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
Prints was hissing at two figures at the back door of Matts townhouse. Matt sat in a dining room chair while Tommy stood shirtless in front of him. He had just finished applying aloe vera gel to Tommys sunburned back.
They heard a deep male voice say, "Whats wrong, boy? You never hissed at me before."
While Matt wiped his hands on a towel, Tommy wandered into the kitchen.
"Dad!" Tommy screamed.
Matt hopped out of his chair so rapidly it fell over.
The back door opened. It was Jake!
Jake placed his puppy on the kitchen floor. He let out a yip and scampered toward Prints. But Prints wanted no part of the frisky puppy. The feline leapt onto the kitchen counter - forbidden territory - crouched and hissed again at the dog. Buddy wagged his tail and yipped at his new playmate.
"Hey, kiddo," Jake engulfed Tommy in a tight hug.
"Jake," Tommy said into his shoulder. "Youre back."
Bill was behind Jake. He followed Jake into the kitchen.
"Jake," Matt said in a hoarse whisper.
He took the boy in his arms. The adolescent boy, handsome, fit and deeply tanned, burst into tears in Matts arms.
Matt was crying, too, but it was more of a gentle spring rain compared to Jakes summer downpour. Matt placed his palms on both sides of his face and lifted it up towards his own. "Weve missed you, son," he said quietly. "Its about time you came to visit."
"Im back for good," Jake mumbled as he buried his face again into Matts shoulder.
Matt raised disbelieving eyes to Bill, who smiled and nodded.
Matt spluttered, "How, what - why didnt you call?"
"Jake wanted it to be a surprise," Bill said with a wide grin.
Tim, Brian and Ryan appeared just then in the doorway.
The four surrounded Jake on all four sides forming a human lifesaver around the teenager. Everyone was crying but they were tears of joy at his return. While Matt stoked his bristly hair, Tim rubbed his shoulders and Tommy clung to his side. Brian was crying the hardest. Bill and Ryan stood off to the side.
"I tried to convince him that it would be best to call you," Bill said with a wide smile. Bill would not have done this with any other client. But Matt was an exception. Bill had been Matts supervisor when Matt was a camp counselor in Wisconsin at a camp owned and operated by St. Lukes.
Wiping their eyes, sniffling and chuckling they parted. Tim scooped up the puppy, who wagged and tried to lick his face.
Bill spoke to Matt. "Ill get a hold of Judge Kildare and get the guardianship papers."
"Thanks, Bill. Ill enroll him in school tomorrow. Will I have something by then?"
"Ill call Christa Kelly at Rich East. Shell be expecting you tomorrow."
"Youre welcome to stay for dinner, Bill," Matt offered.
"Thanks, no, I have to get back to campus." He caught Matts eye. "Can I talk to you?"
"Sure. Lets go out on the porch."
Once Matt had closed the kitchen door behind him, Bill said, "I think Friday is going to be Ryans last day here. His mom is going to be released from rehab."
Matt forced a smile. "Thats good for him. He misses his mom. Well miss him, though."
"Theres something else, though. She had to have a physical as part of the admission process. She has lung cancer."
Matt covered his mouth. "Oh, no. I take it he doesnt know, yet?"
"No. Shell tell him."
"How long does she have?"
"Im not sure. The cancer doesnt seem to have spread too far."
"Whats going to happen to him?"
"Thats what Im trying to figure out."
Just then, Leah appeared on her porch.
"Matt! How was your weekend? Nice to see you again, Bill. So, let me guess," she said as she leaned around the trellis that separated the adjoining porches, "Bill has delivered another oversized bundle of hormones."
Matt laughed. "Only you know this bundle. Its Jake. Hes back for good."
"Mike!" She called into her own house, "Jake is here!" Mike supassed his mother on the steps to Matts townhouse.
"Never a dull moment around here," Bill commented. "Well, I gotta get going, Matt."
Matt shook his hand firmly. "Thanks, Bill. Thanks for Jake."
"No, thank you, Matt."
They invited Leah and Mike over for dinner. Matt and Tim indulged Jake and offered his whatever he wanted to eat. Matt laughingly referred to the resulting meal as Starch-o-rama. Jake insisted on pizza and garlic bread from Aurelios and his second favorite food, macaroni and cheese.
Tim presented Jake with the birthday gifts that had sat unopened in the basement bedroom. Jake was thrilled with the Tommy Hilfiger clothing.
Mike chatted easily with Jake and Mike as if they had been speaking all summer - which they had not. Shortly after the pizzas were consumed Leah rounded up Mike.
"School tomorrow," Leah reminded Mike.
"Youll have plenty of time to see Jake later."
Mike sighed and rolled his eyes in the manner that only adolescents can do. "OK."
As Mike and Leah left through the kitchen door, Tim intercepted Leah. "Can we talk?" He asked in a quiet voice. Yet Matt still heard his request.
"Sure, hon. When would be a good time?"
"I can manage that. Come on over."
Tim followed her out the door.
What the hell was that all about? Matt wondered.
The rest of the evening was relaxed - for the boys, at least. Unattractive and unwelcome thoughts entered unbidden into his mind. Matt knew he was the topic of conversation. But just what was Tim saying?
In front of the boys, at least, Matt maintained a cheerful façade, although it was difficult. The teenagers were sprawled all over the living room furniture and each other as they watched a video of Mrs. Doubtfire.
Jake snuggled close to Matt on the couch as if trying to fuse himself to Matt.
"This is kinda dumb movie," Jake commented. "I mean its funny in parts, but its just not believable. What guy would go to all that trouble to see his kids?"
Matt smiled his agreement. He also understood what Jake was implying. "Ill take you to register tomorrow. Im working the afternoon shift. Is there anything you need for school?"
"Im OK on clothes, although if you want to buy more Tommy Hilfiger stuff ." Jakes eyes gleamed with mischief.
"Dream on, kiddo," Matt said good-naturedly. "I meant school supplies."
"I dont know. Ill know better after tomorrow."
"We have to make some sort of schedule for walking the dog."
"Ill take care of him," Jake offered. "I took care of him in Mokena."
"And Im sure you did a good job. I just figured youd like some help."
"Shhh-hh!" Tommy admonished. "Im trying to watch the movie."
Jake and Matt grinned at each other.
It was almost 10 PM and the movie had ended when Tim finally returned. Tommy ran up to greet him, started to hug him, but stopped short.
He looked up intently into Tims eyes. "Why are your eyes red?"
"My contacts are bothering me," Tim replied as he embraced his younger son.
Matt studied his face in the dim light of the living room. Were his eyes red? It was hard to tell.
"Where am I going to sleep?" Jake asked.
"Downstairs," Matt answered.
"I want to sleep with Jake," Tommy piped up.
"Can we all sleep downstairs?" Brian asked.
"I dont know - theres school tomorrow."
"Well go to sleep, we promise," Tommy pledged. "We wont mess around."
"OK," Matt agreed. "But only if you go right to sleep."
Tim flashed him an unfathomable look.
Matt awoke that night and realized that his bladder was full. The bed next to Matt had yet to be slept in. Wheres Tim?
Matt shuffled to the bathroom and relieved himself. A soft light climbed halfway up the stairs from the living room below. Also, he heard a song he couldnt identify by Glenn Miller.
Down the stairs Matt padded softly in his bare feet. Tim was stretched face up on the couch. His hands were folded neatly over his belly, his legs crossed at the ankles and his eyes were closed. He appeared to be asleep.
The receiver was tuned to a public radio station featuring a big band musical show. Tim had the volume set very low. Swing and big band music were enjoying a resurgence thanks to some clubs on the West Coast.
As Matt approached the couch, he noticed a trail of moisture from the corners of his eyes down the side of his head to his ears. Tim had been crying.
"Tim?" Matt called quietly as he approached the couch. He didnt want to startle him.
Tim didnt respond. Matt stood behind the couch and looked at Tims ruggedly handsome face. "Tim? Are you OK?"
Still, Tim didnt respond.
Matt reached over the back of the couch and took one of Tims hands in his own. Matt loved Tims hands. They were so big and masculine. They were strong and virile. The fingers were long and fleshy. Veins stood out on the back of his hands. The palms were rough and covered with calluses. They were the hands of someone who used them in manual labor on a daily basis.
Yet, for all the power Tim possessed in his hands, he never, ever used them to strike another human. Even though they were rough, Tim could use them in a caress as gentle as a cat rubbing up against ones ankles. His fingers had brought Matt to climax many times.
"Honey? Are you OK? Are you sick?"
Tims eyes opened slowly and Matt observed that they glistened with emotion.
"We need to talk," Tim said quietly and simply. He took a long, ragged breath. Matt waited for him to speak. "Im not getting what I need out of this relationship," Tim finally shattered the silence with his words.
Matt felt his knees weaken. Inside, his organs turned to fluid. Was this the end of it? What had happened? Matt fought back his own panic.
Matt rounded the end of the couch and sat on the floor. He pushed the coffee table further away from the couch. When he was comfortable, he took Tims hand again and kissed the hairless fingers.
"I had a long talk with Leah," Tim hesitated.
So they had been talking about him! Matt had suspected as much.
Tim was gone for over two hours. Matt was certain he was the topic of conversation. What he didnt know is what he had done wrong. Matt maintained a cheerful facade to the boys, while inside his worries had turned him into an emotional basket case. As he shuffled the boys off to bed, picked up the house and prepared himself for work and enrolling Jake in school, he replayed his misdeeds as if performing an Examination of Conscience before Confession.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned "
Matt stared into the glass tumbler sitting on the coffee table. There was just enough clear liquid to cover the bottom of the glass. Matt knew instinctively that it wasnt water. It was probably the Absolut that they kept hidden in the kitchen. Tim seldom drank anything else but beer, and the fact that he had indulged in vodka escalated Matts worries.
Matt avoided looking at Tims face. He focused his eyes on the glass, the lamp or the glowing dial of the radio - anywhere but Tims eyes. He still held Tims hand and rubbed his thumb over the back of his hand.
After a long silence, Tims breaths came in sharp, quick, staccato bursts, and Matt knew he was crying again.
"Oh, Tim," Matt finally turned to him. "What is it? Tell me, please."
Gradually, like the raindrops at the end of a summer shower, his breaths slowed and evened out. He finally spoke, but his voice quavered. "I always thought that when I fell in love with someone, that everything would be perfect and I would be satisfied. But thats not true."
Matt finally ventured, "Whats missing, Tim?"
He rubbed his hands over his face. His fingertips lingered to massage his eyelids a moment longer.
"Youre holding back on me, Matt."
"What do you mean?"
"Youre holding back a little piece of yourself from me. And youre holding the boys away from me."
"I love you, Tim."
"I know you do. And I love you."
Tim shook his head and tears threatened again.
Matt released his hand and stood. "I think Im going to get some vodka. Want a refill?"
Tim, who had covered his eyes with this forearm, shook his head no.
The screaming silence followed Matt into the kitchen. Tim had left the square bottle of alcohol on the counter. He unceremoniously dumped two ice cubes in the glass and poured the vodka over it. He swirled the liquid and took a huge shot of courage. He poured more vodka into the glass. He ripped off a piece of paper towel. Matt made a mental note to correct Tim about leaving the vodka on the counter later. If there was a later.
Tim had sat upright on the couch while Matt was in the kitchen. He had wrapped an afghan around his shoulders. Matt also sat on the couch but at a safe distance from him. He neatly folded the paper towel into quarters to use as a coaster, took another large gulp of the burning liquid and placed the glass on the improvised coaster.
"I cant go on like this, Matt."
"I cant go on living in the shadow of Andy."
"Andy? What the hell does he have to do it this?" Matts voice began to rise. "What the hell does he have to do with anything?"
"Please keep your voice down. Im living with the ghost of Andy. You didnt trust him and you dont trust me."
"Thats not true."
Tim reached over and touched his index finger to Matts lips. "Just listen, please. You said yourself that you never trusted Andy. You both basically went your separate ways after about two years, even though you still lived at the same address. You even went to camp without him. Andy was irresponsible and you were left to pay all the bills, buy all the groceries, and do most of the housework. You learned to adapt to that lifestyle.
Tim paused to rub his forehead as if he had a headache. Then, he continued. "Youre very independent, Matt. I knew that from the start. Sometimes. being so independent is a good thing. But, right now, its working against us. Or against me. Living with Andy taught you to take care of yourself. But now youve become so good at it, you dont know how to let anyone else in. You dont know how to trust."
"I trust you, Tim."
Tim looked at him with pain in his eyes. "Do you? Then why are you holding out on me? Why are you holding the boys back from me?"
"Yes you are!" Now, Tims voice was rising. "Youre the one who makes all the decisions, all the choices. You have all the control."
"So thats what this is about - control?"
"No, Matt. Youre missing the point. You never ask my opinion about the boys. Or about anything. You never involve me when decisions need to be made. Take this evening, for example. They asked you if they could all sleep in the basement. And you said yes."
"Sure, why not? Theyre all happy to see Jake, except for Ryan. And Ryan didnt want to be left out."
"But you never asked me about it, did you?"
"A decision had to be made, and I made it. I didnt think I needed to form a committee to discuss it first."
"Thats what I mean."
"Its such a small, petty thing ."
"No, its not," Tim interrupted again. "Its just one example. Remember all the trips to the museums last winter? You never asked me once if I wanted to go."
"I just assumed you couldnt get the time off."
"But the point is, you never asked, Matt. You just assumed. I feel like youre holding the boys away from me, Matt. I feel like theyre yours and you make all the decisions regarding them. You never consult me. You rarely even ask for my help. Its like you want to do it all by yourself. Ive seen it at the bookstore, too, Matt. You feel like you have to do it all yourself or it wont get done correctly."
"I feel responsible."
"And so do I, Matt," he said fervently. He looked Matt squarely in the eyes. "I love these kids, Matt. I love them like theyre my own sons." Tim turned his gaze back to the receiver. "Were not a team, Matt. Its your show, and Im the unpaid assistant."
Matt was beginning to understand what Tim was trying to tell him. Yet, the twin demons of defensiveness and defiance still perched on his shoulders and whispered into his inner ears.
"You could have taken any one of them by yourself. I wouldnt have stopped you."
Tim grinned ruefully. "No, you wouldnt have stopped me on purpose."
Matt took a swallow of his vodka. "What is it you want, Tim?"
"I want respect, plain and simple. I want you to stop dismissing me. I want to be your partner in life and not just your inflatable sex object."
"I dont dismiss ."
Tim held a hand palm out to Matt. "Stop. You asked me what I want. Do you want to hear the answer or do you want to continue to interrupt me?"
Matt closed his mouth but he was not at all happy about doing so. His lips turned down and his eyes were angry slits.
Tim modulated his voice. "Trust me, Matt. You dont have to do it all yourself. Ask my opinion, ask my help. Hell, give me assignments if you want to. Were a family, Matt."
"Like your family is a good model to emulate," Matt said sarcastically.
"They werent, Matt. My family is fucked up. Theres no other way to describe them. But theres an important difference here, Matt. Im trying to put that behind me. Youre not trying to put Andy behind you. Im working for the future of our family; youre living in the past.
He was right, and Matt knew it. "But, youre so young to be a parent "
"Ill be 26 in October. Let me ask you something. You always say that being a camp counselor is the next thing to being a parent. How old were you the first time you were a camp counselor?"
"Nineteen or twenty " Matt mumbled.
"There ya go. You were maybe four or five years older than the oldest campers. And you were two or three years older than the counselors-in-training. Lots of straight parents arent much older when they have their first kid." He rubbed his face with his hands again.
"My chronological age isnt the issue, here, Matt. I can do it, and you know it. The issue is are you going to let me in? He reached over and picked up Matts glass. Just as he brought the glass to his lips, his eyes sought Matts and a thin smile crossed his lips. He took a sip and returned the class to the paper towel coaster.
Matts head slumped forward and his chin rested on his chest. Tim moved closer to him and carefully draped an arm around his shoulders, not at all sure that Matt would accept his affection.
Tim lowered his voice to a whisper. "I love your strength and your independence, Matt. Theyre a couple of the reasons I was attracted to you. That, and the fact that you give great head."
Matt chuckled through his tears.
Tim continued to speak, with his voice a low, comforting rumble. "All Im asking for is a chance. I want to be your partner and your equal. I want to be more than just your boyfriend or someone you have sex with. I want you to ask my opinions, listen to me. I want you to show me you love me by including me. Give me some responsibility for the boys. Let me prove myself to you and to them. Show me you love me, Matt, dont just tell me."
Matt was still sniffling when Tim ruffled his hair. "I love you, you stubborn, independent, old Sagittarius. You wear the pants in the family, Matt. Nothing wrong with that. Except that youre the one whos always telling Marty and Leah and Bill and anyone else who will listen about how much you value equality in relationships. Well, now its time to put up or shut up. Dont sing it if you cant bring it, babe."
Matt unfolded the paper towel and used it to wipe his nose and face. "Yeah, but will my pants fit you?"
"Ooooh, you bitch!" Tim laughed and started to tickle Matts ribs.
"Stop, Tim! Youll wake the kids up."
The swing program seemed to be winding down. The tempo of the music was slower, smoother and more romantic.
"I love you, Matt," he said softly. "Other guys have thrown themselves at me - Ron and Tony - but its you I come home to."
"I love you, too, Tim. Are you sure you want this? Are you positive you want to be a father of three boys at twenty-five? Your life will never be the same."
"When I was 25, I was still out in the bars, picking up guys. I wasnt ready to settle down, let alone be a father."
"Thats the difference between us, Matt. I am ready. Its what I want."
As the clock neared midnight, the final songs of the swing program wafted from the speakers. A woman with a lovely voice began singing Youd Be So Nice (To Come Home To.)
Tim stood up, stood in front of Matt and extended a hand. "Would you care to dance, sir?"
Matt giggled and fluttered his eyelids. In a false southern accent the replied, "Ah think Ah can spyuh yall a spot on mah dance cawd."
Youd be so nice by the fire
While the breeze on high sang a lullaby
You could be all that I desire
Under stars chilled by the winter
Under an August moon burning above
Youd be so nice, youd be paradise
To come home to and love
They kissed as they danced and held each others warmth. Matts fingers explored Tims right bicep while Tim placed incendiary kisses on Matts neck.
There was another creature awake in the house, and it was not the cat or dog. Jake was sitting on the top step of the basement steps listening to their conversation.
He had had trouble getting to sleep. The excitement of the day kept unwinding noisily in his head. He heard the male voices in the living room and decided to check them out. Jake had been hoping for some comforting words or perhaps even a hug, but what he heard was the two men talking seriously about their relationship.
The boy sat on the step eavesdropping and occasionally peering into the living room when he was fairly certain they werent looking in his direction.
Jake had not gotten the hug he sought. What he did get was an education. He got an important lesson in problem solving between adults. There were a few anxious moments where Jake (as well as Matt) thought that Tim might say that he wanted to leave. But Tim never said that.
The two men danced slowly. Matt laid his head on Tims shoulder. For a long time, they said nothing as they danced slowly through one, two and then three songs. Matt inhaled the scent of Tims skin - so masculine and virile. Tim stroked and petted Matts hair with his rough hands. He did it as gently as if he were petting Prints.
Just then, Buddy came bounding up the basement stairs. Matts gaze was drawn to the door to the basement stairwell. There he spotted Jake.
"Jake, what are you doing out of bed?"
Jake hid his face again, but remained on the top step.
Tim spoke to him next. "Son, you have school tomorrow. Its after midnight."
Jake appeared in the living room hesitantly. "I..I couldnt sleep." He was wearing only boxers.
Matt grinned and motioned him over. "Just for a moment, then we all have to go to bed."
When he reached them, the men put their arms over his shoulders, forming a triangle.
"You remember our rule about wearing clothes upstairs?" Tim reminded him.
"Its OK, Tim, all the blinds are closed."
"I was just checking," he said with a grin. "I guess well let it go this time."
The mens fingertips read the contours of the teenagers shoulders, back and sides like Braille. They perused the firm, muscled contours covered by soft, warm, tanned skin. Their fingertips repeated the words that they had verbalized to him earlier that evening: So good to see you. We love you. Welcome home.
"How long were you listening to us, Mister?" Matt asked.
"I-I heard everything. I think."
"Its not very nice to listen to other peoples conversations. How would you like it if we listened to yours?"
"Not very much," he mumbled.
"OK, no great damage done. Just remember that sometimes we need privacy, too."
"I love you guys," Jake said.
Tim kissed his forehead. "We love you, too."
"Youre home, now, Jake," Matt said to him. "For better or worse, youre home now."
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