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 2000 by 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.

Paternal Instincts

By Archer

Chapter 38

The day after Thanksgiving, Matt was in his element. It was one of his favorite days. The mall had special hours that Friday -- all stores were required to open at 8 AM and close at 10 PM. Matt knew from past experience that the first two hours would be very slow indeed. All the stocking was done, the displays were ready, and he had schedules for each employee for the entire weekend. Each person would ring on the register for a limited amount of time to reduce fatigue and mistakes. Their breaks and lunches were scheduled and they would spend the time they weren't ringing sales on the registers to straighten, answer the phone, greet customers or refill displays. Matt seldom rang on the register; it was one of the perks of being manager.

He stood at the front of the store greeting customers and passing out promotional bookmarks he had hoarded throughout the year. He loved doing this; it was one of his favorite things about his job as bookstore manager. It was still early in the Christmas season and the serious restocking and reordering were yet to come. He helped out the cashiers by making change, and counted the registers down to ensure accuracy. He took a brief lunch at 11 AM.

Everything went smoothly, and that added to Matt's good humor. The customers were basically in a good mood, even though sales weren't as stellar as he would have liked them to be. There were several reasons for this: book superstores were now invading the Chicago area offering discounts and huge selections. A mall bookstore like his would find it difficult to compete. Chicago is an extremely tough market for all kinds of retail, and books were no exception. Also working against him was the fact that books are one of the few consumer commodities where the producer sets the price. Almost all other prices for consumer goods are determined by the market or by the retailer.

At 2 PM, he spotted Tim, Brian and Tommy thread their way through the bustling mall then meander into the store. Tommy ran up to Matt and hugged him. Brian, of course, didn't hug Matt, so he put his hand on the boy's shoulder. For a split second, he thought Tim was going to kiss him, but instead Tim discreetly took his hand, squeezed it and flashed his trademark dimples. Tim looked so good in his button-fly jeans. Tommy, he noticed, had a new jacket on.

"This is a nice surprise," Matt said.

"We were doing some clothes shopping," Tommy volunteered.

"He needed a new jacket," Tim told him. "And I bought him some Legos." The toy bricks were a new way of thinking for Matt and Tim. The previous night Tommy had asked if they had any toys. Of course, they didn't. Brian wasn't interested in toys. His interests were that of a young teenager; clothes, music, CD's, fashion, and friends.

"Look at my new jeans," Brian opened a Gadzooks bag. They were a pair of Jnco jeans.

Matt wrinkled his nose.

"You don't like them?" Brian asked.

Matt hated it when Brian played stupid. The boy knew full well his opinion of the super-baggy jeans.

"You have to wear them."

Since Brian still lived for Matt's approval, he was crushed. "But dad, they're fashion."

Matt looked at Tim with a look that said: how could you let him buy these?

Tim whispered in his ear, "Oh, Matt, lighten up." His breath smelled like Doublemint. "He'll outgrow them in no time. Besides, I used my money."

Matt was defeated and he knew it. "We'll discuss this later," he whispered back.

He turned his attention to Tommy. "So, are you having a good time, Tommy?"

"The best. Do I have to go back to St. Puke's?"

"Yes, this time you do. Sorry." He ruffled his hair affectionately. Tommy rewarded him with his raspy chuckle.

"What do you want for dinner?" Tim asked Matt.

"Are you cooking?"

"We've got lots of leftovers."

Matt wrinkled his nose. "Why don't you order pizza?" Both boys cheered. "I should get back to work."

Martha appeared. "There's a new voicemail for you, Matt."

"Thanks, Martha. Have you ever met Brian? And this is Tommy."

She shook Brian's hand first. "You're even more handsome than the picture on your dad's desk."

He blushed.

By the time Martha shook Tommy's hand, more of Matt's employees gathered around them, all curious to meet Matt's unconventional family firsthand.

"Let's not forget our customers," Matt addressed his employees, and feeling guilty about standing talking to them for so long. Matt was privately pleased that his little all-male family had attracted that much attention.

Matt grinned when he saw boy-crazy Jenny eyeball Brian. He knew she would pepper him with questions about Brian after they left. Just as Brian would quiz him about hunky-but-terminally straight employee Jeff later in the evening. Tim grinned and shook the hands of all his employees. Tommy good-naturedly allowed the females to pinch his cheeks and babble about how cute he was.

When he arrived home, the townhouse was pleasantly scented with cookies baking and lit candles.

Both boys surrounded him like frisky puppies as soon as he stepped into the door.

"Look what we did, Dad!"

"Isn’t it pretty?" Tommy added.

In the corner of the living room was a Christmas tree decorated with miniature multi-colored lights.

He hugged them both at the same time. "It’s beautiful!"

Tim appeared from the kitchen. When Matt spotted him, he nearly doubled over with laughter. Tim was wearing an apron! It was especially funny because of Tim’s lack of cooking skills.

"What’s so funny?" Tim demanded in a mock-serious tone.

"You!" Matt wheezed. "You never cease to amaze me."

"Well, we’re baking."

"Baking?" Visions of burnt offerings flew into Matt’s head.

Tommy took him by the hand and led him like a dog on a leash to the dining room table. "Look, Matt. We’re decorating cookies."

"We’re using Pillsbury dough," Tim confessed. "But I bought the cookie cutters and the decorations."

Matt shook his head. "What a great idea."

"And we didn’t put the ornaments on the tree yet," Brian added. We wanted to do it with you."

Matt’s eyes glistened with tears.

"What’s wrong, babe?" Tim asked as he put his arms around him.

"Nothing at all. I’m just so happy and so pleased you would do all this." Tim rounded the table and put his arms around Matt.

"Welcome home. How was the drive? The fog looks pretty thick."

"Not bad, but it got worse the further south I drove." He kissed Tim on the lips. "So what brought all this on?"

"Your mom is right in a lot of ways," Tim responded. "It’s time to create our own memories. And sometimes that means trying new things. Cooking is easy if you just follow the directions." He laughed at his own discovery and then he kissed Matt.

"Awwww," Brian said in a half-sarcastic tone.

"Where did you get all those lights and decorations downstairs?" Tim asked. "I never knew you had so much."

"Andy and I used to go all-out for Christmas." Tim’s face clouded over for a millisecond at the mention of Andy’s name. "We’d decorate then have an open house. Most of the lights I bought after Christmas. I do work in a mall, after all. I’d like to put clear lights around all the windows."

"We can do that tomorrow. And maybe we could have an open house, too." Tim winked at the boys, and Matt wondered what was in the works.


Matt sat at the breakfast bar sorting through mail later that evening. Tommy put an arm around his waist.

"Hi there," he said in his raspy voice.

"Hi, sweetie."

He chuckled. Matt loved the sound of his raspy chuckle. "I like when you call me that."

"You do?" Matt smiled at him. "Then I’ll have to call you that more often."

"Do you really want me here?" Tommy asked.

Matt put down the Ameritech bill he had been studying and gathered the boy in his arms. "Of course I do. So does Tim. And I know Brian is happy to have you here. What brought that question on?"

"I don’t know." He picked up an object. It was a dangerous-looking metal needle about six inches long on a tripod. "What’s this?"

"It’s called a spindle."

"What does it do?"

"It’s an old-fashioned way of recycling paper. When you have a bit of paper that you don’t want anymore, you press it down on the needle." He demonstrated with the Ameritech envelope. "When it gets full, you can put the paper in the recycling bin. I’m not sure why I keep it around. I never use it."

"You could use it as a weapon," he said, demonstrating how to use the office supply as an assault object.

"Put it down, please."

"Could I have it?"


"Why not? You said you never use it."

"Because you would find a way to hurt yourself or someone else with it. We’ll concentrate on getting you more appropriate things to play with."

"Here’s the ornaments we painted," Brian offered.

Matt smiled. "These are cute. You do it, Brian. Go ahead and put them on."

Like a small construction crane, Tim’s arm dipped into a box again and again, each time pulling out a wrapped ornament. Tommy unwrapped them and tossed the tissue aside.

"Lots of plain ornaments here," Tim commented.

"I guess that’s all that was left in the after-Christmas sales."

"We could decorate them," Tim suggested. "I’m sure your mom would have some good ideas."

Matt playfully pinched his cheek. "Well, aren’t you just becoming Martha Stewart?"

Tim chuckled. "I guess I agree with you mother. Besides, I enjoy doing it. There. I said it. I like crafts."

Matt couldn’t help laughing. "My husband Carol Duvall." He kissed him on the cheek. "You’re becoming so domestic."

"Is that good or bad?"

Matt nodded, his eyes misting over. "It’s all good," he said quietly with a smile.

When they had finished trimming the tree, they pushed the boxes aside, turned off the rest of the lights, and cuddled on the couch. Matt lit the bayberry candles on the coffee table. Tim put on Johnny Mathis. They left the television off and turned the answering machine on. No one had to be anywhere in particular, and that in itself was liberating. It was a lovely, comfortable feeling, like a Hallmark commercial.

She was running away from him, her long, frizzy red hair flying in the wind. It was foggy and it swirled around her and obscured her face.

"Mom! Mommy! Come back!" he screamed after her.

She did stop but quite a distance from him. Her hair was hanging over her face and the fog gave the illusion that she was floating above the ground.

"Wait for me!" He started to run toward her, but when he had almost reached her, she held her hand out with the palm facing him. It was an obvious sign to stop. She slowly pointed at a spindle in the fog. It was about five stories high. A spotlight lit the structure from the left. The beam of light was almost tangible in the fog.

She stood there pointing at the spindle for a long moment. The wind finally blew her unruly hair away from her face. It looked like a witch’s face! It was not the smooth, young face he remembered. It was wrinkled and had a hook of a nose. He screamed.

The beam of light now moved up and down the spindle, highlighting its steely coldness.

It transformed into a hypodermic needle before his eyes.

A huge hand appeared out of nowhere. She waved goodbye to him.

The giant hand picked her up as easily as King Kong picked up Fay Wray. With her shoulders between its thumb and index finger, it lifted her to the top of the needle.

With a stab, she was impaled on the hypodermic needle through her torso.

He screamed!

"Tommy, Tommy, wake up!" Matt was shaking him firmly. The door to his bedroom was open and the hall light streamed into the darkened bedroom. Matt was sitting on the edge of the bed. Tim and Brian stood with concerned faces in the doorway.

The boy’s eyes flew open, and he realized where he was. He was safe. He began to sob bitterly as Matt engulfed him in a tight hug.

He rocked the young boy murmuring to him gently: "It’s OK, Tommy. You’re safe. We love you. You’re safe here." He repeated this mantra over and over again as he rocked the crying child. Brian thoughtfully handed Matt a wad of tissues.

When his crying subsided, he asked the one word question; "Why?"

Matt relaxed his grip on the boy so that he could look into his green eyes. Without further explanation, Matt knew exactly what Tommy’s inquiry was about. "I wish I knew, Tommy. I wish I had the answer for you. Drugs hold such power over some people that they’re willing to lose everything else in their lives. Your mom lost you. She is sick, Tommy. You didn’t do anything wrong." He gently pushed his damp hair from his forehead. Matt noticed that his forehead wasn’t the only damp area. Tommy had wet the bed. "We love you, Tommy and we want you here. I’m going to do anything and everything in my power to see that it happens. OK? You’ll be living with us full-time by the summer."

By now, Tommy had stopped crying, although he still shuddered occasionally. He wiped his face with the tissues. "I love you, too Matt. And you too, Tim. And Brian." He was silent for a moment. "I just wish my mom loved me."

"Don’t be too sure she doesn’t."

"I’m sorry I wet the bed."

"It happens sometimes. Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you get up and change into some dry shorts?" While he did this, Tim pulled all the sheets off the bed and carried them downstairs.

"Can I sleep with you?" Tommy asked Brian.

Brian flashed a look at Matt. He nodded.

"Sure," Brian said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Just like at camp, huh?"

Tommy shuffled into Brian’s room. Brian whispered to Matt, "What if he does it again?"

"I don’t think he will, but if he does, we’ll be right next door. Thanks, Brian, for letting him sleep with you." He kissed his forehead. "I love you."

"I love you, too, dad."

Tommy would awaken the whole household again, not that particular night, but on several other occasions. Matt learned to keep a journal of the times he did and the content of the nightmare so he could report it to Mary Harrison.

Matt was shaking when Tim returned to bed. "You handled that so well." Tim took him in his arms. "Why are you shaking?"

"I’m so angry at his mom, the stupid bitch. How could she do that to a wonderful kid like Tommy?"

"You said it yourself, Matt. She didn’t care. Everyone thinks that the opposite of love is hate. But it’s not, especially to kids. The opposite of love is neglect. Not caring about their child is perhaps the cruelest thing a parent can do."

"With God as my witness, no one is ever going to hurt that child again. I’ll kill anyone who does, I swear to God I will."

Tim kissed his ear. "OK, Scarlett O’Hara. Is this where the music swells up and you shake your fist at the sky?"

"I mean it. It’s a wonder that kid isn’t totally fucked up. Some people should be sterilized. They should never have allowed her to have more kids after the first one. They should have tied her tubes in knots."

"But if that had happened, we would never have Tommy."

"I guess you’re right." Matt rolled over. "It’s the most important job in the world, but most people have little training for it."

"What, babe?"

"Parenting. Think about it. There are no classes. The average high school student learns more about algebra than parenting."

"I agree." He put his arms behind his head. "Where did you learn to be such a good father?"

"From my own parents. They weren’t perfect, but they were very, very good. And my mom worked outside the home. That was pretty unusual, even in the sixties when I was a boy. But they both still found time to spend with us. They encouraged us to try different things and they didn’t berate us if we didn’t like it. For example, I played the saxophone in grade school, but I discovered I had little musical talent. So I quit when I got to seventh grade. They didn’t attempt to make me feel guilty about it at all."

"I think some of it is instinctive, too. You didn’t let Tommy know you were scared or worried about him at all tonight. You handled it perfectly."

"Thanks, Tim. I think you have some of those instincts, too. And I don’t think it’s limited to straight people although they are more likely to have those instincts."

Tim was silent for a long period. "I think, Matt, if you feel so strongly about it, you should do something about it."

That last thought echoed in Matt’s mind for a long time until they both fell asleep in each other’s arms.


Saturday was another hectic day for Matt. He opened the store again although not until 9 AM this time. He was tired and preoccupied from the previous night’s event, although he still managed to put on his best public smile and greet his customers. At lunch, he left the store to go to Osco drugstore in the mall to buy film for his camera.

He arrived home at six to find Brian cooking dinner, and Mike was helping.

"Smells good," Matt said as he patted him on the rump. Brian was cooking spaghetti.

"Leah said Mike could spend the night tonight."

"OK," Matt said tentatively. "Did you talk to Tim about it?"

"He said it was OK."

Matt sensed a pattern developing here. Brian must have known that Matt would say no to Mike spending the night, or at least challenged him about it. He did not want to establish a Good Cop/Bad Cop relationship with the boy, especially when it placed him in the role of Bad Cop. Matt decided to let it go for now, and wrote himself a mental Post-It note to talk to Tim about it later.

"Where are Tim and Tommy, by the way?"

"They went to Jewel to buy some bread so we can make garlic bread."

At least I didn’t walk in on them having sex, Matt thought. In fact, Matt had just missed it. Mike and Brian had just finished a sexual encounter in Brian’s bedroom. Another pattern was developing: Brian and Mike learned to have sex in secret so as not to incur Matt’s disapproval. It would be the first of many, many secretive sexual sessions between them.

Matt changed clothes, then descended to the basement to find the box of lights.

Tim and Tommy arrived back; they ate the meal, laughing and teasing each other as they did. After they cleared the kitchen and put away the leftovers, they hung the clear miniature lights around the perimeter of all the windows. Matt demonstrated his method. He hammered tiny brads in all four corners of each pane.

"The lights don’t stay in line," Brian complained. "They go every which way."

"It’s OK," Matt assured him. "It will look good that way. Trust me." Matt took pictures of them as they hung the lights. There was much laughter and mugging for the camera. When they had finished, Tommy suggested they look at the windows from the outside. They bundled in their coats and stood on the sidewalk. They all agreed the house looked quite festive.

They played a game of Clue (it was Mrs. White in the Library with the wrench) and went to bed early at Matt’s suggestion.

"Why are we going to bed so early?" Tommy demanded.

"It’s going to be a big day tomorrow."

"What are we doing?" Tim asked.

"You’ll see," Matt answered with an enigmatic grin.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other story here on Nifty, Pocketful of Stars, in the Young Friends section.


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