For Mike and Matt, the week's vacation at Lake Marston after they had returned home from Chicago had been like frosting on the cake of a very good summer, all things considered.  Mike smiled to himself as he and Matt unpacked and put their clothes away in their apartment back at school, remembering the joy of being with the family he had come to love as if he had never had another.

The steamy heat of late summer had broken as the family had arrived at the cottage, but the sun had continued to shine every day in the cloudless clarity of early fall.  Although the trees had not yet started to turn, and wouldn't for some weeks, there was a chill in the air at night that made sleeping--and cuddling--a sheer delight.  The water was perfect for swimming and water skiing during the day, the beaming sun having overcome the slight chill to the lake that came from being spring fed.

After charging the battery, the Chris Craft had fired right up, and the four youngsters were soon on the lake skiing and taking in the sights.  Mike was a master at water skiing, and was soon demonstrating to his brothers and sister how it was done, including slalom, bare foot skiing and 360° turns at top speed.  By the end of the week, thanks to his instruction, they were all looking good out there.  Even Mr. and Mrs. Broman had taken their turn on skis after selecting Martha to take the wheel of the boat, knowing she would be kinder than the boys in the way she maneuvered.  The adults had done well on the water, actually.

Now Mike could hear Jeff on the other side of the bedroom wall of the coachhouse singing to himself as he put his clothes away in his own bedroom.  That was one happy young man to be on his own for the first time.  Mike thought back to when his birth parents had dropped him off at school that first day, the day he had met Matt, and smiled again, knowing exactly what Jeff was feeling.  The combination of anticipation and apprehension was a real high.

As Mike had become better acquainted with Jeff,  he realized just how much Jeff and Matt were alike.  They were both physically demonstrative, friendly and almost too trusting, good humored, considerate, comfortable to be around, superb  athletes with excellent minds, and to Mike's trained eye, both magnificent specimens of manhood.  And of course, they both had that damnable joke-telling gene.  The only difference between them was that Jeff seemed a little more laid back than Matt, perhaps the result of being the middle child.  But then, Mike had never seen Jeff when he was really challenged or in a tight spot, either--he might not be as laid back as he seemed.

Mike had grown very fond of Jeff, and more than a little protective of him.  Sometimes he felt Matt was too hard on Jeff about one thing or another, at which point Mike would either try to smooth over whatever the issue was or would just bluntly tell Matt to get off the kid's case.  He liked his "little" brother a lot, and knew his affection was returned.

Jeff wasn't supposed to have a vehicle at school his freshman year, but Matt and Mike had brought Jeff's dual purpose sport bike down in the truck for him anyway so they all could ride together.  There was room in the coach house garage for the three bikes and Matt's and Mike's trucks with no problem.

Two weeks after school had started, the phone rang one night when they were studying, and Mike picked it up.

"Michael, this is your mother.  Are Jeff and Matt there?  I need to talk to all of you."

"Everything all right, Mom?" Mike asked with a little stab of fear.

"Everything's fine, sweetheart.  Just get your brothers."

Mike yelled for Jeff and Matt to get on the portable phones.  They exchanged greetings with their mom.

"Boys, I have some news I wanted to give you before you saw it on television or it hit the papers.  Dad is going to be nominated by the President to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  He's thinking it over, but I think he's going to accept.  He says it's pretty hard to turn down the President of the United States."

The boys were stunned into silence.

"I'm totally amazed," Matt finally said.  "Dad has no bench time, and he's not even a member of the President's party.  What gives?"

"According to Dad, the President feels the Court needs someone who knows commercial law top to bottom, and also has some understanding of international law, and the capacity to help develop internet law.  You know that Dad has written extensively in the legal journals for years in those areas.  I guess the President likes what he's read," Mrs. Broman said.

"Wow," Jeff said.  "This is huge!  Are you going to move to Washington if things work out, Mom?"

"Not full time, hon," Jane Broman said.  "I'm deep into a project right now, and I need my workshop here at home to get the job done.  So we'll be doing a lot of commuting for awhile.  I'll go down with Dad to see that he gets a nice, comfortable place to live, though, and join him whenever I can."

"Give him our love and congratulations, Mom.  We're really proud of him," Mike said.

"Well, if the Senate confirms him, he's going to want you all to come down to see him take the oath.  We'll have to make travel arrangements in a big quick hurry, but we'll face that when and if we have to," Mrs. Broman said.

" 'K, Mom, we'll be watching the news for the latest.  Thanks for the heads-up," Matt said.

"Give our love to Martha, Mom," Mike said.

"Will do.  Love you all, and I'll probably see you soon," Jane Broman said.  And she hung up.

The boys sat down in the living room, thoughts of studying banished for the moment.

"Y'know, if Dad accepts the nomination and the Senate confirms him, there are going to be an awful lot of people in for a big surprise," Matt said.  "Somebody must be looking at him from the outside, and seeing a middle-aged, balding, rich, right-wing, Republican establishment guy.  Somebody safe.  They don't know he's a conservative in the original sense--he believes in conserving the rights of the people to do their thing unless the Constitution explicitly forbids it.  He's not fond of big daddy government, that's for sure.  And his second big value is preserving democracy, which can require leveling the playing field from time to time when it comes to the distribution of economic resources.  He's going to be an enigma to a lot of people.  This is really gonna be interesting.  Prepare for some weird reactions from the public when he starts writing opinions."

"I know Dad's thing is about serving the community and the country," Mike said.  "But I was hoping he and Mom could kind of ease into retirement over the next few years and just enjoy each other instead of having to live apart and have him work his ass off.  It's a great honor being on the court, I understand, but shit. . ."

"Dad loves the law, and he loves to work," Matt said.  "He doesn't ease into anything.  But he knows how to play and relax, too, I'll give him that.  I think that's why he's in such good shape physically and mentally."

"Well," Jeff said, "we're just gonna hafta trust Dad's judgment on this.  You know he'll put the family first if he can."

The boys continued to talk about the changes that a Supreme Court seat for their dad could mean for the family until it was time for the evening news.  They watched intently, but nothing was said on any of the stations about the vacant seat on the Court or prospective candidates to fill it.

The next morning, however, the newspapers gave front page treatment to the vacancy and the likely candidates, and Mr. Broman's picture appeared among them.

*  *  *

Jeff had fit right into life at the apartment with Matt and Mike and at the university with no problem.  Although the baseball team wouldn't begin their conditioning program or practicing for several months, Jeff quickly sought out the other baseball scholarship jocks and was immediately accepted as "one of the guys."  Jeff wasn't particularly surprised, since they wouldn't be in real competition until spring, that these boys liked to party--a lot.   In that respect, he was very much on their wavelength.  And the party menu for these guys wasn't limited to alcohol, by a long shot.

When they were a few weeks into the semester, Matt began to be concerned about the amount of drinking Jeff was doing around the apartment, let alone elsewhere.  His drinking wasn't excessive during the week, but it was steady, and of course the weekends were another story.  You could count on Jeff being wasted on Friday and Saturday night every week, without fail.  It became pretty obvious that a lot of the baseball guys were binge drinkers who saw what they were doing as perfectly normal.

Mike was worried the situation, too, but he didn't feel they'd get anywhere by just yelling at Jeff.  He thought that a low-key, sustained discussion to get Jeff to moderate his drinking would do more good.

"Matt," Mike asked, "Is there any alcoholism in the family?"

Matt thought for a minute.

"Yeah, I think so, on the Hagerty side.  Mom's brother, Jack, has had some problems, and Grandpa Hagerty was an out-and-out alcoholic who never did quit altogether.  Nothing on the Broman side, to my knowledge."

Mike filed that information away for future reference.

One night after supper, Matt and Mike sat Jeff down in the living room and told him they were worried about his partying.

"Come on, guys, I'm not doing anything that you two didn't do when you were my age," was Jeff's immediate rejoinder.

"There's some truth to that, Jeff," Mike admitted.  "But I don't think we ever drank during the week, and we sure didn't binge every weekend."  He looked at Matt for confirmation, and Matt nodded.  "Just hear me out for a sec," Mike continued.  "The Feds are saying that binge drinking is the number one health problem on college campuses today.  Drinking the way you are will ruin your academics, and you'll never be all you could be in baseball or other sport.  It's destroyed a lot of lives.  You're overdoing it, bud."

"Are you into using anything else, Jeff?" Matt asked.

"Well, not really 'into' anything else.  I've used a little coke."

"Now I'm really worried," Mike said, throwing a warning glance at Matt so the latter wouldn't explode.  Matt looked angry, but kept quiet.

"I can take care of myself," Jeff said a little belligerently.  "This is really none of your business."

"Lemme clear that up for ya right now, Jeff!" Mike said.  "Your activities are our business.  We want you to have a good time here at school, but you're under our supervision at this point.  It's true we're not Mom and Dad, but we're your brothers, and if you think we're gonna watch you piss it all away just so you can learn your lesson the hard way all by your lonesome, think again.  Not gonna happen."

"What are you gonna do?" Jeff asked.

"It's not what we're gonna do, it's what you're gonna do, dude," Mike said.  "First of all, there'll be no more drinking for you during the week in this apartment or anywhere else.  Nada.  Second, before you leave to go party any place on a weekend, you will tell me or Matt how many beers or drinks you're gonna have during the evening, and you won't exceed the agreed upon number.  You're not a liar, I know that, and I expect you to stick to the contract you make.  Third, no more hard drugs, and no weed.  Period.  They're out of bounds altogether.  Do you agree?

"What if I don't?"

Mike sighed.  "Well, that may be a legitimate question, but I don't wanna answer it," he said.  "Just know that if you don't go along with us, the big change you made in your life coming from home to school will look like child's play when the dust settles.  You won't like it.  At all."

"Oh, all right!" Jeff agreed grudgingly.  "I thought you guys would be the last ones to take this attitude."

"Stand up," Mike said.  He put his arms around Jeff, and hugged him, and Matt followed suit.

"We love ya, bro," Mike said.  "This is serious shit, not a game.  You know we wouldn't interfere like this if it weren't important."

" 'K," Jeff said.  "Can I go study now?"

"Yeppers," Mike said, and Jeff went off to his room, looking a little pissed off.

"I'm impressed," Matt said to Mike.  "You handled that just right.  If it had been me, we would all have ended up in a shouting match.  What did you mean by threatening a change in his life, though?"

"I haven't the foggiest," Mike laughed.  "That was pure bluff.  Only time will tell if we turned him around.  This is one battle we can't afford to lose, though."

And they started their usual evening study routine.

Strangely enough, a little confrontation with one of his drinking buds when Jeff was partying with them a week later on a Friday night helped push him in Matt's and Mike's direction on the drinking issue.

There were about 10 freshman baseball jocks packed into a dorm room drinking, and somebody had some coke, too.  Jeff was counting his beers to stay within his limit, and refused his turn at snorting.  About 10 p.m., none of them was feeling any pain, and they started trying to think of what they could go out and do for the rest of the evening.

"Hey, I know," a handsome, muscular, well-built kid named Dan Murphy said.  "Let's go downtown to the arcade and beat up some fags."

No one said much.  Jeff looked at Dan in disbelief.

"What the fuck, Murphy, are you some hillbilly from Podunk Holler, or an incarnation of Eminem?" he said finally.

"Whaddaya mean?"

"I don't know whether you've heard or not, but this is the big city, and it's the 21st century.  You don't go around beating up people because they're different," Jeff said.

"Who says so?" Dan said.  "Fags don't deserve to live."

"Listen, I have two gay brothers here at the university, you asshole, and they can both put you to shame when it comes to athletics, academics or anything else.  One is a captain of the swim team, and other one is a captain of the wrestling team.  If you want to beat somebody up, start with me first, you prick!"

Jeff stood nose to nose with his totally drunken counterpart.

Their teammates separated them, and the subject was quickly changed.  But the incident immediately made Jeff take a fresh look at the contribution that heavy drinking and coke had made to a very bad idea for an evening's fun.  A few minutes later, he made excuses about having an early morning commitment the next day, and took off for home.

Matt and Mike were still watching TV in the living room when he got home about 10:30, and Jeff went in and sat down with them.

"You're home early for a Friday night, bro," Mike said.

"Yeah," Jeff said.

"Everything OK?" Mike asked.


They all stared at the tube in silence, and at the next commercial, Jeff looked over at his brothers.

"Um, you were right about the drinking.  I'm gonna watch it, I promise.  Thanks for caring about me."

"We've been worried," Matt said.  You know we love ya."

"Yep," Jeff said, and went off to bed.

Matt and Mike exchanged a look of relief.  A few minutes later they shut off the TV to go to bed themselves.

"Mike has a cute ass!" Matt announced as they went into their bedroom, and he gave the object of his affection a good, solid pinch.  This provoked a scuffle.  It was a nice scuffle, though, resolved in an extremely amiable way under the sheets.

*  *  *

It was all over the news the next morning.  Mr. Broman had been nominated to the Supreme Court by the President, and had accepted.  The Senate would be cranking up for hearings.

The hearings turned out to be a real love fest.  Mr. Broman had no judicial record to be picked to pieces, and his writings in commercial and international law provided no hot button issues to stir the emotions.  The Republicans treated him gently because he was ostensibly one of their own, and the Democrats did the same because he had been nominated by their own party leader.  The Judiciary Committee unanimously recommended confirmation of the appointment to the full Senate, and two weeks later, the process came to a successful conclusion.

One week after confirmation, on a rainy day in Washington, the Chief Justice swore in Mr. Broman in the main hearing room, as an Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, witnessed by all the Bromans, the Hagertys, the other justices, the press, and hundreds of spectators.  Afterwards, Mr. Broman held a reception for family and close friends at a swanky Washington restaurant.

The new Justice insisted on riding to the airport that night with the three boys as they caught their flight from Reagan Airport  back to the university.  Mrs. Broman was still tied up with reception guests.

"I hope you boys understand that I felt I had to take this position on the Supreme Court," Mr. Broman said as they rolled along. "It wouldn't have been my first choice of things to do, but after all the preaching I've done about sacrificing for the common good, I couldn't duck it.  I hope this sits all right with you."

"We're very, very proud of you, Dad," Mike said.  "We just want you to take care of yourself.  And Mom will be spending as much time as she can with you here in Washington, I know that.  We'll get lonesome, though, if you don't let us come down and see you pretty often."

"That's a given, Mike," Mr. Broman said.  "I can't go very long without seeing you kids, you know that.

"Mike, I needed to have a few words with you specifically, and this is the first chance I've had," Mr. Broman continued.  "I will be putting all your mother's and my family assets into a blind trust within the next few days, so that what we own can't sway my vote on any cases that come before me.  Now, we can either find you a new financial adviser, or else put your holdings into a blind trust as well.  If you want to do the latter, I can continue to administer your estate just as long as I don't know where your earnings are coming from.  It's up to you."

"I'll stick with you, Dad."

"Are you sure?  You know, one of these days you need to start learning how to evaluate and work with your assets, which are considerable," Mr. Broman said.  "I may be a little busy for awhile."

"I know I need to do that," Mike said.  "But not yet.  I want to finish undergrad before I have to think about it."

"Then I'll take care of the blind trust right away," Mr. Broman said.  "Now, I want to know how school's going.  Jeff, are you doing all right?"

"I'm doing fine, Dad," Jeff said.  "Your two watchdogs are keeping me on the straight and narrow, so don't worry about me."

Mr. Broman smiled.  "Who better?  They've had a lot of experience."

"Jeff's handling college life well, Dad," Matt said.  "You're gonna be proud of him, I think."

"I know I will," Mr. Broman said.

The limo glided up to the entrance to the boys' airline and stopped.  The driver popped the trunk and got out to remove the luggage.

They all stepped out of the car, shook hands with their dad and kissed him good-bye, and watched as he got back into the limo and it pulled back into traffic.

A few minutes after they checked in, their flight boarded.  The boys were flying tourist, and had three seats across.  Mike was in the middle seat, Jeff by the window, and Matt on the aisle.

A few minutes after they were airborne, Jeff leaned across Mike over to Matt.

"Ya know, I feel jokes coming on.  And we have a captive audience, you might notice, bro.  This'll be like humor in stereo for Mike."

"Jeffy, right on, my man!  I can feel one percolating now!" Matt responded.

Mike feigned sleep.  Matt poked him.

"Take it like a man, Mikey!" he said.

Mike got a disgusted look on his face, and scrunched down in his seat.

"You're Joke Nazis!" he said.  "There will be payback, you both know that!"

"Hehehe.  I can feel my jockeys squeezing my gonads now," Jeff said.  "And out will pop a joke!  You first, Matt?"

"No, Jeff, I insist, you first!"

"Well, now.  Let's see..." Jeff said quietly so other passengers wouldn't hear.

"It's a sunny morning in the Big Forest and the Bear
family are just waking up.

 "Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table. He
 looks into his small bowl. It's empty! 'Who's been eating my
 porridge?!' he squeaks.

 "Daddy Bear arrives at the table and sits in his big chair. He looks into
 his big bowl. It's also empty! 'Who's been eating my porridge?!' he

 Mummy Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and
 screams, 'For God's sake, how many times do we have to go through this? I
 haven't made the fucking porridge yet!!'"

Mike reached into his seat pocket, brought out the airsick bag, and pretended to barf into it.

"Crude, but effective, Jeff," Matt said.  "Now let's see, what do I have for our Mikey tonight?  Oh, yeah!"

"An Avon lady was alone in an elevator when she suddenly had to fart. She
 let fly with a humongous one, and promptly reached into her bag and sprayed
 the air with her deodorizer.

"Two floors later a gentleman got onto the elevator. He began to sniff.

"The Avon lady asked, 'Do you smell something?'

"'Why, yes, I do,' he replied.

"'What does it smell like?'

 "The man carefully looked around the elevator.

"'Hmmm,' he said,  'I'm not sure, but it kind of smells like someone shit in a pine

"I can smell it myself," Mike said.  "You yokels are full of it!"

Matt and Jeff laughed, immensely pleased with themselves.  Then the stewardess brought soft drinks.

*  *  *

Back at school, the boys were soon back into their routine of study and sports.

Matt and Mike were co-captains of their respective teams, and were making their influence felt on their teammates when it came to good discipline and mentoring the newer and younger guys.  In fact, each of their coaches told them that this looked like a good year for their sport from the standpoint of talent and attitude.  Matt and Mike wanted this to be a year to remember, particularly since they were in leadership positions.

Jeff continued to hang with his baseball jock buds following his little altercation with Dan Murphy, who surprisingly enough, had apologized to Jeff one night for what he had said at the party, admitting flat out that he was wrong to have made the suggestion that they look for gays at the arcade to beat up.  That pleased Jeff a lot, and he accepted Dan's apology with no hard feelings.  Jeff was limiting his drinking to what he agreed to with Matt or Mike, or even less.  He also started dating some really good looking girls on a regular basis.

"Guys, can I ask you something?" Jeff asked his brothers one night at supper.

"Lay it on us, dude," Matt said.

"Would you guys be bent outta shape if I brought a date back here to the apartment some night to stay over?" he asked.

Silence.  Matt looked at Mike.

"Well. . ." Mike said.  "It would really be hypocritical if we said 'no' when on the other side of the bedroom wall your brother and I are in bed together.  So I'll tell you what.  If you get to the point with a girl that you're in a solid and fairly long-lasting relationship, and you both want to have sex, I don't see why you can't invite that person here.  What I don't want to see is a whole succession of women coming though here for one-night stands.  You agree, Matt?"

"Yeppers.  That sounds reasonable to me."

"Thanks, guys," Jeff said.  "I can live with that."

*  *  *

Matt's depression as a result of working with the dying at the Hospice the previous summer was long gone.  But there was a residue from the experience that had profoundly refined his views about what it meant to really affirm life in the face of death.  He began to think frequently about children, almost obsess about them, as being the most important means by which human beings say "Yes" to the cosmic forces of the universe, to God.

In response, and despite the fact that his schedule was already tight, Matt started volunteering in a university tutoring/mentoring group for kids in the city who needed help with their studies.  His mentee was Carlos Sosa, a young Latino boy in the 7th grade who had begun to fall behind in his school work.  Carlos was one of five children in a two parent family in which the support for academic achievement was minimal.  The children were all well cared for, and there were no substance abuse or marital problems in the family, but the daily grind of providing economic support left little parental energy for making certain that the children did well in school.

Matt would meet once or twice a week in the evening with Carlos and study along with him, and then take him out for ice cream before dropping him back at home.  Carlos' academic performance and attitude at school began to show almost immediate improvement within weeks.

The tutors/mentees would meet as a group once per month with school and university officials to share their experiences and receive tips and supervision on helping the youngsters improve.  And this was where Matt met Sarah Ann Bradford, a blond haired, blue eyed young woman in her junior year at the university who was studying fine arts, and Matt knew after talking with her that she had an excellent mind.  Matt and she immediately struck up a friendship, and began comparing notes on how best to capture and keep the interest of the youngsters with whom they were involved.

Sarah was a cutie with a delightful sense of humor that meshed with Matt's right away.  Matt had told Sarah up front that he was in a gay partnership, but it didn't seem to have any effect on their relationship.  After their group meetings for mentors at school, they got in the habit of going out for coffee before going home to the books.  They talked about school, their families, their plans for the future, everything.

Mike missed Matt around the apartment, but since they were mostly studying separately all the time anyway, accepted Matt's new schedule without giving it too much thought.  When Mike wanted company, Jeff was there hitting the books.

Over a period of time, Matt and Sarah began to meet at the library occasionally to study, and the occasions gradually became more frequent until Matt was hardly ever studying at home any more.

Being apart so much began to take its toll on Matt's and Mike's relationship.  Certainly their sex life had suffered.  They had had sex almost every night since their sophomore year in school, but now Matt was often so tired, so he said, that he would roll into bed when he came home, kiss Mike, and go right to sleep.  Mike was deeply hurt by this change, but said nothing.

Toward the end of the first semester, Jeff met his girlfriend du jour, Stephanie, for a coffee date, and ran into Matt and Sarah at a student hangout on campus.  They all sat together and talked, and Jeff thought Sarah was terrific.  But he was deeply troubled by what he saw in Matt and Sarah's relationship, because of Mike.

They all left for home at the same time, Jeff hitching a ride with Matt in his truck.

"Matt," Jeff said on the way, "this is none of my business, and I'm only going to ask you once, but what are you doing?"

"Whaddaya mean?"

"I mean, what's going on with you and Sarah?"

"Nothing," Matt said.

"Don't kid a kidder.  You have feelings for this girl."

"Not the way you mean," Matt said.  "We're just friends."

"I think it's gone a little beyond that.  And if you're honest with yourself, you know that's true."

"That's bullshit!" Matt responded.  "And I don't want you to bring it up again."

"Listen, bud, you can do anything you want.  I'm just worried about Mike.  You could break his heart if you're not careful, I hope you know that."

"Jeff, the subject is closed."

And they rode the rest of the way home in silence.

In his heart, Matt knew Jeff was right about his feelings for Sarah.  He began to carry such a load of guilt around with him about Mike that, when he had a few spare minutes, he began to stop by Canterbury House's chapel and just sit there in the silence.  He didn't pray, he didn't think, he would just sit there numbly.

Finals came and went, with all three boys doing extremely well in their subjects.  When they got their grades, Jeff had clearly joined his brothers as Dean's List material.

Mike and Jeff went home to see their mother over semester break.  Matt stayed at school, as did Sarah.

They all lurched into the second semester, with all three boys increasingly ill at ease about what was going on in their relationships with one another, albeit for different reasons.  Mike was morose and deeply hurt, Matt was paralyzed with guilt and yet increasingly happy in his friendship with Sarah, and Jeff was confused and conflicted about what he could do, if anything, to improve the situation.

Most of all, Mike missed the emotional closeness that he and Matt had had for so long.  When each whirlwind day was over, and his activities stopped dominating his thoughts, his soul was a desert.  Sometimes when Jeff was out, and it seemed that Matt was always gone now, he sat in the dark apartment and wept.  He didn't understand what had happened, and Matt stonewalled him when he tried to talk about it.

One night Jeff came home earlier than expected from a date, and found Mike sitting in the dark, scrunched up on the couch in the living room   His eyes red, Mike averted his face when the lights went on.  Jeff went over and sat down beside him, and put his arms around his brother.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"What did I do, Jeff?  I don't know what I've done wrong."

"I don't think you've done anything wrong, Mike."

"Well, what should I do, then?  You know I love Matt.  Can I fix this some way?  I'm hurting bad, bro."

"I understand," Jeff said.  "I don't know what to tell you right now.  I hope you know I love you, Mike.  I hate what's happening.  If I could fix it, I would."

"I know," Mike said.  "But I just have a bad feeling about the way this is going to come out.  A real bad feeling."

They sat in silence for a few more minutes.

"Listen, bro," Jeff finally said, "why don't you sleep with me in my bed tonight if you don't wanna sleep alone."

"Thanks, Jeff," Mike said, putting his arm around Jeff's neck, "but I'm gonna stay in Matt's bed until he kicks me out.  If I climb in the sack with ya sometime down the line for company, I promise not to molest you.  Well, not too bad, anyway."

" 'K," Jeff said, and smiled.  "I'm gonna rack out.  You know where I am, all right?"

"Yep.  Thanks.  Love ya, Jeff."  Mike kissed Jeff on the cheek, and they went to their separate beds.  Neither of them even knew when Matt came home that night.

The weeks seemed to fly by, Matt's and Mike's last semester as undergrads.  Mike was emotionally numb, but was bound and determined that neither his swimming nor his grades would suffer because of his problems with Matt, and he threw himself with renewed dedication into everything he did.  Jeff was there for him, and gave him the friendship and support he needed to keep going.

Mid-semester, Jeff told Matt he wanted to talk to him one afternoon, and met him at the Student Union.  Matt wasn't pleased to be there, surmising what the subject might be.

"What?" Matt demanded after they sat down with their coffee.

"You know what," Jeff shot back.

"This is none of your business, Jeff," Matt said.

"This is hard for me, Matt.  There hasn't been a day in my life that I haven't been proud to be your brother.  I've always looked up to you and wanted to be like you.  But I'm losing respect for ya.  Not because you're dating someone new, and certainly not because it's a girl, but because you haven't been honest with Mike.  You're killing him by inches, and I'm not gonna stand for it anymore.  This bites big time."

Matt looked defiantly at his brother, and then his expression softened.  He looked down at the table, and tears came to his eyes.

"You're right, Jeff.  And just so you'll know, I love Mike, and I'm dying by inches, too.  But I love Sarah, too, and I believe I'm meant to have children.  I can't get that out of my mind since Mike and I worked at Hospice.  Having kids is one of the ways human beings ultimately triumph over death, at least a little bit, I'm convinced of it.

"But you're right about this being a real shitty deal for Mike," Matt continued.  "And I need to do something about it.  And I will.  Please don't hate me."

"I don't hate you, Matt.  But I want you to handle this, and I mean soon.  Mike needs to get on with his life, too, you know.  I want your word on it."

"You have it.  Will you help me by sticking with Mike?  He's gonna need you and the family."

"That goes without saying," Jeff said.  "Nobody's mad at you for doing what you have to do, Matt.  Just do the right thing by Mike while you're doing it, and tell him the truth.  He deserves it."

"I promise," Matt said.

They swallowed the last of their coffee, and stood.  Matt embraced Jeff, and they went their separate ways.

*  *  *

Two weeks before the end of the semester, Matt came home early from classes and asked Mike to sit down with him in the living room.

"Mike, I have to tell you something, and it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life.  Ever."

"I'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know something bad has been coming for a long time," Mike said.  "Let's get it over with."

"You know better than anyone that I had a tough time at Hospice last summer.  It was a life-changing experience for me, actually.  I've been thinking about death a lot since then.  I know we all have to face death sometime, but it's made me think about how we can best affirm life while we have it.  And for me, I think it's by having kids."

Mike sat in stunned silence, looking at Matt.

"I've met someone that I love, a wonderful girl, and I want to marry her," Matt said.

"Matt, you're gay."

"I don't think I am, not entirely, anyway.  I guess I'm bi, because I love her deeply, and I'm attracted to her physically, and I want her to have my children."

"What about the love you and I have for each other?" Mike asked.  "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"I do love you, Mike.  I don't think that will ever change.  You are my soulmate.  But I think this girl--Sarah Bradford--can also be my soulmate.  And I think I need to give this a chance for the sake of having children.  That's the only way the creation can continue."

Mike began weeping silently, the tears coursing down his cheeks.  Matt started crying, too, and reached out to hug Mike, but Mike pushed him away.

"Don't hate me, Mike.  Please."

"I don't hate you.  I couldn't.  But you've stabbed me in the heart.  I wish you'd really stab me in the heart--it wouldn't hurt as much as what you just said."

They sat on the couch in silence, looking at each other, weeping quietly together, not touching.

"I'll go pack a bag," Matt finally said.  "I know you don't want to see me here anymore.  I just want you to know that I've never been unfaithful to you in our relationship, at least physically, for whatever that's worth."

Matt stood up and went into their bedroom, and Mike listened numbly as his lover, his best friend, his brother, packed his bag, and then left without another word.  He heard Matt's truck start up and back down the driveway.  The world for him seemed without form, and void.  Then the room started to spin slowly as Mike half lay down, half sat on the couch, paralyzed with grief.

Jeff found him there when he came home from his last class.

"Matt was here?" Jeff asked, looking at him closely.  Mike looked dazed.

Mike nodded.  "He's gone for good."

"Hang tight, Mike, I'm gonna take care of ya.  I'll be right back, ' K?"

Jeff went into his bedroom, picked up the phone, and dialed home.  His mother came on the line.

"Mom, this is Jeff."

"Hi, honey, how are you?"

"I'm fine, Mom.  But we have a problem.  I won't go into everything on the phone, but Matt broke up with Mike and has moved out.  I'm afraid for Mike right now, and I don't know what to do, exactly."

"I'll start down right away, sweetheart.  I should be there by midnight.  Make sure Mike eats something for supper and stay with him, all right?"

" 'K, Mom.  I'll be watching for ya."

The phone went dead, and Jeff put it in its cradle.  He went into the kitchen and got a pan, and filled it with cool water, and put a kitchen towel in it.  He went back to Mike, and laid him out flat on the couch, and knelt down beside him.  Wringing out the towel, he began to wash Mike's face gently.  When Jeff was finished, Mike eventually dropped off to sleep for almost 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Jeff went into the kitchen and fixed some macaroni and cheese for the two of them, and cut up some leftover ham and stirred it into the concoction.  He poured them each a big glass of orange juice, and took the food into the living room.  He woke Mike and they ate together, pretty much in silence.

"Mike, Mom's coming down," Jeff said when they were finished.  "She should be here by midnight."

"Jeez, Jeff, why did you do that?  She'll be on the road half the night, and there's nothing she can do."

"She'd never forgive us if she found out one of us is having a problem, and we didn't let her know.  That's the way she is.  For her, it's family first all the way, you know that.  I'm not gonna get on her bad side."

" 'K," Mike said.  "Well, I miss her a lot.  So..." his voice trailed off weakly.

"Give me your dishes.  Hey, you ate pretty good!  You wanna watch the news?"

"Yeah, thanks."

Jeff snapped on the tube, and took the dirty dishes to the kitchen, rinsed them off, and put them in the dish washer.

Getting his English lit and his economics textbooks from his bedroom, he went into the living room and read some assignments for several hours while Mike looked blankly at the TV screen.

About 10 o'clock, Jeff closed his books and looked at Mike.

"You wanna shower before bed, dude?"


" 'K.  Why don't I change the sheets on your bed for Mom, and you can bunk with me tonight, if that's all right."

"Well, you better just keep your hands to yourself," Mike said, giving his brother a wan smile.

"I'll try, studly, but you do know you're seriously cute," Jeff laughed.

"Ya better get your eyes checked," Mike said as he stood and went into the bathroom.

When Jeff heard the shower start running, he went into Mike's bedroom and stripped the bed.  Getting fresh sheets out of the closet, he made the bed carefully, smoothing out every wrinkle in the bedspread.

Going back into the living room, Jeff looked around to see if anything needed straightening, and his eyes came to rest on the little crucifix that Matt had put up on one wall.  Rummaging around in the end table, he found a votive candle, put it in its holder, and lighted it, saying a prayer for both his brothers.  That was unusual behavior for him, because he wasn't very disciplined in his religious practices.  But he was feeling very low about the way things had played out with Matt and Mike, and definitely felt he was in over his head when it came to knowing what to do for Mike.

When the shower stopped running, Jeff retrieved a fresh pair of Mike's boxers from Mike's dresser, and took them to him in the bathroom.  When Mike emerged, hair still a little damp, Jeff made sure he got into bed, and brought him some ice cream and a couple of cookies.  After Mike ate, Jeff turned out the bedroom light and went into the living room again, stretching out on the couch to wait for their mother to arrive.

Jeff had dozed off by the time he heard a quiet knock on the door about midnight, and his mother walked in with her overnight bag.  He stood up and enveloped her diminutive figure in a huge hug, towering over her, saying nothing, kissing her cheek and not letting her go for a long minute.

"Where is he, hon?" Jane Broman asked.

"He's in my bedroom.  Sleeping, I hope.  I made up his bed fresh for you.  Give me your bag, and I'll put it in your room."

"Thank you.  And thank you for calling me."

"I knew you'd be mad if I didn't let you know what was going on," Jeff said.

"I want to see him.  I won't wake him up if he's sleeping."

" 'K," Jeff said.  "Go on in."

She walked down the hall, and slowly opened the door to Jeff's room.  A sliver of light from the hall illuminated Mike, sleeping, breathing evenly, his face sorrowful in repose.  She went in slowly and sat down on a chair, just watching the son whom she had grown to love and admire so much.  In some ways, she felt closer to Mike than she did her natural children.  She and Mike had had a special bond since the first day he walked into the Bromans' door.

She sat watching Mike sleep for 10 minutes or so, reflecting on everything that had happened in the family since he had been adopted.  There had never been a moment's doubt on her part or her husband's that they had done exactly the right thing in bringing Mike into the family.  Not only had he never let them down in any way, but he had made them very proud of his accomplishments.  It would now fall to her and her husband to see to it that Matt's and Mike's parting did not destroy the family they all loved and depended on.

She finally stood, and went over to the bed, and kissed Mike tenderly on his forehead.  He didn't awaken.  She let herself out, and rejoined Jeff in the living room.

"Jeff, where is Matt?" Mrs. Broman asked.

"I don't have the foggiest," Jeff said.  "He just told Mike that he wanted to marry the girl he's been dating, packed a bag, and was outta here."

"Well, I'll track him down tomorrow.  I'm sorry I've kept you up so late, hon," Mrs. Broman said.  "Why don't you go ahead and turn in, and we'll talk tomorrow when we get a chance.  I'm going find out from Mike whether he wants to postpone taking his finals, or whether he feels he can go ahead and get them over with, and do well.  Then I'd like to sit down with you two and think about summer plans.  I need to call your dad, too."

" 'K, Mom.  Thanks for coming down.  And Mike has really been wanting to talk to ya, don't let him tell you different.  I love ya."

"Love you, too, sweetheart.  Goodnight."

"Oh, and there are clean towels in the linen closet."

"Thank you, Jeff.  Sleep tight."

Mike was still sleeping when Jeff went into the bedroom.  Jeff stripped down to his jockies, and climbed into bed quietly beside him so as not to waken him.  He was tired and fell asleep almost immediately.

Jeff awakened in the middle of the night for some reason and realized that Mike wasn't in bed.  He saw light coming from the bathroom, and lay there listening.  When he didn't hear anything, he got up, walked to the bathroom and opened the door.

Mike was standing there in his boxers, just leaning on the counter looking in the mirror.  There was a fresh, new  razor blade on the counter.

"Mike, are you thinking about offing yourself?" Jeff demanded.  "You're scaring the fuck outta me!"

"Just thinking."

"This isn't gonna happen, I can tell you that.  Now you get your ass back in bed.  I wanna talk to you, and you're gonna listen."

"No, I need to think," Mike said.

Jeff grabbed Mike with one hand around his throat, and threw him up against the wall and held him there.

"You've done enough of the wrong kind of thinking tonight.  You get back in bed right now, or I'm gonna wake Mom up, and you can just end up in the hospital in restraints for all I care."

Mike gave him an angry look, and when Jeff let him go, he went back into the bedroom.  Jeff turned out the bathroom light, and followed.  They got in bed, and Jeff pulled Mike over close to him and cradled him.

"I'm sorry I grabbed you and said that, Mike," he said quietly.  "You know I love you.  I'd die inside if anything happened to you."

"I'm being a baby, and I know it," Mike said.  "Now I feel like an asshole and a loser."

"You have a right to be sad, bro.  But you're contemplating a permanent solution to a temporary problem here.  You just can't do this to yourself or to us.  You need help, and we're gonna get it for ya.

"And I want you to get those words 'asshole' and 'loser' out of your vocabulary right now," Jeff went on.  "You are anything but!  Lemme remind you of a few things.  You've established a brilliant record in your studies, and you've earned the respect and admiration of everybody on this campus for the way you've captained the swim team and for your own personal swimming record.  And you've accomplished all this while being honest with the world about being gay.  When I was getting into bad habits with drinking and drugs, you cared enough to confront me about it.  Now that's strength!  You're right at the top of the list of people I admire, and I'm not alone, believe me."

Mike was quiet.

"If you didn't see those good things when you were in the bathroom lookin' in the mirror, you should have," Jeff said.  "You have so much to offer this world.  I'm not the most religious person around, as you well know, but I think God's given you too many gifts for you take the easy way out.  I mean it.  We've all been so blessed.  In your case, you're a really handsome dude, you're intelligent, you have a wonderful family who would do anything for ya, and you're well off financially.

"From your own experience, you know how hard those patients in the Hospice where you worked fought to live," Jeff continued.  "And that's what you're gonna do.  You have some debts to pay before you can go, and that's the bottom line."

Mike sighed, but still said nothing.

"Now, I don't wanna have to skulk around the apartment and around campus spying on you, Mike.  I want to know what your plan is, and I know you won't lie to me.  Tell me."

Mike cleared his throat.

"I won't off myself."

"Tell me again."

"I won't off myself."

" 'K.  I'm holding you to that.  And if you feel you might not be able to keep your word, I want you to tell me.  Will you?"


"Yes, what?"

"Yes, I will tell you.  Jeez!"

"Well, I just want us to be clear on our agreement, Mike."

"I'm clear."  Pause.  "Ya know, you're pretty smart for a wet-behind-the-ears freshman."

"I know it, can't help it," Jeff said with a little grin.  "One last thing.  I want you to talk to Mom about our discussion."

"Please, I don't want to do that."

"Don't you trust her?"

"I trust her completely."

"Well, then?"

"I'm ashamed.  I don't want her to know how weak I am," Mike said.

"Weakness has nothing to do with it, bud.  She's on the team.  She needs to know."

"If you say so."

"Deal.  Now I feel better.  Can I get you anything before we go to sleep?"

"No, I'm fine."  Pause.  "I'm a lucky guy to have a bro like you, Jeff.  Seriously."

Jeff caressed Mike's forehead, and it gave Mike the shivers.  It felt as if Matt had touched him.  Then Jeff turned over, and they both went to sleep right away.

By the time Jane Broman awakened the next morning, Jeff and Mike were already up and drinking coffee in the kitchen.  When she came into the room, Mike jumped to his feet and threw his arms around her.

"Hi, Mom, I'm sure glad to see ya!" he said.

"Hi, sweetheart.  Same here.  I've been missing you," she responded.

"How was your drive down?" Mike asked.

"Dull, just the way I like it," she said.  "Are you all right, Mike?"

"Not really, Mom.  Let me get you some coffee.  What would you like to eat?"

"Just coffee for now, hon."

Mike brought her a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table again.

"How is Martha?" he asked.

"She's good.  Enjoying her last year of high school a lot, I think."

"I miss her," Mike said.  "How's Dad?"

"He's actually enjoying himself.  He didn't expect to, but he's finding the work very interesting.  But demanding.  He did expect that.  You'll see them both soon.  Now, you two, what are your class schedules like today?" Mrs. Broman asked.

"I have a class at 11.  Nothing 'til then," Jeff said.

"Two to four o'clock for me," Mike said.

"Well, we have things to talk about," Mrs. Broman said.  "We need to think about summer plans."

Jeff cleared his throat.

"Mom, Mike has something he needs to tell you before we get into that."

"Talk to me, Mike," she said with a smile.

"Well," Mike said, looking uncomfortable, "I'm not in very good shape, I guess, Mom.  This thing with Matt has really laid me low.  I've had a few thoughts. . .about suicide."

Mrs. Broman looked at Mike, and put her hand softly over his and held it, saying nothing.

"Mom, Mike has made me a firm promise that he won't do anything to hurt himself," Jeff said.  "I'm taking him at his word, but I think that we need to get him in to see a doctor at the clinic as soon as we can today."

"Yes, I agree," she said.  "After we finish here and get cleaned up, we'll go over there.  We can talk about plans later.  But I do have one question now, Mike.  What do you want to do about finals?"

"Whaddaya mean?"

"Well, I don't want you to mess up your academic record by taking your exams when you're not in top form," she said.  "You're the only one who can make the decision, but you may want to take incompletes and come back in a month or so and take your finals then."

"No, I need to take them and graduate, Mom.  I'm ready.  I've been really been working hard not to let my personal issues with Matt affect my studies or athletics, and I think I'm OK on that front.  So I want to go ahead."

"All right, if you're sure," Mrs. Broman said.

"I am gonna ask Dad a favor, though," Mike said.  "I'm accepted into medical school here, but I really think it would be better if I transferred somewhere else for med school, since Matt will be going to law school here.  I need to get off this campus.  I was thinking about Northwestern.  I'm pretty sure that under normal circumstances, admissions to med school are closed at Northwestern.  But I thought that if Dad would talk to them, they might let me in, given my grades."

"Well, we'll call him.  I have some things I need to discuss with him, anyway."

They continued chatting as they cleaned up their breakfast dishes, and forty-five minutes later they were dressed and out the door, heading for the university clinic.  Jeff insisted on going along, bringing some of his books so he could study while Mike was examined.

The powers that be at the clinic saw Mike right away, and as soon as they put him in an examination room, Mrs. Broman got on her cell phone to the university registrar's office, and wrote down Matt's class schedule and locations.  Matt had a 2 o'clock class that day, and she planned to meet him at the door when it was over.

"Jeff," she said when she got off the phone, "how would you feel about not working this summer?  If Mike will go along with it, I don't want him to work, and I think it would help if he had you and Martha for company."

Jeff looked at her thoughtfully.

"I wouldn't mind, but it probably won't sit too well with Dad."

"I'll take care of Dad.  I want Mike to have you and Martha available.  He'll need some time alone, too, to process some things, but we all need to be there for him."

"I'll do whatever you think best, Mom," Jeff said.  "Ya know, Matt has to do what he has to do, and I'm trying not to judge him, but I'll tell ya, my stomach gets knots in it every time I look at Mike, he's hurting so bad."

"I know.  Me, too.  But remember, we can't let Matt feel we've turned our backs on him, either, or that we're taking sides.  We just have to work through this together."

"Yep.  We will."

Mrs. Broman bought a newspaper to read, and Jeff studied until Mike emerged from his exam with a prescription for Celexa, a fairly recent serotonin reuptake inhibitor.  Mike dropped Jeff off for his class, and he and his mother went to a pharmacy to have the prescription filled.  Then they went back to the apartment, and Mike took his first dose of the new medicine, and studied until he had to leave for class.  He was realizing anew just how much his family cared about him, and it had boosted his morale a lot already.

Mrs. Broman left the apartment a few minutes later to meet Matt after his class, and decided to walk across campus rather than drive.  It was a beautiful spring day.  At 3 o'clock she stationed herself near the classroom door, where she had a good view of the students steaming out after dismissal.  Matt finally emerged, and she moved toward him.  His eyes widened in surprise when he saw her.

He went to her and hugged her, picking her right up off her feet to kiss her.

"Mom!  I'm so glad you're here.  I really need to talk to you.  When did you get here?  You got a call, I guess."

"Yes, Jeff called me.  I got here last night about midnight, and I stayed at the apartment with him and Mike."

"Is Mike all right?" Matt asked, looking apprehensive.

"He's been better.  We're working through some things that I won't go into right now."

"Can we go somewhere and talk?" Matt asked.

"Yes, we need to," Mrs. Broman said.  "Is there someplace close?"

"There's a little coffee shop a couple of blocks from here."

"I"ll ride with you.  I left the car at the apartment and walked, it was such a nice day."

They retrieved Matt's truck out of the parking lot, and soon were sitting down over coffee.

Matt took a big gulp of his coffee, and began to tell his mother about his desire for children since he had worked at Hospice, about meeting Sarah Bradford as part of the tutoring/mentoring group, about how his attraction for her had ripened into a love that had co-existed alongside his love for Mike.  His mother listened intently without saying anything.

When Matt finally stopped talking, his mother took his hand.

"Matt, don't be offended, but I need to ask you something.  This is blunt. . .but are you using this girl to breed, and just telling yourself and her that you love her?"

"That's a legitimate question, and one that I asked myself at the beginning of our relationship.  The answer is 'no.'  I really love and admire this person, and want to spend the rest of my life with her and have sex with her.  I'd like to spend the rest of my life with Mike, too, but that isn't to be.  I want to marry Sarah, and she wants to marry me and have my children."

"Have you told her that you've been in a gay relationship for the past three years?"

"Yes, but I've never told her my partner was Mike.  I identified myself as gay right up front, and it never bothered her from Day 1."

"Does she think you're gay now?"

"Most certainly not after last night."

Mrs. Broman sighed.

"I don't have to ask if you've prayed about this," she said.  "Knowing you, I know you have.  And if you're sure that this is the right path for you, you'll have our support."

"Then why do I feel as if you're all reproaching me?" Matt asked.

"We aren't reproaching you, sweetheart.  We're just worried about your brother, that's all.  You get to move on into what we really hope will be a good relationship for you, and he simply gets left behind.  He's had a lot of loss in his life, and he needs our support, too.  I'll tell you something straight out, though, Matt.  I'm not going to stand for this family being torn apart over this.  Our love for all of you is going to continue unabated no matter what, and if that doesn't sit well, that's tough."

"Mom, I'd never ask you to stop loving Mike."

"I know you wouldn't, hon," Mrs. Broman said thoughtfully.  "Why don't you tell me a little about Sarah and her family."

"Well, her dad is Lt. Governor of Connecticut.  He's an attorney, like Dad.  Her mom and dad are about the same age as you and Dad.  Sarah has a younger brother who will be starting college next year.  They seem like very nice people.  The name Bradford, by the way, came down from one of the passengers on the Mayflower, William Bradford, their first governor.  So the family is an old one here in the states."

"Is she pre-law like you?"

"No, she's a fine arts major.  I think you two will get along really well."

"I'm sure we will, and I'm looking forward to meeting her.  By the way, where are you staying?" Mrs. Broman asked.

"Sarah and I checked in at the Courtyard Motel, out on the edge of the city.  You can reach me there until school is out, and I'll have to let you know where I go from that point."

"You're welcome to come home, you know that."

"Won't Mike be there?" Matt asked.

"No, I'm going to have him go to the cottage with Jeff and Martha for awhile right after school is out.  Then we'll see."

" 'K, well, I'll let you know if I'm coming," Matt said.

"All right, sweetheart.  I'm pulling for good things to happen for all of you.  I'm going to talk to Dad today, so you call him soon."

"I will, Mom.  Thanks."

They stood up, and Matt hugged and kissed his mother.

"Love you, Mom," he said.

"I love you, Matt.  Stay in touch, will you please?"

"Yes, I will.  Do you want me to drop you at the apartment?"

"No, I need the walk.  Thank you.  Bye, hon."

And they parted with a wave and fond looks.

When Mrs. Broman arrived back at the apartment, Mike and Jeff were both back, and studying.  She went into her bedroom, shut the door, and called Mr. Broman right away, wanting to catch him before he left the Supreme Court Building for the evening.

She caught him just as he was walking out the door, and filled him in on where she was, what had transpired between Matt and Mike, Matt's plans, and her own plan for Jeff, Mike and Martha once school was out.  Mr. Broman was dumbfounded about Matt and Mike, but single minded on the subject of summer plans for Jeff and Martha.

"Jane, I have summer jobs lined up for Jeff and Martha," Mr. Broman said.

"Well, Matthew, unline them up, then, because Mike is going to need his brother and sister this summer," Mrs. Broman responded.  "We're going to put the needs of the family first.  Jeff and Martha won't be working, period.  I'd be the first to say that your insistence that the kids get acquainted with hard work has paid off over the years.  But for good and sufficient reason, it's just not going to happen this year."

There was a moment's silence on the other end of the phone.

"You're absolutely right, dear," Mr. Broman finally said.  "Getting Mike back on track is more important than anything else.  I'll take care of the job thing."

"Thank you, Matt," Mrs. Broman said.  "I appreciate it.  There's one more thing.  Mike is wondering if you could help him get transferred to Northwestern medical school for fall.  He doesn't want to stay here for school, and I think he's probably right."

"I might be able to help.  I'll start working on it first thing tomorrow morning."

"Well, I know you're busy.  But it would be wonderful if you could help him.  Now, I want to know how you are," she said.

"I'm fine.  A little tired.  Missing you.  What else is new?"

"I miss you, too, dear.  Why don't I come down for a few days next week?"

"That would be wonderful!  And have Mike call me, will you?  I'd like to have him come down and stay with me for a week before we go into official recess."

"I will.  I think he'd like to spend some time with you.  I love you, Matt."

"Same here, sweetheart.  I'll call you next week."

The phone went dead.

"How is Dad?" Jeff asked when she emerged from the bedroom.

"He's fine.  He misses us."

"Was he mad about the job thing?" he asked.

"Well, let's just say that he eventually saw the logic of what I was suggesting.  No work for you this summer, buddy!"

"Awesome, Mom!  You can argue my case for me any time," Jeff said as Mike came into the living room.

"I hope I haven't caused a problem," Mike said to Mrs. Broman.

"Not at all, hon.  Everything is fine.  Your dad wants you to call him when you get a chance.  He wants you to come down and spend a week with him sometime after school is out."

"I'd really like that.  I'll call him tomorrow."

*  *  *

The remainder of the school year went by in a rush for Jeff and Mike after their mother left for home.

Mike seemed well able to cope with the strain of finals, partly because of his medication and partly because he felt so renewed by his family's love and support.  He knew he owed Jeff a special debt of gratitude.  Without making a big deal out of it, and in the midst of getting ready for his own finals, Jeff had done everything for Mike he could to make his life go smoothly.  Mike also knew that Jeff had been watching him closely for any signs he was depressed, and far from resenting it, he appreciated his brother's concern.

At Jeff's invitation, the two boys had continued to sleep in Jeff's bed after Mrs. Broman went home.  Sex was the last thing on the mind of either of them, Jeff because he didn't have a gay bone in his body, and Mike because his sexual desires seemed to be on long-term, if not permanent, hold.  Mike craved the company, though, and Jeff seemed content with the arrangement.

The university made their announcements about honors soon after finals were over.  There wasn't too much surprise on campus that Matthew and Michael Broman were both to graduate magna cum laude.  Mike felt it was too soon after their breakup for him to sit beside Matt at graduation, so he decided to skip the ceremony and pack up the truck, including his and Jeff's bikes, and head for home.  He left Matt's bike in the coach house garage.

Jeff stayed for Matt's graduation, and of course Justice and Mrs. Broman came down.  They all got to spend some time with Sarah Bradford, and really liked her.  They also met her parents, who had driven down to school to pick Sarah up, and the Bromans found them delightful.

Matt and Sarah shared their plans with all the parents at once:  the young couple had set a wedding date of August 14 in Hartford at the Bradford's home parish, Trinity Church--they were Episcopalians, too.  Sarah ended up staying at the coach house with Matt for a few weeks after her mom and dad left for home.  They decided they would live there starting next fall, but Matt paid the rent on the place for the summer, anyway, so there was no chance the place would slip away.  Jeff knew he would have to find another place to live.

Matt was in love and deeply content.

When Sarah left to go home, Matt went with her for a week to Hartford, and then went home himself.  By that time, Mike had been at the cottage with Jeff and Martha for a time, and was fortuitously now in Washington with his dad.  The justice had a beautiful apartment with a great vista of the city at the infamous Watergate.

Mr. Broman let Mike do a lot of the talking when they were together, including sharing the circumstances of the breakup with Matt and the pain he was still feeling from it.  His dad didn't try to offer any sage advice, just letting Mike ventilate to someone he trusted completely.  That alone did wonders for the younger man.  The justice took a few hours every day to show Mike around the nation's capital, shepherding him through the corridors of power.  Feeling a need for exercise, Mike fell back into the habit of taking a 2 mile run every morning after his dad left for court.  Mrs. Broman came down to Washington for a few days while he was there, and Mike soaked up all the attention he got.

Details for the upcoming wedding were rapidly falling into place--things had been put together quickly, there being no choice in that matter.  Deep down, Matt had wanted to ask Mike to be his best man, but knew that that was an impossible request, so he naturally asked Jeff, who accepted.  Mike determined that he would attend for the sake of the family, but was glad not to be in the wedding party.

The marriage banns having been published at Trinity Church for the requisite number of weeks beforehand, Michael James Broman, Jr., and Sarah Ann Bradford were joined in Holy Matrimony by the Bishop of Connecticut before admiring throngs on August 14.  They were indeed an exceptionally handsome couple.  Mike left Hartford immediately after the service, and headed back to the cottage.  Martha was going to join him there late the next day.

Mrs. Broman's plan for Mike to have company, alternating with time spent alone, had worked out well, at least from what she could see.  Although far from being healed, Mike had clearly taken his first steps down the road toward acceptance of what had happened.  He still loved Matt very much, and held a lot of residual anger inside toward him, but was determined to play the hand he had been dealt without complaint.  He prayed every day for his family, including Matt and Sarah, and took his exercise.  But he was clearly grieving his loss, knowing it would be a long and lonely road for him.  He had no desire for another intimate relationship, nor for that matter, any desire for sex.  He kidded himself that he might be alive, but his stick was dead.

Mr. Broman called Mike a week after the wedding to tell him that he had been successful in arranging for his admission to the Northwestern med school, and sent him down to Chicago to find a place to live.  At his dad's suggestion, knowing he would be living there for four years or more, he purchased a beautiful, three bedroom condominium on Sheridan Road beside Lake Michigan, with an unobstructed view of the lake and a downtown view of the city.

His mother and Martha came down to furnish it for him, and he made it very clear to them that he wanted the place to be, in his words, "masculine and spartan."  After a few clashes when he felt they were being too lavish, they gave him his way.  The decorating scheme was an understated triumph from Mike's point of view, but arid in the extreme according to his mother and sister.  It wasn't a place you could "kick back" in, but Mike was feeling too driven to want to do much of that.  Driving himself unrelentingly, he hoped, would keep his mind off painful history and focused on his career.

He took the smallest bedroom and put his computer in there, a comfortable easy chair and good reading lamp, a big screen TV, and a couch that folded out into his bed.  After school started, many times he would study until he fell asleep on the couch, and not even bother to get into bed.  The medical school was downtown, and he took the L down there every weekday so he wouldn't have to drive and worry about parking.

The only people that Mike contacted when he moved to town were the Sisters at the Hospice, Tony Angelo, Arnie Watkins, and Stan Rosinsky.  The latter told him that, thanks to Matt, he had tried to change the way he worked with people.  He must have been somewhat successful, because he had been promoted to Chief Administrative Aide.  His only comment about Matt's marriage was, said without animus, "I knew he wasn't really gay."  Mike urged Stan to think about starting back to school in some area of interest, and made a private vow to help him financially if he showed some initiative.

Mike asked Arnie to come up to the apartment for dinner, which he did, and he got caught up on all the news.  Arnie was blown away when he heard that Matt was happily married.  He could tell that Mike was hurting, though, just by looking at him.  Although Arnie would have loved to have sex with Mike, he resisted his impulse to hit on him and just tried to be his friend.  The modeling money had continued to roll in for Arnie.

Tony Angelo was now a sergeant on the police force, was on the lieutenant's list for promotion, and was being quietly mentored by the mayor's office.  Mike caught Tony up on all the family news, and was pleased that some good things for the officer had apparently come out of the Lake Shore Drive incident.

The Sisters sounded as if they were on top of the world.  The Broman gift to the Hospice had allowed them to make some long-overdue repairs to the building, and to upgrade their medical coverage for their dying charges.  They made Mike set a date to come down for a visit, and he did.  It felt better to see everyone there than he thought it would.  Sister Angeline picked up right away on Mike's underlying depression, but said nothing except that she was available if he ever wanted to talk.  Everyone was surprised, but seemed pleased, with the news that Matt was married.

Mike had settled into his daily routine of classes and studying and running on the beach for exercise.  There was no joy in his life, but blessedly, his pain had dulled as well, and he was glad to settle for that for the time being.  It was late fall and the trees had begun to turn before he knew it.

One night he was studying, and the phone rang.  He only talked on the phone when he absolutely had to, so he let voicemail pick up the call.  When he checked, it had been his mother, and he called her right back.

"Mom, it's Mike.  How are you?"

"We're all fine, honey.  How are you?"

"I'm fine.  Keeping my nose to the grindstone, of course."

"Are you taking your meds?"

"Yes, Mommy.  I'm being a very good boy."

"Good.  Listen, I wanted you to hear the news from me before it came from somewhere else.  Sarah is pregnant, apparently with twins.  She should deliver sometime in May if all goes as planned."

"Oh, wow!  That's great.  Matt must be ecstatic.  Would you give them my congratulations when you talk to them?"

"I will, but don't you want to talk to them yourself?"

"No, not yet."

"I understand.  I'll take care of it," Mrs. Broman said.

"Thanks.  How're Dad and Jeff and Martha?"

"Everybody's fine.  Jeff and Martha are living at the coachhouse, by the way.  Jeff and Matt flipped a coin to see who would get the place, and Jeff won.  So Matt and Sarah are living on the other side of campus in a very nice place.  Your dad wants to come down and see you, but he'll call you himself.  I think he has a meeting in Chicago, and maybe he can stay with you."

"I'd love to have him here."

"Well, sweetheart, that's all the news.  Stay in touch, will you?"

"Yes, Mom.  I love you."

"Love you, too, Mike.  Talk to you soon."

Fall moved quickly into winter, and it was Christmas almost before Mike knew it.  Mike shopped for the family, but made up an excuse that fooled no one about why he couldn't be home for the holiday.  Then he shipped all the gifts.  When Jeff couldn't persuade him to come home for even a day, Jeff decided he would spend Christmas in Chicago.  And he did, keeping Mike too busy to get the holiday blues.

Naturally, Jeff had to tell Mike a joke while he was there.  He sat down next to Mike on the couch and put his arm around his neck so he couldn't escape.

"Some things never change," Mike moaned.

"You need some levity in your life, boy, and I'm gonna provide it," Jeff said.

"A woman went into a pet shop to buy her boyfriend a pet. After looking
 around she realized that all the pets there were very expensive. A clerk
 came up and asked if there's something he could help her with.

"'I wanted to buy my boyfriend a pet, but all of yours are so expensive!'
 she said.

"'Well,' said the clerk, 'I have a huge bullfrog in the back for $50.00.
 Would you like to see it?'

"'$50.00?!  For a frog??' said the woman.

"The clerk said, 'It's a special frog. It gives blowjobs.'

 "So, the woman decides to buy the frog. She takes it home to her
 boyfriend, explains the frog and they're both happy. The woman goes to

"Around two in the morning she is awakened by pots and pans banging
 around in the kitchen. She gets up to see what's going on and when she
 gets to the kitchen she sees her boyfriend and the frog sitting at the
 kitchen table looking through cookbooks.

"'What are you two doing looking through cookbooks at this hour?' asks
 the woman.

"The guy looks up at her and says, 'Well, if I can teach this frog to cook,
 baby, your ass is outta here!!!'"

Mike had to laugh, as much at Jeff's pleased expression as at the story.

"They're not getting any better, Jeffy," he said.

"Practice makes perfect," Jeff responded.  "So I'm gonna have to move down here with you so I can provide you with a fresh story every day and perfect my technique."

"Ugh, what an awful thought," Mike said.  "I'd have to double my 'feel-good' prescription."

"You love these stories and you know it," Jeff said.  "Now get your ass up and into some sweats, and let's go for a run.  Your butt is looking kinda flabby in your old age."

"You've been lookin' at my butt?  I've warned you about that, Jeff.  One thing leads to another, y'know," Mike smiled.  "Anyway, when it comes to running, I can leave your tail in the dust every time, and you know it!  I'll be ready in a minute.  Prepare to be humiliated--again!"

And they went out into the biting Christmas air, feeling pretty good.

© 2000 Don Hanratty.
All right, bois, here's the deal.  I have a suspicion that the break-up of Matt and Mike may elicit some flames.  Please resist that impulse.  I feel bad enough about it myself, so I won't read flames or answer them.  Part 12 will contain some surprises, and by the Epilogue, you'll feel better about things.  At least I hope so.  Thanks again for all the emails of interest and support for the story.  Email me at  Don Hanratty <> .