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We spent a little time looking at the sculptures and the paintings until the museum closed. A quick trip to Rockefeller Center and the Christmas tree was next. The tree was beautiful. Pictures on television didn't do the whole scene justice. I was a little bummed I couldn't try ice skating. Marcus gave me a look when I suggested it, but since my coordination was completely messed up and my arm wasn't healed, obviously I wasn't serious.
Hunter and Danni made reservations for dinner at the restaurant of a famous TV chef. Danni had even purchased an autographed copy of her cookbook for Marcus for Christmas. While it was a great meal, it didn't come close to the experience Marcus and I had at the little Italian restaurant on Friday.
Marcus and I had gotten Danni and Hunter a digital camera and couple of memory cards. The camera wasn't top of the line but had a nice zoom feature built in.
"I know you won't have tons of time for sightseeing, but hopefully you can visit a few places while on tour. The memory cards should hold a ton of shots. We will want updates as often as possible.
"Thank you so much for the cookbook. You know it is going to be put to good use, plus I got a homemade one from Tony's mother with her recipes in it. It should be fun learning all these new dishes."
"So Hunter, pull out the schedule and tell me when you will be in our neck of the woods for a congratulations, bon voyage, break a leg, and we will miss you party. Because we are throwing you guys one hell of a celebration." I added
"That's an easy one to answer. We will be back in your little burg to finish cleaning out Danni's place the last week of January. He's sub-letting the apartment to a college sophomore. We will be returning to the City on Sunday the second of February. So if we could crash at your place that weekend, the party could be anytime that week."
I smiled. "Excellent. Maybe we could try some of those recipes, or better yet we could get the caterers to do the party as a test for the wedding."
"There you go, Babe; Two birds, one stone. But I think I want to do this myself. How often do you get to send your oldest friend out to live his dream? We do have one favor to ask of the musical director. If there is any chance we could get a schedule of the tour, it would be neat to know where you guys are."
"Hell, I could have Isabella make it a game for the elementary kids to track the tour back and forth across the continent. Are you still committed to two full years?"
"Actually, this is all hush, hush. But the producers are toying with the idea of a European tour after our two years are up. 'Hedwig' is very popular in Western Europe. We might be taking the tour on the road in a big way."
"That is so fucking incredible. Danni, can you imagine playing for the Queen of England? Maybe you could do your royal impression... "
"Believe me, if the Queen is in the audience, there will be no impressions; although, I will be doing my best curtsying ever."
Marcus and I burst out laughing. I pulled Danni in for a hug.
"Work hard for the next month. We will see you soon. I'm not going to let myself get all emotional now. I will be enough of a basket case then. I am so incredibly happy for you. I hope this turns into everything you've been dreaming of for all these years. You deserve every minute."
"Well, the good news is we will see you in a month. And then we will be back to celebrate in August. Plus, we are both going to be using our phones to stay in touch. You'll hear from us all the time. But you guys need to get back to the hotel; you have an early train in the morning." Danni started to tear up.
"Just promise me you won't go crazy for the send off party. Honestly, there aren't that many people I'm going to miss, mostly just you two. But before I get all maudlin here, I'll see you guys in a month. Love you both."
Hugs all around, I started to tear up a little too, but we would see them soon. Marcus and I went back to the hotel. I had managed to go the whole day without a headache. I was getting very tired and knew we needed to crash.
When we got home, Marcus spent the afternoon at the office and I started the preparations for our New Year's Eve party, which meant a little cleaning. It was going to be a low key event. We expected Jon and James, Jen, Sarah, and probably Scott and Justin. There was a chance Keith might show up too. Like I expected, most everyone already had plans. Actually it was the perfect guest list; we could share our engagement news and get the rest of the wedding party on board.
Marcus arrived back home from the office with a big grin on his face.
"Holy shit, I haven't seen you look this happy with yourself since the last custody battle you won. Something really good must have happened, spill."
"Actually, remember when we talked about the insurance company and their unwillingness to consider my counter offer. Well today I filed paperwork giving them notice of our intention to sue. It's really just a filing that allows us to keep the option open to sue them down the line. You have a time limit to file; it's really just lawyer nonsense. Well, I faxed the paperwork to their corporate office and also sent an email to the individual that has been handling your case.
"Judging from the reaction of their lead attorney, who happens to be the Senior Vice-President of the company, things are going to get interesting very quickly. The person who has been handling your case has been re-assigned. I was told to expect a counter offer within the hour. My colleague, who helped me write up our demands, thought it was likely I would get almost everything I asked for based on their reaction."
"That's great. I'm not sure what it all means. But, that's great anyway."
"What it means is I expect they will cave in and meet our offer. The biggest thing will be continued medical coverage. Any medical expenses directly related to the accident will continue to be covered by them. I also think they will pony up with a nice cash settlement too. This case is nothing but a major loser for them. I would be very surprised if the underwriter who approved this policy is still employed. Like I told you before, this policy has obscene limits and the insurance company finally woke up to that fact."
At just that moment, Marcus's phone went off.
"That could be their counter offer now. Let me check my emails."
Marcus came out of the office about twenty minutes later.
"Babe, I need you to sit down for a minute. You have a decision to make."
"Okay, but you know all these billable hours on my behalf are going to break me." I grinned.
"Actually, on this kind of case, the lawyer gets his fee as a percentage of the settlement. I've been working for free for you on this one so far." Marcus grinned back at me. "I think my retainer fee needs to be met first before we start though."
The kiss was intense. I was beginning (yes, the cluelessness remained) to figure out when Marcus was feeling any kind of strong emotions I was the fortunate recipient of his excitement. I could tell this time he was very excited.
"Whoa, now I need a cold shower before I will be able to think. Damn, Marcus, that was one amazing kiss. Maybe we should talk after we take advantage of your excitement... " I winked.
"I wish... But we need to do this now."
"Okay, let me get serious again. Before we start, let me just say, I love you. You will probably have to lead me through this."
"Well, I will try to keep the lawyer hat on, but if the husband-to-be hat comes out I will tell you. I'm trying not to let myself be emotionally involved in this but that's impossible; I keep stepping back a little to keep a cool head.
"So, they tweaked my counter offer a little bit. I would have been shocked if they hadn't. However, it's still more than I expected. As your lawyer, I need you to know you could get a lot more if you actually sued them. It is still a risk. If they request a hearing with a judge only, you would win but the results might not be as high. On the other hand, if we push for a jury, you could win much more. In either case you would be forced to attend hearings and things could drag for years.
"As your fiancé, I think you should take the settlement. It really does everything we could reasonably hope for. It continues medical coverage and throws a nice lump of change in our direction. Plus, it will be over and done. You will be able to put that part of it behind you.
"Now, I've thought long and hard about this. I consulted with my friend, because I was afraid I was trying to make things easy for you and I was cheating you in the process. My friend thinks it's a really good settlement. He would recommend taking their current offer. So, as both your lawyer and the man that loves you more than anything, I recommend taking the settlement."
"Okay, what do I need to do? I trust you completely. Just tell me where to sign."
"Babe, you should read it first. You have no idea the terms of the deal yet."
"Marcus, actually I don't need to read it. This is what I want. I want you to show me where to sign. Then, I want you to take care of whatever needs to be done. I do have some simple requests, though.
"I want ten percent of the settlement to be donated to the LGBT youth center. I assume we will have to pay taxes on the money, so put whatever you think we will need for that someplace safe. I want twenty thousand set aside for our wedding and honeymoon. The little bit left over can go where ever you think we need it."
"Babe, I'm not sure you realize the amount of the settlement. You might want to rethink things."
"Look, I don't care how much it is. I've thought a lot about what I would do if I ever received some extra money. The youth center is so important. I was so incredibly lucky to have met you the first night. I can't imagine how different things could have been for me. But even then I had the resources to find a place to live, most kids don't. Plus, my parents are amazing, but I am so lucky in that respect. Too many kids aren't that fortunate.
"The safety net the center provides is vital. This little donation makes me feel good. When things get back to normal for me physically, I want to start volunteering. I've seen the joy it brings you and I want to be a part of it.
"The money for the wedding makes me stop worrying about those bills. I'm wicked excited that I can help pay for it. I really didn't want to stress over how much you were spending. Now it really will be 'our' wedding. It's absolutely the best thing to come out of this.
"If there is extra left over, we'll invest it for our future. I'm really no good at that stuff. I would just as soon let you deal with it."
"Babe, how much do you think the settlement will be? I have a feeling you really have no clue here."
"Marcus, I don't care. Honestly, I don't want to know. What matters to me is that it helps me to feel we are on a more equal footing financially for the wedding. I also am excited to do something for the youth center. Like I said invest the rest for our future."
Suddenly I began to get frustrated, overly emotional, and a raging headache.
"The money doesn't heal my arm and stop the headaches. It doesn't fix the minor bouts of depression. I hope you don't think I'm crazy. But no amount can give me back those three days, or erase the frustration I've experienced in the last few weeks. Do you understand? I just need you to just finish taking care of the whole thing. When we need the money it will be there, otherwise I don't want to think about it. I need you to understand how I'm feeling. Please tell me you get it."
Tears were running down my cheeks. I knew I wasn't explaining myself that well. The headache was getting overwhelming.
Marcus wrapped his arms around me. I settled down but still had a pleading look on my face.
"Relax, I understand. You are unbelievable. I have never met anyone like you. I will do exactly what you want, I promise. Sign down here at the bottom. I will fax this out and you won't have to think about it again. You need to take some meds and lie down for a few minutes. I will finish up dinner."
"I'm sorry. I'm putting this all on you. It's not fair..."
"Stop; first, I love you and would do anything for you. Second, as your lawyer, it's my job to take care of this. Trust me your lawyer is going to be very well compensated in this instance. Finally, did I say I love you? You continue to astound me. You always think about others and how you can help someone else. Please take some meds and relax. I will let you know when it's time to eat."
Marcus gave me a kiss and led me to the couch. I took some meds to try to get rid of the headache. I felt the pounding starting to ease. I knew this one was stress induced. Eventually, the pain eased but not the frustration.
I think I hoped if the settlement was taken care of, the pain and frustration would also ease. I knew it wasn't really going to happen that easily, but any step forward was important to me. After Marcus had dinner ready, I joined him at the table.
"Marcus, please hear me out. You were right and I tried to do too much over the last week. I'm exhausted and frustrated, my emotions are over the edge and you are getting the brunt of it. I'm sorry." I raised my hand to stop his protests, and then grabbed his hand. "You have been so patient. Thank you. I love you.
"I will make one promise to you. After tomorrow night's get together, I will not push so hard. Just promise you will stay patient with me. I hope things will start to get better after I lose this cast. I think if the headaches continue like this I might go to the neurologist again. Tonight's hit me hard and fast.
"Thank you for being the best lawyer, with my favorite kind of retainer. Thank you for taking care of everything with the insurance company. You can't begin to know how much it means to me.
"Just thank you." I lay my head on his shoulder.
"Babe, for you anything, I'm just doing my job as your lawyer and your fiancé. Frankly, I like being your fiancé better, although the lawyer is much better paid plus he has that amazing retainer thing going on. Consider the matter closed.
"Tomorrow we are hanging out. I have a little cooking to do, but we are relaxing. I am excited about getting the rest of the wedding party on board. Do you think Jen is going to be okay with this? I know you guys are great but this whole thing might be a little weird for her."
"We already talked a little about it. We've actually been apart almost as long as we were together. I will talk to her just the two of us to be sure. I don't think there is any stress left there. She is happy for us."
"Okay, eat dinner so we can take advantage of my excitement from the day, if you are up for it." Marcus kissed me passionately.
New Year's Eve I saved my energy for the evening. The last thing I wanted was be visited by another headache, they were getting old. I was serious when I told Marcus I was considering checking in with the neurologist if they didn't ease off soon. On the other hand, the cast was due to come off next week. I couldn't wait.
Marcus made my mother's meatball recipe for the party. He also had tons of hors d'oerves ready. Jon and James were coming over early to play a couple games of Scrabble before the festivities got started. Jen and Sarah were working second shift at the hospital, and we expected them just before the stroke of midnight. Scott and Justin would show up whenever they wanted and we still weren't sure if Keith would join us.
"Hon, things smell so yummy. I'm wicked excited to try some of the new recipes. I figured I'd lose a hand or at least a few fingers if I picked at anything before our guests arrive."
"Actually, Babe, I have a surprise for you. I made you a plate to tide you over and so you could test everything before I serve it. Be honest with me. A couple of these finger foods are a little out there. Please tell me what you think."
I tried to keep my face set in stone. I wanted to be like one of the judges you see on a cooking show. When I got the first taste of Marcus's hot Bruschetta dip, I gave up trying to look all serious. Bruschetta is one of my favorite appetizers and the dip was unreal.
"Hon, I'm not sure you should serve this tonight. It's really not something I think anyone else will enjoy."
"You are so full of shit. I would never need to hook you up to a lie detector. Your face shows everything. I think you just want to save this one for just you. You are too fucking cute. But keep tasting... "
There was never any doubt Marcus' food would be amazing. I had just finished tasting his salsa made from peaches and pears when the doorbell rang. Jon and James were right on time.
"Gentlemen, we brought a bottle of Moscato for our hosts this evening. Thanks for having us over, but we need to make plans for you to have dinner at our place soon. I won't be able to match the master chef here, but I think I've finally figured out my way around Jon's kitchen."
Jon laughed, "Don't let him kid you. He has managed to cook dishes in that kitchen I never dreamed could happen. It's a good thing my boyfriend drags me to the gym or I would have gained twenty pounds in the last month. The bad news is now that he's back to work I don't come home to an awesome meal every night; the good news, it's still pretty often."
"Well, you two, I'm ready to play a little Scrabble tonight. What can I get you to drink?"I asked.
"Unfortunately, it's New Year's Eve, so I could be called to work at anytime. I will stick with coffee or iced tea if you have some already made." James said.
"Well, I would love a glass of something stronger. If you guys don't mind, I might need to crash here if my boyfriend does get called in. In any case, I don't have to drive tonight."
"Oh, I have just the drink for you. I have been hankering for a margarita for the longest time. I made a whole pitcher. Unfortunately, Tony can't drink with the meds he's still on."
"A margarita would be amazing. Let the games begin. When are your other guests arriving?"
"Jen and Sarah are working late and won't be here until probably just before midnight, Scott and Justin... who knows when they will arrive. The only other person who might show is Keith. Let's play at the dining room table so we can nibble at Marcus's amazing food. Wait until you try the bruschetta dip. It's so good I tried to get it all for myself."
We managed to play a couple of quick games. I actually won the first game in a runaway. It helps when you get all the high scoring letters. At about ten, Scott and Justin arrived.
Keith showed up shortly after, looking bummed out. I hung his coat in the closet and walked him into the bedroom.
"You look a little down tonight. What's up?"
"It's nothing. Another New Year's and I'm still alone. I know I shouldn't really stew about it, but I'm getting really tired of being alone. I meet all kinds of Mr. Right Now, just no one who wants to get to know me, they just want in my pants, still. Don't get me wrong, I have fun every now and then, but it just feels empty sometimes. I'm sorry. I sound like I'm whining here."
"Hey, I've been there. Sometimes, I forget Marcus and I have only been together as a couple for about five months. Those first three years... well let's just say, things happen when they should. Relax, be yourself. The cliché king will stop now. Besides, you still have a master's degree to finish up. Are you going home before classes start again?"
"No, I'm going with Jon to a conference in Texas next week. Plus, I'm not really welcome at home. My stepfather doesn't want me corrupting his sons. I did get to spend some time with my Mom this weekend. We did Christmas together. It was nice."
"That's great. You never said you had issues with the step father. You told me your Dad passed away a few years ago, but I didn't realize there was a problem at home. I'm sorry. Just think of this as a new year and new possibilities. You never know when love is going to show up. If not this year, maybe the next, Trust me, love can show up when you least expect it.
"I think when I get this cast off and can enjoy dancing again; you need to go out with us. Instead of meeting people at the bar by yourself, hang with us. I think you get to know people better that way. Or even better, I'm going to start volunteering at the LGBT youth center. Come with me, you will be able to keep busy and not worry about meeting someone. Helping those kids will keep your mind off the love life.'
"You know maybe I will. I know school will be tough this semester, but that will give me the chance to do good and stop the stewing. Thanks, Tony. I was just feeling a little sorry for myself. Let's celebrate."
I gave him a hug and led him back out to everyone else. Marcus gave me a questioning look. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled at him. He nodded and walked over to Keith.
"I'm glad you could join us. What can I get you to drink?"
Our last guests arrived about ten minutes before the ball dropped. Everyone watched the New Year countdown hit zero... Marcus pulled me close. We kissed like we were alone on the planet. It was brilliant.
Then he whispered in my ear, "Babe, I'm so excited to start the New Year with you. This should be the best so far. Last year was amazing, because we became a couple. This year I get to marry the most incredible person. I love you."
"I love you more. I can't wait to be your husband and spend forever together. Let's get the rest of our wedding party on board. Do you want to make the announcement?"
"I think you should. Then you can ask Jon and Jen to stand up for you. I'll ask Scott after you get done."
"Everyone, we have an announcement to make. First we want to thank all of you for being a part of our lives. You are all great friends. I hope you will keep the ninth of August open on your calendars, because you all have a wedding to attend. Marcus and I are getting married."
Everyone started to talk at once. I walked up to Jen and gave her a hug,
"Jen, we have gone through a lot together. I hope you will consent to stand up for me, it would mean everything to us."
She started to cry a little, but whispered in my ear. "I have loved you since the night we met, you are an amazing person. I couldn't be happier for you."
She released the hug and looked at Marcus. "I hope you know what you getting yourself into... I would be honored to be a part of your celebration."
We both wrapped her in our arms, finally we released her. She gave each of us a kiss on the cheek. Then I turned to Jon.
"Dr. Jonathyn Miller, you have been my teacher, my advisor, my mentor and finally my friend. We would be thrilled if you would stand up for us too."
"Of course, it would be my pleasure." Again we hugged Jon and then James too.
Marcus then walked over to Scott. He grabbed his hand and led him back over to me.
"Scott, you and I have been through a lot. You have been a great friend. We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for you, although I'm not sure you expected things to work out this way." We all laughed. "I can't imagine doing this without you." Marcus grabbed my hand. "We would love for you to be a part of our day too. Will you stand up for..."
I jumped in, "... both of us."
Marcus squeezed my hand and smiled, "For both of us."
"Only if this one here," He pointed at me. "Doesn't get all touchy feely with me."
I burst out laughing and gave him a hug, "Too late, you ass."
The party continued. I felt a slight headache at one point, but took meds right away. Everyone asked about our wedding plans so far and offered up suggestions.
Jen asked about her dress. "I suppose this will be the one chance I have at a bridesmaid dress that isn't hideously ugly. At least there is no bride worried she'll be outshone. Plus there is the whole gay sensibility. Do you have a color in mind?"
We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Marcus said, "Apparently, we haven't given this much thought. My idea is off white dress, with a white flower in your hair. We want all the guys in tuxes. My niece Mallory is going to be flower girl, and I thought she would look cute in an off white dress too. The actual dress I think you could choose yourself."
"I totally agree. If there is an accent color for the wedding, I love cobalt blue, but we haven't talked about it."
"I love blue, Babe. Jen do you want a bouquet?"
"Sure, a small one would be sweet. Maybe I should get a blue belt or cinch for the dress. Are you making the guys all wear blue tuxes?"
Marcus looked all serious. "Absolutely..."
"Not!" I added quickly. "I think Marcus and I have a lot to talk about right away. I'm so excited you are all going to be a part of this. August sounds so far away, but I know there is so much to do between now and then."
The party wrapped up about two. Since James didn't get called in, he and Jon left together, but not before insisting that we have dinner at their place on Sunday. Scott and Justin, and then Keith headed out shortly after.
Jen walked up to me and grabbed my hand. "Tony, I meant what I said. I couldn't be happier for you. I remember the night we met and the drunken girl in your lap." We both laughed.
"I have some news of my own to share. I'm not exactly sure how you will feel about it. The whole thing has come as a major shock to me. I've started to get serious with someone."
"That's great. I didn't even know you were seeing someone. Have I met him?"
"Actually, you have met... her. The whole thing came out of the blue. I never in a million years expected this to happen. Sarah and I are together."
I stood there stunned. I wasn't sure I heard her right. Suddenly, all kinds of things fell into place for me. Sarah's attitude towards me for all those years, the depth of our love for each other even after the break-up, and so many other little things.
"I won't lie to you and say I'm not surprised, but the more I think about it... I'm not that shocked. It clears up a ton of things that had always confused me.
"Jen, if you are happy, then I'm thrilled for you, absolutely thrilled."
I walked over to Sarah, who definitely had a scared look on her face.
"I will say to you what Jen said to Marcus... If you hurt my friend I will hunt you down." I gave Sarah a hug." Congratulations, I wish you all the happiness in the world."
"Thanks, Tony. It's all still new. But so far it's pretty amazing."
Marcus asked the two of them the usual questions about when it started and if they had gone public with it. Apparently, we were the first people they shared the information with. They weren't ready to share with anyone else.
"Please keep it under your hats. We want to be sure about these feelings before we go public. It's all really new to me." Jen said.
"Of course, I hope it makes you happy. You deserve happy."
"Good night you two and I'm so looking forward to August. It should be incredible."
Jen and Sarah left and we finished cleaning up from the party. After the lights were off, we climbed into bed.
"Babe that was quite the bombshell Jen dropped tonight. I was shocked."
"You know... I guess I really wasn't. If you think about all the little things over the years, I'm more surprised it's taken this long for it to happen, at least from Sarah's end. I just hope Jen doesn't get hurt. But, let's call it a night. Tomorrow, I think we need to talk about wedding plans. What are we up to?"
"No plans. We have been invited to Jamie's for dinner. But, we don't have to go out if you don't want to. We can plan to your heart's content."
Marcus kissed my forehead and gave me a squeeze. Our new year had begun.
Thanks goes out to the fabulous people in my life...
Ray, my wonderful husband
David, the editor that always makes me look good
and Fitz, without whom this project would still be a dream