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Marcus had a case that needed his attention, so our Thursday chat was postponed. The case involved a gay ex-marine and custody of his son. The private investigator, Marcus hired, had collected very damaging information about the mother. Marcus needed to spend the evening writing motions. He said the information was going to allow him to finally go on the offensive for his client. We made plans for Sunday dinner, instead.
Brian was true to his word and texted just a couple of times during the week. We planned a nice dinner out and then a concert. The concert was Beyonce! The tickets came from one of the partners in his firm, so we were pumped.
Finally Saturday night, Brian picked me up for dinner. When we got to the restaurant, I didn't have the heart to tell him it was the same Italian place Jen and I loved. That seemed so long ago, though barely three months had passed. The food was great and we laughed a lot. Then the concert was incredible. "Epic" was the word we coined for her show. Finally back to his place. I didn't feel any pressure. We both knew the plan was for me to spend the night. We could just enjoy each other's company. There was one little uncomfortable moment, but otherwise it was a wonderful evening. It felt great to sleep next to someone again.
We were sleeping late and spooned together, when my phone woke us up. I saw it was my Dad's number and picked it up instantly.
"Tony, you need to get home now. I think your Mom has had a heart attack. We're at the hospital. I need you to get here as fast as you can."
"I will be there in about five hours. I'll call you from the road. How is she?"
"The doctor's are looking at her now. It seems like a mild attack, but I'm worried Tony."
I could hear the stress in his voice, it was unnerving. "I'll be there as fast as I can. I`ll call you from the road.
"Brian, you need to take me to my apartment now. I have to get home to my Mom. My Dad thinks she had a heart attack." I pleaded as I threw on some clothes.
"Ok, Tony let me shower..."
"No, I need to get home NOW, just take me home... I`m sorry but I need to get back to New Hampshire and my parents. Please hurry."
He threw some sweats on and we dashed to his car. Brian finally said, "Ok, promise to call me when you can. Last night was great."
"It was. I'm sorry... I didn't mean for it to end like this." I was on the verge of tears.
"C'mon let's get you to your apartment."
On the way, I called Marcus. I was barely keeping it together. "Marcus, I have to go home. Dad thinks Mom has had a heart attack. I won't be coming over later. I'm sorry..."
"Where are you?"
"Brian is taking me to the apartment now."
"Go in and pack a bag for a couple of days. I'll meet you at the apartment and then drive you. On the way, you will be able to talk to your Dad. Make sure you have all the numbers you need to get in touch with your professors, including Professor Miller. I'll be at your place in a couple of minutes." He hung up.
I didn`t have the chance to argue. I gave Brian a cursory kiss goodbye. "I'll text you when I get the chance. I really had a great night last night. I'm sorry again it ended this way."
He kissed me back and hugged me tightly. Brian drove off as I dashed into my apartment building.
I heard Marcus in the hallway. "Scott, its one stupid drag show. I'm sorry, I know we had plans, but Tony needs me. His Mom is ill and this is a priority. Besides, I think your lieutenant friend will be ready to celebrate tonight. Trust me."
I was still packing my bag when Marcus came through the door. I walked into his arms and burst into tears.
"I'm scared Marcus. Mom hasn't been well since the cancer diagnosis. She had a tough fight with breast cancer over the last two years, but is in remission. That fight took a lot out of her. I'm really worried."
"Look if she's as tough as her son, she'll be fine. Don't waste energy on worrying. You'll need to be strong for her and your father. Let's get on the road. You can start making calls. We will be there before you know it."
"Marcus, you don't have to..."
"Don't worry, buttercup. Get in the car and let's get going."
It always made me smile when he called me that, but right now I was more concerned with the situation at home. I finished packing, and grabbed my phone charger before heading out to Marcus's car. I threw my backpack in the back seat, and saw one for Marcus too. I was on autopilot.
As we drove down the New York State Thruway, I called Jon and explained what was going on. He assured me he would talk to my other professors. He already had planned the week off for me so that part was easy. Missing a couple of classes would put me too far behind, but I could catch up with hard work and a couple of late nights when I got back. School was not my biggest problem right now.
I had no idea if Jen, or even her parents, had talked to my mom and dad. She and my Dad were close, and her folks and my folks had become friends. I hadn't told my parents anything about the way my personal life had imploded in the last three months. Our conversations had been quick and superficial. I hadn't planned on seeing them until Thanksgiving, figuring we could have a deep conversation then. I was really worried about the reaction I would get.
I checked in with Dad again, as we drove into Massachusetts. We were still two hours out. There was no change in Mom's condition, good news. I turned to Marcus as he drove. "I need to warn you we may be about to enter a hornet's nest. My Dad and Jen were close. I don't know if she called them or not. I don't know how this might play out."
"Don't worry about that right now. I'm sure you will be forced to deal with things at some point. But right now concentrate on your Mom. "
We were almost home when I called again, "Dad, we are about ten minutes out."
"Who's with you?"
"My friend Marcus drove so I could use the phone. We will be there shortly."
I turned to Marcus, "Well that answers that question... he knew Jen wasn't with me."
"What did I just tell you buttercup, worry about it later. Right now it's all about your Mom!"
We pulled into the hospital parking lot a little ahead of schedule. I ran thru the sliding doors at the hospital and took the elevator to the fifth floor, My Dad was in the hallway and I wrapped my arms around him. "How is she?"
"The doctor says it was mild. No surgery." He gave me a slight smile. "I'm glad you're here, Tony."
"That's great news. How did this happen?"
"We were driving home from church and she started complaining of pain going down her arm. You know your mother, she never complains. I drove her right here."
The next thing I knew, Marcus had a cup of coffee for both of us in his hands. "Mr. Wallace, I didn't know how you take your coffee. Right now it's black."
"Thanks, that's fine. You must be Marcus." He offered his hand.
"Yes sir, how is your wife doing?"
"She is resting comfortably right now. The good news is no surgery, I'm not sure she would be up for it."
"That's very good news. I'm very happy for you both.
Look gentlemen. I'm going to find a place to spend the night. You all need some family time. Tony, I'll be check up on you in a couple of hours."
Dad jumped in, "Young man, you don't know my family very well if you think I'm going to let you go to a hotel. You will spend the night in our house. There are two guest rooms and I won't hear of it any other way. Here is the address... If you would be so kind as to give my son and me the chance to visit with his Mom, we will meet you back there when we finish up here. The doctor plans on keeping Betty overnight as a precaution, but they will let her come home tomorrow."
"Are you sure Mr. Wallace?"
"It's Sam, please. And I absolutely won't hear of it any other way."
"Ok Sam. Tony, text me if you need anything. Otherwise I will see you in a couple of hours."
He smiled at me,""Don't make me say it..." and under his breath, "Buttercup"
I grinned, "We will see you soon."
Dad and I walked into Mom's room. She was sleeping. She looked peaceful, so I didn't want to wake her. Silence hung over us for several minutes. Finally Dad spoke up, "Well young man, I can say your Mom and I are disappointed..."
"Dad, I'm sorry." I burst into tears. "I just couldn't live a lie anymore. Please don`t hate me, I tried very hard not to be gay. But it's who I am. I`m still trying to figure this all out. I`m so sorry."
He got up and put his arm around me, "Son, that's not what's disappointing. It's that we heard it from someone else. We love you, Tony. All your Mom and I want is for you to be happy. Sure we loved Jen and hoped you guys would be able to make a real go of it. But we really just want you to be happy. It just hurt to hear it from her, and not from you. "
"He's right, baby." Mom was awake and smiling.
"Mom, how are you feeling?" I rushed to her bedside, grabbed her hand, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Just a little tired, baby. I want you to know your Dad is right. I wish you could have told us baby. You know we love you. Nothing could ever change that."
"Mom, it's been a whirlwind the last few months. I'm so sorry. I was barely holding on as it was. I just couldn't take any more. I'm a coward. I should have known you both would be in my corner. I love you."
"Hon, what's this I hear about a young man that came down with you?"
"Mom, it's Marcus, frankly he's the best friend I have ever had. I met him the night Jen kicked me out and he listened for hours. He is just an amazing person. He actually keeps me on my toes and my nose to the grindstone at school. I think I would be lost without him."
"So, just a friend..."
"Yep, the best ever."
"Ok, you boys need to go home and get some rest. I think I'm going to need some help around the house for a day or two. But after that you need to get back to school, baby. I just need some sleep right now." Mom closed her eyes.
"Let's say goodnight, Tony. I'm going to need you and your friend to take care of a couple of things tomorrow before Mom comes home."
Dad got up to leave. "Let me say goodnight to your Mom, and we will head home."
"Goodnight Mom, we'll talk more tomorrow. I promise to catch you up. Get some rest." I gave her another kiss and left her room.
I texted Marcus to let him know we were on our way. I also told him things were really good with my parents.
"Excellent," he replied back. "I told you not to worry."
When Dad and I pulled into the driveway of our four bedroom ranch and got out of the car. He grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. "I'm glad you're here son. I hope you and Marcus can stay at least a couple of days to get your Mom settled."
"Oh shit... I think it should be ok, but I never checked with him to see when he needed to get back. I know he packed a bag so he expected overnight, but after that... I'll check with him."
Dad and I walked into the house with my arm around his shoulder, smiling. We stopped when we got inside. Marcus had sandwich meat and sub rolls laid out on the breakfast bar and a pot of coffee brewing.
"Marcus, what the heck is all this?" Dad never could swear.
"I'm sorry Mr. Wallace, but I know Tony hasn't eaten and I was sure you would be hungry after your day. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds. I don't like to sit around when things need to get done."
"First it's Sam. And now I know why my son thinks so highly of you. I can't thank you enough, I'm starving. By the way, could I impose on you a little more? If you could stay a few extra days to help me get Betty settled. I would be very grateful. How soon do you need to get back?"
"Sam, I've called into the office. The one case I had on the fire has been settled. Amazing what a little dirt found by a PI can do to change someone`s attitude. The mother has given up all custody to my client." He winked at me. "So I'm good to go for a couple of days."
I grinned... he did it again. "Thanks, Marcus, you are awesome!"
"Tony, you might want to let Brian know how things are and that you'll be gone most of the week. He is probably worried about you. And give Dr. Miller a buzz now that our plans are a little firmer."
"It's late. I'll text Brian now and call Dr. Miller tomorrow. Thanks, Marcus. What the hell would I do without you?"
"Sorry, Dad." We all dissolved into laughter, the stress of the day getting to us.
"I'd give you a tour of the place, Marcus, but I think you had enough time to figure it out for yourself. Tony grew up in this house; actually it belonged to my parents." Dad said, ever the teacher.
"It's a beautiful home, Sam. It reminds me of the place my grandparents had when I was growing up. Did you take the amazing photos in the hallway?"
"Actually I did, photography is a hobby of mine. Those shots were taken near the pond down the street. Thank you for asking."
"Dad is very proud of those photos; they won ribbons at a local art show. I spent much of my childhood down by that pond." I added.
"They are very beautiful. You have a great eye for detail."
Later, after we ate and were finally settled for the night, we said goodnight to Dad.
"You boys get some sleep it's been a long day. Tomorrow, I'm going to need a lot of help so I need you two to keep the chatter to a minimum."
"Good night Dad, we aren't twelve,"
"I know, but you and TJ never shut up when it was a sleepover. Good night"
Thank god Dad never saw the look on my face. Marcus immediately put his hand on my shoulder and said, "He doesn't know. Relax kiddo. He didn't mean anything by it..."
"I know. It's just weird to be in this house and hear that name. I'm good."
I turned and gave him a huge hug. "You are the best. Is there anything you don't think of or can't fix?"
"You would be surprised."
"Good night, Tony. Oh, by the way which room should I use?"
"Sorry, use the last one on the left. You know where the bathroom is right?"
"Good night, buttercup. We can talk tomorrow about your parents. I`m glad things seem to be good there."
"Flipping great, I should never have been worried. See you tomorrow. If I know Dad he'll keep us busy all day. Good night and thanks." I turned and went into my old room. I slept soundly.
The next morning, I woke to the smell of coffee. I could hear someone working in the kitchen. I threw on my t-shirt and sweat pants. I met Dad in the hall coming out of the bathroom. This of course, meant only one thing...
"Marcus, you're the guest. What are you doing?" Dad scolded.
"Dad," I laughed. "Marcus has this thing about breakfast. Just go with the flow."
"Hey, you know breakfast is the most important meal of the day right? How do you want your eggs? Tony, make yourself useful and throw down some toast." He had a glint in his eye as he burst out laughing.
The phone rang just as we finished eating. Dad answered and looked at me mouthing, "It's Mom."
I helped Marcus get things cleaned up while Dad talked.
"Ok, boys. Betty expects to be released late this afternoon. I need a few things done before we get her home. The house is a mess and she won't relax until it's cleaned up. Also the beds all need to be stripped, except the one Marcus used last night. I need to go grocery shopping. I'm sure I'll need to go to the drugstore too, she'll have new meds. I would really love to have some easy meals cooked ahead and left for her just to warm up. Plus I need to make tons of calls, let school know I'll need a sub for the week and catch up some friends on what's going on..."
Marcus as usual took over, "Sam, Tony and I can handle the house and the beds. When you and he go to get Mrs. Wallace, I can grab groceries and start a few meals. You hit the drugstore on the way home. Meanwhile, start your phone calls. Tony, you start the beds. I'll save the kitchen for last after I've done some cooking. Well don't stand there with your mouths open. Let's get to it men."
I smiled, shook my head and gave Dad a shrug and a look that there was no point arguing.
Marcus and I made quick work of the house. He was a whirlwind. By the time Dad was done with the calls, Marcus was making a list of meals and groceries he would need.
"Does Mrs. Wallace have any food allergies or are there foods you just don't like?" Marcus asked Dad.
"No allergies, but she doesn't like shellfish or lamb. We never have veal, but I think that's because it's a little pricey. Anything else is fair game. She loves Italian food, like her son," he said as he ruffled my hair.
"Good, I'm going to try substituting ground turkey for beef to make some of the meals more heart friendly. I also, want to portion the meals so I'll get some smaller storage containers. What about spicy foods, I was thinking maybe some Mexican dishes and some chicken that's a bit hot."
Dad and I just stared at Marcus.
"What's wrong? No spice?" Marcus asked. I laughed, "You are just too much... My parents won't know what hit them with your gourmet food. Really Marcus, anything will work."
"Ok, I need a few more minutes with the list and then I can hit the store. The house is just about done; you gentlemen need to think about going to the hospital. One of you might have to run to the drugstore for the scripts before they release Mrs. Wallace if it gets late."
Again, Dad and I just stood there...
"Time to get moving, Dad"
"Marcus, you need to leave out the receipt from the groceries. I will not have you spending your money on feeding my family. Hopefully, we will be home by 6 or so. I expect Betty will be hungry but tired tonight. Tony will let you know if we will be later. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate all your help. I know why Tony values your friendship so much." I beamed at Marcus as Dad shook his hand.
We got to the hospital about two. Mom's doctor was making rounds but hadn't been in to see her yet. She was up and smiling and chomping at the bit to get home.
"I don't see what the fuss is. Why can't they just let me go home? Now they say I have to have more blood drawn."
"Mom, you heard the nurse. They need to check some of your enzyme levels. Just relax. The doctor will let you go when he's sure you are ready." I scolded her.
"I know but there is so much to do at the house and we have a house guest. I'm embarrassed to have someone in my house with the mess I left yesterday morning."
"Listen to me, the house has been cleaned top to bottom; even the beds have been stripped and remade. You are going to relax and let us pamper you for a couple of days. I don't want to be running out here every couple of weeks because you keep overdoing it..." I smiled. "Seriously Mom, this scared the heck out of me. I need you to promise to follow the doctor's orders and get better. I need you to get back to being 100 percent."
"Ok baby, I promise. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm so glad you're here." She gave me a hug.
Finally the doctor released her; I think he realized he might be in physical danger if he didn't let her go home. He gave her instructions on new meds and some diet changes. She practically pushed her own wheelchair to get out. I sent Marcus a text to let him know about stopping at the drugstore before getting home.
When we got in the door, Mom went right up to Marcus and gave him a huge hug. "Thank you for everything you've done. Especially everything you've done for my baby."
"Quiet Tony... I am really grateful," She said as she released him. She stopped and looked around. "But what the heck is going on in my kitchen?"
"If I know Marcus, he's been cooking for hours. Your fridge and freezer are probably full of healthy meals for the next month."
"Well your son is mostly right. I did make a few meals. But your friends and neighbors have been dropping things off all afternoon. I labeled the meals and made you a list of who brought what. I will say... everyone seemed a little concerned at meeting a complete stranger in your house. I think I explained myself about 20 times today." He busted out laughing. "Tonight's meal is chicken with brown rice and mushrooms. Please wash up for dinner. I'm sure you are all starving."
The meal was wonderful, Mom and Dad had Marcus laughing uncontrollably, regaling him of stories of my childhood. The references to TJ were tough for me to hear, but it was wonderful to see them both laughing. Finally, Dad called an end to the conversation. "Time for bed everyone. Betty needs to get some real sleep tonight. Goodnight boys."
The next couple of days flew by. Marcus was his usual incredible self, helping with anything that needed to be done. I had a couple of long conversations with my parents together and separately, I felt really good about how they reacted to my new life. Too soon, it was Thursday and time to get back to New York. It was tough to say goodbye to Mom, but she looked better than she had in months.
I gave her a long hug. "Mom, I'll call you when we get home. You need to follow doctor's orders."
"Ok, baby I will. Thank you for coming home and helping your Dad. Marcus, thank you for everything, I hope we see you again soon." She gave him a big hug. Dad shook Marcus's hand and pulled me in for a hug.
On the ride home, Marcus and I chatted.
"Marcus, I really don't know very much about you. After my parents embarrassed the hell out of me, I realized I know nothing about your family. Every time I go to your place I see all these photos, but I don't know any of the people. We have four hours left on this ride...time to spill some dirt."
Marcus laughed, "There's not much to spill. I have two younger brothers, Jamie and Nick. They are both married. Jamie and his wife, Sarah, have twin three year old boys. They might just be my favorite people on the planet. Stephen and Joshua are typical three-year-old trouble makers, who think their Uncle Marcus is the bomb. Nick and Jessica have only been married about 6 months. They have my first niece on the way.
"My Dad and I are doing well right now. I'm the only one of his sons to go into law. We never really had that great of a relationship when I was growing up. He was always too busy, and we didn't have any of the same interests. My brothers and my dad were always close. You know hunting, fishing, and that sort of thing.
"After I passed the bar, he offered me a place in his firm. Well, I started rapidly expanding the family law section of the firm. Long story short, Dad figured out I was good for business. It sounds a little mercenary, but in reality he figured out I wasn't just his gay son. I was much more. My parents divorced when I was in high school. Mom moved to Florida to be near her parents. We don't get to see her very often. She was a good mom when we were kids, but when things went south between her and my father, she grew distant. I miss her, but she seems happy.
"Anyway, enough about the Taylors. You need to make some calls and find out how far behind you are in class."
I smiled. He was right and by the time he got me home, I knew where I stood with courses and how much work it would take to catch up.
"Marcus, I can't thank you enough. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I thank my lucky stars I ran into you, literally ran into you. I will never be able to repay you for all you did for my parents and for me. I think your nephews are right, you are the bomb!" I pulled him into a hug.
I broke down again and just held on. He gave me a minute to compose myself and smiled, "Ok time to get busy, buttercup. You get ten minutes to talk to Brian and then work! I expect to hear you managed to get caught up with school."
"Thanks, Marcus for everything. I'll call you soon to tell you just that."
I went inside to give Brian a call. He was happy to hear from me, but less enthusiastic about my need to bury myself in school work. Finally, I agreed to let him bring me lunch on Sunday. "I only can take a short break. I really want to see you or I would have said no. Just be patient. I really need to focus. It will be just lunch... I hope we still can have a date night next week. I really need your patience though."
"I understand. I will keep my hands and lips to myself on Sunday. But I really hope we can get together soon. I missed you this week."
"I missed you too. I'll work my ass off to get a date night with you I promise. I'll see you Sunday at two." We hung up and I got to work. It was going to be a long week.
Brian came over on Sunday as planned. He brought over sandwiches and potato chips. He also brought over a six pack of beer, but I had to beg off. I had so much work to do I could barely process it all. I had laid out a schedule for myself and it was daunting. I tried to work in a night for us to spend together, but I honestly didn't know how I would swing it.
"Hey, serious boy, I thought this was a lunch break. Get your nose out of the book and come eat with me." Brian whined.
"I'm sorry. I'm trying to get stuff done so we can have a night together this week. I hope to hell I can get this critique done by tomorrow. I still have an exam on Thursday and less than a week to turn in the article on swallow studies and food consistencies. Plus, I hope to squeeze in some time with this hot guy I know, but he keeps interrupting my train of thought."
"I'm sorry babe but I really missed you. I just want some us time, even if it's just a quick lunch. I'd still like to have a conversation with you looking at me." He was pouting like a four year old when he finished.
"Ok, but I'm going to throw you out if you keep up the pouty face."
"Maybe you could kiss that pout away..."
"I'd love too but... I can't stop after just one." I grinned.
"You are such a liar... Let's eat so you can get back to work." Brian had already set things up on my desk. We chatted while I devoured the turkey club. It was a nice break from my work, but I needed to get back to the grindstone.
"Brian, this was sweet, but I really need to buckle down. I need to call Dr. Miller to see what my schedule will be this coming week. I'll shoot you a text before bed to say goodnight. Thanks for coming over, but if you want a date night or a 'let's not get out of bed' night later in the week, you need to let me focus."
"Just ten more minutes..." again he sounded like a four year old. I snickered and grabbed his hand to lead him to the door. Instead he pulled me down on the bed and started to kiss me, and before I knew it he had me in a major lip lock. Finally, I came up for air and jumped off the bed.
"I knew this would happen, Brian, please you need to go now. I need to get these articles all read and critiqued before I can start to study for my exam. Do you know just how many parts in a single ear? And then I have a presentation to give next Wednesday I haven't even started yet. I need you to let me get working or you won't see me for a month." I snapped.
"Really, I can't even get a little kiss after a week apart. Fine I'll get out of your hair. Maybe you'll have time for me someday soon." He got up and stormed out of the apartment.
I thought about running after him, but I told him it was just a quick lunch. I wish he understood the pressure the week off had caused. I figured I would text him later and apologize; instead I fell asleep sometime around three. I never did text him that night. Fortunately, I had set my phone alarm and I was up at six. I sent Brian a text apologizing for snapping at him. I showered and headed out to breakfast and then classes. I still hadn't heard back from him by noon. So, I sent another message asking if he was doing ok.
Finally about six that night, I heard my phone beep. It was a text from Brian apologizing for being a jerk. I sent him a quick note back, asking if he wanted to do a date night on Friday. He promised to be on his best behavior all week.
Thank you to the usual suspects:
My husband Ray, best friends Kate and John, my wonderful editor David, and Fitz, who continues to encourage