Mike reached across the bed for Matt in the middle of the night, and he wasn't there. He rolled out of bed and went into the living room.
In the faint light from the back alley Mike could see Matt, sitting naked on the couch, his legs drawn up against his chest with his arms wrapped around them.
Mike went back into the bedroom, grabbed the bedspread, and came out and sat down next to him. He wound them both up in the soft cloth so that nothing stuck out but their heads.
Mike reached over and touched Matt's face, and it was wet. He put his arm around Matt's waist.
The boys were in their fourth week of service at the Hospice. Sister Catherine had complimented both of them on their work, mentioning that Sister Angeline was very pleased with the rapport they had developed with their patients over a very short period of time. Without exception, the sick and the dying loved them for the kindness and attention the boys gave them.
But Mike had become aware that something was really bothering his partner as the days had passed.
Although Matt unfailingly put on a cheerful face at the Hospice, he had gradually become very subdued at home. Mike had begun to have to insist that they get their exercise on the beach after they got home from work, and talk fast to get him to take a normal interest in the things he had always loved doing. Matt wasn't sleeping well, he didn't want to go out anywhere, he wasn't telling any jokes. Even their sex life had fallen off.
Silence on the couch.
"Talk to me, bro," Mike said.
"It's nothing. I don't want to talk about it."
"Because I feel like shit, and I know I'm being a wuss."
"Dude," Mike said, "you've never been a wuss about anything since I've known you. Now, talk up!"
Matt wiped his face and cleared his throat.
"I can't do it anymore," he said finally.
"Can't do what?" Mike asked.
"I can't work at the Hospice anymore. Every time one of our patients there dies, it hurts like hell. I just get to caring about someone, and he or she is gone. I feel really down when they die on my shift, and I feel guilty for not being there if they die when I'm not there. It's killing me."
"Well, we're not doing an easy job, but obviously you know that."
"How do you do it? When somebody dies, you just go on doing what needs to be done as if nothing's happened," Matt said.
"No, it bothers me a lot," Mike responded. "Sometimes I feel really low. But you have to remember that I've had a little more practice than you have when it comes to losing people."
"You mean you can learn to do this?"
"Well, yeah, but it's not book learning, that's for sure. Do you remember when you came out to Dad and he talked to us about the importance of learning to live with loss and grief. I've never forgotten it, he was so right-on."
"I kinda forgot about it," Matt said.
Mike kissed him on the cheek and held him.
"You're grieving for these people, Matt. That's just one more sign you really care about the patients we're working with." Mike paused. "You probably don't remember, but one time when we were on vacation at home, we were horsing around down in the laundry room doing our washing, and you put me in some stupid wrestling hold. When I told you it hurt, you told me, '...it's supposed to hurt.' Different context here, but the words apply. We're living life 'out there,' and some of the things we're experiencing are bad, and sometimes it's gonna hurt. Period. If life doesn't hurt sometimes, you're not doing it right. One of the reasons I love you is because you care so much about people. That's who you are, and that's why you're hurting so much right now about the job.
"I know a lot of people don't see it this way," Mike continued, "but you and I have always said that God has a plan for us, and we're working it out as we go along. Don't you think this is true for every last one of us?"
"Yeah," Matt agreed.
"Well, I think we're a little part of the plan for people who are dying at the Hospice, so that when the end comes for them, someone is there who cares about them. That's our gift, even if it is short term, and that's why we came to Chicago."
"You're right," Matt said. "Sometimes you really blow me away!"
"It's one thing to understand whassup, and another to get through it," Mike said. "I think you need to talk to Sister Angeline about what you're feeling, and maybe go part-time with patients and part-time with other duties at Hospice 'til you're back on your game, 'K?"
"Maybe," Matt said.
"You may need to get some counseling, too. Sister will have some advice on that. We gotta get you turned around quick, 'cause the family's gonna be here in two weeks for that award thing at the City Hall. Besides that, you know we're gonna experience more problems like this at some point down the road, so we may as well get it right," Mike said. "It's a bitch, any way ya cut it, and I speak from experience! I'm not making light of it."
"Thanks, man," Matt said quietly. "I know I haven't been myself lately. I love you. Don't give up on me."
Mike kneaded Matt's neck.
"That's not gonna happen, ever, bud. Come on, let's go back to bed, and I'll give you a back rub. You have knots like golf balls in your neck."
They went back to the bedroom. Matt lay face down on the bed, and Mike got some body lotion from the bathroom. He gave Matt a half-hour rubdown that was so relaxing that Matt was asleep by the time he finished.
Turning out the light, Mike climbed back into bed and pressed his face against Matt's neck, smelling his partner's wholesome aroma even over the scented lotion.
* * *
Matt's demeanor had turned around markedly over the past two weeks since he and Mike had talked. Mike had gone to Sister Angeline the next day to fill her in on Matt's condition, and she immediately called Matt into her office and confronted him, kindly but firmly, with the fact that he needed to accept some changes in his work arrangements. She accepted Mike's recommendation that Matt go half-time with patients, and work in the office doing paperwork the other half of the day. She also had the resident doctor give him a physical and prescribe an anti-depressant, and called a psychologist from the archdiocese and made an appointment for him. After a few sessions of therapy, coupled with the medication, Matt was almost his old self, although he continued to feel every death at the Hospice keenly.
One night the boys were just relaxing at the apartment after their early evening run, followed by supper. Matt was sitting in an easy chair reading a book, and Mike was sprawled out on the couch lackadaisically watching television. About 9 o'clock Mike got up, went to the bathroom, and when he came back he was in his bathrobe. He walked over to where Matt was sitting, and threw his robe open. He was naked except for a big, red, velvet bow he had tied around his genitals.
Matt cracked up as Mike went into a little dance, his prize appendages swaying back and forth.
Matt threw down his book and reached out from where he was sitting, pulling Mike to stand between between his legs and burying his face in Mike's abs. He smelled deeply of his skin, and probed his navel with his tongue. Then he grabbed one end of the velvet bow in his teeth, pulled, and let it drift to the floor.
"It's not even my birthday, and here you are with a present, all gift wrapped and everything," Matt said. "You're one fuckalicious horndawg!"
"You're fuckalicious, and most certainly a horndawg. Don't play dumb, or I'll hafta hurt cha. And I hate to hurt cha before sex."
"You have sex on your mind, stud? I'm aghast," Mike said. "Fortunately, I'm also flexible and versatile. And ready when you are, bro!"
Matt stood up, snapped off the table lamp and extinguished the TV with the remote. He bodily picked up Mike and headed for the bedroom. After he put Mike down on his feet next to the bed, Mike began to undress Matt slowly, garment by garment, and both their dicks were hard and ready for action by the time Matt was naked. They fell into bed, lips glued together, and tongues probing and dueling with each other. Matt smoothed Mike's hair back and looked into his brother's blue eyes.
"You are so-o-o fucking beautiful I can't believe my luck sometimes," he said. "I'm so in love with all of you--your body, and your mind, your personality--I can't get enough of you, Mike. For me, you're truly 'da bomb!'"
Mike said nothing at first as he held Matt's face gently in both hands and covered it with kisses.
"I want to give you the most pleasure tonight you've ever had in bed," Mike said finally. "What can I do for you that'll please you the most?"
"Everything you do for me pleases me. I'll leave it up to you," Matt said.
Mike scooted Matt up toward the head of the bed, and lying across the foot of the bed, took Matt's feet and began to lick and suck on his toes, first singly and then in groups of two and three. He worked on them for ten minutes or so, and then turned Matt on his stomach and began to lick his way slowly up his legs to his butt. Mike licked that beautiful ass until it glistened, and then spread Matt's cheeks and began to zero in on his rectum. Matt groaned as Mike licked and probed as deeply as his tongue would go.
Turning Matt back over, Mike began to lick and suck Matt's dick. When he began to taste precum, and Matt began to groan, Mike pulled off.
"Who's topping?" Mike asked.
"Do it," Matt said, and he put his muscular legs on Mike's shoulders. Mike loosened up Matt's chute with first one and then several fingers, lubed up, and then gently slid his dick into his partner an inch at a time. Once all the way in, he fucked Matt slowly for several minutes, looking deeply into his brown eyes, caressing and licking his chest and nibbling on his nipples. Mike was hitting Matt's prostate with each stroke, and Matt began to groan again and leak copious amounts of precum. As fast as the precum dribbled out, Mike would bend his head down and lick it up off his brother's abs.
Eventually, when they were both close to ejaculating, Mike picked up the pace until, with a guttural exclamation, he exploded inside Matt just as Matt came all over his own chest. Mike scooped up his partner's semen on his fingers and sucked it up, and then collapsed in his brother's arms as his penis softened and fell away from Matt's butt.
"Sweet Lord in heaven!!" Matt whispered as they both went into a post-coital coma that segued into a deep natural sleep. Dead to the world, they didn't even get up to brush their teeth as they lay glued to each other with sweat and cum and their deep love for one another.
* * *
The boys were excited. Their mom and dad and Jeff and Martha were flying into Chicago's O'Hare Field at long last, and the guys had really missed them. Matt and Mike had been talking back and forth on the telephone with them almost every night the last week, among other things persuading them that despite the tight quarters, they should all stay together at the apartment rather than go to a hotel.
The guys put a new mattress pad and fresh linen on their own bed for their mom and dad, and purchased air mattresses for themselves and Jeff so they could sleep in the living room. Martha would get the very comfortable couch.
The plane was due at 9 p.m.
They drove the truck out to O'Hare, parked in the the short-term parking garage, and grabbed some seats in the waiting area. The plane arrived about 10 minutes early, and the Bromans were almost the first ones out of the gate area. It was a more emotional moment than the boys were prepared for as they hugged and kissed their family. Mike had tears in his eyes as he held Mrs. Broman tightly, quickly wiping them away before anyone could see.
Mr. and Mrs. Broman both looked healthy and vigorous, and Jeff and Martha were, in a nutshell, more absolutely gorgeous than ever. Martha had bloomed into a truly beautiful young woman, with fine features and perfect complexion, capped with black hair like her mother's. In fact, lucky her, she was more than ever a younger, spitting image of her mother. Jeff had developed some new muscles since Matt and Mike had seen him, and grown another inch. He looked like a taller twin of Matt--really handsome. He was wearing what appeared to be his girlfriend's ring around his neck on a silver chain.
They moved along together in a clump toward the baggage area, all of them laughing and talking at once. While Matt went to retrieve the truck, the family collected the luggage off the conveyer and carried it out to the curb. After loading the truck bed, Mike, Jeff and Martha crammed themselves into the truck's little back seat, and Matt drove with their mom and dad in the front. They were parking in their garage behind the apartment within 30 minutes, and the young ones carried all the luggage upstairs.
"Not as bad as I thought it might be," Jane Broman laughed as she looked around the apartment at how neat everything was. "You guys didn't do a quick cleaning job before we got here, by any chance?"
"Well," Mike said, "maybe a little touch here and there. We didn't want you to run screaming out the door."
"Not bad at all, boys," Martha said, looking at the furniture. "Especially since neither of you has any decorating taste. Well, any taste at all, really. Somebody must have helped you pick this stuff out."
"Wrong again, Sis," Matt protested. "I picked out everything that looks good, and Mike picked out the rest."
Mike laughed and slapped Matt gently on the back of the head, saying nothing.
"Mom and Dad," Matt said, "we're putting you in the bedroom. Mike and Jeff and I will sleep out here on air mattresses, and we were gonna give Martha the couch, but now I don't know. Maybe she should sleep in the truck."
"Suddenly everything looks perfect," Martha laughed. "Especially the couch." She went over and bounced on it approvingly.
Mr. Broman stood between Matt and Mike, put his arms around their necks, and gave them each a kiss on the cheek.
"We've missed you boys a lot," he said. "Pretty quiet around home without you. We really appreciate your asking us to come down to see you get this award. You know we're proud of you!"
Matt stole a quick glance at Mike, then looked away. Mike cleared his throat.
"Dad, I have to tell you that this whole hero thing is kind of embarrassing," Mike said. "We just did what needed to be done. We don't see..."
"That's what heroes do, Mike," Mr. Broman interrupted. "They do what needs to be done at the right time and in the right place. We need our heroes more than ever today, and the city is recognizing you so that other people will be encouraged to do what needs to be done. Don't let false pride stand in the way of accepting the thanks you're owed. And I mean both of you," he said, looking sternly at them.
"Yes, sir," they said, electing not to argue.
"Hey, how about some coffee or ice cream or a sandwich before bed?" Mike interjected. "Or all of the above. We stocked up on everything before you came."
"Coffee and ice cream sound good to me," Mrs. Broman said. "You have decaf?"
"Yep yep," Mike said. "I'll put it on right now."
"Beer and peanuts for me," Jeff said, grinning at his father.
Mr. Broman snorted derisively at Jeff, and sat down with Martha on the couch. Matt and Mike went into the kitchen, started the coffee, and got out bowls and spoons for the ice cream.
"Is Butter Pecan ok?" Mike asked, poking his head around the kitchen door. He got a thumbs-up. When the coffee was ready, the boys served it up and they all sat around eating and enjoying the moment. Jeff, Matt and Mike had seconds on the ice cream.
Satiated and content, Matt began to grill Jeff and Martha.
"All right," he said as his eyes sparkled, "I want to know all about your love life. It's an older brother's right. Jeff, you first. Whose ring is that around your neck? And just how honorable are you in your dating practices?"
Jeff looked at his mother, and his face turned scarlet. Mrs. Broman couldn't help smiling.
"Never mind," Matt said, "the color of your face tells me everything I need to know. You don't need to incriminate the girl by telling me her name. You're such a stud, Jeffy!"
Mike rolled on the floor laughing.
"And you, Missy, what's the story with you?" Matt said to Martha.
Martha stared back at him with her big brown eyes, cool as ice.
"You're as big a wiener as ever, Matt," she said. "You don't get any information from me. I might tell Mike later, 'cause he's my nice older brother, but you get nada!"
"That's not very forthcoming of you, Mart. I had hoped for better," Matt said. "You should be sharing this information with me for your own good."
"Nada," Martha repeated.
"All right, Matt," Mr. Broman said, "that's enough. How is your work at the Hospice?"
"Well..." Matt said, looking at Mike.
"It's good, Dad," Mike said. "We've hit some rough spots now and then, but I think we've done some good for the patients there."
"It can't be easy," Mrs. Broman said. "I don't know whether I could do it or not. I admire you two so much for taking this on when you could have been off having fun."
"Isn't it hard for you when somebody dies?" Jeff asked.
"Yeah," Matt said. "It's tough. I wasn't handling it too well for a while, in fact, until Mike reminded me of some of the things you said, Dad, about issues of grief and loss when I came out to you guys. He helped me get my feelings sorted out about what we see at Hospice, and I've learned a lot about myself in the process, actually."
"Bless you, Michael," Mrs. Broman said seriously. "We love you both so much. Knowing that you're there for each other takes a big load off our minds."
"Oh, Mike's OK, I guess," Matt joked. "When he isn't, I just hafta put a few wrestling holds on him to get his attention, and then he's fine again."
"You're a riot, Matt," Mike said. "Especially when you're in your Amazing Hulk persona. Most of the time you can't even lay a hand on me--I'm way too fast for you."
"Yadda yadda yadda," Matt said.
"Hey," Martha said, "what wonderful things do you guys have planned for us while we're here?"
"Well, you're staying until Sunday evening, right?" Matt asked.
"Yes," Mr. Broman confirmed.
" 'K," Matt said, "we have to work tomorrow, so we thought maybe you could come down to Hospice whenever you wake up and get outta here in the morning, and we'll introduce you to the sisters and give you a tour. And then during the afternoon, since they're having a big Monet exhibit at the Art Institute, maybe you could spend some time there, and we'll come down to the Loop and meet you for supper."
"Monet! Oh, good. I think they have a pretty good permanent collection of the French impressionists there. Anyway, that schedule sounds fine to me," Mrs. Broman said. "Where shall we eat?"
"We don't eat out too much," Mike said, "but I read a review of a fish place in the Loop that's supposed to be four star. I can make reservations for us."
"Sounds good," Mr. Broman said.
"We wangled the rest of the week off from work after tomorrow. So there's nothing set in stone except the City Council meeting Thursday morning at City Hall. At 10 o'clock, I think," Mike said. "Matt, remind me to call Tony Angelo at the police station and tell him about this award. It's kind of short notice, but it would be nice if he could come."
" 'K, I will," Matt said.
"Oh, I forgot." he continued. "Knowing how you two and Martha love Pucini," he said to his parents, "we did get you good tickets for an Italian production of Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera for Friday night. I thought Mike and I would take Jeff out Friday to a few places. You're welcome to come with us instead of going to the opera, though, Mart. Honestly. We'd be glad to have you."
"Be seen in public with you crusty guys?" Martha rejoined. "Forget it! I'm going to the opera. Then I'll sing you to sleep when you get home from wherever."
"I can't wait," Matt said dryly, glancing at his watch. "Guys, Mike and I are gonna hafta hit the bed, cause we're outta here by 7 o'clock tomorrow morning. We'll try to be as quiet as we can before we leave. You can stay up if you want to, though, we can sleep through anything."
"I'm ready for bed," Mrs. Broman said. "It's been a long day."
"I put two sets of apartment keys on the table in the hall, and a set of keys to the garage and the truck, in case you want to use it," Mike said. "Why don't you come down to the Hospice late morning, and we'll give you the big tour?"
"Thanks, boys," Mr. Broman said.
"You don't know what it means to us to have you all here," Mike said. "We've missed you so much. I know things are a little cramped, but thanks for staying with us."
"Cramped? You should have seen our first apartment," Mrs. Broman said. "This is the Taj Mahal. We appreciate your hospitality, boys."
Using a little canister of compressed air, Matt and Mike blew up the air mattresses while Martha made up her bed the couch. Then the two boys took showers in quick succession, and were asleep as fast as their heads hit their pillows. Everyone else soon followed their example.
The next morning, Matt and Mike got on their way early and stopped for coffee at the L station before they got on the train. Sitting across from each other in a booth, Matt looked slyly over at Mike.
"Y'know," he said, "I think you need a story to get you motivating this morning."
"Please don't torture me," Mike said. "You know I'm not a morning person."
"No, I think you'll really like this one."
"No, I won't."
"Yes, you will. Shutup."
Mike slumped down in resignation.
"Three gays were discussing their favorite sports.
"The first talks abut football, mentioning all those gorgeous
bending over in their tight pants.
"'Definitely wrestling,' sighs the second guy. 'Those skimpy little
costumes, and think of the holds, oh man!'
"'Mine's definitely baseball,' says the third guy. 'Why? Well, I have
fantasy I'd be pitching with the bases loaded, and the batter would
hit a bouncing drive right to me, and I'd catch it, and I'd just stand there
while the other team's guys rounded the bases.
"'Meanwhile the crowd would be going crazy, screaming, "Throw the ball,
throw the ball, you cocksucker!"
"'And that's just what I like most. The recognition.'"
"Oh, man. If that's supposed to set the tone for the day," he said, "I'm going back home to bed."
"Mikey, Mikey, now it'll be clear sailing today. Mark my words. You know I'd never lie to ya."
"Hmmm. C'mon, get your lard butt going before we miss our train," Mike said.
Matt downed his coffee, sprang up like a shot, threw the empty cup in a trash barrel with a basketball hook shot, and headed for the train platform before Mike could react. Then he berated Mike for being slow. Mike just shook his head.
The boys were well into their morning routine at Hospice when their mom and dad and Jeff and Martha arrived. Mike asked the front desk receptionist to page Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine, who invited them to come into their office for coffee and some information about Hospice before they took a tour. The Bromans were very taken with the sisters, and listened intently to everything they said. They were particularly gratified, of course, when their sons were praised for their dedication and hard work.
Matt and Mike took the family on a tour of the facility, and introduced them to some of their patients who were able to have visitors. Several of the patients mentioned how much the boys meant to them.
When the tour was over, it was time for lunch, and Sister Angeline joined the family for a meal in the cafeteria. Matt and Mike introduced as many of their co-workers as were there to their parents and to Jeff and Martha, and Matt made sure that fag-hater Stan Rosinsky got to meet them.
After lunch, the family went back to Sister Angeline's office to say their good-byes.
Mr. Broman looked at his wife, who nodded, and he asked Sister to sit down with them for a moment.
"Sister," he said, "does Hospice have an endowment fund?"
"Yes, we do," she responded, "but it's quite small, probably around $100,000. We try not to draw on it more than we have to."
"We would like to make a contribution to the fund, then, if you would allow us," Mr. Broman said. "We admire your work here so much."
"Well, you've taken me by surprise. We will accept with thanks anything you would like to do for us."
"We were thinking of something in the range of $500,000, if that would be acceptable."
Sister Angeline's mouth fell open.
Mike looked at Matt, and then scratched a quick note to his dad on a piece of scratch paper from his pocket.
"I think the boys would like to add to that. What do you have in mind?" Mr. Broman asked.
"What about another $500,000, for a round million?" Mike said.
Mr. Broman nodded in agreement.
"I--I," Sister Angeline stammered. "I don't know what to say except to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You probably don't fully understand what this will do for our work here."
"We have some idea," Mr. Broman said. "And we feel privileged to have this opportunity to return to God a portion of what we owe Him, believe me."
"Sister," Mike said, "I'd like to ask that the donation remain anonymous so far as the staff is concerned, at least until Matt and I leave. We don't want anyone to treat us differently over the money."
"Of course, Mike. I understand, and nothing will be said for the time being. I am just totally overwhelmed by your generosity."
"May we impose upon you to visit your chapel before we go, Sister?" Mrs. Broman asked. "We'd like to offer thanks for your work here, if that's all right."
"Certainly," Sister said. "Please know that your gift is a beautiful addition to the gift that Matt and Mike have shared with us this summer--themselves. We are very grateful to them and to you."
They stood up and walked to the chapel. The red sanctus light marking the Real Presence flickered as they all knelt and offered their prayers.
They said good-bye at the front door to Sister Angeline, with Mr. Broman indicating that a check for the endowment would be forthcoming as soon as they arrived back home and moved some funds around.
Mike told the family that he had made reservations for dinner for 6:30 p.m., and gave his dad the restaurant's address. The family left for an afternoon with Monet at the Art Institute, and Matt and Mike returned to their duties.
* * *
The next few days were a whirlwind of activities, with different family members hooking up with each other to see and do the things they were especially interested in. Borrowing Mike's motorcycle for Jeff, Matt took him on a bike ride to the country, and Mike and Martha ran on the beach. Mr. Broman visited several friends in Chicago law firms who had been in law school with him, and Mrs. Broman and Martha gave their credit cards a workout at Marshall Field's and Nieman Marcus. The centerpiece of the week for everyone except Matt and Mike, of course, was the award ceremony the special meeting of the Chicago City Council on Thursday.
They all dressed to the nines on Thursday morning, with Mrs. Broman fussing over everyone's appearance until they finally made their entrance at City Hall. Matt and Mike wore sharp, dark blue suits, white shirts with ties, and had even shined their shoes. The City Council chamber was packed, and an ensemble from the Chicago Fire Department Band was playing to one side as people gathered.
Promptly at 10 a.m., the Mayor pounded the gavel and called the Council meeting to order, and a black minister offered a prayer. After a roll call, the first item on the agenda was the Chicago Citizen of Valor Award. Matt and Mike and their family were called forward, and introduced to the Mayor and Council, and were joined at the podium by the family they had saved, who also were introduced. The family's name was Jackson, and the parents and kids embraced Matt and Mike sincerely and gratefully. Matt spotted Tony Angelo in the crowd and spoke to the Mayor about him, and the Mayor called him forward to the podium as well to witness the proceedings.
The Mayor began to read an account which detailed the boys' actions that first night they had come into town, and concluded by reading the following proclamation:
"Communities, whatever their size, function on the principle that
all citizens will contribute to the common good. On occasion, the
actions and accomplishments of some few, on behalf of others,
reach far beyond what we can rightfully and legitimately expect.
We acknowledge this to be true of the actions of Matthew James
Broman, Jr., and Michael Andrew Broman.
"At the clear peril of and without thought for their own lives, these
two brothers dove repeatedly into the dark and cold waters of Lake
Michigan on the night of June 2, 1999, and rescued from certain death
by drowning in their submerged automobile, the four members of the
Albert Allan Jackson family, two of whom are minor children.
"On behalf of a grateful community, we recognize Matthew James
Broman, Jr., and Michael Andrew Broman as Chicago Citizens of
Valor, and order that their names be entered into the permanent archives
of this City in order that their heroic actions may never be forgotten.
"Enacted and bestowed on this Twelfth Day of August in the Year
Lord 1999, by the City Council of the City of Chicago in Session, and
signed by my hand."
Richard M. Daley
The Fire Department Band sounded a triumphant chord, and the entire chamber rose in vigorous applause as the Mayor handed Matt and Mike each a commemorative plaque and a parchment engraved with the full text of the presentation, and shook their hands. After five minutes of applause, the Mayor signaled for quiet, and asked the boys if they would like to speak. The two of them decided that Matt would speak for both.
Matt stepped to the podium, was introduced, cleared his throat, and spoke extemporaneously.
"My brother Mike and I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this signal honor which you have bestowed upon us. At the same time, we confess to you our doubts about being heroes in any real sense. In our opinion, many of the true heroes of this and every city are the uniformed officers and firemen who carry out their challenging duties on behalf of the public, day in and day out, often without recognition. One such officer is here on the podium with us, Officer Tony Angelo, who went out of his way help us, two strangers in the city, in the aftermath of the incident on Lake Shore Drive.
"Mike and I would like to leave you by quoting the words of our father, who more and more often astounds us with his wisdom as we grow older: 'Heroes are people who are in the right place at the right time, just doing what needs to be done.'
"Please accept our doubts that we qualify for this award, along with our grateful thanks for this beautiful recognition.
The chamber again erupted in applause as everyone on the podium once again shook hands as the cameras clicked and flashed, and then all left the dais.
"Perfect, bro, you did great!" Mike whispered to his brother as they left the Council chamber. Jeff patted Matt's shoulder and Martha kissed him on the cheek.
Matt and Mike talked with Tony Angelo for a few minutes. Tony thanked Matt for his words from the podium, but commented that the little kindness he had shown the boys shouldn't call for that much attention. Mike said that now that Tony and the Mayor had met, the latter would know who to call upon when it came time to appoint a new police superintendent. Tony got a kick of that.
Mr. Broman invited the Jacksons and Tony to go to early lunch with the family. The Jacksons accepted, but Tony had to go back to work. They all went over to a nice restaurant in the financial district, and had a good time. After lunch, the Jacksons said their good-byes, punctuated with their thanks, and Mrs. Jackson hugged the Matt and Mike as she shed a few tears remembering that dark night two months ago on the lakefront.
They all decided to go back to the apartment for a nap, and then catch a movie. They did, and then made an early night of it.
Friday dawned yet another glorious day in Chicago, in the low 80's, and they collectively decided to go on a picnic to the little park Matt and Mike had discovered on their first motorcycle ride to the country. While Mike, Martha and their mom threw together food for lunch, Matt called Arnie Watkins and asked him to go out that night with them and Jeff. Arnie seemed glad to hear from him, and agreed. They decided to meet at a bar named Roscoes about 9:30, while Martha and their parents spent their evening at the opera.
They all piled in the truck about 10 a.m., and headed for the park after a quick stop at a grocery store. The park was deserted when they arrived about 11:30. They found a picnic table, fired up a nearby grill, and then the boys and Martha played a little football while Mr. and Mrs. Broman sat on a blanket and talked.
All four of the kids were excellent athletes. Matt and Mike noticed that Jeff and Martha worked well together as a team. The boys all took their shirts off, and Mike marveled at how much more developed Jeff's physique had become since they had last seen him. This Adonis turned a lot of female heads, Mike was sure, and Mike had a few lascivious thoughts of his own as he observed how Jeff was practically poured into his cutoffs.
Pretty soon the kids smelled food cooking, and looked over to see their dad standing at the grill, flipping burgers and opening packages of buns to brown at the proper time. They packed in the football game with no formal conclusion, and went to help their mother set the table with paper plates and plastic utensils.
Before they ate, they held hands around the table, and Mike offered thanks for the blessings of family and food. Then they sat down and consumed everything in sight that was edible. After lunch, cleanup and a short siesta, they all went for a walk through the woods and meadows.
Mike and Martha paired up, and walked hand in hand through the trees and meadows.
"Mike, I haven't had a chance to tell you and Matt how proud I am of you," she said. "When Matt and I were growing up, especially the last few years, he used to just annoy the shit out of me--that jock arrogance of his--but he's grown up to be a fine person, and you've always been one. I'm lucky to have both of you for brothers. I guess that self-confidence you both have gives you the edge in getting things done when the chips are down."
"Thanks, Mart. As long as we're talking, I have to tell you that you have all the qualities to make a success at whatever you want to do. You're beautiful, you're tough, you're feminine, you're loving, you have a great personality, you have a good competitive streak--I admire you a lot. If I weren't gay, I'd ask you to marry me without a second thought when you finished your education. As it is, I love you so much, and I hope you know I'd do anything in this world for you if it were in my power."
"Wow. Thanks, Mike. That's the nicest compliment I've had in a long time."
"Is there anyone special in your life?"
"No, not really. I've been dating a lot of different guys, and at my age, of course, they're all thinking with their crotches. I used to laugh at my parents because they're so conservative in many ways, but now I'm glad they taught me about having good self esteem. Some of my classmates are pretty heavy into drugs and alcohol, and of course, sex. All that makes for good times and good stories, but bad endings."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," Mike said. "I was never heavy into drugs because I was into swimming, but when I met Matt, I used to like to smoke a little weed every now and then. He wouldn't talk to me for days at a time after I got high, though, so I finally just quit altogether. Now I'm glad he did what he did. It doesn't matter what you're using, they're all just painkillers. Sometimes horrendous things happen to people and we need help, but we need to face up to our issues instead of going into suspended animation from using something. Illicit drugs put your pain on hold, but they also stop you from growing as a person. They don't solve anything. Same for chronic heavy drinking. At least that's how I look at it."
"Yeppers, I agree totally."
"Do you have any thoughts at this point on a career?" Mike asked.
"Well, I really like animals. I've thought about becoming a vet, but I don't know yet. I need to be exposed to a lot more possibilities before I make a decision. How about you?"
"Still on the pre-med track. That's a lot of school to get through before I can be a doctor, but I'm not dissuaded yet."
At that point, Jeff walked up between them from behind and slipped his arms around them.
"Jeffy, the man of the hour! 'Sup, bud?" Mike asked.
"I was just wondering if we shouldn't head back to town pretty soon if we're all going out to wherever tonight. Whaddaya think?" Jeff responded.
Mike checked his watch.
"Yeah, we could probably get on the road anytime now," he acknowledged. "Where are Mom and Dad?"
"They started back to pack everything up," Jeff said.
"I better go help," Martha said. "Love ya, Mike." She kissed him on the cheek, and turned around and started back to the picnic site.
"Same, Mart. We'll catch up in a minute." Martha walked off, giving a wave.
"So, Jeff, you looking forward to a little bar hopping?"
"You don't know how much!!" Jeff said.
"You got ID?"
"Did Newton have gravity? Does Matt have fleas? Of course I have ID!"
"We asked a friend of ours, Arnie Watkins, to kind of guide us around tonight. He's gay, by the way. He knows the city top to bottom. You have any problem hitting a few gay bars?" Mike asked.
"Not at all. As long as there's music and beer, I'm a happy guy!" Jeff responded.
" 'K, but I don't want to see you taking off with some prettyboy for an all-niter!" Mike laughed. "We might not be able to getcha back to the straight world."
"No worries on that score, bro!" Jeff grinned. "We'll just go out and have a good time together. I've really been wanting to do this."
"Me, too. You excited about coming to the university this fall, Jeff?" Mike asked.
"Totally! I'm SO ready. And I'm really gonna enjoy living with you guys."
"We're gonna be glad to have ya, you know that! College is a big transition, but with Matt and me to guide ya, how could ya go wrong?"
"Um," Jeff said, "let me count the ways! Do we have time?"
Mike laughed. "You have your brother's sense of humor, I see. Once you get to school, I'm gonna break you of it before it gets outta hand."
"Yeah, I can see how successful you've been with Matt. Which brings to mind a good story I heard recently."
"I don't think so," Mike said, and started to move away.
Jeff put his arm around Mike's neck, just like Matt often did, so Mike couldn't escape.
"This is excellent. You'll like it."
"What is this? Did you and Matt get some kind of bad joke implant when you were born, or did the doc just drop you on your heads?" Mike asked.
"Now, now. Listen up," Jeff said.
"A distinguished, retired four-star general ran into his former orderly,
retired, in a Manhattan bar and spent the rest of the evening persuading him
to come work for him as his valet.
"'Your duties will be exactly the same as they were in the army,'
general said. 'Nothing to it--you'll catch on again fast.'
"The orderly finally agreed, and said he would report for work the next day.
"Next morning promptly at eight o'clock, the ex-orderly entered the
ex-general's bedroom, pulled open the drapes, gave the general a gentle
shake, strode around the other side of the bed, whacked his employer's wife
on her butt and said, 'OK, sweetheart, it's back to the village for you.'"
Mike had to laugh in spite of himself.
"How have I displeased you, Lord?" he asked, looking skyward. "How have I sinned?"
"Oh, we're gonna have some fun next year," Jeff said, squeezing Mike's neck. "This story was just at the top of a very full barrel of jokes. I promise to share at every opportunity--I'm not selfish. Oh, I know!! We'll set aside a few minutes every day just for joke telling!!"
"Ugh, you nimrod!" Mike broke away, and took off at a dead run for the picnic site. With no small satisfaction, he observed that Jeff couldn't catch him any than Matt could. More than ever in these situations, he felt his speed would be his only friend. He just hoped they didn't double team him. Maybe Dad could get him an injunction to prevent lewd and lascivious story telling. It was worth a shot.
By the time Jeff and Mike came into the picnic area at a dead run, Matt, Martha and their mom and dad had everything cleaned up and packed.
"Some people take all the responsibility, while others have the good times," Matt said. "I've never seen it fail."
"I've just been doing my share of suffering," Mike shot back, a little winded. "Jeff has the same joke gene you have." Turning to Jeff, he demanded, "Do you wear jockey shorts, too?"
"That's a little personal, don't you think, bro?" Jeff said. "But yes, I do. Why?"
"I think you and Matt tell jokes because the jockeys squeeze your gonads all the time. Bad jokes or good jokes, they just hafta come out. It must be some sort of compensation mechanism," Mike speculated.
They all got a good laugh out of that. Then they headed for the truck and back to the city.
Traffic was heavy back into town, but they arrived in plenty of time for Mom and Dad and Martha to clean up and get dressed for Madama Butterfly at the Lyric. The opera lovers ate a light snack before they left, saying they would have dinner after the performance. The three boys decided to go down the street to a Chinese restaurant rather than cook.
When they came back, they just vegged out, listening to music and talking, until they had to leave to meet Matt and Mike's friend, Arnie.
"Who is this Arnie, anyway?" Jeff asked.
"He's one of the few friends we've had time to make here," Matt said. "He's a model, and a very nice guy. He's also gay, by the way, just so you know."
Jeff shrugged. "So Mike said."
"Listen, Jeff, we'll have Arnie take us to some straight bars as well as gay ones tonight, so you'll have some girls to look at," Matt said. "But you're gonna catch the eye of the boys in the gay bars, fer sure, and they'll think you're gay. The later it gets, the drunker they'll be. If it's crowded and you should happen by some chance to get groped, just give'm a big smile and walk away, 'K? Don't hit 'em."
"No prob," Jeff said. "I'm not homophobic except when it comes to you two geeks."
"Keep it up, Jeffy!" Matt said. "We may just abandon you downtown in a gay bar with some hairy, horny, persistent 225 pound admirer. Who knows, maybe he'll bring you over to our side."
"Ha, ha, Matt, you're hilarious," Jeff said, and went to take a shower.
Matt went over to the couch where Mike was sitting, laid him down flat on his back, and stretched out on top of him, nose to nose.
"Me so horny," he said to Mike.
"Yeppers," Mike said. "Me, too." He reached around and grabbed Matt's ass with both hands, and began squeezing. "Hmmmm. Primo. Could you do me in 30 seconds or less?"
"I wish. Stop squeezing my butt, or you're gonna give me wood."
"Well, this little tête-à-tête was your idea."
"Well, let me 'splain why getting me more horned up is a bad idea. If you give me wood, I'm gonna hafta take you into the bedroom. And if we go into the bedroom, we're gonna have sex. And if we have sex, we're gonna hafta change the bed afterward so Mom and Dad won't be grossed out when they sleep in it, and we'll also have to shower. And if we hafta change the bed and shower, we'll be late meeting Arnie. And if we're late meeting Arnie, he might leave before we get there. And if he leaves before we get there, we won't know where to take Jeff tonight. And if we don't know where to take Jeff, he'll be disappointed. And if he's disappointed, he'll wanna beat somebody up. And since it's out of the question he could beat me up, that leaves you, 'cause you're weak and puny. So..."
"So, show a little control, please."
"You're a control freak, Matt."
"No, I'm not. You just need a lot of special guidance."
They continued lying there, Matt on top, face to face, bickering back and forth, until Jeff emerged from the bathroom.
"Jeez, guys, get a room," he said.
"Our very thought, Jeffy," Mike said. "But we have our duty to be good hosts to you, and that takes precedence. So our needs will just have to wait. Some day, some time, we'll be able to embrace and feel good. Just not now when we really need it."
"Ooooh," Matt said. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you have such good 'guilting' skills, Mikey! I do so admire that in a man. See how you just turned the tables on our poor little bro and left him defenseless. I can learn so-o-o much from you!"
"Yeah, yeah. Get off me, you dufus," Mike said. And he unceremoniously dumped Matt on the floor and ran into the bathroom with Matt in hot pursuit, and locked the door before he could catch him.
Matt taunted Mike by making chicken sounds outside the door, but then gave up and went back to talk to Jeff. Mike soon emerged and went into the bedroom and put on a fresh T shirt from his dresser. On the front, the T had a picture of a big, smiling, green lizard, surrounded by hundreds of little lizards, with the legend, "Somebody didn't use protection."
"Stylish, dude!" Jeff said approvingly when Mike came back into the living room. "I like it!"
Mike looked at Matt. "You aren't going out in a plain, white T, are you? Don't you have something in a nice pink you can wear?"
Matt grinned at Jeff.
"Now you can see, in the space of just a few minutes, what I hafta put up with day in and day out," he said. " And what you'll soon hafta put up with when school starts."
"Change shirts," Mike said to Matt. "Let's jet."
Obediently, Matt changed into another T shirt, and they left for their night on the town.
"Shall we cab it, take the L, or take the truck?" Mike asked as they went downstairs.
"Let's take a cab," Matt said, "or Jeff will have to be the designated driver and can't drink. And you know how he likes his beer!"
"Yeppers," Jeff agreed. "And I have the big thirst tonight."
They snagged a cab on Sheridan Road, and off they went to Roscoes.
When they arrived, the guy at the door carded each of them, looking suspiciously at Jeff, but he let them in.
The place was just starting to get busy, and the speakers were cranking out good tunes. Matt spotted Arnie standing halfway down the bar chatting up a good looking Latino kid. Arnie saw Matt and Mike, and joined them at a booth they were just sliding into.
"Yo, Dudes!" Arnie greeted them. His eyes got big when he looked at Jeff.
"Arnie!" Matt said. "Meet our brother, Jeff. Jeff, Arnie Watkins."
They bumped fists.
Arnie looked at Matt and Mike, and when Jeff looked away, rolled his eyes admiringly in Jeff's direction.
"No, Arn," Mike said, "Jeff's straight. Very straight. But maybe if you get him drunk enough, he might dance with you before the night's over."
"Well, let's get started, then! Whaddaya drinking, Jeff?" Arnie asked.
"Miller, Miller and Miller, followed by a Miller chaser, please. Just line 'em up!"
Arnie laughed. "How about you guys?" he asked Matt and Mike.
Both of them asked for beer as well.
Arnie looked around for a waiter, and seeing none, went to the bar himself for the brews.
Matt and Mike cased the crowd. Many, if not most, of the early birds were way cute, they thought. But their own foursome was currently at the top of the good looks pyramid, and they were drawing a lot of glances.
Arnie came back with a tray of beers, and soon they were on the way to the land of no sense and no pain. People in the bar who knew Arnie kept stopping by the table to say hello, and coincidentally, to get a better look at the three Broman boys.
Thus began an evening of bar hopping that alternated between gay and straight bars, the latter so that Jeff could check out some women. The girls in the straight bars who were there stag didn't lack for assertiveness, and kept asking the boys to dance, which they all did. Finally, in the last gay bar they hit not long before the 2 a.m. closing time, Arnie did succeed in getting Jeff to dance a fast number with him. No touching, of course. Taken as he was with Jeff by now, Arnie was a happy man.
They fell out of the bar at 2:15, having consumed their last drink, and walked--sort of--down the street to an all night greasy spoon and had breakfast and lots of hot coffee. When they began to remember their names, they parted company with Arnie after thanking him profusely for the guided tour of the bar scene, and Matt, Mike and Jeff caught a cab for home. They dozed most of the way back.
After they were dropped off, Jeff persuaded Matt and Mike that they should walk over to the beach before they went to bed. They did. It was a beautiful night, with the moon slashing a ribbon of light across the calm, obsidian waters of Lake Michigan. The boys lay down on the still-warm sand, and soaked up the peace and quiet. When Mike and Jeff fell asleep, Matt woke them, and they headed for the apartment, totally satisfied with their evening out.
Quietly letting themselves in the door, they each used the bathroom and hit the bed. Five minutes later, all was still.
* * *
The next morning, Saturday, the three boys were a little hung over. But after some V-8 with a dash of tabasco added, they ate some breakfast and began to feel better.
Mr. Broman talked everybody into a boat ride leaving from the Loop. They all trooped to the L about 1 p.m. to go downtown, Jeff and Martha carrying their cameras. It was another perfect day--not a cloud in the sky, and the water was smooth, for which the boys were thankful, given the condition of their stomachs. They bought tickets for a large touring boat for a three hour cruise, and embarked, eating a late lunch on board.
From the water, the Chicago skyline was jewel-like as it sparkled in the brilliant sunshine. Passengers, including Jeff and Martha, lined up along the port rail to take pictures as the boat headed up the north shore.
After the cruise, they walked around Grant Park and took in Buckingham Fountain.
Matt and Mike had a little side conversation as the family took in the sights.
"Bro, you know we're gonna hafta leave in a few days if we're going west," Matt said.
"Yeah, I know. I don't know what's happened to the summer."
"Would you be really disappointed if we stayed here a little longer instead of taking our trip?"
"No, the trip will keep," Mike said. "But what I'd like to do is head home a few days early, and see if we can't talk Mom and Dad and Jeff and Martha into spending a week with us up at the cottage before we hafta go back to school. I really want to have some more time with them."
"Excellent idea, dude," Matt said. "That would be so-o-o cool! I wanna go water skiing and make you drink the lake."
"Dream on, spaz!"
"You gonna ask 'em?"
"Yeah," Mike said. "Dad'll be mellow after a drink and dinner. And you know Mom will agree."
They high fived, and rejoined the family.
They ate supper in the Loop before going back to the apartment, and Mike got their Dad to agree to a vacation at the cottage, contingent upon checking his work schedule when he arrived back at the office. Matt and Mike were pleased. It hadn't been a tough sell. Not at all.
* * *
Sunday morning the whole family went to 9 a.m. mass so Matt and Mike could take Jeff and Martha to the beach afterward, first for a run and then to play basketball.
One of the regular B-ball players tried to object to letting Martha play until he saw her in action on the court. She was shorter than the boys, but her unerring eye for the basket from outside and her quickness made her very competitive, and she had a killer hook shot when she got under the basket. One guy tried to muscle her out of his path mid-way through the game, and ended up on his ass. Matt was proud of her as the team she was on whipped his and Mike's, in no small part due to her skills. Jeff was a superb athlete, of course, and was the scoring leader from the gitgo on Martha's team.
That afternoon, the family went up to Northwestern University and walked along the lakefront, the elder Bromans marveling at how the campus had grown since they had seen it. The area seemed deserted except for runners, bikers and sunbathers. Mr. and Mrs. Broman walked hand in hand as they looked at the buildings and the striking scenery.
"Maybe we'll be like that at their age," Matt said quietly to Mike of their parents.
"We can only hope, dude. They're beautiful people. They've only had one piece of bad luck. Not to mention your name or anything."
"Commere." Matt grabbed him around the neck, and kissed him on the side of his head.
Sightseeing completed, they went back to the apartment and the travelers began to pack.
They all went to the airport a little early, and after Mike dropped everyone off with their luggage at the terminal, he parked the truck and joined the family at the gate.
"Boys, I can't tell you how much we appreciate your having us down, and your hospitality. It's been wonderful!" Mr. Broman said. "Now we'll probably have the time at the cottage to look forward to over Labor Day week."
"Thanks, Dad," Matt said. "I hope the accommodations weren't too crowded the last few days."
"As long as we were all together, who cares?" Mrs. Broman said. "You've made the apartment a nice little place for yourselves." She paused. "You know, we're proud of what you've accomplished this summer. Your dad and I respect you so much for your work. We love you boys."
"Same here, Mom," Mike said, kissing her soundly on the cheek. "It means the world to us that you came down. Even you, Jeffy!" And Mike grabbed him, and gave him a kiss on the cheek, too, catching Jeff by surprise. They embraced, and then Mike did the same to Martha and his mom and dad. Matt followed suit.
"I'd be bummed right now, but I know we're gonna see you guys soon," Matt said. "Jeff and Martha, your mission at the cottage, should you choose to accept it, will be to drown 'Mike the dolphinboy' when he tries to play the expert on water skis."
They all laughed.
The flight was called, and with a last wave, the family boarded. Within a few minutes, their plane was pushed back, and joined a line of planes waiting to take off. Matt and Mike started for home. The apartment felt a little empty when they got there.
* * *
Matt called their landlord the next day and extended their lease for a few weeks, and the boys settled back into their routine at the Hospice.
Knowing his time at Hospice was short, Matt began to ponder on Stan Rosinsky and his homophobia, and what, if anything, he could do about it. He ate lunch with him every day, whether Mike was there or not. He was on the guy like white on rice.
He gradually found out that the circumstances of Stan's upbringing had been far from idyllic. His father had died when he was 6 years old, and his mother had married again. His stepfather had been a head case, and an abusive one at that. One day at lunch Stan pulled up his T shirt and showed Matt where his stepfather had burned him with a cigarette one time for some kind of misbehavior. His mother had not fared much better. Rosinsky said he could still hear his stepfather's drunken voice screaming at him, waking him up at night, as the hulking man came up the stairs to beat him with his belt, often for no reason at all. This went on until he was a junior in high school, when he started running with a motorcycle gang, moved out of the house, and stayed with another gang member's family until he graduated. His mother died soon after.
"I knew you had scars," Matt told him.
"Whaddaya mean?" Stan asked.
"Well, don't get pissed, now. But I could tell from the way you treat some of the other aides around here. It's sort of a case of 'Stepdad kicked you, you pass it on.' I didn't know there were physical scars, too."
"Oh, come on, don't start psychoanalyzing me, now," Rosinsky said.
"I'm not. But I'd like to put you on a better path before I'm outta here to go back to school."
"Better path? You're not talking about religion, are ya?"
"No, not exactly," Matt said, 'although I'm religious. I just want you to ask yourself, when you feel like doing something mean to somebody, 'What's going on here? Why am I doing this?' The answers can surprise you. Personally, I've had to do that sometimes when I wanted to go in a different direction with people, and it works."
"What makes you think I want to go in a different direction?" Stan asked.
"Call it a hunch. I know you don't want to end up being like your stepfather."
"I'm nothing like my stepfather, asshole!"
"No shit? Well, think about it, anyway, 'k?"
Rosinsky just grunted, gulped down the rest of his sandwich and milk without a word, and walked out of the cafeteria after he dumped his dishes on the conveyer belt.
After that, Matt talked to him a little about the issue every day at lunch. Sometimes Rosinsky would talk with him about it, sometimes not, but Matt began to hear through the grapevine that Stan's disposition had inexplicably taken a turn for the better.
A few days before Matt and Mike were scheduled to leave, Matt was eating lunch with Stan, as usual, and the latter was actually talking and acting friendly. Matt decided to go for broke.
"You know my brother, Mike?"
"He's really my adoptive brother. His whole family were killed in a plane crash, and my folks adopted him."
"We were roommates our freshman year in college. Then we became partners," Matt said.
"Yeah, we're gay. We live together."
Rosinsky stopped chewing in mid-bite, his face a mask of disbelief.
"Aw, shit. Now why did you hafta go and tell me that? I was just getting to like you."
"I don't usually say anything unless somebody asks," Matt said. "But I figured if we're gonna be friends, you should know."
Stan just groaned, and stared at Matt.
"I guess you didn't have a clue, huh?" Matt asked.
Stan shook his head.
"I know you always said you didn't like queers," Matt said. "I just wondered why. You and I get along OK."
"In my family..." Stan started to say, when Matt interrupted him.
"Was that before, during or after your stepfather beat the shit out of you and your mother, that he talked about queers?"
"What's that got to do with it?" Stan asked.
"Well, usually if you find somebody judging a whole group of people without really knowing any of them, it's the 'somebody' who has the problem. It's a case, once again, of getting rid of our hurt, wherever it came from, by putting it on someone else for any reason that seems handy. Including being different."
"I wish you'd quit messing with my head. I don't know whether to believe anything you tell me any more. You're not really gay, are you?"
"Stan, most people are just struggling along with the hand they were dealt. You are. I am. We all find a different way to handle things. Why should we hate people for going down their own path?"
Silence. Slowly Rosinsky stood, picked up his tray and garbage, dumped it on the conveyor, and left.
"Shit!" Matt castigated himself. "I probably pushed things too fast." Angry at himself, he finished eating and went back to work.
The following noon, Matt was already in the cafeteria eating when Rosinsky came in. At best, Matt expected to be ignored, but to his surprise, Stan paid for his tray of food and came over and sat down across from him.
"Hey," Matt said.
"You pissed?" Matt asked.
"No. Kinda confused."
"Life, I guess. Gay people. You and your brother aren't like any gay people I ever saw."
"I know you probably wouldn't have given me the time of day at first if I were 5'6" and had pimples," Matt said. "But that's just the point. Gay people come in all shapes and sizes, and you don't know anything about us 'til you know something about us."
"Just out of curiosity, why did you tell me? You're leaving soon, and you wouldn't have had to say a thing."
"Just a theory I have about not taking people I meet at face value all the time. I don't like it when people who know I'm gay think that's the only important thing about me. I knew you were homophobic, but I don't think that's the only important thing about you, either. So I thought I'd get to know you a little. You were my challenge for the summer."
Stan gave a fleeting smile.
"I wish you weren't going," he said seriously, looking down at the table. "I don't have too many people to talk to, I 'spose you know that."
"Do what I did," Matt said. "Pull up a chair at lunch and say hello to people."
"Shoot! They'll run away."
"Nah. Well, maybe at first they'll be a little shy. But keep at it."
"You're the only person who ever went out of his way to talk to me since my ma died," Stan said. "I don't know whether I buy everything you say, but you've given me some things to think about, I'll give you that."
"I don't have all the answers," Matt said. "But I think you could be a leader here in this place, and go on to other things. But ya hafta work with other people and treat 'em with respect, that's all I know."
Stan didn't respond.
"Give me your phone number," Matt said. "I"ll call you when I get back to school sometime, 'K?"
"You don't have to."
"How else am I gonna catch up on the gossip around here? Maybe you can come down to the university for a weekend. Mike and I and our other brother, Jeff--I think you met him--will be living together next year in our apartment."
"Is your other brother. . ."
"Gay?" Matt laughed. "No, straight as an arrow. You could ride your bike down, and we could all go riding."
"You're bikers? I didn't know that," Stan said.
"Since grade school," Matt said.
Stan reached into his shirt pocket for his little notebook, tore off a page, wrote down his phone number, and handed it to Matt.
"Lemme borrow your pen," Matt said, and gave Stan his phone number and address at school.
They went back to work.
That night, Matt told Mike all about his conversations with Stan.
"His change of heart sounds just a little too easy," Mike said after thinking about it for a minute.
"I don't claim I turned the kid around, but I think he's thinking things over. He's more vulnerable to change than his appearance suggests, that's all I'm saying. Maybe he just needed someone to talk to him like a human being. Anyway, I'm glad I gave it a shot."
"That's cool. Really, I mean it. You always go the second mile with people. That's why I love ya. Now, can I get my shot?"
"Hehehe. Let's make it a double!" Matt said, and they headed for the bedroom.
* * *
Matt and Mike's last day at the Hospice inevitably rolled around, and the sisters threw a little lunch hour party for them. All of the staff who could be spared were there, along with ambulatory patients and those who could be moved by wheelchair.
The boys were subdued, having spent their morning rounds saying good-bye to patients. Exhausting work it was, with many tears shed on both sides.
The kitchen staff had outdone themselves by producing a huge chocolate cake to go with vanilla ice cream for dessert, and everyone enjoyed themselves.
Stan Rosinsky was one of the last employees to leave the room. He came over to where Matt and Mike were standing and extended his hand to Matt.
"No prob. I'll call you, I promise," Matt said. "You take care."
"OK. Mike, nice knowing ya," Stan said, shaking hands with him. "You guys have a good trip home."
After their shift ended, Matt and Mike went down to the office to say good-bye to the sisters. Sister Catherine stood up when they came in, her eyes looking suspiciously moist.
"We can never thank you enough for all you've done. And I'm not talking about the money," she said.
Sister Angeline came around from behind her desk.
"Come on. One last stop," she said.
She walked them down to the chapel with Catherine. They all stood before the altar, crucifix and the Presence in the tabernacle, and held hands.
"Lord Jesus," Angeline began to pray, "we are here to thank You for Your gift of Matthew and Michael to us this summer. Out of Your great heart of love and mercy, You lent them to us for a season to minister to Your precious ones in this place. You have been beside us as we have labored together, and our tears for the sick and dying have been Your tears. We ask Your blessing on Matthew and Michael as they walk the path You have set for them. Continue to nourish them with Your grace, feed them with Your love, and guide them with Your wisdom. Because they have lightened the burdens of many, make their burdens few. And bless their family, who received them on this earth and set their feet on the road that leads to You. In full and grateful hearts for all they have meant to us all, we commend them to You, Lord. In Your Name we pray."
"Amen," they all said together.
Wordlessly, the two nuns hugged them and kissed them. And then they were gone.
Thank you for your patience in waiting for Part 10. You'll be ecstatic to know that the motorcycling has been great so far this summer, and probably will continue to be, so the time between episodes may continue to be a little elongated. Something really bad is going to happen in Part 11, but things are going to work out well in the end, I promise. Once again, I want to express appreciation for all the emails I've received about this series. Hang in! © 2000 Don Hanratty. Write me at Don Hanratty <firstname.lastname@example.org>.