In the fall of Matt's first year in law school, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew J. Broman, Jr., had moved into their new two bedroom apartment across the campus from the coachhouse where Jeff and Martha were living. One reason that Matt hadn't tried to persuade Jeff to let him and Sarah have the coachhouse anyway after he had lost the coin toss was-- the memories. Too many memories there. And Sarah loved the new place they had found from the moment she laid eyes on it.
Sarah was luxuriating one morning in a hot bath, washing away the pungent, musky smell of prolonged and pleasurable sex with her husband previous night. Matt was a healthy male animal, with emphasis on the animal, and she was not merely satisfied, she was satiated. But only for the moment, she reminded herself. Matt aroused in her a hunger of which she had only been dimly aware before they made love the first time. Unlike most of her peers of similar beauty and station in life at her age, she had been a virgin before they had had sex. But now sex was on her mind. A lot. Any lingering doubts she had had about Matt's sexual preference had dissipated quickly after they had become one flesh.
That wasn't the only reason she was feeling particularly happy that morning. Her body was signaling her that she and Matt had made a baby last night. She could swear she had felt it immediately when one of her eggs welcomed its tiny suitor. She smiled happily to herself as she finished bathing. After all, there was no bad time or good time to have children from the standpoint of her career. She was a Fine Arts major, and she shared the view of many that only the most exceptionally talented could make an independent living in that field anyway. So there was no crucial "career track" to worry about. She and Matt had, with great pleasure and no hesitation, set about trying to have a child immediately after their wedding.
Leaving the bathtub, she dried her body and her long, blonde hair and wrapped a towel around her head. After cleaning her teeth, she put her robe back on and went into the bedroom, where Matt was still sleeping. She stopped in her tracks, momentarily taken aback by the sound emanating from the bed.
Matt lay there trembling, eyes closed, partially covered by a sheet. His mouth was open, and out of his throat came a keen, a wail from the depths of his being. After her initial shock, Sarah went to him and awakened him gently, thinking he was having a bad dream. Matt woke up in fear, of what he was unsure. But it wasn't the first time over the past six months he had started the day with his gut tied in a knot. Sarah climbed back in bed with him, and kissed him and hugged him until he was smiling and somewhat relaxed. Then she dressed and left for a class after they made a date to have lunch on campus.
* * *
Matt continued to lie in bed after Sarah left, one arm over his eyes to block out the light from the windows. His mind drifted back over the six months since he and Mike had worked together at Hospice in Chicago. He tried to ignore the testimony from his stomach that despite his newfound contentment in marriage, some key things had gone very wrong in his life since then.
An occasional and infrequent flash of insight of late had made him aware that most of his daily activities were now being accomplished on autopilot. Life had become a fast paced dream for him which produced neither great pleasure nor acute dismay. His experiences felt flat, no highs, no lows. He was so adept at almost everything he did--studying, attending his law school classes, writing his assignments, fraternizing with friends, working out, making love--that no one, including Sarah, would have guessed how little of his persona was really involved most of the time. Why, he asked himself, was he suffering at the very roots of his being? And what was he going to do about it?
He knew one thing for certain. He wanted, he needed, to re-forge a bond with Mike. He had never told Sarah that Mike was the one, although she must have suspected it by now. Mike, of all the family, always held Matt at arms length. Just Matt, but not Sarah. Mike seemed to be genuinely fond of Sarah, and was always very affectionate to her. Just Matt. In a family as close and demonstrative as the Bromans were, that stood out like a sore thumb. Mike clearly avoided as many family functions as he could when Matt was going to be around. The rest of the family was coming and going from Chicago all the time to spend time with Mike. But not Matt.
There seemed to be only one problem with getting Mike to forgive him for destroying their relationship, Matt thought. How and when could Matt forgive himself? But he knew that Mike's friendship, or rather, lack of it, had left a void in his life that no one else could fill, not even Sarah.
In his mind, he had gone over the circumstances of breaking up with Mike a thousand times, despite the pain of remembrance. No breach with someone you love is ever painless. But was it his timing in breaking things off that had made it so horrible? Was there any way at all that he could have handled it differently and still been able to have children with Sarah? He had questioned himself repeatedly, and no answers were forthcoming. He had been so certain of his course at the time. Now his regrets were torturing him.
Matt knew one thing for certain. If he and Mike were ever going to be brothers again, let alone friends, he was going to have make a sustained effort to put the relationship on a new basis. It obviously wouldn't be easy, and might be impossible. But he was determined to try despite the lackadaisical, dream-like quality of everything else in his life. That was one goal which was crystal clear. That and having a child.
Matt rolled out of bed and headed for the shower.
One evening, later that week, when Sarah had gone to an art show at the university leaving Matt at home to study, Matt telephoned Mike's number in Chicago. He got Mike's voicemail, and left a message for him to call, but there was no call back. Matt wasn't too surprised. He knew that if he were in Mike's shoes, he probably wouldn't have called back, either.
* * *
Mike was finding his courses at Northwestern's medical school challenging, and they were the one thing in his life right now that exhilarated him.
His social life was nil, partly by choice and partly because of the pressure of his studies. He really hadn't made any new friends at school either, not any close ones, anyway. And although Arnie Watkins had dragged him out to some of Chicago's gay bars on a few weekends in the early fall, he didn't really enjoy himself and began to make up excuses for not going. School and his apartment and running on the beach had pretty much become the parameters of his world.
The one effort he made to reach out to anyone other than family was to hound Stan Rosinsky at the Hospice about going back to school. Stan was a tough sell, not having had a great high school experience, but Mike kept up the pressure. Eventually Stan called Mike to say that he was taking a community college course in psychology to see how he liked it. Mike was very pleased, and gave him a lot of encouragement.
A few weeks into the semester, he also began to attend church on Sundays again after a long hiatus. He first tried the Roman Catholic parishes nearby, including one that had a Saturday night mass especially for gays, but eventually found himself back at the near-northside Episcopal church that he and Matt had attended when they lived in Rogers Park. The unchanging ritual of the mass there, with incense floating to the ceiling and the choreographed movements of the priests, provided him some stability in a world that sometimes seemed all too hostile and unpredictable.
Whenever he felt low, he reflected on the week that he had spent with his father in Washington the spring before. In particular, he thought about what Mr. Broman had said to him when the Justice put him on the plane to go back home and up to the cottage, away from Matt. Putting his arms around Mike, he had said quietly in his ear:
"Just remember, Mike, we didn't ask you to join our family as a convenience for Matt. We asked you to join our family because we all love you and admire you deeply. You. Don't you ever forget that!"
Mike had had a hard time holding back the tears. And he hadn't forgotten what his dad said.
When Matt had called and left a message on his voicemail, it shook Mike to his core to hear his voice because he wasn't prepared for it. He didn't erase the message for a few days, although he had no intention of calling back. Picking at a scab before the wound underneath was healed wasn't his style. Eventually, he punched the requisite button on the phone, and Matt's voice was gone. He tried to put him out of his mind.
Mike had continued running on the beach all winter, rain, snow or shine. February was warmer than usual, and one morning, early, when he was running north, he spotted something moving in the fog rolling off the lake. It was a dog, a golden retriever, with a collar but no tags. Mike slowed down and circled back to get a better look. The dog was very friendly, and responded to Mike's petting him, but then walked off into the rocks at the perimeter of the beach and hid himself. Mike resumed his run, and didn't think much about it.
The next morning, Mike was again greeted by the dog in the same spot on the beach. After his run, Mike went back with some table scraps and left them on a rock at lakeside.
The third morning, the same thing happened. Ignoring the little voice in his head telling him to keep his life simple, Mike went back to the beach that evening with more food, and then induced the dog to follow him home. The next day he took him to a vet, got him his shots, had him dipped for fleas and checked for other parasites, and took him home. The vet had told him that the dog was a healthy two-year old, already neutered.
Mike advertised in the Lost and Found columns of all the papers he knew of, and also on the net, that he had the dog. No response. When he was finally satisfied that no one was going to claim the animal, he laughingly named him Heartbreak, "Breakers" for short, and they were now a family.
* * *
Sarah had been right. She was pregnant. And within a few months, the gynecologist had told her and Matt that she was hearing more than one heartbeat. A subsequent sonogram had confirmed that they were to be blessed with twin boys. Matt and Sarah were very happy as Sarah gradually began to show. She had that "glow" to her that many pregnant women exude. Needless to say, the elder Bromans and Bradfords were thrilled with the prospect of their first grandchildren.
Outwardly, Matt seemed to be very happy with his life. He continued to do well academically, and Sarah and he were at ease with one another and got along beautifully. Sarah was fortunate enough, after a just a few days of morning sickness, to put that malady behind her, and she was really enjoying her pregnancy.
Sarah enrolled Matt and herself in a class for expectant parents in how to care for infants, and after some initial resistance from Matt, they went every week. Neither of them knew much going in, and by the time they finished, Matt conceded that it has been very worthwhile.
The hunt was on for baby furniture and and accouterments, and what would be the babies' bedroom gradually filled up with all the proper equipment, including matching cribs. Matt stripped off the wallpaper and painted the room a light blue. The drawers of the two dressers were soon replete with baby clothes.
Beneath all his contentment, however, Matt continued to struggle with his demons.
He persisted in periodically placing calls to Mike, always leaving a message on voicemail for him to call back, but he never did.
One evening, when Sarah was out, Matt called Chicago again, and was surprised when Mike answered the phone himself.
"Mike, it's Matt. Please don't hang up on me."
"Hello, Matt. Whaddaya want?" Mike's chest tightened at the sound of his brother's voice.
"I just wanna talk to ya for a minute. Please."
"I'd rather have my nipples torn off by wild dogs."
"Well, Jeez. Is this a bad time?"
"Matt, any time is a bad time for us to talk. What haven't we said to each other that needs to be said?"
"A lot, actually. Just give me a few minutes, please?"
Mike sighed deeply, and steeled himself.
"All right, let's talk," he said, relenting.
"How are you doing?" Matt asked.
"As well as can be expected, I guess. Maybe a little better all the time, I don't know. I'm still mad as hell at you, I hope you know that, you prick."
"Well. . .I'm not totally pleased with myself, either." Pause. "Did you hear that Sarah and I are gonna have twins?"
"Yeah, Mom told me. Congratulations. I'm happy for ya. I really mean that," Mike said.
"Thanks. It's been a good pregnancy for Sarah, with no problems. She looks good."
"Is she big?"
"Getting there," Matt said. "Weight-wise, she's about where the doctor wants her, I guess."
"Good." Pause. "Are you happy, Matt?"
"Yeah. It's a different kind of happiness than you and I had together, though."
"Whaddaya mean?" Mike asked.
"Well, when you and I were together, you stimulated me a lot. I don't mean just sexually, but that, too, of course. I always felt very much alive with you. You were like a double shot of caffeine in my system all the time. With Sarah, I'm. . .content, I guess that's the best way to say it. That's not a put-down to her, that's just the way it is. Things are very good, very peaceful, you know. Low key. She's a wonderful, loving person. I don't deserve her, just like I didn't deserve you.
"I've discovered one thing, though," Matt continued. "There are all kinds of social supports for you when you're a married couple. Gay couples don't get that. When you and I were together, we were tough, we just gave the world the finger, and went on about our lives. But I think gay relationships would be a lot more stable if they got the kind of affirmation that male/female marriages do."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right. We were good together," Mike said, "although I try not to think about the past too much. It still hurts."
"Have you met anyone you like?"
"Well, actually, I have. He's living here with me now."
"Oh," Matt said very quietly. "What's his name?"
"Heartbreak. I call him 'Breakers' for short. He's a dog I found on the beach awhile back. A Golden Retriever. I advertised in all the papers and on the net, but nobody claimed him. We have family hour every night when I get home from school."
Matt laughed, sounding a little relieved.
"Hey, bro, that's so cool," he said. "I bet he likes riding in the truck!"
"Loves it!" Mike said. "Slobbers all over the window on his side until I can hardly see out of it."
"I wish I could have a dog again, but this just isn't the right time," Matt said a little wistfully.
"No, I expect not. Hey, how are Jeff and Martha doing? I talk to them pretty often, but I want the real scoop."
"They're both good," Matt said. "Martha and Sarah have gotten to be good friends and hang out a lot, and Jeff hardly drinks at all any more, or so he tells me. Thanks to you, I think. They're both doing well in their classes, and getting along with each other at the coachhouse, so things are copacetic."
"That's excellent. They're so great. I miss them."
"Yeah. Do you ever see Arnie Watkins or Stan Rosinsky or the sisters or Tony Angelo?
"Well, I went back to the Hospice once and saw the sisters. They're both doing well. Arnie is always bugging me to hit the bars with him, and I have a few times. He's as cute as ever. I called Tony, and he's now a sergeant and on the list to be a lieutenant. The really good news is Stan. He's been promoted to chief administrative aide at Hospice, and he's taking a class in psychology at a community college right now. I'm trying to encourage him to go on and get a degree."
"Outstanding, Mike. You have been busy."
"I try," Mike said. "Listen, Matt, I hafta hit the books. Say hello to Mom and Dad if you talk to them soon, and Jeff and Martha, 'K?"
" 'K. Mike, thanks for talking to me. I don't want to hurt you by saying this, but I miss you. Please don't hate me."
"I could never hate you, Matt. I'll always love you, I know that. But I need to move on. So don't call too often. I'm trying to live a pain-free life."
" 'K. I hear ya. Bye, Mike."
Mike sat at the phone after they broke the connection and wept. He would have been surprised to know that Matt did, too.
Mike finally stood up and went to his bedroom to study, Breakers following along after him, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor.
The next night, just as Mike was getting ready for bed, the phone rang. Mike picked it up.
"Yo, Mikey!" Arnie's voice came over the line.
"Hey, Arnie. 'Sup, bud?"
"How 'bout gettin' off your dead ass and coming out with me tomorrow night? It's Friday, y'know."
"I heard that! Oh, what the hell, why not?" Mike said.
"Dude, I like your style. Let's hook up at 'Scoes about 10, 'K? We'll see where the tides take us from there."
"Yeppers. Can I bring my dog?"
"You are a dawg! Laters."
Mike laughed and hung up.
* * *
Friday night at Roscoes. The meat market was open for business by the time Mike walked in and located Arnie. They sat at the bar together for awhile drinking beer and checking out all the healthy young men wandering around drinking, posing, flirting, negotiating, trying to hook up for some action. There was something available for every taste, some of it seriously cute. Add music, and it was bedlam.
Arnie went to the bathroom, and Mike continued surveying the room. He was surprised when he saw someone he knew from medical school across the room, Sean somebody. Handsome guy, six feet tall, curly auburn hair, trim build with what looked to be good definition, big feet, dressed in well-worn 501's and a polo shirt and Nikes. Their eyes met, and a few minutes later he came over to where Mike was sitting.
"Hi," he said, holding out his hand. "Sean Garrity. I didn't have a clue you might come here."
They shook hands.
"Mike Broman. How ya doin'?"
"Good, thanks. This place is a madhouse tonight, huh?"
"Yep. It's the place to be."
Arnie came back, and Mike introduced him to Sean.
"Uh, huh, uh, huh! I like what I'm seein' here!" Arnie said, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet and giving Sean a head to toe review. Sean blushed.
"You'll have to forgive Arnie," Mike said to Sean. "His hormones have been in overdrive since he was 12."
"I've seen Arnie here before," Sean said. "He's a regular, and a very popular guy."
"This is true," Arnie said. "My philosophy is, 'Use it, abuse it, but don't never lose it!'"
"No danger of that, Arn," Mike said. "You're like the Energizer Bunny."
"You don't know the half of it, Mikey," Arnie said. "And I'd love to show ya if I could ever get ya to cooperate."
Mike and Sean laughed, and the three guys continued to talk until Arnie excused himself to wander around and say hello to more friends.
"Mikey, don't cut out without sayin' aloha, 'K?" Arnie admonished him as he left. "Sean, nice meetin' ya."
"Same, Arnie," Sean responded.
Mike and Sean sipped their beer and talked about their medical school classes. Sean had been a Loyola undergrad, so the Chicago scene was old hat to him. They talked at length about their undergraduate experiences, and the time passed quickly. Among other things, Mike found out that Sean had been a runner on the Loyola track team, low hurdles and relays being his specialties.
"You still run?" Mike asked.
"Yeah, almost every day."
"I try to do 4 or 5, but mostly I do 2. I just don't have the time for the full shot," Sean said.
"That puts you in my league, then. I try to do a minimum of 2 every day."
"We should run together sometime. You run in the morning or night?"
"Morning, mostly," Mike said. "It's tough for me to get my lazy butt outta bed some mornings, though, and when I can't, I run when I get home from school."
"Cool. It's a lot of work, but I don't feel very good when I don't get my run in."
"Me, either. Oh, shit," Mike said, glancing at his watch. "I gotta book. It's 1:30."
"Man, the time sure went fast!" Sean said, consulting his watch as well. "Do you need a lift? I drove."
"Yeah, thanks," Mike said. "Lemme hit the john and catch up with Arnie for a sec, and I'll be with ya."
" 'K," Sean said.
Mike did his thing, said goodbye to Arnie, and then they left. Sean's car was down the block. A new Boxster.
"Nice ride, dude!" he said.
"Thanks," Sean said. "A gift from dear ol' dad when I graduated last year without disgracing the family too badly."
"Cool." Mike had to suppress a smile when he got a mental picture of Matthew James Broman, Sr., handing each of his kids the keys to a new Boxster. NOT. But Boxster or no Boxster, he wouldn't trade Matt Broman for any other dad in the world.
"What do you drive?" Sean asked.
"A Chevy truck," Mike said. "I put my motorcycle in the back when I want to get out into the hinterlands with no sweat."
"Biker dude, huh?"
"Yeppers, been ridin' since I was a kid."
They continued to chat until they reached Mike's condo on Sheridan.
"Nice building," Sean observed. "You live alone?"
"Me and my dog," Mike responded.
"Can I come up?"
"Sean, I'm in a serious rebound situation right now, and I just don't trust my feelings or my judgment about anything. Maybe another time, 'K? I hope you're not offended."
"Naw. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Listen, I really enjoyed your company tonight, and I'll see ya at school."
" 'K, man. Thanks for the lift. And take good care of the your wheels, here."
Sean leaned over and kissed Mike lightly on the lips. Mike didn't pull away.
He got out of the car, and giving Sean a wave, went upstairs to an enthusiastic welcome from Breakers. Mike took him downstairs for a few minutes, pooper scooper in hand, and then he went to up to bed. He was just drifting off as Breakers jumped on the bed and lay down at his feet. Mike got the best night's rest he'd had in a long time. He didn't remember any of it, but he must have had a really good dream because when he woke up in the morning, he had a big, fresh load of cum in his boxers.
* * *
As her May due date approached, Matt kept thinking Sarah couldn't get any bigger. But she did, almost up to the last day.
She started to have backaches, so Matt had begun giving her a back rub every night as she lay on her side, and massaging her feet, which seemed to be swelling a lot. Sarah really appreciated it. Matt had gradually assumed all the household chores over the past weeks, and tried to make certain that Sarah got good, well balanced meals. Despite her discomfort, which was considerable, Sarah maintained the same sweet, sunny disposition that she had always had. She and Matt were both getting more and more excited about the babies.
To Matt's surprise, being in the late stages of pregnancy had dulled but not killed Sarah's sexual appetite. They had had relations several times during the past month, facing each other on their sides. It wasn't so great for Matt, but if Sarah wanted it, Sarah got it.
Two days before Sarah's due date, in the early evening, she found blood in her urine. Almost immediately she started having contractions and her water broke. Matt called for an ambulance. They took her to University Hospital, with him riding along with her. When they arrived, Matt kissed her and told her he loved her, and they wheeled her away. Matt telephoned the Bradfords and his own parents, and told them it looked as if the big moment had arrived, and then called Jeff and Martha and left a message on voicemail that he and Sarah were at the hospital.
With Sarah safely ensconced in a room handy to the delivery area, her gynecologist, Dr. Mary Soames, took Matt aside.
"Mr. Broman, how long has Sarah been having blood in her urine?" she asked.
"Today was the first."
"What about the swelling in her feet?" Dr. Soames asked.
"It's never been this bad, but there has been some swelling the last month or so. It used to go away when she rested, but it hasn't for the last week."
"Well," Dr. Soames said, "We have an unanticipated problem. Sarah has a condition called pre-eclampsia, which basically involves toxemia and high blood pressure. There haven't been any previous signs of it. I'm hoping that we won't have to, but we may have to deliver the babies by caesarian section if they are to survive. Do you know whether Sarah's mother had this condition when she gave birth?"
"No, I don't. Please do what you need to do," Matt said. "Is Sarah in danger?"
"Not her so much. The babies, yes."
"Please help them."
"We're going to do our best. Hold a good thought, now," Dr. Soames said.
"Can I be in there with her?"
"No, I'm afraid not. We're carrying out emergency procedures. You would be in the way."
Fifteen minutes later, she was back.
"Mr. Broman, we have an additional problem. In addition to eclampsia, Sarah's uterus is now hemorrhaging. We can't get enough blood transfused into her body. We may have to make a difficult choice here. We may be able to save your wife or your children, but not both. If it comes down to it, what do you want us to do?"
Matt couldn't believe what he was hearing. His legs grew weak, and the room spun.
"I can't make a decision like that," he said. He couldn't seem to breathe.
"We need your guidance. Tell us what you want us to do."
Matt thought hard, looking down at the floor with tears in his eyes.
"Save Sarah," he said in a broken voice.
"All right. We're going to take the babies, and we may have to do a hysterectomy to stop Sarah's bleeding. Do you understand?"
Dr. Soames turned quickly, and went back to the delivery room.
When she returned an hour later, she was grim and unsmiling.
"I have bad news, Mr. Broman. We used all our skills, but we lost Sarah from the hemorrhaging. We were able to save both babies, though. They're full term, and I think they'll be fine. I'm very, very sorry about your wife."
Matt fell back on a couch, and his world went black.
He came to suddenly with Jeff sitting beside him, and a nurse waving a glass vial of something pungent under his nose. Matt pushed her hand away.
When Matt was finally able to put two thoughts together, he asked to see Sarah, and to see the babies.
He spent 20 minutes in a room alone with Sarah, talking to her and crying and praying, saying goodbye. What had gone so wrong that this little, blue-eyed slip of a girl had been taken from him and from her babies before their lives together had really begun? There was no satisfactory answer to that question.
Then he viewed the babies through the nursery window. They had little round, red faces with a few stray blond hairs on their heads. They weighed 6 pounds each. To Matt, they were beautiful.
Jeff took Matt to the coachhouse with him, where Martha was waiting. When she heard what had happened, she sat down and wept uncontrollably. Sarah had become a dear friend to her. Jeff did his best to comfort both of them.
Jeff fixed Matt some soup, and then fed him a strong sleeping pill that Jeff had gotten from one of the doctors before they left the hospital. Before the pill started to work, Matt called his mom at home, his dad in Washington, and then called the Bradfords in Hartford with the news. His mom and dad were very upset, and Sarah's parents were inconsolable. Matt promised he would call the Bradfords back the next day, and hung up. Jeff put his brother to bed, and when he was asleep, crawled in beside him. Then he silently shed his own tears for Sarah and for Matt before drifting off.
When Matt awakened the next morning, the horrible reality of Sarah's death dropped on him like a load of bricks. He lay there with his thoughts, paralyzed with grief and regret, until Jeff came in with some orange juice and toast for him. He ate, reluctantly, and then lay in bed a while longer, not knowing exactly what he should do.
Jeff finally made Matt get up and take a shower, and after another cup of coffee, Matt got on the telephone again to the Bradfords. It was his hardest call. Sarah's mom and dad first asked him about the babies, and Matt told them what he knew at that point--that they were fine, and in no danger. Then they asked if he would allow Sarah to be buried from Trinity Church in Hartford, and interred in the family plot. Matt acquiesced, telling them he knew that was what Sarah would have wanted.
Next he called a local undertaker, and asked that they pick up Sarah's body from the hospital, and prepare her to be flown to Hartford for the funeral.
That afternoon, he and Jeff and Martha packed their bags, and after stopping at the hospital so Matt could hold the babies and make arrangements for them to stay in the nursery until he returned to town, they took off for home in Matt's truck. The trip was sad and mostly silent. By the time they arrived home, Mr. Broman had already flown in from Washington, and family and staff did their best to give Matt solace. But he could not be comforted.
Before he went to bed, Matt called Mike's number in Chicago and left a message on his voicemail that Sarah had died after giving birth to twins. Mike called back almost immediately.
"Matt?" Mike said in a small voice. He sounded as if he were in shock.
"Yes," Matt said.
There was a moment's silence.
"I don't know what to say," Mike said. "I'm so sorry. If there is anything I can do..."
"Sarah's funeral is in Hartford in two days," Matt said. "There is nothing you can do other than come and say goodbye to her. I hope you can."
"I will," Mike said. "Are the babies doing all right?"
"Yes, they're fine. They're so beautiful, Mike. I hated like hell to leave them at the hospital, but there's no way they can travel yet."
"Matt, there is so much I want to say to you right now, but I can't find the words."
"I understand. If I make it through the next few days intact, I'd like to talk to you sometime. Anyway, thanks for your condolences and thank you for everything you've always been to me. I'll see you in Hartford, 'K?"
"Yes. Bye, Matt."
The burial office and requiem mass were simple and dignified, and the church was packed with luminaries who knew the Bradfords and the Bromans. Matt tried to be as responsive as he could to the many who offered their sympathies, but the truth was that he walked through the wake and the service as if he weren't fully aware of his surroundings. And he wasn't. He was heartsick and depressed, and beyond that, he knew and felt little.
Mike hugged Matt with tears in his eyes, but he had to leave for Chicago as soon as he could get away after the service. Jeff and Martha left for school as well, to catch up on their last classes and to prepare for their finals.
Matt talked with the Bradfords, and told them he wanted them to be an important part of the twins' lives. He said they were welcome to visit anytime, and that he would see to it in addition that the children came to Hartford several times a year at a minimum for a good visit. He invited them to come down for the twins' baptism at Old St. Paul's Church in early June, and to stay at the Bromans'. They said they wouldn't miss the occasion for anything.
Matt asked Mrs. Bradford privately if she'd had any complications at the time her own children were born. She told him that she had had pre-eclampsia when Sarah was born, but the doctors were able to counter the condition. Because the Bradfords weren't told how potentially serious the problem was and didn't know that the potential for the condition could be passed on to the next generation, her parents had never discussed it with Sarah. That explained why Sarah hadn't mentioned it to her own doctors.
Matt went home with his parents for a day before Mr. Broman returned to Washington and he himself had to leave for school. He went for a walk on the grounds of their house with his dad the next morning, a beautiful spring morning.
"I know you're grieving now," Mr. Broman said as they trudged along. "This has been a terrible tragedy. I don't pretend to know what the Lord has in mind for you and your children. But I hope you don't lose your faith."
"No. It's tempting. But I can't. I guess you and Mom taught me too well."
"No one taught you faith. It's a gift, and damned difficult to live with, sometimes," Mr. Broman sighed. "But I want to share something with you that I heard in a homily once. It made an impression on me. It was something like this. 'God loves us so much he accepts us as we are. God loves us too much to leave us as we are.' I try to reflect on it when I'm troubled by things that have happened to me and others, and to remember that He is drawing us to Him irrespective of all else. The good things and the bad things, they're all part of the process. I hope you can believe that and find some comfort in it."
"I'll try to remember that, Dad. I'm one sad puppy right now. It's like a bad dream. I've lost so much this year. Some of it is my fault, and some isn't. I don't know what to do at this point except to put one foot in front of the other, take good care of my kids, and go on with school. I'll just have to tough it out, that's all."
"You're right. But don't forget your family is with you all the way. Let them be a resource for you."
"I will," Matt said.
"And one other thing," Mr. Broman said. "I want you to get with a good doctor to monitor your physical and mental health for a while. If not for your sake, then for the boys. The first three to five years of their development is crucial for them, if I have my facts right, and the shape you're in right now is going to be important. Will you do that?"
"Yes, sir. I will." Matt paused, and smiled. "You know, every time I say the words, 'My kids,' I think someone else must be talking. I'm still not used to the idea."
"It does take a little getting used to," Mr. Broman chuckled. "You're going to be a wonderful father, though, Matt, and I hope you'll let us help raise those boys with you. It would be such a privilege."
Matt stopped and faced his father, and put his arms around him.
"You're my rock, Dad. You always have been."
Moved, they turned around and headed back to the house with Matt's arm over his dad's shoulder.
* * *
The first thing Matt did when he arrived back in University City was to head for the hospital and make arrangements to take his babies home. Once he got them there, he bathed them and fed them their formula, and put them down in their cribs. He was thrilled to have them at the apartment with him. Not even the realization of how much care they were going to require could put a damper on his joy.
As soon as the boys were asleep, he hit the law books to try to catch up with his course work and begin preparing for finals. He studied until the wee hours, but his thoughts kept returning to Sarah and how happy she would have been to be home with her babies. He thought of Mike, too, and wondered what he was doing. He telephoned him, but there was no answer, and he left a voicemail message, but he didn't really expect to get a call back. And he didn't.
The babies awakened Matt twice during the night, hungry and needing to be changed, but they went right back to sleep afterward, and so did he. He awakened the next morning feeling a little tired. After he changed the boys' diapers again and fed them, he called Cindy Vose, the wife of a law student friend, and asked how he would go about finding infant care during the day when he had classes. She gave him several leads, and hot on the trail, he set up some interviews with a couple of candidates for the next afternoon. Then he called Jeff and Martha, and between the two of them, arranged for someone to stay with the boys for the next few days while he was in class and interviewing candidates for infant care.
Jeff and Martha were thrilled with their nephews and seemed to enjoy the time they spent with them, even though the babies were still sleeping most of the time. As Matt observed his brother and sister with the boys, he couldn't help but reflect on what great parents they were going to be when their time came. He knew from watching them that they had an all-important reservoir of love and patience, having received it from their mom and dad as they grew up, that spelled the difference between mediocre parents and exemplary ones.
He interviewed three young women in their late twenties for the infant-care job that afternoon, all wives of graduate students at the university who needed to supplement their husband's income. He finally settled on Alice Dean, whose husband, by happy chance, had wrestled on Matt's team as an undergrad and who was now working toward his Ph.D. in physics. Alice had a warm personality and a good sense of humor, and was the product of a large family. They negotiated a price for her services, and then at the conclusion of their discussion, Matt added 10% to her wages. Alice was pleased. Money was tight for them right now. She could begin her duties almost immediately.
Mindful of the last conversation that he and his dad had about finding a therapist, Matt called the university chancellor's office and asked if he could have a few minutes of Dr. Edward's time. The chancellor came on the line himself.
"Matt! How are you? I haven't seen you for a while."
"I'm fine, sir. And you?"
"Very well, thank you. You know, slogging along. They say that 90% of accomplishment is just showing up on the job, and I'm managing to do that."
"Knowing you, I think you're doing a great deal more than that."
"Well, I don't know sometimes. Anyway, what can I do for you, Matt?"
"If you could spare me a few minutes of your time, I'd really appreciate it. I need some advice."
"Well, I'm going to be eating lunch in my office tomorrow. Why don't you join me?" Edwards asked.
"That sounds great," Matt said. "About 12 o'clock?"
"Make it about 11:30. That's give us more time to talk."
"Thank you. I really appreciate this. I know how busy you are," Matt said.
"That's ok. See you at 11:30 tomorrow." The phone went dead.
Alice Dean arrived for her first day's work, and Matt introduced her to the babies, showed her where everything was, took off for his classes after giving her his cell phone number in case of emergencies.
When he arrived back at the apartment in mid afternoon, he had a better understanding of what he had to do to catch up with his studies from being away, and felt he could manage to do that before finals. Alice had taken good care of the kids. They were sleeping contentedly, and smelled sweet and clean. There was no more wonderful smell on earth than a freshly bathed baby, Matt thought to himself.
Matt thanked Alice, and set a time for her to come to work the next day.
Matt settled in to study, and except to feed and change and cuddle the boys and grab a bite himself, studied right through the evening. He climbed into bed thinking things were coming together one by one, and not a moment too soon, given the fact that finals would be there in two weeks. Before he fell asleep, he prayed for Sarah's soul and for the babies and for Mike. He felt alone. He was also horny as hell, but too tired to do anything about it.
Matt met with Chancellor Don Edwards over lunch in his office the following day, and he was the same warm, delightful man he had been when Matt had come to him several years ago, the time Mike had been gay bashed. They talked in general terms about the university before getting to Matt's issues. The older man was surprised to hear that Matt and Mike had broken up, equally surprised to find out that Matt had married, and shocked to hear that Sarah had died in childbirth. Matt told Edwards that his dad wanted him to see a psychiatrist at least for an evaluation before school ended for the summer, and asked for his recommendation of one who was not crazy himself (or herself).
"I know just the person," the chancellor told him. "He's bright, young, well balanced and likeable. I think you'll be able to relate to him easily. His name is Art Mitchell. He's a board certified psychiatrist on the faculty at the Med School, and really knows his stuff. Would you like me to give him a call?"
"That would be great," Matt said.
The chancellor went to his phone, looked up a number and placed his call. Surprisingly, Mitchell was in his office over the lunch hour. Edwards explained the reason for his call, and then handed the phone to Matt. There was a one hour hole in the doctor's schedule that afternoon, and Matt agreed to meet him in his office.
Matt and Dr. Edwards chatted for a few more minutes, and then they parted warmly, Matt thanking the chancellor for his help.
* * *
Dr. Mitchell's receptionist ushered Matt into his office a few minutes before 3 o'clock that afternoon, and after offering coffee or a soft drink, both of which Matt refused, left him alone sitting in front of a big mahogany desk.
The office was a warm and comfortable space, marked by leather furniture, pictures of family interspersed with books in a built-in bookcase, and good reproductions of great art on the walls. No therapist's couch, he noted. Matt sat back in his chair and began to relax when the doctor came in.
Art Mitchell was clean shaven, about Matt's height, 5'10", with an athletic build, thinning blond hair, and lively blue eyes that reminded Matt of Mike's eyes. He was wearing baggy khaki's and a golf shirt, and looked to be in his late 30's.
The older man proffered his hand along with a big smile.
"Matt? Art Mitchell. Good to meet you."
"Thank you, same here," Matt said. "I appreciate your seeing me on such short notice."
"I knew Don Edwards wouldn't have called me if it weren't important."
"Well, I wouldn't call this an emergency, exactly, but I promised my dad I would see someone for an evaluation before school was out. I've had some setbacks recently, and I guess I just need some reassurance that I'm going to be able to cope with things right now. I'm a single parent with two new babies who need my care, and I'm in law school, and I can't afford to screw up."
Mitchell sat down in front of his desk beside Matt, and turned his chair toward him.
"Why don't you tell me a little about yourself," Mitchell said.
Holding nothing back, Matt told him a little about his upbringing, his family, coming to the university, and falling in love with Mike and the life they had had together. He talked at some length about his experience at Hospice the summer before, interspersed with questions from the doctor. Then he talked about his desire for children, how his relationship with Mike ended and his marriage to Sarah began. Finally, he shared his feelings of pain and sadness over Sarah's death in childbirth, his love and commitment to the twins, and the void he felt from not having Mike in his life any more.
When Matt stopped talking, the doctor sat in silence for a moment, and then looked him in the eye.
"I'm glad you came to see me, Matt. There's a lot going on in your life that we need to take a look at. Are you going to be able to spare me an hour twice a week between now and the end of school?"
"Tell me frankly, now. Do you feel you're in any immediate danger, you or your children?"
"You mean danger of my hurting or neglecting them, or offing myself?"
"Good. Are you sleeping all right?"
"Well, except for getting up to feed the boys a couple times a night, yes. I'm out the minute my head hits the pillow."
"That's good. Things get tougher when you don't get proper rest. Let me know if that changes. Here's my card, with my emergency number written in ink. Call me if you need to talk. I mean that! Now, let's get with Nancy, my receptionist, and set up your next appointment."
" 'K," Matt said.
They set up an appointment for two days hence, and Matt left the office and headed for home, feeling a little better just in having talked to somebody. He liked Art Mitchell.
When he arrived home, Alice had just bathed and fed the boys. He sent her on her way, and piling up the pillows on his bed, he lay down with a twin nestled in each arm and talked to them and sang softly to them until they went to sleep. Then he gently put them down in their cribs, and hit the law books with a vengeance.
* * *
Jeff dialed Mike's number one night a couple of weeks before finals, and left a voicemail message for him to call. A few minutes later, the phone rang.
"Yep!" Jeff said. "We're here for ya, 24/7!"
He heard Mike chuckling on the other end.
"Your phone etiquette is always evolving, Jeff," Mike said.
"I knew it would be you! How are ya, bro?"
"Hangin' in. How about you?" Mike asked.
"Outstanding! Listen, Mike, I wanted to ask you a favor."
"Lay it on me."
"Can I stay with you this summer and volunteer at the Hospice?" Jeff asked.
"The quick answer is 'Yes,' and 'No.'"
"Yes, you definitely can stay with me. You know that's cool anytime. But no, I don't want you to volunteer at the Hospice," Mike said.
"I know you're a young, macho jock, bud. But I think you need another year or two under your belt at school before you take on Hospice."
"Dad said it would be ok."
"He won't after I talk to him," Mike responded. "Trust me on this, Jeff, it's just not a good idea for ya yet."
"Well, shit, what am I gonna do now?"
"Chicago's full of jobs. You just get your young ass down here, and I'll take care of the rest. What about Martha, does she want to come, too?"
"No, she's set up to work at a veterinarian's office at home."
" 'K. What kind of work do you want, outside or inside?"
"Outside, I think. I can work on my tan."
"I'll take care of it. When do you think you'll get here?" Mike asked.
"Well, Mom's gonna pick Martha and me up in two weeks after finals. Give me a week to spend at home with Mom, and then I'll be down in my truck, 'K? Do you have a place I can park?"
"Do bears shit in the weeds?" Mike said.
"You are coolness personified, Mikey! Luv ya! And I'll have lots of good jokes for ya!"
"Hmmm. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all."
"You talk like a college boy! I'll get you out on the beach and run your butt into the ground, tough guy!"
"I can't wait! I miss ya, Mike! This is gonna be so great!"
" 'K, Jeff. Good luck on exams, and I'll see ya soon."
"Wait! You got time for a story?"
"I s'pose," he said grudgingly. "I better start getting used to it gradually."
" 'K," Jeff said...
"A man and a woman meet at a single's resort and become infatuated with
one another. The man decides that he doesn't want to ruin this
relationship, so he will be honest with the lady.
"'I have to tell you the truth, I have a problem,' he said.
"'What is it?' the woman asks.
"'I'm obsessed with golf. I have to play at least twice a week
or I'm not
"'Since you're being so honest, I'll tell you something about myself.
"The man kept silent for a minute and the woman was worried that she
had offended him.
"Then he said, 'Have you thought about changing your grip?'"
"Bye, Jeff, you rat!"
Mike put down the phone receiver, and picked up Breakers in his arms, and danced happily around the room, the dog licking his face in excitement. This was going to be a better summer than he had expected, Mike thought to himself.
Returning Breakers to the floor, he picked up the phone and speed dialed his dad at his apartment in Washington.
"Hello," Mr. Broman said.
"Dad! It's Mike!"
"Mike! The prodigal son calls at last. It's good to hear your voice. How are you?"
"Good, Dad. Listen, I just talked to Jeff. He wants to stay with me this summer, as you know, and that's cool. But I told him I didn't think it was such a good idea for him to work at Hospice."
"Why not, Mike?"
"Well, I think he should be a couple of years older before he confronts some of the issues at Hospice day in and day out. I saw what it did to Matt, and I just don't think it's a good idea."
"I trust your judgment, Mike. What shall we do about a job for Jeff, then?"
"He says he wants to work outside. Let me make a couple of calls here and see what I can do. If I strike out, I'll get back to ya, 'K?"
"Sounds good, Mike. Now, tell me what you've been up to."
"Studying, going to class, running on the beach, going to church. That's about it, Dad. Pretty boring. Listen, when are you and Mom coming down?"
"The court will be in recess in August. Pick a week."
"How about two weeks?"
"Two weeks now," Mr. Broman laughed. "We'll see, all right? I have to clear this with your mother."
"Well, I miss you guys. Talk her into it, ok?"
"I'll do my best, son. I'll let you know."
"Thanks, Dad. I love ya."
"I love you, too, Michael. Talk to you soon. Bye."
The next morning before class, Mike called the mayor's office and asked to speak with him. After going through several layers of bureaucrats and explaining who he was, the mayor himself came on the line.
"Well, young man, it's been a while. How are you? And for that matter, where are you?"
"I live here in Chicago now, Mayor. I'm a student at Northwestern Medical School. This is really an imposition, but I was wondering if I could ask you a favor."
"You name it, and if it's in my power, you've got it."
"I have a younger brother, Jeff, a college student who's 19 years old. Come to think about it, you met him when he was here for the award ceremony. Anyway, he'll be living here in Chicago with me this summer. He's looking for a job, something outdoors. I was wondering if there would be anything available that you could recommend him for."
"How about a lifeguard?"
"Oh, he'd love that!" Mike said.
"I'll talk to the Park District. Call me when he gets into town, and we'll get him a tryout. I hope he can swim."
"Like a fish. He'll be thrilled," Mike said.
"No problem," the mayor said. "How's Matt doing?"
"Well, things have been kinda rough lately. He was married last year, and his wife recently died in childbirth with twin boys. The babies are fine, but Matt is kinda lost right now."
"I'm terribly sorry to hear that, Mike. If you'll give me his address before we hang up, I'd like to write to him."
"How is your dad doing in his new job? I sent him a note when he was sworn in."
"Surprisingly, he really likes it," Mike said. "The family was reluctant to have him accept it, but he has a real thing about public service. It's turned out better than we had hoped, actually."
"He's not the only Broman who believes in public service, if memory serves. He has a couple of sons who have demonstrated the same ideal."
"Call me when Jeff gets into town."
"Yes, sir. And thank you so very much for your help."
Mike read off Matt's address to the mayor before they broke the connection, and then they said goodbye.
Mike phoned Jeff, and when he answered, told him, "Buy suntan lotion, dude. You're a Chicago Park District lifeguard this summer!"
Jeff was instantly pumped.
"I hope you're not bullshittin' me!"
"No, I swear it," Mike said.
"Oh, boy, I am so all over this!" Jeff said. "Women, women, women!"
"Oh," Mike said soberly, "Prolly not. I thought you knew. The new crop of lifeguards always hafta staff the 'males-only' beaches their first year."
"You lie, you dipstick! There aren't any 'males-only' beaches. Are there?" Jeff sounded uncertain.
"Yeah, I lie," Mike admitted with a laugh. "Let me know when you're gonna be coming in."
"I owe ya bigtime, bro. Thank you, thank you!"
They hung up, and Mike went to class.
* * *
A month later, just as Mike was kicking back at the condo after his last final, the phone rang. He picked it up.
"Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Guess who?" the caller said.
"Jeffy! Where are you?" Mike asked.
"Downstairs, dufus. Where should I be?"
"I'll be right down, dude."
Mike crammed his Nikes back on his feet, and headed for the elevators. When his elevator car stopped at the first floor, there was handsome young Jeff, dressed in his usual 501's, T and Nikes, standing there with a big smile on his face.
"Man, am I ever glad to see you!" Mike said as he enveloped his brother in a big hug and kissed his cheek.
Jeff hugged Mike tight and didn't let go for a minute, and then kissed him back.
"Same here, bro! I've missed the hell outta you," Jeff said.
"Let's unload your bags, and put your truck away," Mike said. "Hey, nice wheels, bud! I don't think I ever saw this one."
Jeff was driving a red Dodge Ram with all the bells and whistles, now 2 years old.
"Yeah, my high school graduation present."
They grabbed Jeff's bags out of the truck bed and took them upstairs and left them inside Mike's front door, and then returned to the lobby.
"You know the drill," Mike said. "Follow that sloping driveway down, and I'll go downstairs and open the door for ya."
"Oh, yeah. Now I remember. See ya downstairs." Jeff climbed in the truck and started it up as Mike headed for the elevator.
With the truck put away, they went up to the apartment, and Jeff met Breakers. They were instant buddies.
Jeff hadn't eaten since noon, so Mike ordered them a couple of pizzas and six-packs of beer while Jeff grabbed a quick shower. The food came, and they chowed down, sharing some pepperoni from time to time with an ever-watchful Breakers.
Mike observed that Jeff only drank one beer.
"Cuttin' back on the suds, Jeff, huh?"
"This is the first alcohol I've had in a month, believe it or not," Jeff said. "You really did a job on me when it comes to drinking. I've gotten my shit together."
"Good deal, Jeff. Hey, how was baseball this year?"
"I played varsity. They moved me back and forth between left and center field. We had a good time, and ended up with the second best record in our conference. I really enjoyed it. Next year will be even better!"
"Cool. How'd you do on your finals?" Mike asked.
"Things were smooth, I think. You never know fer sure 'til the grades come, though."
"You always do well! So how's Martha, how are things at home?"
"Martha is great! I'd never tell her this, but I think I'm really lucky that we got a chance to live together as, well, semi-adults. I just love her to death! She's so mature. She's like a little Jane Broman in so many ways, you know what I mean?"
"I know it," Mike said, smiling. "I miss the family, I can't tell you how much. I'm glad you're here, Jeff."
"Me, too." Jeff paused. "How about Matt?"
"What about Matt?"
"Do you miss him?"
Mike looked over at Jeff with pain in his eyes, hesitating.
"I think I'm gonna miss him 'til the day I die, Jeff," Mike finally said. "How is he?"
"Matt is...struggling, I guess you'd say. At Dad's suggestion, he got a psychiatric evaluation done before school was out. He's pretty tight lipped about it, but from what little he's said, dealing with Hospice really took him down. I s'pose you know all about this stuff, but he has, or at least did have, something called PTSD. What the hell is that?"
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," Mike said. "Serious shit. I had no idea he was that bad off. Some people never get over it. It's ruined a lot of lives."
"Well, he's working on it, that's all I can tell you. I don't think he's a very happy camper these days, but nobody can fault him as a father. He takes care of those kids like nothing you've ever seen."
"How are the babies?" Mike asked.
"They're absolutely great. Beautiful kids! They were just baptized last Sunday at Old Saint Paul's. Uncle Jack and I were the godfathers, and Martha was godmother."
"I wanted to come, but my finals just ended today."
"We all knew that, Mike. Don't worry about it."
"What did Matt name them?"
Jeff cleared his throat and looked over at his brother.
"Matthew James and Michael Andrew," he said.
Mike looked away, his eyes looking suspiciously moist. He and Jeff were quiet for a minute.
"I'm only gonna say this once, and you'll never hear it from me again. But if you felt like it, you could give Matt a call sometime," Jeff suggested. "I think it would mean a lot to him."
"I know it would, and I promise I'll do that. Is he gonna be living at home all summer?" Mike asked.
"Yeah. He's clerking in a law firm, not Dad's old firm, though, and he hired a lady to take care of the kids during the day. She watches the kids, and the staff watches her watch the kids. It's hilarious."
"Staff backup," Mike laughed. "Well, the more, the merrier."
"I haven't asked you what you're gonna do this summer," Jeff said.
"Well, I'm doing what they call a pre-internship for medical students at Northwestern Hospital," Mike said. "We follow the interns around and learn from their mistakes, supposedly. And I'm gonna volunteer one afternoon a week at Hospice."
"That's cool. I hope we get to see each other once in awhile," Jeff said, and then gave a big yawn.
"I'm whipped," he said. "Why don't we watch the news, and then I'm gonna hit it, 'K?"
"You got it, bro."
They went into Mike's bedroom, and he turned on the TV. The two of them and Breakers watched the news, and when it was over, Jeff stood up and stretched. His body was more beautiful and defined every time Mike saw him.
"If it's ok with you, I'm gonna sleep in bed with you tonight because. . .I've missed you," Jeff said. "Then I'll move into my own room tomorrow night, 'K?"
Mike looked at him in surprise.
"You never cease to amaze me, Jeff. I've never known a straight guy to be capable of this much love for another guy, not even a brother."
"Yeah, ain't life just one big friggin' mystery, though," Jeff laughed, and went down the hall to dig his toothbrush out of his suitcase.
Mike took Breakers outside for a walk and then showered, and by the time he crawled into bed himself, Jeff was already sleeping on his back, snoring softly. Without waking him, Mike gently caressed Jeff's hair back off his forehead, the way Matt used to do to him, and then he turned away on his side and went to sleep, Breakers at their feet.
The guys awakened about 8 a.m., and they threw on jocks and shorts and T's for a run on the beach before breakfast. Mike put Breakers on a leash, and away they went. The beach was sufficiently deserted that Mike let the dog run free part of the way.
When they came back, Jeff showered while Mike called the Mayor's office to let him know that Jeff was in town. The mayor gave Mike the address of the Park District Office where Jeff was to report, and the time he should show up, and told Mike to wish him good luck. Mike again thanked the mayor profusely, and shared the information with Jeff when he emerged from the bathroom.
Mike took a shower, and then made coffee and fixed an omelet and toast for Jeff and himself. There wasn't a crumb of food left on the table by the time they finished.
Jeff tipped his chair back on two legs and belched contentedly, wiggling a toothpick sticking out of his mouth.
"Mikey, you're the same gourmet cook you always were, dude! I could get used to this."
"Well, yes, I am," Mike said with downcast eyes, faking a modest look. "And now it's time for cleanup. I never use the dishwasher anymore. Put your plate on the floor for Breakers. When he's done licking it, just put it back in the cabinet. That'll be your special plate. I hope that's ok with you."
"Ewwwww. See, you're already trying to provoke me. What am I gonna do with ya?" Jeff asked.
"You have such low standards, bein' a baseball jock an' all, I thought having your own special plate would please you."
"Now you're gonna get hard nuggies, fer sure. You won't know how or when, but it will happen. I want cha to reflect on that all day today," Jeff said.
"Don't get in my shit, Jeffy, or I'll put your young ass out on the street for hire," Mike threatened. "My bank account is a little low right now."
"Yea, right, Mr. Gotrocks."
"I'd love to continue this stimulating conversation, but we hafta leave for the Park District. You have swim trunks?"
"Well, get 'em on, and let's hit it. Bring a towel, too. I'm gonna go with ya and check out this year's crop of beachboys, 'K?" Mike said.
"Knock yourself out, bro. Hopefully, there will be some beachbunnies, too. Gimme a minute."
Jeff changed into his swim trunks, and away they went in Mike's truck, Breakers sitting on Jeff's lap with his head out the window. Two hours later, Jeff had passed all the Park District pre-tests for speed and endurance, and was accepted for the accelerated training course in lifeguarding.
They drove back to Mike's condo in an exceptionally good mood, listening to music and verbally tormenting each other as they went.
They parked underneath the building when they got back, and Jeff spotted Mike's Honda CBR against the back wall of his parking place.
"Man, I'd love to go riding sometime," Jeff said.
"Then let's look around for a bike for ya. We're gonna need a break in the routine every now and then. What kind you want?"
"I've always liked the CBR 900's."
" 'K, well, let's check around this afternoon while we still have some free time," Mike suggested.
They headed for the elevator with Breakers. Jeff looked over at his brother.
"Seriously, Mike, I'm really glad to be here. Thanks for getting me this job and letting me stay with you this summer. I really appreciate it."
"I'm glad to have you here, dude. To tell you the truth, I've been a little lonely."
As the elevator doors opened, Jeff grabbed Mike's neck in one of his big hands and squeezed it gently, grinning happily.
They emerged from the elevator on the top floor, and went inside the condo, and sat down together on a couch in the living room. Jeff drank in the beautiful view of the lake and downtown Chicago from their building. Breakers lay on the floor, looking up at them soulfully.
"Oh, hey," Jeff broke the silence. "Do I have a story for you, Mikey!"
"You're getting off on the wrong foot, Jeff. You may not live to scope out another beachbunny."
"Now, now. You'll like this one, bro!
"Three ladies were sitting in a restaurant having lunch one day,
and it soon became obvious that there was a little rivalry going
"They started talking about how good their husbands were to them,
trying to one-up each other.
"'You know, girls,' the first lady said, 'my husband took me on a
two week vacation to the Caribbean as a gift this last winter. He's
so generous to me!'
"'How nice,' the second lady said. 'My husband gave me a brand
new Mercedes convertible just last week. How's that for
"The third lady said, 'Let me tell you the real meaning of generous!
When my husband gets an erection, it's so big that 14 parakeets can
stand shoulder to shoulder on his penis!'
After a brief silence, the ladies continued talking, and the first lady
began to feel ashamed for having stretched the truth a bit. Finally
"'You know, we really didn't go on vacation for two weeks to the
Caribbean. We spent our vacation at my parents' house.'
"Also feeling ashamed, the second woman said, 'To tell you the
truth, my husband didn't give me a Mercedes, he gave me a Plymouth.'
"The third woman, feeling the new spirit of truthfulness, said, 'I think
I should clarify what I said about the 14 parakeets standing on my
"'Actually,' she said, 'the 14th parakeet has to stand on one leg!'"
Mike looked at Breakers and pointed to Jeff.
"KILL," he ordered.
Breakers jumped on Mike instead and began to lick his face as Jeff began to laugh uproariously.
"No, him!" Mike said, pointing at Jeff again. More licking and tail wagging.
"Breakers knows a good joke when he hears it," Jeff said. "Before I move outta here, his complete loyalty will be to me! In fact, when I go, he'll pack his little bags and leave with me."
"Lord, why do you test me so?" Mike whined, and wryly predicted a summer of misery for himself.
They went out that afternoon and visited four motorcycle stores, and Mike bought Jeff a year-old CBR900 and matching helmet.
* * *
Their schedules were crazy that summer, but one night when in July when Jeff and Mike were both home, kicking back in Mike's room listening to music and talking, Mike said he was going to call Matt. Jeff was happy about that, but he didn't say anything.
"Do you wanna talk to him when I'm done?" Mike asked.
"Yeah, thanks. Do you want some privacy?"
"Naw, you can hang. What you don't know about both of us already, you could put in a thimble."
When the phone rang in Matt's bedroom at home, he was lying propped up on his bed holding Matt and Mike, cuddling them and crooning to them and talking to them the way he did every night before he put them down. The boys had grown a lot already, and both of them had a full head of silky blond hair and beautiful facial features that made their dad's heart jump with pleasure when he looked at them. He never tired of studying those little faces.
Matt carefully divested himself of the babies, and picked up the phone. Matt and Mike didn't like being abandoned, and fussed a little, but then quieted down.
Matt almost dropped the phone.
"Yeah, how ya doin'?"
"Hangin' in," Matt said. "Sometimes by my fingernails, but I'm makin' it!"
"Yeah, me, too, especially when Jeff tells one of his jokes," Mike said.
"I can only imagine. You're still blaming the jokes on our jockey shorts, I s'pose."
"Yeppers. No doubt about it," Mike said. "Y'know, you two guys are grown up now. At your age, if ya want to, you can wear boxers, the underwear of choice for 'real men.'"
"Ha ha. Some things never change. Are you guys havin' a good time?" Matt asked.
"Yeah, we are. Our schedules are nuts, but we've done quite a few things together. We picked up a used CBR900 for Jeff, and we've been riding a couple times. And we run on the beach every morning, no matter what." No sooner were the words out of Mike's mouth than he realized that he was deliberately trying to make Matt feel bad that he wasn't there with them, and hated himself for it.
"Sounds good," Matt said quietly.
"Tell me about the babies," Mike said.
"They're doin' great. They're lying on my bed right now watchin' me talk. They're growing like little weeds. I just love 'em so much."
"I know. Listen, I'm sorry I couldn't make it home for their Christening. I had my last final the next day."
"Mom told me. That's ok," Matt said. "We missed you, though."
"I heard that you named the best looking twin after me. That was really nice of you, man."
"No, the wimpy one," Matt said. "Matt is already toilet trained and walking and starting to do light workouts at the gym, and Mike is a case of arrested development, still pooping and peeing in his pants. Kinda like you, bro."
"Yeah, right! NOT. You prolly heard that Jeff is a lifeguard this summer. The word is that the beachbunnies are camping out around his tower every day, bringing him sacrificial offerings in exchange for a wink or a smile. Sometimes he even speaks to them. He has a big head from the whole experience!"
"Hey!" Jeff protested from the other end of the couch.
"If he flexed, they'd all fall down in a faint," Matt said, laughing.
"The Rescue Squad is there once a day, at a minimum, when one of the little darlings stares at his bod too long and stops breathing," Mike responded.
Jeff laughed and shook his head disapprovingly at Mike.
"So, Matt, are you doing ok, really?" Mike asked.
"Hmm. Well, I've learned something from this whole weird experience. Y'know, us jocks have a reputation of being dim and insensitive and inconsiderate and self-centered, and maybe we're all of those things, I don't know. But one thing I've learned from sports is never to give up just because you're losing at the moment. Tough it out. Give it your best effort. Push the envelope. That habit's pretty well ingrained in me now, I guess. When I don't have much to feel good about, I just keep slogging along. I do what I need to do.
"So, to answer your question about whether I doing ok, yes and no," Matt continued. "I don't do much except go to work, go to therapy a couple times a week, come home, take care of the kids, go to bed, and then start all over again. I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong. It comes with the territory. But it's not a lot of fun, either. The good news is that by being in therapy, it's like I've started to wake up from a dream. I'm amazed at what's happened the last couple of years in my life in the real world, and I'm wondering where the real me was hangin' out all that time."
"Yeah, it's been a trip!" Mike said.
"Mike, I'm so sorry for what I did to you. I'm carrying around a lot of guilt about it. Rightly so. I can't forgive myself, but I hope you can forgive me some day."
"I forgave you a long time ago, Matt. I still hurt, but that's something I'm working on. As for your guilt, let me give you back some good advice you gave me when I fucked up our relationship that time. Go to confession. It's not a cure-all, but it helped me, and maybe it will help you."
"That prolly is good advice. I'll give it serious thought. Do you guys ever go to mass?" Matt asked.
"Yeah. Almost every Sunday we go over to St. Stephen's where you and I used to go. Things seem as stable and unchanged there as ever. Time lost in eternity, sort of. We like it."
"Listen, Matt, let me put Jeff on. It's been great talking to ya, and I hope things continue to go well for you," Mike said.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Mike could hear Matt swallowing.
"Thanks," Matt said. "I'm glad you called. I miss you. I miss hearing your voice. Can I come down sometime?"
"Not yet, Matt. I just can't do it yet. Not because I can't forgive you, don't think that. But I'm still in a world of hurt. Maybe some day. . ."
" 'K," Matt said quietly.
"Well, here's the Oak Street Beach adonis," Mike said, and handed the phone to Jeff.
Jeff and Matt talked for about 10 minutes, and then hung up.
"It was really nice of you to call him, Mike," Jeff said. "He's been pretty down, as you can tell, and I'm sure you made his day. Thanks for doing that."
"Yep. Whaddaya say we check out the tube? It's mostly re-runs, but we never saw any of it the first time around."
They went back to Mike's room, Breakers following right at their heels.
* * *
The summer progressed, with Mike devoting one afternoon a week to Hospice, as he had planned. He tried to spend as much time with Stan Rosinsky as he could while he was there.
As the summer drew to a close, Jeff and Mike had Stan up to the condo for dinner, and then they both worked on him with regard to continuing with school. Mike told Stan he would make him a deal. If Stan would continue taking courses at the community college and make satisfactory grades, Mike would repay him his tuition.
"Why would you do that for me?" Stan demanded.
"Because I think you deserve a shot, and I came into a little money and can afford it," Mike responded. "Do we have a deal?"
"What's the catch?" Stan asked.
"No catch. I'll tell you what else. If you get your Associate's Degree from the community college, and you want to continue, I'll pay your tuition and your living expenses for your last two years of regular college anywhere you want to go."
"I-I don't know what to say," Stan stammered. "Nobody has ever done anything this nice for me in my whole life."
"Grab it, bud!" Jeff said. "It's like Christmas in August!"
"Do we have a deal?" Mike asked.
"Deal!" Stan said. "I don't know what to say except, Thanks!"
Mike thrust out his hand, and he and Stan shook on it.
* * *
Justice and Mrs. Broman had come down to Chicago for two weeks in August, and Jeff and Mike had just enjoyed the heck out of them. The guys had reserved as much time for them every day as they could, and they all visited museums together, went to movies and musicals, ate in some of the best restaurants, and had an all-around great time. They could see their dad, especially, relax a little more every day.
The elder Bromans had created opportunities to spend time as they could with each of the boys, and they had long talks with them about anything and everything. Mike, in turn, tried to find out as much as he could about what his parents were doing in their work, and reveled in the closeness of this family. Jeff had matured enough to realize more fully just how fortunate he and Matt and Mike and Martha were to have these two wonderful people in their lives.
After Jeff and Mike had dropped their mom and dad off at the airport to go home, Mike wept. He'd tried to hide his tears, given his age, and thought Jeff didn't see him cry, but the latter hugged him and talked to him until he felt better and they headed home.
* * *
Eventually, it was fall and time for Jeff to leave for school, much to Mike's dismay. Jeff slept in Mike's bed again his last night in Chicago, and they stayed awake late, talking.
"I have something to say to you, bud," Jeff said at one point before they fell asleep. "I hope you already know how much I love you. But I want you to know how much I admire you, too. If there were anybody in the world that I would want to model myself after, it would be you--and mom and dad, of course. I know you've had some tough times, but I hafta tell you that I really respect how you live your life and face your challenges. You always try to do some good for everybody. I just hope I can do half as well."
"The feeling's mutual, Jeff. I sure lucked out when I got you for a brother, and spending time with you this summer has been a treat. It's been the best. Thanks."
"Listen, I just hope you can find it in your heart to stay in touch with Matt. I know you don't owe him a thing, but now he's the one who's hurting the worst. I feel bad for you both."
Mike didn't say anything.
Jeff leaned over and kissed Mike's cheek, and they went to sleep.
The next morning they used the steep incline of the garage driveway and a heavy-duty piece of plywood to load Jeff's CBR into his truck, tied it down, added his luggage, and he was gone.
Breakers wandered around the condo for two days looking for Jeff.
Mike knew exactly how he felt.