear the table.
"We can help Uncle M. 'Member you showed us how." Josh smiled.
(To be fair, I'm sure there were other conversations during dinner. And maybe I'm painting Marcus's Mom in a harsher light than reality. But frankly the interaction I had with her, erased every other conversation that occurred that evening from my memory.)
The family traveled out to see Grandpa Taylor at the rehab center. When we got into his room, the twins dashed over to get on his bed with him. Of course, that called for a comment from Grandma.
"Boys, don't be so rough. Take it easy. Get down off that bed."
"Marjorie, relax. The boys aren't hurting anything. And by the way thanks for coming up to see me. It was a very nice thing to do. How are your parents?"
"Fine, they are fine and said to say they hope you have a speedy recovery."
"Well, thank them for me. How was the trip up?"
"Fine, I just had to wait in the airport forever to get picked up."
Jamie said, "I told you Mom that was my fault. Work was crazy and I had to stay late."
"I heard you, dear."
Marcus's father saw me standing in the background. "Tony, how are you doing tonight? Marcus said you are impressing the world at work, congratulations."
The look returned, "George, you can't tell me you approve of this situation."
"Marjorie, Tony is the best thing that ever happened to Marcus. I hope you haven't been giving him a hard time today. He's bright, caring, and loving. He is a wonderful man and I couldn't be happier for the two of them."
"Yes, really. Come down off your soap box and get to know him. Look at the two of them. That's love. Speaking of love, I would love to hear the news you two over there have been keeping from me. Jamie, why does my daughter-in-law have that certain glow again? Why have you not shared this news with everyone yet?"
Jamie gave Marcus and me a deadly stare, but we both shook our heads no.
Jamie stuttered a moment. "Dad, the boys don't know yet. We were going to tell everyone the night you had your stroke, but things got a little out of control "
Sarah grabbed the boys, "Stephen and Joshua, how would you feel about having a baby brother or two."
Jessica squealed, "Oh my God, twins again?"
The family spent the next couple of hours congratulating the soon to be new parents. Even Mrs. Taylor was thrilled with the news. I'm not sure the boys completely understood, since they were intent on chocolate cake with 'nilla ice cream.
Ray, for your love and patience
David, for your skill at making me look smart
Fitz, for giving me the courage to achieve a dream