STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!

Copyright 2002 by Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives, ASSGM, and gaywritings, to post one copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted on another website without written permission from the author.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the final chapter of Family Instincts. Thank you for reading and for all your kind responses. I learn a lot from reading your emails, and I use your ideas and feedback. In some ways, publishing on the Internet allows much more interaction than traditional publishing. The feedback is more immediate. However, I am exploring the idea of publishing Paternal Instincts as a print-on-demand book. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this idea. My email address is listed below.

There's a lot more of the saga to go. It seems Matt, Tim, Brian, Tommy, Leah, Marty, Gloria, Patrick, Dennis more to say. They will continue to tell their tales in the third book of the story: Thicker Than Water.

Family Instincts

By Nick Archer

Chapter 24

"Dad, I can’t tie this tie," Tommy complained.

"Come here. Turn around." Tommy complied, and Matt twisted the strip of cloth into a knot.

"I’m so glad you’re adopting me," Tommy smiled.

Matt embraced him. "Me, too, Tommy." Matt ruffled his hair.

Although they had not had the court date finalizing his adoption, he was an integral part of the family. After Matt released him, Tim picked him up and swung him around, and was rewarded with a shout of delight from Tommy.

Matt kissed Tommy, then Tim.

Brian stood in the doorway to the master bedroom and glowered. "You’re not going to do that in public, are you?"

"If I feel frisky enough," Tim answered brightly.

"No, we’re not. Now, please go finish getting dressed."

"I don’t know why I have to go to this stupid ceremony..." he complained.

Matt pointed a finger in Brian’s face. "I’m getting tired of your negative attitude, young man." The gesture was calculated to anger Brian. Few other gestures can piss an adolescent off faster than an accusatory finger in the face. It was like waving a red flag at a bull.

Brian’s face flushed red. "And I’m getting tired of you!" He stormed to his bedroom and slammed the door. As a finale, he opened the bedroom door once again and poked his head into the hall. "And don’t embarrass me by crying," he commanded and re-slammed the door.

Ryan adjusted his tie in the mirror in the bedroom that he and Brian shared. "I don’t know," he said, "I think the ceremony sounds sort of neat."

"You would think that," Brian grumped back.

In the master bedroom, Matt rubbed his hands over his face in exasperation. "Jesus, I hope he grows out of this phase before I kill him."

"Be patient with him, Matt," Tim said as he took his lover in his arms. "He’s still hurting about Jake’s leaving." Tim rubbed Matt’s back.

"We all are, Tim. But when is he going to put it behind him? At some point, he’s got to process through it."

Tim interrupted his next thought with a kiss. "He’s fourteen, Matt. He doesn’t have the perspective we have."

"I know, Tim." Matt sighed. "I just wish he’d stop taking it out on me."

Tim nodded thoughtfully. "He does blame you." Finally, his dimples appeared. "I think what you two need is some time alone together. Maybe just the two of you go camping together."

Matt straightened his tie in the mirror, then moved toward the door. Tim grabbed his elbow.

"Here," he said with a gentle grin. "Don’t forget your hankie."

The short drive to St. Luke’s was quiet. Tommy and Ryan watched the passing scenery in silence. Tim was reading the Business section from the Sunday Tribune. Matt glanced through the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of Brian’s sullen face. He was listening to Jake’s Walkman, which Jake had given to him when he left.

Brian was positioned in the middle of the rear seat and was none too happy about it. The rear seat seating arrangement had been the subject of a brief but spirited argument just before they left Park Forest. Matt autocratically settled the dispute but Brian sulked.

Brian had been Matt’s golden boy. Matt loved Tommy, but he had a special place in his heart for Brian. They spoke the same language. They understood each other. They had the same sense of humor. They liked to read. But perhaps, their mutual bond was explained by something much more primal – Brian was first. Matt would never even consider adopting a child older than Brian.

Brian was – or had been – an easy child to love. He was intelligent, handsome, creative, open, affectionate and had a great sense of humor. He was neat and clean and seldom needed to be reminded of his chores. Sure, he could be moody at times – it was yet another character trait he and Matt shared, and it was also part of adolescence.

After Jake left, he began demonstrating another facet of his personality. He was rude to Matt and Tim. He kept to himself, even ignoring Mike. He was surly and angry. He bossed Tommy and bullied Ryan. Tommy could be a tough little boy who seldom took any flak from anyone, and he stood his ground with Brian. But poor Ryan didn’t know how to cope. Ryan had been there less than two weeks and Brian had thoroughly terrorized him.

Matt missed their evenings on the couch cuddled together. He longed to hold Brian again and stroke his silky hair. He may never allow me to hold him like that again, Matt thought sadly. Perhaps he’s just growing up. I wish I could find a way to communicate with him. I wish I could find a way to break through the silence.

The day sparkled, although it was cool for the third weekend in June. There was a boy directing traffic to park on the grassy lawn. St. Luke’s didn’t have enough paved parking to accommodate the crowds. As they tumbled out of the Jeep, they scanned the parked cars for a sign of Leah and Mike. They were going to participate in the ceremony today as well, formally adopting Mike as her own son. They didn’t spot her car, yet.

Ryan was all eyes and questions. He missed his mother, yet the past few days he had been wondering what it would be like to be adopted by the two men.

They began their journey across campus to the red brick chapel. The campus looked good. Many of the cottages were planted with sturdy flowers – mums, marigolds, zinnias and tulips – no fussy or delicate flowers here. And no flowers that required special attention. In this way, the flowers were very much like the residents of St. Luke’s.

"We’re early," Brian observed as he jumped out of the Jeep, clutching the red, two-pocket folder. In it was a poem he had written and was going to recite during the ceremony. Brian had kept the poem a secret, refusing to show even Tommy. Matt was highly curious about the poem and dropped several hints, but Brian either didn’t catch onto the hints or he ignored them.

"Not by much," Matt responded. "We’d better head toward the chapel."

"I want to stop in and say ‘hi’ to the McIlvains," Brian mumbled as he veered off toward Trees cottage.

"Brian..." Matt began, but then stopped. He had a dilemma. He wanted to be seated in the chapel and ready for the ceremony, yet, he knew Brian wanted to revisit his roots. It’s easier to give in than fight with him, Matt decided. Besides, he wanted to see Debbie and Tom as well.

"OK, but just for a minute."

The cottage was a whirlwind of activity. Boys were sprinting around in various states of dress. Three boys were already fully dressed and watching TV. Others were frantically trying to assemble the rest of their formal St. Luke’s uniform – khaki pants, a white shirt and tie and a navy blue blazer with the St. Luke’s logo sewn on the breast pocket. One boy exited the bathroom with a towel around his waist. When he spotted the visitors, he beat a hasty retreat to his dorm room.

Debbie was helping a blond boy tie his tie when she spotted the family.

"Hi, Matt!" she greeted him with a hug and a light kiss. "And look at you, Brian!" She held him at arm’s length. "Look how big you’re getting!" Finally she embraced him, crushing the red folder between them. "And so handsome, too." Brian blushed.

She had another hug for Tommy. "Good to see you again, Tommy. Peggy can’t wait to see you." She had another hug for Ryan, even though he had been a resident in Trees Cottage for less than two weeks.

Matt introduced Tim, whom Debbie had never met before. She hugged him, as well. "Tom had to run to Walgreens to buy some film. I’m sure he’ll want pictures of you boys."

"Who are you?" the blond boy rudely asked. Matt regarded him for the first time, and then became aware that his gaydar was sending signals. He was about Brian’s height, although thinner. His hair was about the same shade as Brian’s. He had a fine face, with a thin nose and thin lips. Dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth when he smiled.

"Seth! Don’t be rude!" Debbie corrected him. She introduced him to the family. When Matt shook his hand, his suspicions were confirmed. I thought the Secret Homosexual Handshake was retired in 1979.

"Please go put your blazer on," Debbie dismissed Seth. "It’s almost time to go."

After he was out of earshot, "I’m sorry about that," Debbie apologized.

Brian whispered to Matt, "I’m going to use the bathroom. Can you hold the folder, please?"

"OK. We’ll wait. But hurry up," he whispered back. To Debbie he said, "Why are you sorry?"

"Some boys are sort of upset about the ceremony," she explained. "They say it’s like waving the fact that they’re not being adopted in their faces."

The men nodded thoughtfully. "I can understand that," Matt sympathized.

Seth was fussing with his hair in front of the mirror when Brian entered the bathroom. A leaky faucet dripped water like a wind-up alarm clock. Drip, drip, drip. He took a spot at one of the urinals and began to pee. Drip, drip, drip. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Seth was watching him.

Shit, I hate when people watch me pee, Brian thought. Involuntarily, he felt the flow of urine slow, then finally stop. Drip, drip, drip. Now finished with his hair, Seth turned to face Brian. He grabbed his cock through his khakis and licked his lips.

"Mmmm. You’re pretty," he said to Brian. Seth unzipped his fly and pulled out his penis.

Both alarmed and disgusted, he zipped up, shoved Seth aside and left the bathroom without washing his hands.

Brian had discovered one of Seth’s idiosyncrasies: he liked to disrobe with an audience and loved to show off his body.

He heard Seth’s laughter echo off the bathroom tile as he returned to the group standing at the back door.

St. Luke’s had spent the previous year remodeling the chapel and the results were stunning. Instead of replastering over the two side walls, the architect had chosen to leave the century-old red brick exposed. The pews had been stripped of decades of dark shellac and refinished in modern polyurethane. The result highlighted the beautiful grain of the oak pews that glowed golden in the morning light. The ugly linoleum on the floor had been pulled up to reveal a hardwood floor. The floor had been refinished and now shown like a mirror. For safety, however, the aisles and the altar area were carpeted. The chapel, like St. Luke’s itself, reflected it’s Catholic heritage.

One of the students played a soft classical tune on the piano while the rest of the attendees seated themselves. Matt also noticed an electric keyboard, a set of drums, amplifiers, and two electric guitars ready to the left of the alter. He wondered what their purpose was.

The last half of the chapel was filling up with the boys and their houseparents in cottage groups. They fidgeted in uncomfortable ties and sport jackets. Some of the youngest kids had clip-on ties. In front of them sat school staff, secretaries, maintenance workers, cooks and teachers from the school. The front two pews on both sides were reserved for the most important people. On the right side of the church sat the various directors and department heads, including Bill, who smiled and waved at the family as they found their seats.

Leah and Mike were already seated in the pew directly behind them. The next-door-neighbors greeted each other with affection. In addition to the Levins and the Rosato-McGraws, there were two African American families and one Hispanic. Seven boys in all were going to be ceremoniously adopted this Sunday.

Because of the limited seating in the building, only immediate families could attend. Matt would have liked to have invited his mother and his sister, and perhaps Tim’s dad, but there simply weren’t enough seats.

Matt took time to glance through the program. The ceremony itself was a paraliturgy, which meant it would follow the traditional Mass structure, but stop short of the Eucharist. Matt guessed that this was an accommodation for the numerous non-Catholics, including Leah and Mike. It also incorporated an awards ceremony and then ended with a talent show, of sorts. It was during the last portion that Brian was going to read his mysterious poem.

The pianist began playing You Are Mine. A choir consisting of boys filed in behind Father O’Donnell, and took their place near the piano. Matt thought it was an unusual choice for the Processional hymn until they began the chorus:

Do not be afraid I am with you

I have called you each by name

Come and follow me

I will bring you home

I love you and you are mine.

Father O’Donnell approached the lectern.

"Welcome, students, parents, employees, staff and visitors to the first Adoptive Ceremony. This is the first year we have held the ceremony. For many years, it was the tradition of St. Luke’s to present a military review on Flag Day. As the military program faded, we needed to replace it.

"The ceremony is based on an ancient manuscript. We have rituals to commemorate births, deaths, weddings and coming of age. So we adapted this ceremony to celebrate the adoption of our charges. It honors the adoptive parents who make room in their homes and in their hearts for another child. And it celebrates the boys themselves, some who must overcome great obstacles in order to fit into a new family.

"The boys who are participating in the ceremony this morning have been adopted this past year, or are in the adoption process with their new families. It is not our purpose today to make those boys who are not being adopted feel bad or rejected, but to give them a goal toward which they can work and strive."

The ceremony proceeded with the Old Testament reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the New Testament reading. Students performed all the readings.

"Please stand for the Gospel," Father O’Donnell intoned. "The Lord be with you."

"And also with you."

"A reading from the holy gospel according to Matthew."

"Glory be to God."

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ answered Jesus, ‘but seventy times seven, because the kingdom of heaven is like this.’" O’Donnell continued to read the parable of the unforgiving servant, but Matt wasn’t paying attention. His eyes misted over as he gazed at Brian.

Very, very discretely, Brian slipped his hand into Matt’s.

"Please don’t cry, Dad," he whispered.

Matt nodded, and swiped at his tears.

Father O’Donnell dispensed with the homily that usually followed the Gospel. "Next, we have the Presentation of the Awards, beginning with the Academic Awards. I turn the podium over to the principal of the school, Ann McGowan."

Ann, a tall, slim woman with salt-and-pepper hair approached the lectern.

"I’m presenting the awards for the best students in the past academic year. Fifty dollars go to each student in each academic area and one hundred dollars to the best overall student with the highest grade point average in each division: elementary, junior high and high school." There was a buzz among the boys. This was something new! They hadn’t expected money!

She went on to announce the winners in the areas of math, science, history, geography, English, music, art, and foreign languages. The overall Best Student awards were announced to thunderous applause.

Athletic awards were next. There were awards for football, baseball, track, basketball, swimming, wrestling and boxing. Jesus Hernandez, who was being adopted that morning, won the boxing award.

There were more awards. There were awards for the best CCD student and Boy Scout awards.

Finally, Father O’Donnell took the podium again. There was a bit of shuffling as fourteen sets of houseparents approached the front of the church.

"Unlike the other awards," O’Donnell explained, " the Best Student awards are not open to those who are being adopted. They are given to those who have shown the most growth socially, physically, academically, spiritually and morally. There is one award for each cottage. They were chosen by the houseparents of each cottage. There will also be a campus-wide Best Student and Most Improved Student. These names will be added to the plaques that hang in the main hall of the Administration Building.

"In choosing the campus-wide awards, everyone on the staff votes – the teachers, the counselors, department heads, even the cooks and the maintenance staff. Any staff person can nominate a student. Then we have an evening meeting to discuss each nominee – the proverbial smoke-filled room --- and we all vote by secret ballot. No one knows the results but me."

A chuckle ran around the congregation.

"We’ll start with the elementary cottages first. Peggy?"

Just before Peggy took the microphone, O’Donnell added another thought. "Oh, and did I mention, that the Best Student winner from each cottage wins $100 and the campus-wide Best Student and Most Improved Student wins $250?" There were gasps of excitement and delight and a smattering of applause.

Peggy announced her best student, who came forward, received a hug, a trophy and an envelope from Peggy. And on it went through the rest of the elementary cottages, the Junior High cottages, and the High School cottages last.

"The winner of the Best Student award goes to Myron Miller!" A handsome African American boy approached the priest. He walked with dignity and purpose. O’Donnell embraced him before handing his awards over to the boy. Myron turned to the congregation, and Matt thought he could see tears in his eyes.

"The Most Improved Student is Seth Witkowski!" The blond boy who had interrupted their conversation in Trees cottage approached the front. Matt found himself thinking, if this is his improved behavior, I hate to think what it was like before.

Once all the boys were seated again, O’Donnell spoke again. "Will the adoptive parents and the adoptees approach the altar?"

Matt, Tommy and Brian approached as did Leah and Mike.

"Heavenly Father," O’Donnell intoned, "We have gathered here today in Your sight to celebrate the adoption of these six boys. The six families, the Levins, the Paynes, the Moores, the Callahans, the Majewskies, the Delgados, and the Rosatos have opened their homes and their hearts in love to these seven boys. The boys have made a journey. They have come from places of fear, of abuse, of loneliness and of pain to this happy day.

"This doesn’t mean that the journey is over. These boys will need patience, understanding and love. But we here at St. Luke’s have done all we can for them. We supply the guidance, the education, the concern and the caring. But St. Luke’s is, after all, an institution and as such, we have limitations. So therefore, we give them to you, the adoptive parents with love. We have taken them as far as we can. Now it’s up to you, together, to continue the journey.

"Will the adoptive parents please respond by saying, ‘I do.’"

"Do you promise to protect and guide these boys into adulthood?"

"I do."

"Do you promise to help them grow physically, spiritually, emotionally, morally, and academically?"

"I do."

"Do you promise, in the presence of God and this congregation, to love these children to the best of your ability?"

"I do."

"Now, I will ask the same questions of the adoptive sons. Please respond by saying ‘I do.’ Do you promise to be a productive son, never to be a burden on yourselves, your new families or your communities?"

"I do." It was about this time Matt noticed Tommy’s eyes start to shine with tears. Matt put his hand on his left shoulder to reassure him. Matt could feel him trembling.

"Do you promise to continue to strive for the best that you can be physically, emotionally, socially, academically, morally and spiritually?"

"I do."

"Please place your hand on your new son’s shoulder. Matt, you’ll have to use both hands," O’Donnell joked, breaking the tension. There were a few chuckles from the congregation. O’Donnell must have felt the need to explain his comments. His timing was impeccable. "All our adoptive parents are special," he stressed, "but today we have two single parents who are adopting. Leah Levin is a single mother adopting Mike. And Matt is an unmarried man who is adopting not one, but two boys today." They applauded sincerely.

Matt noticed that O’Donnell had referred to him as unmarried and not single. He wondered about it. I’ll think about it later.

Matt took the momentary pause to embrace his younger son. Tommy melted in his arms. Matt held him tightly enjoying the embrace.

"Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing." He paused with the experience and perfection of a seasoned stage actor.

"Almighty Father, we ask your blessing on these parents and their new sons. We ask for strength, tolerance, wisdom and patience for the new parents. For the boys we beseech you for courage, continued growth, temperance and right judgement as they continue on their journey away from St Luke’s."

"For the boys not adopted today, we pray that a loving family will find room in their hearts for them. For all the staff here at St. Luke’s we pray that they have a safe summer and that they recognize the importance of their contribution to this joyous day.

"Through your Son, who showed us the importance of a loving family, we pray for all these things, O Lord."

Matt wasn’t crying, but he was very, very close. Brian wasn’t crying, but Tommy was. Matt squeezed his shoulder. When Matt glanced up, he saw most of the people in the building were crying. Some of the younger boys were wiping their noses on the sleeves of their blazers.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the families and their new sons: The Paynes and their son Marcus; the Moores and their son DeWayne; the Majewskies and their son Phillip; the Delgados and their son Jesus; Leah Levine and her son Michael; and Matt Rosato and his sons Brian and Thomas."

"Now for the last part of the Ceremony, we have some presentations by the students themselves. As I mentioned, in the earlier days of St. Luke’s, it was tradition for the students to march in formation and demonstrate their military skills. We decided to ask some students to demonstrate other skills and talents instead of a military presentation."

Two boys played a saxophone duet. Two more boys did an excerpt from the play Night of January 16th. One boy did a hilarious original comedy skit about what it means to be cool. O’Donnell explained that he had won a second place at the district speech competition.

"Brian Rosato is next with a poem he wrote for this occasion. Brian?"

Matt thought he looked a bit nervous as he opened the red folder and pulled out a few sheets of paper. He had obviously memorized the poem, and just needed the papers as prompts if he lost his place.

Once upon a time I was really sad

Because I had no mom and no dad

So my brothers and sister got together, you see

To decide who was going to take care of me

They were too busy with their own lives

And my brothers were still looking for wives

Looking for wives

For the rest of their lives

Don’t ask me why

Go ask some other guy

They sent me to St. Luke’s to go to school

At first I didn’t think it was cool

I met some people and then it wasn’t so bad

And camp in Wisconsin was really rad

Then, along came a guy named Matt

Who didn’t have a wife or a cat

No wife, no cat

Imagine that

Don’t ask me why

Go ask some other guy

Together we had lots of fun

He treated me like his son

He dressed me up warmly and sent me to school

He taught me to dance and be nobody’s fool

He took me to swim, he took me to the museum

He took me to the Dunes, you really should see ‘em

He helped me with my homework and took me to the show

He taught me things all boys should know

Now I’m so cool

I’m a dancing fool

Don’t ask me why

Go ask some other guy

Sometimes I feel mad and sometimes I’m bad

Now I’m no longer sad, I feel glad

Because I’m his son and he is my dad

And I think that is really rad

Mad, sad, bad

Glad, rad dad

You know you can ask me why

‘Cause I’m one really lucky guy

For listening so well, I want to thank all of youse.

And a very special thanks to Dr. Seuss.

The congregation laughed and applauded heartily. Matt stood up and hugged Brian when he returned to the pew. Brian smiled at the man and allowed himself to be hugged.

"Thank you, Brian, for sharing that delightful poem with us." O’Donnell said from the pulpit. Four boys were passing out sheets of green paper down each pew. "The boys are passing out the lyrics to our final song. The boys themselves chose this song because of it’s lyrics and because it’s just a nice song. Also it has special significance because today is also Father’s Day. They would like you to join in singing with them if you feel comfortable doing so. The St. Luke’s choir will sing, joined by soloist Marcus Payne, and directed by our band and chorus director, Jesse Reece. They will be accompanied by Frank Rice on the piano, Rich Sorensen and Adam Goldberg on rhythm guitars, Rob Hernandez on drums and Eldon Marquez on the keyboards."

For the first time, Matt glanced at the green paper he had been handed. It was the lyrics to The Living Years by Mike + the Mechanics.

Eldon began with some chords on the keyboard. Marcus began to sing:

Every generation

Blames the one before

And all of their frustrations

Come beating on your door

I know that I'm a prisoner

To all my Father held so dear

I know that I'm a hostage

To all his hopes and fears

I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper

Filled with imperfect thought

Stilted conversations

I'm afraid that's all we've got

You say you just don't see it

He says it's perfect sense

You just can't get agreement

In this present tense

We all talk a different language

Talking in defense

The choir joined Marcus on the refrain:

Say it loud, say it clear

You can listen as well as you hear

It's too late when we die

To admit we don't see eye to eye

Tim leaned over to Matt and whispered, "He’s got quite a voice, doesn’t he?"

Matt could only nod a response. He was beginning to choke up.

So we open up a quarrel

Between the present and the past

We only sacrifice the future

It's the bitterness that lasts

So don't yield to the fortunes

You sometimes see as fate

It may have a new perspective

On a different day

And if you don't give up, and don't give in

You may just be OK.

Say it loud, say it clear

You can listen as well as you hear

It's too late when we die

To admit we don't see eye to eye

Matt was having a hard time holding back the tears. All around him, parents, boys, staff members were weeping at the tender song and the meaningful lyrics.

I wasn't there that morning

When my Father passed away

I didn't get to tell him

All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit

Later that same year

I'm sure I heard his echo

In my baby's newborn tears

I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Brian timidly slipped his hand into Matt’s. His nose was puffy and his eyes threatened to overflow onto his cheeks. He mouthed, "I’m sorry."

Matt took him in a tight embrace. "I miss him, too," he whispered. "I love you Brian."

"I love you, dad," he squeaked into Matt’s shoulder.

"Matt," Tim whispered gently, "Where’s that hankie I gave you?"

Matt reached into the pocket of his blazer. Placing a finger under Brian’s chin, he lifted the boy’s face. His blue eyes glistened with tears, but the corners crinkled as if he was going to smile. Matt gently wiped his tears. Then, he refolded the cloth and wiped his own face. "Sorry, Brian. I know I promised I wouldn’t cry. I couldn’t help it."

"It’s OK, dad."

Tommy worked his way between Matt and Tim. "Come on, sing, you guys."

Say it loud, say it clear

You can listen as well as you hear

It's too late when we die

To admit we don't see eye to eye

Jesse Reece signaled to the musicians to repeat the refrain again. This time the choir wrapped their arms around each other and swayed in unison with the music. Father O’Donnell joined them.

Although Jesse signaled another repeat of the refrain, the boys really had no intention of stopping. The entire church was singing along and clapping in rhythm. The volume increased as they repeated the chorus again, and Matt was certain that God himself could hear the music. They were impressed with the impromptu harmonies that arose.

Father O’Donnell broke ranks, stepped off the altar, and took Matt by the arm. He guided Matt up to the altar with the choir. Matt hesitated, but Brian and Tommy did not. Tim followed with a grin, as did Leah and Mike. When they reached the altar, they turned and faced the congregation, and belted out the lyrics. Matt stood with an arm around Tim’s shoulders and another around Brian’s. Tommy stood in front of Matt. They swayed with the choir as they repeated the chorus yet again.

It was one of those rare moments when there’s magic in the air within a large group of people. Jesse signaled to the musicians to stop and for one chorus the gathering sang a capella. It caused goosebumps.

Perhaps it was the words spoken by the priest, or the raw emotions of the morning. But most likely it was the music. Once again, music had demonstrated it’s power to mold and shape memories, to fix them in the human brain forever.

By the time they finished the seventh refrain, the band and choir ended in a crescendo.

"This liturgy is over. Go in peace," O’Donnell intoned.

Matt and his family spent another twenty minutes hugging virtually everyone in the building, including total strangers.

Exhausted physically and emotionally, Matt sat on the steps of the chapel in the bright sunlight as they waited for Brian to say his final good-byes. Tim stood by his side with his arm around Ryan’s shoulders. People exiting the building still stopped to shake Matt’s hand and congratulate him. One boy about ten years old that Matt didn’t know, hugged him from behind by wrapping his arms around Matt’s neck. Without saying a word, he was on his way.

Tommy and Ryan were chasing each other around a tree when Brian finally emerged from the red brick building.

"I’m sorry I cried," Matt smiled at Brian.

"’S’OK. I did, too." He sat down beside Matt on the cool granite steps. "Dad?" he said in a small voice.


"I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I was an asshole. Do you forgive me?"

Matt draped his arm around his shoulders. "Yes, my son. I forgive you if you forgive me."

Brian nodded. "Oh, yes, I do. But will you always forgive me?"

"Always. Like Father said in the reading. Seventy times seven."

"I’m hungry," Ryan complained.

"Ok, I think we’re almost ready to go," Tim told him.

"Dad?" Brian asked quietly. "Would you give me a piggyback ride to the Jeep?"

Sensing a deeper emotional need from Brian, Matt smiled. "Sure." He crouched down so Brian could mount him. "Oof! You’re heavy."

"I love you, Dad," Brian whispered in his ear as they crossed the grassy campus.

"I love you, too, son."

The Living Years. The Living Years Mike (Rutherford) + The Mechanics: Capitol Records, 1988.

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