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.
Thicker Than Water
By Nick Archer
The clouds moved in and stayed. Certainly there had been breaks in the clouds; rays of sun almost tangible as they struck the earth. The rays of sun seemed even brighter and more distinct because of the dark background of clouds.
It had not been a good summer in the Rosato-McGraw household. It was a summer best forgotten.
Jakes departure just after he and Brian graduated from eighth grade had hung over the family like a thunderhead that never really produced precipitation, but just blocked the sun.
To be sure, there were bright spots in the summer. Ryan came to live with them while his mother dried out in a rehab center. He tried to adapt quickly to the family, but there were some obstacles. He was jealous of Tommy. Ryan was the youngest child in his family, and wasnt sure how to deal with a younger sibling. Also, there had been some friction between Ryan and Brian initially as well. Ryan was afraid of sleeping in the basement alone, so he chose to share a room with Brian. Brian was still hurting from Jakes departure and treated Ryan like dirt the first two weeks Ryan was there. The Adoption Ceremony had helped to take the edge off Brians pain as did the short-term counseling Matt had sent him to. On top of all this, Ryan had been very homesick the first few weeks he was with them.>Other than these drawbacks, Ryan was a joy. Ryan was good-natured and highly creative. He was funny and a marvelous actor. He taught them more than they ever wanted to know about musicals. He was affectionate and open and loving. But he was leaving if Marilyn finished her rehab program successfully, and indications were that she would do so.
So, Matt and Tim, Brian and Tommy held just a little back from Ryan. He was leaving around Labor Day and they all knew it. It had been different with Jake. Jake was supposed to stay. They all wanted him to stay. Their attorney assured them that the judge would see the wisdom of letting Jake stay. But in a crushing surprise, Judge Kildare gave custody to his natural father, Al Wagner.
Thats when the clouds came to stay.
Matt postponed his career change. He just didnt want to deal with any more stress and changing jobs ranks among the most stressful events in life. He dragged himself listlessly to work and back again. Events like the moving adoption ceremony at St. Lukes and their vacation in Wisconsin had energized him briefly, then the clouds returned.
Brian was dreading high school. The cozy cup of friends he adopted in junior high was about to be stirred and diluted. Although Mike Levin, their next door neighbor and Brians on-again-off-again boyfriend would be attending the same high school, it just wouldnt be the same without Jake.
Even perky, ebullient Tommy showed signs of depression. He sat for hours petting Prints, or his gerbil or staring into his aquarium. He smiled less. His face became a mask. He did find a new friend his own age that summer. Bobby was on his Park District soccer team, and his handsome face with his sparkling brown eyes and ruddy cheeks became a common sight in and around the house.
Out of all the family members, Tim was probably the hardest hit. Tim stopped exercising, became a couch potato and started to gain weight. It wasnt a drastic weight gain that might cause concern for his health. Still, it was noticeable. Like many body builders, if the crucial balance between food and exercise isnt maintained, the energy is not metabolized and it is stored as fat. He and Jake had started jogging together just before Jake left, and Tim said it hurt too much to go without him. He stopped work on the downstairs bedroom in mid-June and it gathered dust. The wallboards were up, but the seams needed taping then the walls needed paint, the floor begged carpet and the electrical outlets and switches were just wires hanging out of the wall.
One evening when he arrived home from work, Matt found Tim sitting cross-legged in the fourth bedroom and sobbing. Matts heart broke all over again to see the man he loved in such pain, and knowing that he had no control over it. Like the measles Tim had in May, the pain just had to run its course.
They decided from that evening to keep the door closed. In the unfinished bedroom closet, they gently placed Jakes unopened birthday gift. It was still wrapped in glossy red paper; red was Jakes favorite color. Under the wrapping were a Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt, jeans and boxer briefs. The clothes were an expensive gift, but at the time, Matt thought he was investing in the future. In Jakes future.
Little did he know, that there was to be no future with Jake.
"Hi, Marty, how are you?" Matt sat at the breakfast bar. Next to him was a bag full of promotional items he had brought home with him the night before.
"The question should be, How are you, darling?"
"Surviving." Matt began sorting through the junk he had accumulated. Publishers sent an amazing array of promotional items to bookstores in the hopes that owners, managers or their employees would help "hand-sell" their title. Bookmarks were the most common give-away. They were cheap and easily mass-produced. Of course, free books were another common freebie. Unfortunately, the free books were seldom by popular authors. The publishers didnt need to promote Danielle Steel, Stephen King, David Eddings, Robert Fulghum, or Dr. Suess. Those authors sold themselves. Usually, smaller publishers distributed the free books. If a major publisher -- such as Random House, Simon & Schuster or Bantam -- did send out a free book, it was usually by a new or "discovered" author.
But the publishers didnt stop at books and bookmarks to capture the attention of bookstore employees. They sent pens, pencils, notepads, coffee mugs, audio tapes and even CDs. One memorable time a publisher sent bags of microwave popcorn to promote The Perfect Popcorn Book.
"Such a tragic figure you are."
Matt laughed. "You always did have a talent for hyperbole. Hows Vince?"
"Hes great. Hes doing well at Jewel, even though hes gone part-time now."
"He has?" Matt studied a teddy bear with a HarperCollins logo sewn on his chest. "Why?"
"Hes taking classes at Moraine View Community College."
"He is? Good for him," Matt said sincerely. He was always impressed with peoples efforts to better themselves, especially through education. "What is he studying?"
"Hes not sure yet. He decided to go to Moraine to get the basic credits out of the way first."
"He thinks the world of you, Matt."
"And I like him, too. How is he treating you?"
Marty sighed with pleasure. Matt could hear the smile on his face. "He treats me so well." He sighed again as if to emphasize his point.
"Im glad youre so happy. Sounds like true love."
"Shhhh!" Marty admonished, "Dont jinx it!" His voice softened. "Yeah, it is real enough."
"I hate to remind you," Matt cleared his throat, "but I told you so. I knew there was someone for you. I just never thought it would be " Matt struggled for a term.
"A prostitute?" Marty finished for him. "Life is full of little surprises, isnt it? Well, enough about me and my little life. How are you? How are my nephews?"
"Theyre kinda muddling along, like the rest of us. Nothing has been the same since Jake left." He ran his index finger along the porch railing. "Everybody in the house except Ryan has been to see a counselor at one point or another this summer."
"How did Brian and Tommy fare at home alone all summer? I know you had concerns."
"Not a problem. Youre right, I was concerned at first, but Brian pointed out that lots of kids his age are babysitting and getting paid for it. We had to set some guidelines."
Marty laughed. "More rules. You and your rules."
"These are guidelines. Not to be confused with suggestions, requests, laws or directions. At least thats what were calling them."
"Has Jake visited? I know you had visitation rights."
"He did a few times. But he stopped soon after the Fourth of July. It was just too much drama every time he left. He started crying then we started crying. He didnt want to come over, then once he was here, he didnt want to leave. After about two weeks, his counselor got in touch with me and we decided to let it go for a couple months - so we can all get some perspective. The last time he was here was the Fourth of July. Hes only called once since then, and we havent seen him at all."
Matt shook his head in agreement as if Marty could see the gesture. "Brian was really hard hit the first couple weeks after he left. He was such a little shithead immediately after Jake left. He turned around a bit after the Adoption Ceremony. He and Mike arent talking to each other, and nobody knows why. Neither of the boys will tell us."
"Adolescents are so dramatic. What are your plans for the Labor Day weekend?"
"Not much. I have to work Saturday, of course, although I did manage to get Monday off for a change. Weve been invited to a picnic on Sunday. The family of Patricks boyfriend throws a big bash every year. And guess where it is?"
"I cant think."
"Arie Crown Woods."
"No way! Farie Crown? Oh my God, youd better keep those boys out of the woods!"
"Dont I know it!" Arie Crown was a huge forest preserve near the intersection of the Stevenson Expressway and Route 45. It was a notorious cruising place. Matt himself had been there several times. By this time, Matt had reached the bottom of the bag of goodies. At the bottom, was a shiny, metal object. It had come as a promotional item for The Ultimate Wedding Book in May and had sat in his desk drawer until the day before last when he decided to finally clean out his desk.
"Anyone else going to be there that you know?"
"No, just Patrick and Tony. On Monday, were thinking about taking the kids to the Frankfort Fall Festival."
"That should be fun. They have the nicest crafts and antiques."
"Yes, they do. I havent been there in years."
Matt heard Marty kiss Vince. "Well, sweetie, it was good talking. Take care."
"The call of the wild, huh? Bye, hon."
"Hang in there, Matt. Itll get better."
Matt fervently hoped
That summer, Brian discovered girls.
Not in a sexual or romantic way, but as friends. They shared a lot of the same interests, they were good listeners, they seldom wanted to do boring things like shoot hoops.
He and Mike had hardly spoken all summer. Just before Jake left, Mike had announced to Brian that he had had sex with Jake several times. Brian didnt know who to be angrier at - Jake or Mike. But Jake was gone and so Mike was the only person left to vent his anger upon. He did this by ignoring Mike. Carl and Dave spent a large part of the summer with Mike, therefore they, too, were ignored. Tammy and her family moved back to California shortly after their eighth grade graduation. Allegra lived way on the other side of Park Forest.
So Brian hung with Pam. They did the typical things young teenagers did - talk, eat, watch TV, gossip, eat, and listen to music. Tim often came home to see the snack bar covered with food of all descriptions. Matt and Tim didnt mind that Pam was in the house - they both liked her. They trusted Brian and knew him well enough to be assured that his sexual curiosity was unlikely to extend to Pam, even though she was pretty. Also, if Brian remained at home, he would keep better tabs on Tommy.
There were only two things Matt and Tim did object to. One was the amount of food the two could put away. And they often left a mess. Matt almost blew up when he came home one night to find tortilla chip crumbs and red blobs of salsa all over the coffee table in the living room. A new rule was created then and there. They had to stay at the breakfast bar with their food and clean up after themselves. Otherwise, Pam would not be welcome.
Labor Day weekend, Pam was at the house. She opined, "If you want a jock, you gotta act like them, think like them. Take an interest in sports."
Brian wrinkled his nose.
Pam shrugged. "Im just telling what you need to do. If you dont want to do it, thats your choice."
Pam and Brian had so much fun together. They could go to Lincoln Mall and watch boys and compare notes. It was almost a gay cliché - a gay boy whose best friend is a girl. But, the alliance met both their needs. It alleviated Brians loneliness and satisfied Pams need for a companion with whom she could be herself. Matt and Tim often joked between themselves that Pam had all the makings of a future fag hag.
Pam took another handful of popcorn. "So what happened between you and Mike?"
"I dont want to talk about it."
"Oh, come on, Brian. Its me!"
Brian just shook his head slowly. As much as he wanted to talk about it, he hesitated. It just hurt too much. Still, it had been almost three months, and he felt betrayed by both Mike and Jake. He got off his stool to put another bag of popcorn in the microwave.
"I you dont tell me, Ill tell everyone weve been doing it." They both laughed at the ludicrous statement.
He looked down. Without thinking, he picked up the object Matt had left on the counter when he was sorting through the bag of promotional items from his store. Brian squinted at it. He mumbled, "I found out Mike was having sex with Jake."
Pam threw her head back and laughed her trademark throaty laugh. "Mike was doing it with Jake, too? Jake was such a ho," she said, attempting to make Brian laugh, or at least cheer up.
"Do you think this is real?"
A long awkward moment passed. "Im sorry," she finally said. "But now you know how I feel," she said quietly.
He did, indeed.
The fresh bag of popcorn was ready. Brian shook it and poured it into the large bowl they were sharing.
"How are your classes going?" They had been back to school for just a few days. They were attending Rich East Township High School - home of the Rockets.
"Its hard to tell. Its still early "
Tommy interrupted his response as he reached in between them for a handful of popcorn.
"Hey! This is our popcorn. If you want some, make your own," Brian told him.
"No time. I have to meet with Leah," he replied as he stuffed his mouth full of popcorn.
"Awwww, how could you be mean to such a cutie," Pam said as he ruffled Tommys hair.
"Thats just the problem. Hes cute and he knows it."
The younger boys eyes spied the shiny object on the counter. "Can I have this?"
At this point, Brian was anxious to get rid of his pesky little brother, and would have given him anything.
"Yes, and leave us alone."
Tommy tossed the object in the air and caught it as he slammed out the back door, down the porch steps and up the steps to Leahs.
Tommy stood the object on its narrow side and spun it on Leahs dining room table while she prepared iced tea for them both. The window in her dining room, usually green with plants, was barren. She had taken all the houseplants outside, hosed them down and left them in the sun for a while.
"So, Tommy, why do you think youre here?"
Tommy took the gold-hued metallic object and again held it in its edge with his left index finger. With a flick of his right index finger, he sent it spinning again. He liked the ringing sound as it gradually slowed down.
Tommys actions were beginning to aggravate Leah, and she wanted to grab it from him.
"Your dad told me you had another nightmare the other night. Want to tell me about it?"
"No," Tommy mumbled.
"OK ." Leahs voice trailed off. "It might help to talk about it."
Tommy shook his head. "It will make me scared all over again." Tommy glanced around the town house. "Wheres Mike?" he asked in a blatant attempt to change the subject.
"Hes upstairs, but he is not the issue." Leah fervently wished she had met with the boy at her office at Governors State. They could have even used an empty classroom - there would have been a lot fewer distractions.
Leah was feeling a bit frustrated, so she pulled out more mental ammunition. "Your dad told me you had a little accident the other night."
Tommys eyes flew open in shock. They had been talking about him! Then, he narrowed his eyes in anger. "Yeah, so?"
"It happens, especially if you are under stress."
Tommy hesitated. He loved Leah and trusted her, but he was simply obeying the Boy Code. The Boy Code dictated that you werent supposed to show your feelings. The Boy Code demanded that you be tough and resilient. The Boy Code commanded that one never show fear.
But he was breaking down. He needed to empty his insides of the black, stinking, unreasonable insecurity that was gnawing away at him.
He took a deep breath and then spilled it. "It was night. There were five or six big men dressed in black. And they were big, bigger than Tim. One of them woke me up and pulled me out of bed. I screamed. He dragged me downstairs. I saw Matt and Tim in the living room. They were both being held by two guys each. I screamed, Dont let them take me. Please! They cried and tried to get away from the guys, but they couldnt. They carried me away and I was screaming and crying and kicking. I even tried to bite him. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital bed. My arms and legs were tied down." He paused. "Thats all I remember."
"What a scary dream. It would have frightened me. What do you think it means, Tommy?"
"Im scared that someone is going to take me away." Despite the fact he was almost an adolescent, Tommy still had some catching up to do relative to his peers. This was especially true emotionally. He had come a long way, but the early years of neglect had taken their toll and would probably reverberate throughout his life.
Leah reached across the table for his hand and gave it a squeeze. "You are afraid that what happened to Jake could happen to you."
Tommy nodded, his eyes brimming with tears.
"Nobodys going to take you away, Tommy. Your parents love you very much."
"But they loved Jake and they took him away."
"But theres one important difference, Tommy. You are adopted. Adoption is permanent and it cant be undone. Matt loved you so much, he wanted to be your father and he committed himself to you for the rest of your life. Just like I did with Mike. You may grow up and move out of the house, like my sons Marc and Aaron. But Matt and Tim will always be your parents, and they will always be there for you. And so will I."
"You will? How do I know?"
"Because Im your friend."
"You are?" At this point, Tommy broke down, rounded the table and embraced Leah. She held him for a long moment, then released him. She stood and retrieved a box of tissues. She wiped his runny nose.
"Feel better, now?"
Tommy could only nod.
"Youre such a good boy, Tommy. If Matt hadnt adopted you, I would have." She gave him one last squeeze. "Ok, go now. Give Matt and Tim a big hug and tell them how much you love them."
"I will! Thanks, Leah."
"Anytime, Tommy." He was almost out her door when she called him again.
"Here, dont forget this." She handed him the object.
By the time Tommy returned home, Pam had left and Brian had cleaned up the kitchen and breakfast bar. Tim had arrived home from work, showered and dressed in a pair of nicer jeans and a smoky blue polo shirt. He was watching the channel 2 news. WBBM was the CBS affiliate in Chicago, and until recently had always been known for its serious newscasts. Chicagoans had their choice from a smorgasbord of television news. For news heavy with Chicago content and light on world and national news, they turned to WGN, independent channel 9. "Happy talk" news had its home on the ABC owned-and-operated WLS. WFLD, the Fox affiliate, served up an offbeat newscast at 9 PM that was unabashedly aimed at Generation X-ers. But WBBM was the choice for serious news presented in a straightforward no-nonsense manner. Channel 2 was authoritative. If the anchors, Bill Kurtis or Walter Jacobsen uttered it, it was news gospel in Chicago. That is, until Bill Kurtis left for projects with PBS and cable TV, and Walter Jacobsen was offered a princely salary to anchor the news on WFLD. Recently, the ratings for the 10 oclock news were so bad they trailed reruns of MASH.
Tim had started dinner, and was waiting for Matt to arrive home.
Tommy spotted Tim on the couch and hugged him tightly. "I love you," he said in the mans shoulder.
Tim patted his back. "I love you too, Tommy."
They held each other for a long moment.
"You smell good," Tommy commented, "where are you going?" Tim seldom wore cologne unless he and Matt were going out.
"Im going to my dads house."
"Grandpa Patrick?" Tims dad had become Grandpa Patrick, and Matts dad Grandpa Dominic. "Are we going, too?"
"No, just me."
Tommy put on a disappointed face. "Look what I got." Tommy pulled out the golden object out of his pocket.
"Cool," Tim replied. "Are you planning to marry someone?"
"Yeah, you." He took Tims right hand and slipped the object on his ring finger.
"Its the wrong hand, Tommy, besides," Tim added quietly, "Im already married."
"Oh, well in that case, you can hold it for me until Im ready to get married. Deal?"
Matt arrived home then and Tim left for his fathers condominium in Tinley Park. Just before he hopped into the Jeep, he slipped the object off his finger and into the pocket of his jeans.
A few hours later, after Patrick, Tony and Tim had their talk, Patrick held his crying son. Tim allowed the tears to flush out his pain and frustration with Matt, the situation with Jake and the whole world. A little over a year ago, such a scene would have been inconceivable. Tim had only cried a very few times in front of Patrick - the most recent time was Memorial Day a year ago when he told his father he was gay.
Tim needed someone impartial to talk to. Matt had Marty with whom he could vent. Brian had his friends. Tommy had Leah. Tim could have gone to Leah, but then considered his father as an alternative. Patrick had always given him down to earth advice.
Patrick and Tony had just listened to Tim as he spilled out his inner torment like dumping out the contents of his pockets. There was something especially heart-wrenching about seeing such a virile, muscular man cry. One would think that a body such a Tims - bulging with toned muscles - would be immune to pain.
But Tim was not experiencing physical pain. Tims pain came from within. It was his inner spirit calling out for healing. And that call led Tim to his father who was, in fact, his only parent.
Patrick got up from his chair to get Tim something to wipe his face with. Tim followed him into the kitchen. They embraced.
"I know you know a lot of college educated people you could have talked to, like that neighbor lady of yours. Hell, Im just an old construction worker from the south side." He chuckled. Then, his face became serious and he looked into his sons eyes. "Im honored you came to me."
"Im sorry I made such a scene in front of Tony."
"Dont worry about it. If he says anything about it, Ill just slap him around a bit."
They both laughed. Patrick put his hand on the back of Tims muscular neck. "I love you, Timmy." Patrick was the only one allowed to call him Timmy. Not even Matt could use the diminutive name.
"I love you, too, Dad." His eyes began brimming with tears again.
"Its going to be OK, son. I promise," Patrick whispered. "Here," he said, handing Tim a piece of paper towel.
"Dont you ever buy Kleenex?" Tim asked.
"I always forget. Speaking of forgetting, let me give you Brians birthday present."
Tim shook his head. "Its almost a month late, Dad."
"Better late than never," Patrick said as he traveled to the back bedroom.
Tony took the opportunity to move in. He hugged Tim wordlessly. Tim accepted the hug from his fathers lover.
Until Tony grabbed his cock through his jeans.
"Well, maybe I can give my son-in-law a kiss." He pressed his lips to Tims and immediately pressed his tongue into Tims mouth.
Tims first impulse was to bite his tongue. Instead he pushed Tony so abruptly he landed against the stove.
"Whats your problem?"
Tim held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers. The wedding band on his ring flinger glinted in the fluorescent kitchen light.
"Im married, Tony."
Tim was angry, but with effort controlled his temper. "You dont get it, do you?"
"Well, you will if you ever grow up enough to get married." Suddenly, he remembered the object in his pocket. It was the same one Matt had brought home from work, the one that Brian had left on the breakfast bar, Tommy had taken to Leahs house and then given to Tim to keep. Tim reached in his pocket and handed the cheap wedding ring to Tony. "If you ever get married, give this cheap ring back to me, and Ill replace it with the real thing. In the meantime, you had better not fuck around behind my dads back. Or Ill kick your ass. And this is a promise." By this time, Patrick was on his way back down the hall. "Frankly, I think my dad can do a hell of a lot better than you."
Tonys reply was cut short by Patricks arrival. "It looks like it was wrapped by monkeys," he said ruefully.
"Dont worry, dad, Im sure Brian will like it."
"Its a Tommy Hilfiger shirt."
"In that case, Im sure he will love it. Good night, dad. And thanks." He hugged his father again.
"Tony," he gave his fathers companion a cold, perfunctory nod.
"Take care, Tim. Come back and see us," Tony said.
Not if youre around, Tim thought.
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