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 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

Chapter 11

"This is to let you know that Andrew Cooper passed away on Tuesday, September 20, 1994 at Bromenn Regional Medical Center in Normal. He is survived by his parents George and Paula of Paducah, Kentucky, his brothers, Dallas and Gary and his sister Cassandra Stillwell. The wake will be held at Metzler-Froelich Memorial Home 1115 E. Washington, Bloomington, Friday September 23 from 6 to 10 PM. The funeral service will be held at held at First United Methodist Church, 211 N. School Street, Normal on Saturday, September 24 at 11 AM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to McLean County AIDS Task Force."

There, the message abruptly ended.

Tim, who was watching TV on the couch with Tommy, heard a choking sound emanating from upstairs. Tim and Tommy exchanged a puzzled look. Tim jumped up from the couch and took the stairs two at a time. Tommy was right behind him.

He spotted Matt standing beside the bed with his hand over his eyes and sobbing loudly.

"Matt?" Tim said softly. "Are you OK, baby?"

Matt shook his head.

Tommy had seen his father cry before, but never sob uncontrollably like he was now. It scared him. "Dad?" he said timidly. He placed a tentative hand on Matt’s arm.

Tim addressed himself calmly to Tommy. "Can you leave us alone, son?"

"But, what’s wrong?" His voice squeaked to its upper ranges with concern and anxiety.

"We’ll tell you all about it in a bit. OK, baby? Shut the door behind you, please."

Reluctantly, Tommy shuffled out of the room, and before he shut the door completely, took a long, lingering look at Matt and Tim.

Tim directed Matt to the bed where they sat side by side. Matt buried his face in Tim’s shoulder as he cried out his anguish. He had never lost anyone close before. No one in his immediate or extended family had passed away.

"Matt, look at me," Tim commanded when his tears started to subside. "The Andy who died is a different person than the one you knew. He’s different from the one you loved."

Matt didn’t respond immediately, although Tim could tell he was listening. "Let’s go to the funeral. You have an extra day off coming to you because you covered for Anna while she was sick. I can get Friday off easily. We can make a little vacation out of it."

Matt’s voice was thick with phlegm and his nose plugged up. "We aren’t going to bring the kids?"

"Leah will watch them for us."

"I can’t ask her…."

"What about Marty?"

Matt wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Marty?"

"Yeah. I trust him. He’s your best friend." Tim had a morbid curiosity about the man who had left such an imprint on Matt. It was Andy’s legacy that almost caused Matt to sabotage their relationship while it was still in it’s infancy.

Matt wasn’t sure he wanted Tim to accompany him; he wasn’t sure he wanted to go at all. The identity of the mystery caller nagged at him, as did the message. Why did Andy want to see him? It had been almost six years since he moved back to Chicago - and left his former life behind. In that time they had spoken exactly once on New Year’s 1988. They had exchanged Christmas cards for a few years after that, and then - nothing.

And more importantly, why did he want to go to the funeral?

Tim kissed his neck. "We have some phone calls to make, babe. And we need to sit down with the boys." His eyes scanned Matt’s face. "Correction: I’ll make the phone calls. You lay down for a little bit." He patted the pillows twice. "Come on."

Still stunned and in a state of shock, Matt simply nodded.

Before going downstairs, Tim shook two Tylenol PM from the bottle and brought them back to the bedroom along with a cup of water. He kissed Matt, closed the mini-blinds and switched off the lights.

"What’s wrong with Dad?" Jake’s adolescent voice called from the living room as Tim rummaged in the freezer.

"Someone he knew died," Tim answered shortly.

"Did we know him?"

"No." In the back of the freezer, Tim unearthed a Pepperidge Farm apple pie. "Hey, guys, how about an apple pie?" He addressed the three and changed the subject.

"Why is he so upset?" Tommy persisted.

After turning on the oven to preheat it, Tim entered the living room and stood behind the lounger. He placed his big hands on Tommy’s shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. "We’re going to talk about it in a while. Right now, Matt’s going to rest a bit. We’ll tell you all about it when he gets up."

Matt: "I have never had anyone close to me die before. No relatives, no friends. I did know one coworker who had AIDS. He passed away only about five or six months after he became a store manager. I didn’t know him very well and he wasn’t very friendly toward me. Still, it bothered me. I guess I was thinking ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’"

"Matt? The pie is ready."

Matt grunted.

Tim reclined on the bed and took his lover in his arms. "Can you come downstairs for a few minutes? You need to talk to the boys; they’re pretty frightened. Frankly, I am, too." From the beginning, Matt had insisted on equality in their relationship. In reality each man had his own strengths and weaknesses. Matt was wound a bit tighter and although he was not a drama queen by any description, everyone who knew him knew exactly where they stood and what he was feeling at the time. Matt was completely honest, sometimes to the point of tactlessness. Tim was more placid, relaxed and easy-going but sometimes getting him to talk about his feelings was akin to pulling teeth. Matt treated his sons as young adults. Tim could sometimes lower himself to their level.

One thing was clear in their relationship with each other and with their sons: Matt had a will of iron. He was emotionally strong and resilient although recently he had learned to be a bit more flexible. Tim and the boys had come to depend on Matt’s strength. He was like a mountain; no matter how hard they leaned on him for support, he never toppled.

That’s why his sudden emotional disintegration at the news of Andy’s death had frightened them.

"I called Marty."

"What did he say?" Matt croaked.

"He said he’d be pleased to watch the boys." Matt’s eyes were closed but he could tell Tim was smiling and could hear the amusement in his voice. "He said you owe him big time. Vince won’t be able to come. He has to work at Jewel over the weekend and he has a big test on Monday he has to study for." He kissed the back of Matt’s neck and lingered a moment to inhale Matt’s scent. "I also confirmed the wake and made hotel reservations. We’re staying at Jumer’s."

Matt rolled over and finally opened his eyes. He noticed night had fallen. His head felt like it was stuffed with wool as a result of the Tylenol PM. "Jumer’s?" He wailed in dismay. "They’re so expensive."

"They were the only ones with available rooms, honey. It’s Parent’s Weekend at Illinois State this weekend. Besides, I can afford it, Mr. Tightwad."

Matt opened his mouth to protest again, but Tim cut him off. "I baked a pie. It’s ready now. Some comfort food might do you good. Come on downstairs and talk to the boys." He kissed his lover lightly on the lips. "You might want to splash some cold water on your face, hon. And maybe run a comb through your hair before you come downstairs."

Squinting against the light, Matt joined Tim and their sons around the dining room table. Tim had insisted that the TV and all other forms of electronic entertainment be turned off. The three boys knew that something big was up.

The hanging light fixture over the table blazed a halo of light and warmth against the September night.

"Guys, we’re going to a funeral in Bloomington Friday morning after you leave for school," Tim explained.

"Whose funeral?" Jake asked.

"His name was Andy Cooper." Matt replied tersely.

"How did you know him?" Brian asked.

"We went to ISU together. We lived together in Bloomington for a few years after we graduated from ISU."

"Were you lovers?" Brian asked.

Matt pressed his lips together. "Yes," he responded frankly after a momentary hesitation.

"Who’s going to watch us?" Jake asked.

"Marty is coming. He’ll be here Friday when you get home from school."

Brian, Tommy and Jake cheered.

"But," Tim continued, "there will be no one overnight. It’s supposed to rain most of the weekend, according to the Weather Channel. Marty is going to have a movie night on Saturday. Each of you can invite one friend. And you all had better be on your best behavior."

"Are you OK, dad?" Brian’s voice was clear but contained a level of anxiety.

Matt forced a smile for his benefit. "Yes, I’m OK. A bit shaken, but OK." With four pairs of eyes upon him, he pushed himself away from the table and stood. "I’m going to turn in, now. Good night."

In silence, they watched him move toward the stairs.

He took two strides away from the table when Jake’s voice broke the silence. "I love you, Matt."

Tears suddenly filled Matt’s eyes. He spun around on his heels. Jake stood and Matt embraced the young teenager fiercely.

"I love you, too, Jake."

Tommy and Brian moved out of their chairs and surrounded the man. Matt hugged Tommy next. "I love you, Tommy."

When he reached to hug Brian, the boy had puckered his lips. He wanted a kiss. Brian had concocted a slew of rules and regulations about how and when he would be touched. The affectionate gesture surprised Matt and touched him deeply. Matt loved his sons, but deep down Brian was his favorite. Brian had been the first.

Matt kissed his son.

"I’ll be back down in a minute," Tim called over his shoulder as he helped Matt upstairs.

As they ascended the stairs, they heard Tommy’s voice: "Dad, can I have your pie?"

Tim accelerated the Saturn as he merged from I-80 onto southbound I-55 just west of Joliet. They had left the Jeep and the keys for Marty to taxi the boys around town. Tommy was finished with soccer for the season, but Jake had football practice Saturday morning.

The morning was chilly despite the bright sun that Friday morning. Both Matt and Tim had taken the day off. Matt had worked for Anna the previous Sunday and Thursday, so he took Friday and Saturday as compensation days.

"You’ll have to show me around," Tim said.

"There’s not much to see," Matt replied in a flat voice as he stared out at the corn and soybeans waiting to be harvested. "Bloomington is not exactly a tourist destination."

"Well, you can show me where you lived. You can take me around the ISU campus." Inwardly, Tim sighed to himself. He was feeling frustrated. His attempts to get Matt to talk about his feelings had failed. Since the anonymous answering machine message, Matt had almost become an automaton. It seemed to Tim and the boys that he was sleepwalking though the days. Matt drifted through the ensuing days - going to work, coming home, picking at his food and crashing early each night.

Matt tuned the radio to WYEN, an all 70’s station. He liked the music in moderation. At least most pop music from the seventies was light and cheerful. Matt thought the current crop of pop music was too angry and angst-ridden. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart was playing.

"I like this song," Tim mumbled.

"I do, too. It’s a cute song."

"Isn’t he family?" Speculating about the sexuality of celebrities was one of Tim’s hobbies.

"I dunno, I thought he got married at one point."

"Never stopped some people before."

Matt raised an eyebrow at him.

As they crossed the Kankakee River, Tim commented, "We haven’t done much house hunting lately."

Matt wanted to avoid the subject. He didn’t want to move, he was tired of moving. The townhouse was the first property Matt had owned and he was proud of it. On a deeper level, he hesitated about committing himself. "We haven’t had much time."

"Let’s go next weekend."

"What about the boys?"

"We could bring them."

"Tim, I’m sure they don’t want to be dragged though empty houses."

Tim sighed in frustration. They had been through this before. Tim knew it wasn’t the issue of a bigger house; Matt agreed they needed more space. The real issue was Matt’s basic insecurity.

Tim reached over with his right hand and ran his knuckles down Matt’s jaw. "Babe," he said in a low, sexy voice. "I love you. Trust me. Please?"

To avoid any further discussion on the topic, Matt kissed his hand. As he hunkered down in the seat to take a nap, Brian’s cell phone rang. It was buried in Matt’s briefcase in the back seat. Matt brought the phone along in case of emergencies.

It stopped ringing and the voicemail picked up before he could dig it out.

The caller ID display read Wittenberg, Elmer, and prefix of the phone number identified the caller was from Park Forest. Matt called the voicemail system, but the caller didn’t leave a message.

"Do you know anyone named Elmer?" Matt asked.

"Hell, no. If I did, I’m not sure I would admit it."

"Strange," Matt mumbled. "Must be a wrong number," he said as he put the phone away.

As Matt dozed, WYEN began to fade and Tim changed the radio station once again. This time he landed on all-eighties WXCD.

"This station has gone through more changes than Brian getting ready for school," Tim commented. The radio station was owned and operated by ABC and started life as WLS FM. During different lives, it had had a country format, an album-oriented rock format, a talk radio format, Top 40 and now, all-eighties.

Without opening his eyes, Matt nodded his agreement.

There was a slew of obnoxious commercials followed by Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young. It was a sweet, slow tempo song with ubiquitous and unmistakable eighties keyboard sounds.

Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you…

On the inside of his eyelids, Matt could picture the following scene: It was summer 1984 and he was at camp. He was sitting on the porch of Calumet cabin with his favorite camper, Eric, at his side. They were talking about the upcoming Gold Rush Days. He had left Andy behind in Bloomington and it was a difficult adjustment. It was almost like being in the military. It was painful, to be sure, but there was also a sweetness to the longing. He had tried to convince Andy to be a counselor that summer but Andy steadfastly refused.

They wrote long, romantic letters to each other. Matt found it difficult to find time during the day to call Andy and anyway the cost was prohibitive. Prepaid phone cards didn’t exist yet.

Camp had been as much a growth experience for Matt as it had been for the campers. He would have never given it up. He loved it. And yet, what had he given up by going to camp? Matt was sure that his going to camp had caused a deep, irreparable rift in their relationship. Could it have been prevented if he stayed in Bloomington? Could his relationship with Andy have been saved if he had stayed home? Had be been, as Andy told him at the time, selfish and too independent?

Toward the end of camp that summer Andy sent him a letter on tape. He had included this song. It took three days before Matt could find the time, privacy, and a cassette player that worked to listen to the letter. When he did, he broke down and cried. Maybe he had been unfair.

The next song was More Than This by Roxy Music. It was another song Andy had included on the tape. As the reflective lyrics settled in Matt’s ears, a melancholy feeling settled in his heart.

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they’re blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

Jesus H Christ, Matt thought to himself. What is this? The Make Matt Feel Lousy Show? Did WXCD have a bootleg copy of that tape Andy sent to him somewhere?

Matt opened his eyes long enough to hit the Search button on the radio.

"Why’d you do that?"

"The station is fading." It was fading, but not enough to warrant changing the station. The song highlighted their age difference. At times, Matt felt like a tour guide through the past. He tired of having to translate everything into more current terms. At the time More Than This came out, Tim had been a boy. His memories of the summer of ’83 were sketchy at best. Did he remember the whole New Wave craze? It was one of the drawbacks of a younger lover.

Tim wisely didn’t question him. Matt shut his eyes again and hunkered down in his seat.

Matt’s eyes were still closed when he felt Tim slow the Saturn. He swiped at the tears on his cheeks. Tim noticed but said nothing.

After stopping at the lone rest area just south of Pontiac, Tim tried once again to open the lines of communication.

"Maybe you should see someone," he suggested.

"Why?" Matt asked defensively.

"To talk about Andy."

Matt pressed his lips together and stared out the passenger window. "I’m not sure how I feel about it myself."

"OK," Tim mumbled, verbally backing away from the topic.

Tim and Matt stood at the main counter in the plush lobby of Jumer’s Castle Lodge. Thick carpeting cushioned their feet; a fire crackled in the fireplace; large; overstuffed couches and chairs beckoned and brass accents gleamed.

"What do you mean you’re overbooked?" Matt demanded.

The clerk’s face reddened slightly. "I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Rosato. It’s a mistake. You know ISU is having Parent’s Weekend this weekend."

"And? So?" Matt struggled to keep his temper under control. "We had reservations."

"It was an honest mistake."

Matt knew just what to do. It was the same thing that some customers had done to him at the bookstore. "Let me speak to your supervisor."

"Very well, sir." The clerk disappeared momentarily and returned with a portly, bearded older man.

"I do apologize for this inconvenience, Mr. Rosato," he began in a calm, steady voice. "We’ll find you a room, even if it is with a competitor." He chewed his lower lip as he studied the computer screen.

Finally, he smiled with success. "Gentlemen, I do have a room for you. We’ll upgrade your reservation for free. I’ll also include free room service and a free meal at the restaurant."

"Thank you," Tim replied. "We appreciate it. Will the room be ready soon? We’re both a bit tired from the drive."

The supervisor smiled at him and handed him an access card encased in an envelope. "It’s ready now."

On the outside of the envelope was printed, "Welcome to the Honeymoon Suite."

Like an actor in a credit card commercial, Tim smiled and held the card up so Matt could read the envelope.

For the first time since he learned of Andy’s death, Matt smiled.

The hotel room was actually two rooms; a living room and a bedroom with a huge bathroom and kitchenette between them. It was a suite of understated elegance. The living room area featured a hunter green leather-covered sofa and loveseat facing an entertainment center. A huge arrangement of freshly cut flowers bloomed on the coffee table. Inside the sumptuous bathroom was a whirlpool tub. The towels were not institutional white, but peach in color. The rest of the furniture was real and not the Formica-clad bolted-to-the-wall variety. Matt suspected that several pieces were antique or at least very good reproductions.

Matt and Tim grinned at each other when they spotted the king-sized four-poster bed. No tawdry heart-shaped bed here. It was covered in a Laura Ashley floral patterned bedspread. Another TV and VCR perched atop a chest of drawers. A small, round table with a matching tablecloth and two Chippendale chairs awaited near the window.

Matt flopped on the bed with a contented sigh.

Tim joined him on the bed and gathered his husband in his arms. Matt stared into his blue eyes which were aglow with love and desire.

"I love you, Matt. I’m here for you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you." He kissed Matt’s cheek. "I know you think I’m young to settle down with a family. But I don’t feel burdened at all. This is where I want to be for the rest of my life."

"I thought I wanted to settle down when I was your age. I was living with Andy. Neither of us were ready to make a commitment. I always wanted to live alone, just to see what it was like. I was always someone’s son or roommate or lover. I guess that’s what’s at the heart of the house hunting issue. I bought that townhouse so I could live alone. I wanted to be single." He grinned at Tim. "Then you came along. And Brian, of course."

"Did you ever regret it?"

"Regret what, Tim?"

"Giving up your freedom to me or Brian?"

"No, not for a minute. I was always worried you would regret it. I still am."

Tim rolled over on his side and placed his right leg over Matt’s abdomen. "No, Matt. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. When we had that talk a couple weeks ago, that’s what I wanted to get across. I want to be more involved with the boys." He kissed Matt. "I want to be more involved with you." He propped his head up on his hand and studied Matt’s face. "We’re married for all intents and purposes. And that’s the way I want it. I love you, Matt."

"I love you, too, Tim."

They toed off their shoes and stretched out on the bed, holding each other tight. Words were superfluous. Sex was unnecessary. Matt drew strength and comfort from Tim’s warmth. Through the rest of the morning and on into the early afternoon, they dozed off and on. Finally, about 3 o’clock, Tim rose to use the bathroom.

"I’m hungry," Tim announced when he returned to the bedroom.

Matt opened his eyes and smiled at him. "When aren’t you hungry?"

When they returned to the hotel, Matt checked the hotel’s voicemail system. There were no messages. He then checked the voicemail system the cell phone. There was no message there, either.

They showered and changed into their suits. Matt drove them over the same streets they had gone to lunch. The clouds that had moved in while they were napping obscured the setting sun. The parking lot had filled with cars of all descriptions.

Despite the fact they were early, the funeral home was crowded. Matt didn’t recognize anyone except Andy’s parents, and he had only met them a few times. The voices of the mourners were hushed. Various pop tunes emanated softly from a cassette player. They signed the guest book in the small vestibule. In one corner of the room was a group of gay men whispering to each other as if they were on stage. Towering over the group was a man in very bad drag.

"Deep breath," Tim whispered to Matt. "You can do this."

As they approached the receiving line, Matt noticed two bulletin boards on tripods. They were covered with photos of family, friends, events and of Andy himself. The first bulletin board seemed to be devoted to immediate family and Andy’s formative years. The second one was covered with friends.

Tim pointed mutely to a picture in the upper left corner. Andy and Matt had their arms around each other’s shoulders and were smiling for the camera. The background of the photo was dark, and Matt remembered why. The snapshot had been taken in Bloomington’s sole gay bar.

Tears stung Matt’s eyes.

The line inched forward. Matt didn’t know his aunts, uncles and cousins, and there seemed to be a lot of them. They all had similar features: blond hair ranging from platinum blond to golden and blue eyes.

He shook his sister Tiffany’s hand. "Mama," she called ahead, "Matt’s here."

Mrs. Cooper, who wasn’t greeting anyone at the moment, broke from the line and hugged Matt.

"Thanks so much for coming, Matt," she said with a slight twang. Matt barely remembered her but was pleased by her welcome. When she released him she held him at arm’s length. "You look good for yourself, honey." She, however, did not look good. The years had not been kind to Paula. Most of her teeth were missing, her skin had an unhealthy pallor and her hair had the texture of straw. Probably from too many home dye jobs, Matt thought. She turned around. "George," she called to her husband.

A man who looked twenty years older than he probably was shuffled over to them. Paula Cooper put her hand on Matt’s forearm. "This is Andy’s college friend." She spoke the word friend as if it had quotation marks around it. "They lived over near Franklin Park. Remember?" She spoke loudly and distinctly to her husband. Matt noticed the hearing aids in his ears.

"Yeah, Paula, I remember. Ya don’t have to shout." He grudgingly held out his hand to Matt.

"And who is your friend?" Paula Cooper asked Matt.

"This is Tim McGraw."

"Nice to meet you, Tim." Paula shook his hand. "Thank you both for coming. You’re invited to the lunch tomorrow. We reserved a section at Old Country Buffet," she announced proudly.

Her face sobered. "He’s over there," she gestured to the casket. Torch lamps with pink bulbs stood at his head and feet. "Thanks again for coming." Matt understood she was moving him along.

Matt’s apprehension was palpable as they approached. Andy looked thinner than Matt remembered him. He could tell Andy was heavily made up. Matt sunk to his knees on a kneeler in front of the casket. Matt thought he looked good, although thinner than he remembered. His face was carefully made up. To Matt, he looked as if he were simply sleeping. He gazed at the abdomen to see if it rose and fell with every breath. The corpse remained motionless. Please God, let Andy find the peace he deserves. Let him know in my screwed-up way I still love him.

He was numb. He felt as if he had cried out all his tears the preceding days. A million If Only scenarios swirled through his mind. If only Andy hadn’t messed around behind his back. If only he hadn’t quit his job without having another one lined up. If only Andy had come with him to camp in Wisconsin. If only he had stayed in Bloomington.

He felt Tim’s strong grasp on his shoulder. Matt nodded and stood up. As he did, he heard More Than This emanate from the boom box.

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they’re blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

Like a frozen pipe about to burst, emotions welled up inside him. Tim knew he was about to break down and steered Matt to the nearest empty room and closed the door behind them. Once inside the dimly lit room, Matt released the sorrow and the loss, the grief and the regret he had been holding inside.

"Shh! It’s OK, babe. I’m here for you," Tim whispered gently. He rocked Matt until his tears subsided. He reached for a box of tissues on an end table and handed them to Matt.

"I guess," Matt began between sniffles, "I guess I’m so upset because he was my first."

"You never forget your first love," Tim whispered gently. Since they were alone, he allowed his lips to graze Matt’s temple. "You’re my first, you know."

Matt gazed into his eyes.

"I never loved Rosie the way I love you," he whispered into Matt’s ear. "You are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. You showed me it was possible to have a family. I’m grateful to you for that." He kissed Matt’s ear. "And the boys - they think you’re God."

"The Gospel According to Matthew," he said sardonically.

"Seriously, you’re like a hero to them. I know, they can be difficult at times, mouthy, rude, lazy…"

"You can say that again," Matt interrupted.

Tim paused with a hurt look in his eyes. After a long moment, he said quietly, "You just can’t take a compliment, can you? You have to deflect it with a joke."

His words stung Matt and he had the decency to look ashamed. He knew Tim was right.

"What else is bothering you? Something else is on your mind, I can feel it."

Matt struggled for words. "I guess….I think that it made me face up to my own mortality. We - Andy and me - were so close in age. I forgot about death. The struggle of day-to-day living just made me forget that our time here is limited." His eyes were pleading for understanding.

Tim nodded. "It’s scary. But you can’t let your life be controlled by fear. If you did you’d be paralyzed." Tim wrapped his arms around Matt.

Matt managed a wan smile. "How did you get to be so wise?"

Before Tim could answer, a man opened the door. "Oh, I’m sorry."

Tim removed his arms but said to the man, "No problem. I think we’re almost done."

Matt glanced at the intruder. He was about Matt’s age, very handsome with dark hair and eyes. He wore an expensive-looking double-breasted suit. His tan came either from a bottle or a tanning bed. In any event, it was not natural for late September in Illinois. Behind him stood a younger, blond man perhaps Tim’s age. The older man grinned knowingly at Matt and Tim.

"I’m sorry," he repeated as he backed out and began to close the door.

Tim stood and extended his hand. It’s OK, really. I’m Tim McGraw."

"I’m Steve Baity," He continued to smile as he shook Tim’s hand. "This is Chris Lumiere."

Matt extended his hand. "I’m Matt Rosato."

"Oh, so you’re Matt," Steve said.

Matt’s brows knitted in concern. "That’s me. Have we met?"

"No, but I know of you. I grew up with Andy. And I know of you from reading The Gay Tribune," Steve explained. "You’re the one who adopted a gay son." As Steve spoke, his eyes raked up and down Matt. Matt thought there was a definite spark of interest.

"Yes that’s me. I went to ISU with Andy. We were roommates for several years after we graduated."

"Yes, I know." Was his life an open book, Matt wondered?

In his head, Matt tried to figure out if Steve’s voice was the one on the answering machine at home. It didn’t match.

Steve took charge of the awkward situation. "May I introduce you to some of Andy’s other friends?"

"Sure." Matt and Tim followed Steve to the corner of the main room where the group of gay men had staked their territory.

The circle of men opened to inspect the newcomers. Not all the glances in Matt and Tim’s direction were welcoming. "This Matt Rosato. He lived with Andy in the eighties. And he’s the one who adopted a gay son."

"Sons," Tim corrected.

"I’m sorry," Steve apologized. "This is his significant other, Tim…umm…"

"McGraw," Tim completed the introduction.

An older gay man, tall, slim and still handsome, held out his hand. "I’m Ben, and this is my partner, Monty." Monty was on the heavy side and dressed from head to toe in shades of black.

"I’m the one who called you," Monty explained in a sing-song voice. He sighed dramatically and dabbed his eyes with a lavender handkerchief.

"I’m sorry I couldn’t come down earlier."

"Andy really wanted to see you," Monty replied in an almost accusatory tone.

"Monty!" Ben chided him. "He was probably busy! Other people have lives, you know."

"Probably busy with his sons," Steve interjected.

"Which reminds me," Tim said. "I was going to call them." He turned to Matt. "Do you have the cell phone?"

Matt reached into his pocket and produced the phone. Tim excused himself to the coffee room.

Matt turned to Steve, "How did you know Andy?"

"We grew up together in Cooksville. It’s about fifteen miles east of here."

"You said you lived in Chicago."

"I live on the near west side, not far from the United Center. I own an architectural firm." Matt again noticed the gleam in his eyes. Chris had his back turned to the two men and was chatting with an unidentified twink. "There’s an open couch over here. Let’s sit down."

Matt sank into the couch first. When Steve sat, he sat so close that their knees were touching.

"I’ve wanted to meet you," Steve began. "You’re very brave to adopt, do you know that?" His eyes were definitely communicating interest.

"I’m not a hero," Matt habitually brushed the compliment aside. He recalled the conversation he had just had with Tim.

"It took a lot of guts to do what you did."

He shrugged. "A boy needed a home and I always wanted to be a father. We got along beautifully from the start. The fact he was gay didn’t matter to me at all. I would have adopted him if he were straight, or bisexual or had sex with cucumbers."

Steve threw his head back and laughed. "A sense of humor! I like that."

"One has to have a sense of humor when you’re raising teenagers. So, tell me, did you and Andy know each other in the Biblical sense?"

Steve’s face reddened slightly but he continued smiling. "He was my first love," he whispered.

"Mine, too." Matt’s eyes saddened. Before Matt could say anything else, Chris stood in front of the two men. The younger man was not pleased. His jaw jutted forward and his eyes narrowed.

"Hi, Chris. I was talking to Matt about his sons."

"That’s nice," Chris said in a bitchy tone. "I’m about ready to leave."

"A few minutes, OK?"

Chris pouted, wriggled his hips and sashayed off.

Pretty, but all the personality of a mildewed dishrag, Matt thought.

Matt smiled as Tim approached the couch. "Did you get a hold of them?" Matt asked.

"Answering machine," he answered briefly.

"Maybe they went out to dinner. Or - God forbid - he took them shopping." He turned to Steve. "My best friend is staying with them this weekend."

Steve’s dark eyes sparked again. "You’re staying all weekend?"

"Yeah, at Jumer’s." Matt chucked and added, "In the honeymoon suite."

Steve laughed. Matt liked his hearty, deep guffaw. "You are too scandalous. Two men in the honeymoon suite. Tongues will wag at Jumer’s for weeks."

As Matt chuckled his agreement with Steve, his eyes met Tim’s. Tim was ready to go. Matt stood and extended his hand. "We’re leaving now."

Steve’s forehead creased. "So soon? Will we see you at the funeral tomorrow?"

"Yes," Matt told him.

"Maybe we can go to dinner together tomorrow night," Steve suggested.

"We’ll talk about it when we see you tomorrow," Matt responded. He was anxious to leave the funeral home and Steve’s interest was making him uncomfortable. "Good night." He shook hands with Steve, who gripped his hand a bit tighter than socially acceptable. Chris was nowhere to be seen.

Rain was falling in a fine mist as they exited the funeral home. Tim grumped, "Not a very appropriate place for a pick-up."

"I wasn’t trying to pick him up."

"He was trying to pick you up."

Matt agreed but didn’t want to admit this to Tim. He made his voice sound skeptical. "You think?"

"Honey, I know." Tim glanced out the window as if searching for a safer topic of conversation. "Chris was an asshole."

"Yes he was," Matt agreed.

They were silent for a time as the windshield wipers kept rhythm. Each man was lost in his own thoughts. Matt was preoccupied with his memories of Andy. Tim was concerned about Steve’s obvious interest in Matt and the fact that Matt had done nothing to deflect his advances.

As they neared the hotel, Tim added, "There was another call from that number in Park Forest again - that Elmer guy."

"I’m sure it’s a wrong number. Any message this time?"


At the door to the hotel suite, Matt slipped the plastic card into the slot and they heard the door unlock with a solid click. He sighed a deep sigh of contentment. "I love this room. Don’t know if we deserve the Honeymoon Suite, though. We’ve never been married."

"Of course we have. Remember Lincoln Park?"

"Oh. That. Yes, well, that wasn’t a real ceremony." Matt said as he slid out of his suit jacket. "What’s that smell?"


"Earlier today it smelled like potpourri in here. Now it smells like someone’s been cooking."

Tim’s dimples appeared. "There’s no open cans of tuna."

"What are you talking about?"

"Haven’t you heard that joke? ‘What do you call an open can of tuna in a lesbian’s apartment?’"

"OK, I’ll bite. What?"


"Bad joke," Matt groaned as he carried his jacket into the bedroom portion of the suite. Matt stopped abruptly in the doorway. "What’s this?" Matt asked.

The table had been moved in front of the window. The lights in the room had been dimmed. It was set for a meal with two place settings and illuminated by candles. A serving cart with gleaming covered plates awaited to the right of the table.

"A surprise," Tim said softly behind him.

Matt turned to face him. A grin spread over Tim’s face.

"How? When?" Matt spluttered.

"When I went to call the boys." Tim moved over to the table and pulled one of the chairs away. "Please be seated."

Matt giggled as he sat.

With a clank, he lifted one of the metal covers. "This is yours. It’s one of your favorites, chicken marsala. Would you like your salad before or after?"

Matt was beside himself with gratitude. "Before, please."

Tim placed another of Matt’s favorites in front of him. It was a spinach salad with mushrooms and red onions and dressed with a quality olive oil and lemon dressing.

"You are too much," Matt smiled at Tim and reached for his hand across the table.

"Is that good or bad?"

"In this case, very good. What did you order for yourself?"

"Chicken tetrazzini and a green salad. There’s warm garlic breadsticks for both of us. And I also ordered dessert."

"I hope you also ordered breath mints."

A little while later Tim called room service to remove the cart from the room. Matt stood, stretched and started to remove his shirt and tie. "I’m so tired," he yawned. "It’s kind of chilly in here."

"I guess the air conditioning is still on. Let’s cuddle - unless you want to have sex."

Matt couldn’t stifle another yawn. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

Tim opened the wardrobe and pulled out another Laura Ashley comforter. "Here," he kissed Matt. "I’ll meet you on the living room couch."

A bellhop arrived to take the cart away and Tim tipped him. When Tim sat on the couch Matt placed his head in his lap. Tim tucked the comforter around Matt’s body. Matt could hear the regular beating of Tim’s heart through his T-shirt. The sound of life; regular, strong, rhythmic. Is death when the heart stops beating? Or when there’s no brain activity? The line between life and death is very thin indeed.

Tim picked up the remote and flipped though the channels, inexplicably landing on the Weather Channel. Rain was predicted for most of the weekend in Bloomington. Tim turned down the TV volume until it was just a murmur.

"Thank you for a wonderful evening," Matt said.

"You’re welcome."

First United Methodist Church was almost on the ISU campus. It was a handsome church built of limestone. Milner Library loomed behind it.

The funeral service was lovely. The casket was surrounded by flower arrangements, one of which was presented by the McLean County Aids Task Force. The two bulletin boards covered with pictures had been transported from the funeral home. The pastor of the church had obviously taken some time to talk to Andy’s family because he included some anecdotes from Andy’s life in his eulogy.

As they dodged the raindrops through the parking lot, Brian’s cell phone rang again in Matt’s pocket. Not wanting to stop and answer it in the rain, Matt let the voicemail pick up again.

Because of their damp clothes, the interior glass fogged up immediately. Matt switched on the defroster.

"Maybe after the graveside service. With the rain, it’s sure to be a very short service." Matt switched on the intermittent wipers and steered the Saturn south on Center Street.

"Ohh, a dirty bookstore," Tim pointed out at Division Street, the appropriately named dividing line between the Twin Cities. "Imagine the hot college bodies in there."

Matt snorted. "Not while I was in college. It was a bunch of old trolls looking for those college bodies. When one appeared, they all pounced on the poor boy and scared the ever-loving shit out of him."

Tim snickered.

Matt followed the procession south on one-way Center Street through downtown Bloomington. "There’s been lots of renovation here," he commented. Amid the dusty, abandoned storefronts, vibrant restorations had appeared. The rain had slowed to a mist and fog began to shroud the streetscape, giving it the look of a French Impressionistic painting.

Matt drove south on Center Street again and turned right onto Wood Street. Within four blocks they passed huge, old Miller Park.

Across the street was Park Hill Cemetery where Andy was to be laid to rest. It was easy to find the gravesite. A large canvas awning had been erected.

They dodged the raindrops on the way to the white awning. The drumming of the droplets on the canvas reminded Matt of the memorial service for Matthew Shepard they had attended last Memorial Day.

Matt was correct when he predicted the ceremony would be short. The two men said their goodbyes to Andy’s family and the others they had met at the funeral home.

Matt and Tim shook hands with Ben and Monty. Matt shook hands with Chris but when he approached Steve, he was engulfed in a hug. Matt kept his hands to his sides instead of hugging him back. He liked Steve but he didn’t want to give Steve false hopes and he didn’t want to give the impression that Steve’s interest was mutual.

When they parted, Steve said, "It was very nice to meet you, Matt."

"Same here, Steve."

"Let me give you one of my business cards." Matt could see Tim’s jaw muscles working in anger. Chris had a venomous look in his eyes.

"Thanks, Steve." He smiled at the man, not wanting to encourage him in any way, but acknowledging their mutual connection through Andy. Whatever Andy’s shortcomings as a lover were, he had captivated both men.

"I could go for some coffee," Tim suggested.

Matt turned right out of the cemetery entrance to an FS Fast Stop. It was really more of a convenience store with gas pumps. The store was empty except for a heavy-set but trendily dressed young woman named Leslie. They both dispensed foamy cappuccino from a machine. Tim selected French vanilla while Matt chose English Toffee flavor.

The hot coffee burned their fingertips through the cardboard cups as Matt unlocked the car. He turned onto Morris Avenue again and turned into Forrest Park.

"Where are we going?" Tim asked.

"To the park. I just want to sit for a while."

Inside the park, he drove up a gentle incline to an octagonal picnic pavilion. Matt parked the car on a gravel parking area. Between the car and the pavilion stood a maple tree with it’s leaves a premature neon yellow. Apparently the tree’s timing was out of synch with Mother Nature’s.

Not caring that they might dirty their suits, they sat on the tabletop of a picnic table under the shelter and sipped their cappuccinos.

"This is pretty," Tim commented. "I love to watch the rain."

"This is a very cruisy park."

"It is?" Tim grinned at Matt. "Did you ever cruise here?"

"Once or twice," Matt admitted. "Andy must have been here all the time. And he was probably in the bookstore we passed earlier. Not to mention the bathrooms at the mall." Matt smiled at the fog ruefully. "Andy." Then he mumbled, "It just doesn’t matter anymore, does it?"


"I said, it just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all over. Maybe it was meant to be."

Tim set his cappuccino down by his thigh and took Matt’s hand. "Let go, Matt. Let him go."

Matt smiled at his lover, but tears still threatened. "I’m starting to. I’ve let you get closer to the real Matt than I ever did with Andy. I trust you more. I love you more."

"Funny thing about love," Tim smiled encouragingly at him. "You never run out of it. There’s always more."

"I’m so lucky in a lot of ways." Matt slid his fingertips over the calluses of Tim’s palm. "I guess I did need to lose Andy - literally and figuratively - in order to appreciate what I have."

Tim leaned closer and puckered up. "Kiss me."

"Tim! Behave yourself! This is redneck country."

"I don’t care. There’s no one else in the park. Kiss me."

Matt allowed him a quick smooch.

"I’ve been thinking about some of the things you said this weekend. I know you don’t think much about the Lincoln Park ceremony. What if we really got married? I mean a real commitment ceremony with all the trimmings and a real honeymoon. One that doesn’t involve a funeral."

Matt grinned at him in grudging admiration. "Timothy, my love. You are nothing if not persistent. First the house hunting and now marriage. You never give up, do you?"

Tim pushed his chin out ever so slightly. He knew Matt was teasing him but still he was slightly hurt. "I just know what I want," he responded quietly.

A slight breeze came up and Matt watched some of the yellow maple leaves drift slowly to the ground. He took a sip of his rapidly cooling cappuccino. He fixed his eyes on the maple tree but knew that Tim was watching him intently.

Finally, Matt spoke. "You said yesterday that we were married for all intents and purposes and I agree with you."

"Yes. And?"

Tell him, a voice inside of his head whispered. Tell him how you feel. This is what life is all about, Matthew. It’s about love. Don’t just sit there staring at the falling leaves. Tell him.

Matt took in a long, ragged breath. "I’m in deep with you. I’m in deeper than I ever was with Andy; emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually." The tears started to flow in a steady stream. "I’m scared, Tim. I don’t want to relive the past."

"I’m not Andy. Are you the same person you were when you moved back to Chicago?"

Matt shook his head.

"No, you’re not," Tim vocalized his gesture. "And I’m not the person you fell in love with right out of college. This is different." He squeezed Matt’s hand. "It’s time to let the past go, sweetheart. It’s time to let Andy go."

With his free hand, Matt wiped his eyes. "I’m getting there. Slowly, but I’m getting there." The ringing cell phone interrupted his thoughts. He attempted to ignore it.

"Your pocket is ringing."

With an irritated look on his face, Matt yanked it out of his pocket. "Damn thing. It’s Elmer again."

It stopped ringing before he could flip it open. "I’m gonna find out who this is." He pushed the redial button.


The voice on the other end of the line belonged to an older man. "Who is this?"

"Is this Elmer?"

"Who the hell is this?" Matt could almost hear his NRA membership, his Republican voting record and his Rush Limbaugh habit over the phone.

"I’m Matt Rosato. Someone from this number keeps calling this phone. Actually, it’s a cell phone. It belongs to my son."

"Probably my deviant grandson who was trying to call your son. If you and your son know my grandson, then you must both be deviants, too."

Matt couldn’t suppress an explosive laugh. "And just who is your grandson?"

"Logan Davis." He spat out the name as if he was ridding his mouth of rancid meat. "Don’t call this number again." With that, the man on the other end of the line slammed down the phone.

"I just got called a deviant," Matt said to Tim with a grin.

"Well, honey, if the shoe fits…"

Before tucking the phone back into his pocket, Matt checked the time. "Well, I guess we should get moving if we’re going to make an appearance at the luncheon." All of a sudden, he changed his mind. "No. Fuck it. I don’t want to go. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of his trailer trash relatives and his rude friends. I’ve said my goodbyes."

"Wooo-hoo! You go with your bad old self!"

"Let’s go back to the hotel and fuck like rabbits."

Back in the luxury of the hotel, Tim lay on his back with his hindquarters on the very edge of the huge bed. Matt firmly gripped his right ankle while his left ankle was propped on one of the posters of the bed.

Matt’s finger probed deeply into Tim’s hole.

"Relax, babe," Matt whispered. He released Tim’s ankle and ran his hand over his smooth chest. "It’s funny," his voice trailed off.

"What is?"

Matt smiled an enigmatic smile. "I was always on top with Andy. With you I’m mostly a bottom."

"Interesting. Why are you mostly a bottom with me, then?"

"To please you."

"Now, I’m doing this to please you. And to relax you. A good fuck works wonders." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I’m ready for it. Fuck me, Matt."

Matt removed his finger, aimed his condomed cock at Tim’s hole and slid in.

As he felt the hot ass surround his dick, he felt a surge of gratitude and love for the muscular man facing him.

This is life, Matt thought. This is love. Thanks, Andy. He sent his thoughts into the ether as a prayer of thanks and an outpouring of gratitude.

That Saturday afternoon, many of the silver chains that held Matt’s heart to the past broke and fell away.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome at Constructive criticism is welcome, too. And don’t forget to visit my website New chapters are always posted there earlier than here.

Other stories on Nifty:

Paternal Instincts, Family Instincts, Thicker Than Water.....College & Relationships

Pocketful of Stars.......................Young Friends

Resurrection Harry......................Science Fiction

Cooksville Chronicles.................Historical

Tales From the Northwoods.......Beginnings