Jeff narrowed his eyes behind his sun glasses. Adjusting the sun visor in his truck, he blocked the bright morning rays as he swung east on to the Chicago Skyway from the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Indiana Toll Road lay ahead, the path leading back toward U Penn. His stomach grumbled a bit, and he decided to stop for breakfast right after he hit the Indiana state line.
His thoughts returned to the Summer he had just spent in Chicago. He realized fully that he had emerged over those months from being the wacked out guy he'd been last Spring at school to feeling like his normal self. What he didn't realize was that there was an added component to his well-meaning, good humored disposition--a new maturity that had to some degree tempered his boyish enthusiasm for experiencing all the good things life had to offer, and do so as quickly as possible. But there was still enough of the boy left in him to make him fun and interesting to be around.
Jeff smiled involuntarily as he thought about his brothers and Andie Parker. The community of friends and family that Matt and Mike had created around themselves, and that they had unselfishly shared with him, had been very healing for him. The thought crossed his mind that he might not have been ready to meet Andie, to form what in a few short months had become a very meaningful relationship with this young woman, if it hadn't been for the love and support that came from living in the condo. It had been a gift. A timely gift. He was grateful.
His mind focused on Andie. How he did love this woman! He started to get hard as he thought about their love-making over the last two days. The feelings he himself had brought to their coupling had made a big difference, Jeff knew. Being with her was as if he had never been with a woman before, this in the face of his extensive sexual history with the opposite sex. They were so good together, physically and every other way. Waiting to have sex until they knew there was much more than mere sexual attraction to their relationship had paid off.
Andie was no shrinking violet. She had a good sense of who she was as a person, and gave as good as she got in their conversations. She was a feminist, without a doubt, but not an angry one. Smart, articulate, extremely good looking, athletic, and with a sly sense of humor that could leave you figuratively bleeding before you knew what happened to you, she was everything in a woman that Jeff had always wanted. She had class, and reminded Jeff in so many ways of his mother and sister. His stomach had hurt when he'd had to say good-bye to her earlier, and he knew he would be taking Matt and Mike up on their offer to be a regular visitor to Chicago. He missed her already. If things worked out, Jeff wanted to have a long, long term relationship with Andie, without a doubt, and see where things went from there.
His thoughts shifted to his adorable little nephews. Matthew, Michael and Kyle fascinated him, and he couldn't get enough of them. He had learned a lot from watching how Matt and Mike dealt with them on a day to day basis. Matthew and Jane Broman had been and still were wonderful, loving, giving parents, and he wouldn't have traded them for anything. But there was a closeness between parents of Matt's and Mike's generation and their young charges that just hadn't been the norm when Matt and Jeff and Martha were children. The "Do as I say" aspect of parent-child relationships today was much more muted--the roles just weren't so stark and clear cut. There tended to be a lot more negotiation with the kids over what went on in daily life than there had been when he was growing up. That isn't to say that things might not change somewhat when the boys grew up and reached the explosive age of adolescence. At that point, all bets would be off, Jeff suspected. Even now, Matt and Mike could be very firm and action oriented with the boys when they had to be. That didn't surprise him. Mike, and to a certain extent, Matt, had certainly never flinched from being very directive with Jeff himself anytime they thought he needed it. Lord, Jeff said to himself, I do love my family. I am one lucky guy.
Matt's and Mike's news that they had received permission from the rector of St. Stephen's Church to be married there on the Saturday after Thanksgiving had pleased Jeff more than his brothers knew. Thrilled him, really. Residing with Matt and Mike on a day to day basis as they lived their lives had clued him in on what it requires to be an adult and have adult responsibilities: his brothers were compiling outstanding academic records and were top students while never shirking when it came to taking care of their boys and doing a damn fine job of raising them. They had opened their hearts to make a home for Mary Bradford and were helping Linda and Stan better themselves, and had taken Jeff himself in when he felt worthless and ashamed of his heroin problem. At the same time that he had gained a new appreciation for Matt and Mike as people, their accomplishments had also moved Jeff far beyond any mere tolerance for gay partnerships to an understanding that such relationships can be empowering for everyone when they are accepted and supported by others. Whereas before he had never lied about Matt's and Mike's partnership if it came up, he hadn't gone around sharing the information freely, either. There had been some secret shame, perhaps. His attitude now was one of total pride in his brothers, and he never hesitated to tell anyone who was interested that his brother and his adoptive brother were gay, indeed, were gay partners to one another, and that in his opinion, they were the most terrific people in the world. And he wasn't above kicking a little "naysayer" ass over the gay issue if it came to that. Those who made fun of "fags" in his presence were highly likely to find themselves on the ground, looking up.
He continued to think about his Chicago extended family until he pulled off into the first oasis he came to heading east on the Indiana Toll Road. Alighting from his truck and stretching to get the kinks out of his back, he started to amble inside for breakfast. As he made for the entrance, an SUV full of girls, windows down, probably on their way back to college somewhere themselves, rolled by to get back on the highway. They were high on life, and hooted and hollered when they saw Jeff.
"Hey, nice ass!" one of them yelled and gave him a thumbs-up as their vehicle passed him.
Jeff laughed and patted his butt.
"Thanks," he told her with a grin as the SUV rolled by.
Sometimes life was so good he could hardly stand it.
* * *
Matt and Mike were just starting to get ready for bed the next night when Matt finally shared with Mike his plans for promoting the search for Sean Garrity's killer or killers. It precipitated the first serious fight they had had for a long time.
Mike thought that Matt's plan to offer a $25,000 reward for information about who had beaten up Sean was excessive, but when Matt added he was going to begin personally to devote an hour or two every day or evening to questioning people on Halsted Street about the night of the beating, Mike hit the roof.
"Number one, Matt, putting up that much money is more likely to confuse the issue for the cops than help them. Every wacko that hears about it is gonna come out of the woodwork to present information, and most of it won't be worth diddly shit. The detectives will be following up a bunch of wild accusations while the real perps get lost in the shuffle."
"Bullshit!" Matt responded hotly. "You don't know that's true. Tony Angelo himself gave me names of people to post the reward and get things started."
"I can't believe he liked the idea. Didn't he take issue with it at all?" Mike started to raise his voice.
"Well, he asked me some questions," Matt admitted, "but he didn't say not to do it."
"Did he tell you that it was a good idea?"
"I'll bet if I called him up right now, he'd say exactly what I just did!"
"It's a moot point now. I went ahead and had the reward posters printed."
"Without talking to me about it?"
"I don't need your permission for this, Mike. Hell, he was your classmate, and you seem content to sit on your ass and let the investigation roll along at its own speed until the trail is so cold the case will never be solved. Fuck that shit! Somebody's gonna get caught and convicted for this one!"
"You're right about one thing! You don't need my permission! But you didn't hafta go behind my back, either. You could have mentioned it before now! But that's not even the worst thing. If you think you're gonna play detective out on Halsted Street every night, forget it! You have responsibilities right here, and little kids who depend on you to be showing up at a decent hour to spend some time with them! Not to mention the fact that you're putting yourself in danger. Whoever beat Sean up is bound to know before long what you're up to, and try to put you in the same condition as they did Sean. Dead! Don't you care about the kids and me at all?"
"You really piss me off! You know better than to ask me a question like that! It's fucking insulting!" Matt shouted, his face red. "I oughtta kick your ass!"
"That would be just as wrong-headed as what you've already done, bud! Do I know you at all? But if you insist on getting physical with me, have at it!"
Matt sat down hard on the bed, his head in his hands. Mike glared at him, furious.
"Let's take a breath," Matt finally said.
Mike still stared at him angrily, saying nothing.
"All right," Matt said after a minute had passed. "Let's just pretend that I'm coming to you right up front with this. What can you live with?"
Mike sat down beside him, and they looked at each other warily.
"Well, first of all, playing the detective in Boys Town every night is out," Mike said somewhat more quietly. "You know you're needed here. I think you hafta know deep down that putting yourself at risk on the streets of Chicago every night just isn't the thing to do. We're not college kids anymore, man. We're a family, and the family has to take priority over everything else. And your second priority has to be your studies. With all the work you've put in, you can graduate at the top of your class unless you fuck it up. I loved Sean, and I'm hurting inside that he's dead. But what we do about it has to be a measured response, and it has to take into account everybody in this condo who depends on us."
Matt sat quietly, thinking over what his partner had said.
"What if I stay in close touch with Tony and the detectives about what they're doing instead of going out on the street myself? The detectives may not want to talk to me, but I know Tony will. How does that sound?"
"I can live with that," Mike said. Matt could hear the relief in his voice.
"But I want the reward to stand," Matt continued firmly. "The more leads that turn up, the more likely it is that the killer or killers will get caught. Can you go along with that?"
"I can go along with anything that keeps you from being on Halsted Street at all hours, Matt. And thank you."
Matt nodded, and stood up. He walked to the bedroom door.
"Where you goin'?" Mike asked.
"I need to think about things for awhile before I go to sleep. You go ahead to bed. I'll be in in a few minutes."
" 'K," Mike said. "Don't be mad, bro. I just..."
"I'm not mad. You go to sleep, 'K?"
Mike nodded, and Matt left the room and went down to the den. The condo was dark and quiet as he sat down on the couch and thought about what he and Mike had said to each other. As he calmed down, he realized that Mike was more right than wrong. Matt must have sat there thinking things over for an hour. Having arrived at an understanding with himself, he retrieved a yellow legal pad from his book bag near the door, and began to write, with many hesitations and corrections. An hour later, he was reasonably satisfied with the poem he wrote, the first in a long time.
I received a message about you the other day,
And it said that you had a greater, guiding spirit trapped inside you
Than I had ever fathomed.
I wondered where the message came from
Until I realized it had come from me,
A memorandum with limited distribution.
The language was terse, as befits an unsought revelation,
But the insight jolted me to a new understanding
Of why I so often seek you out and scan your face and mind.
I was searching for a clue before I really knew you,
Hoping you would be the one to take my hand
And lead me through a sometime welter of confusion, shame and sorrow
(Signs, I suppose, of a common condition),
Down an unmarked path from respect to admiration to love to oneness.
To clarity and ecstasy.
You are the one. (© 2002 Don Hanratty)
He returned the pad to his backpack after tearing off the page with its final version, and carried his missive back to his and Mike's bedroom. He put it under one of his partner's medical books for later discovery. Stripping and climbing into bed, he snuggled up to a softly snoring Mike, kissing his neck once softly so as not to waken him, and then slept soundly until morning.
Matt had already left for school the next morning when Mike found the poem as he was getting himself ready to leave. He folded it up and took it with him, and read it over several times, every chance he had. Matt never ceased to amaze him.
* * *
Several days after he and Mike had fought, he sat on the big leather couch in the den, a little edgy, waiting until the exact moment he knew she would be walking in the door of her office from morning chapel. He picked up the phone and punched the speed dial number for Hospice.
He'd put this call off as long as he could. He was making the last of his "Are we still friends?" calls now that he and Mike had been decisively outed as a result of the trial in Connecticut.
The receptionist answered, determinedly cheerful for so early in the morning.
"Sister Angeline, please," Matt said.
"One moment, please." The line clicked, and shortly he heard the nun's vibrant voice.
"Sister Angeline," she said. "May I help you?"
"Hello, Sister. Matt Broman."
"Matt Broman! I've been wanting to talk to you. How are you, Matt?"
"I'm good, Sister. How are you?"
"I'm just fine. Things are going well here, but we miss you. When are you going to come by with those little guys and see us? Sister Catherine was asking the same thing just the other day."
"Mike and I and the boys need to do that. We miss you, too. Uh, Sister, you probably know about the big flap in Connecticut over the Summer. I was accused of carrying heroin into the state, and there was a trial. I was found 'not guilty,' but it could well have gone the other way without a lot of luck."
The nun snorted in disbelief.
"That wasn't luck, Matt, that was justice. No one who knows you could possibly believe you'd do such a thing! But I know you must have been relieved once the verdict was in."
"I was very thankful, that's for sure." He paused. "You probably also heard that Mike and I are, uh, partners. We're gay."
"Yes, that came out in the news."
"Sister, Mike and I have been partners for a long time. We were partners when we worked at Hospice. I guess I'm calling to find out if you can still be friends with us."
"Matt, I always sensed you and Mike were more than just adoptive brothers to each other. So did Sister Catherine. We're pretty good at reading people, you know. You were reserved about it, but brothers don't usually look at each other or treat each other the way you two did when you worked here. When you married, I was a little surprised, but happy for you. But I wasn't at all surprised when you came back to Chicago to be with Mike after your wife died. Anyway, to answer your question, we are absolutely still friends with you. We love you both."
"You knew all the time we were a couple?"
"Yes. Love isn't that easy to hide, Matt."
"I guess we weren't as opaque as we thought we were. Anyway, you don't know what it means to me to hear you say we're still friends! But how do you square your tolerance with the Church's position on homosexuality?"
The nun interrupted him.
"First of all, there aren't any 'buts' about it," she said.
"Despite what the Church maintains?"
"Matt, you have to remember that Pope Paul VI stated clearly during his pontificate that the informed individual conscience is supreme when it comes to moral decisions. After all these years, I know that I'm more of a 'cafeteria Catholic' than perhaps I should be, particularly for a Religious. But I honor the role of the individual conscience in life, and I honor yours and Mike's because I know you're Christian young men. If same-sex love is as horrible a sin as some would have it, millions of good souls are in purgatory or burning in hell right now. I find that viewpoint highly offensive in light of God's love for all His creatures. I don't know what else to tell you, Matt, except to say, live your life with love. The Lord will judge us all rightly on the final day."
"I'd put off calling you because I didn't want to lose you," Matt admitted, swallowing hard. "I'm just relieved and grateful that we can still be friends. You and Sister Catherine mean so much to both Mike and me."
"You know we feel the same about you."
"I want to tell you that Mike and I registered our partnership in Vermont last Summer. And Father Howard from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church is going to marry us in church the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I know that this is asking a lot, but we'd like to invite you and Sister Catherine to be there if you can."
"That's entirely possible, Matt. I'll talk to Catherine about it. You found a good priest in Father Howard, by the way. He's a very loving and holy young man, and he does a great job when he visits parishioners here. St. Stephen's makes a powerful witness to the community through him. We're very fond of him."
"He admires both of you, Sister. He loves the Hospice. Listen, we'll make sure that you and Sister Catherine get invitations to the wedding. I hope you can make it. And thank you. I can't tell you how much better I feel now that I know you aren't disappointed in us."
"God bless you, Matt. And come by with the boys soon, if you can. We miss you."
"I'm going to stop by later this week, if that's OK. I'll probably come right from school, so I won't have the boys with me this time. But I promise it won't be long before you see them."
"I'll hold you to that promise. And Sister Catherine and I will be looking for you soon."
They broke the connection, and Matt clapped his hands, just once, in exultation and relief. Getting up from the couch with a big smile on his face, he went to tell Mike what Sr. Angeline had said. He was making a concerted effort to see that everything in his life was shared with Mike now. He knew that sharing things needed to become a habit as automatic as breathing.
Later in the week, he did go to Hospice, and was moved by the welcome he received from the sisters and from the staff there who remembered him. It was like old home week. He had a great visit.
The late afternoon sun was setting as Matt left to go home. He could feel an early Fall chill in the air when he stepped out the door. He pulled his windbreaker around him as he went down the front steps to go to the parking lot.
As with many of the older buildings of its era, Hospice had twin sets of stairs leading down to the basement door, stairs that circled around under the front entrance like parentheses. Matt thought he saw something move toward the basement door out of the corner of his eye. He changed direction from heading toward the parking lot, and went instead to the head of the basement stairs and peered into the deepening shade. There was what appeared to be a large cardboard box at the entrance to the basement. The box stopped moving just as he focused on it. There was something, or someone, under it, he was sure.
"Hey," he called out. There wasn't any movement or response.
Thinking he might have been mistaken, Matt went down the steps cautiously and kicked over what he could now see was a sizable refigerator packing box. A young white boy, 12 or 13 years old, was lying curled up under it on a small piece of cardboard. The kid's long, brown hair was filthy and unkempt, and his pinched face was dirty. He was wearing a crummy old coat and a pair of ripped, stained, khaki cargo pants, cinched at the waist with worn belt. His Skechers had holes in the uppers. The boy looked up at him apprehensively, sitting up and skittering backwards a little on his butt.
"Hey, man, what are you doin' down here?" Matt asked, trying not to scare the kid.
"Nothin'," the kid said, eying him up.
Matt sat down on the bottom step, not crowding the boy.
"You planning to stay the night?" he asked.
"Maybe," the boy said. His eyes brightened as he sized Matt up and didn't find him too intimidating. "Say, can you spare some change, Mister?"
"I might be able to. But first you have to tell me what you're doing down here."
"I'm just catching a some Z's before it gets too cold to sleep tonight, that's all."
"Whaddaya need the change for?" Matt asked.
"I'm hungry. What the fuck do you care?" the boy said belligerently, looking at the ground.
"Hey," the kid said, pasting a smile on his face, "I can make ya real happy for 20 or 30 bucks. I'll do anything for ya if the price is right."
"What!?" Matt said incredulously.
"Alright, 15 bucks, then. You drive a hard bargain. Ya want a blow job? You won't be sorry. If ya wanna fuck me, it'll cost more. You can afford a room, right?"
Matt sat there in shock for a few seconds.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked.
"What, are ya stupid? I hafta eat, y'know!" the boy said defiantly. "Anyway, how about it? You'll really like what I can do for ya."
Matt silently shook his head "No."
"Well, leave me the fuck alone, then, will ya?"
"What's your name?" Matt asked.
"I like to know who I'm talking to."
"None of your fucking business. If ya don't want what I got to offer, get lost!"
"I'll make you a deal," Matt said.
"Yeah?" the kid said, looking at him suspiciously.
"You come with me, and I'll buy you a meal, anywhere you wanna go. No strings, no pay-back."
"Are you a cop?" the boy asked.
"Nope. I'd have the cuffs on ya by now if I were."
"Are you a social worker?"
"Why are you doin' this, then?"
"Once a year I do a good deed. This is the day. You interested?"
"Well..." The kid pushed himself to his feet, hunger pangs overcoming his apprehension.
"Come on," Matt said, getting to his feet and starting up the stairs. He led the way through the parking lot to his truck and unlocked the passenger door so the boy could get in.
"Nice wheels," the kid snickered sarcastically. "Are you sure you can afford to buy me a meal?"
"She's a little beat up, but she gets me where I want to go. I think I can handle the price of a meal," Matt answered, biting his tongue to refrain from a snappy comeback.
Matt started driving as the boy directed him to a little diner a few blocks away. They went in and sat down across from one another in a booth with cracked plastic seats. The boy looked at Matt suspiciously as he pulled out his cell phone and hit fast dial.
"Mike?" he said when it stopped ringing and his partner answered. "Listen, I'm gonna be a little late. You feed the kids, and I'll be home pretty soon, 'K? I'm not on Halsted Street, by the way."
"What's goin' on?" Mike asked.
"Tell ya later," Matt said and snapped the phone shut.
A waitress with a cigarette dangling from between her lips slapped two menus down on the dirty table top and walked away without a word. Matt and the kid looked their menus over, and Matt signaled the young woman to come back.
"What'll it be?" she asked in a bored tone of voice.
"Chicken and biscuits," Matt said. "Milk to drink."
"Same, but with a coke," the boy said, closing his menu.
"And some water, please," Matt added as the woman stalked off. "And if it wouldn't be too much trouble, you could wipe the table off." She came back with a rag and grudgingly complied.
Matt and the kid didn't have much to say to each other while they waited for the food. Once it came, the kid started eating ravenously and slurping on his coke. He started to relax and look at Matt curiously across the table.
"Well," Matt said between bites, "are you gonna tell me your name?"
The boy frowned, but finally said, "Brandon."
"Brandon, I'm Matt. Nice to meet cha."
"Yeah," Brandon said, concentrating on his food.
They ate for a while in silence. Brandon was a nice looking kid, really, under all the unkempt hair, dirty skin and ragged clothes.
"So, Brandon," Matt finally said, "what are you doing trickin' in Chicago?"
"Why do ya wanna know?"
"Just curious, I guess. Indulge me."
Brandon looked at Matt and dropped his eyes.
"I couldn't live at home anymore."
"My father died, and my mom is livin' with this guy who..." The boy paused, and Matt could have sworn he blushed a little bit.
"Who likes young boys, OK!" Brandon spat out.
"What did he do?"
"He'd lie around the house all day getting drunk, and then when I came home from school, he'd make me blow him or he'd fuck me."
Matt tried not to show his anger.
"Where was your mom?"
"Uh huh. Did you tell her what was going on?"
"I tried. She said she didn't believe me, and didn't do nothin' about it. But I think she knew I wasn't lyin'."
"How long did this go on?"
"I don't know, six months, I guess."
"Did something else happen that made you decide to leave?"
"You mean other than eating cum and getting poked every day?"
"Well, his new thing was to work me over with his belt every day if I wasn't enthusiastic enough about getting him off. That was it. I had to get out."
Matt's stomach lurched as he sat there looking at the boy. He wished he could be alone with the kid's molester for just 5 or 10 minutes, and make him hurt real bad.
"Brandon, would you let me help you find a place to stay?"
"You mean like a shelter or somethin'? Nah. I'm doing just fine. Say, is it OK if I go to the bathroom?"
"Sure. It's prolly in back."
The boy finished the last remnants of his meal, slid out of his seat and headed toward the back of the restaurant. Matt went to the cash register to pay the bill, and sat back down at the table for about 10 minutes, but the boy didn't come back. Finally getting worried and checking out the men's room, Matt found it empty. A window leading to an alley was wide open. Matt looked out the window both ways, and the alley was empty as well. The kid was long gone.
Matt was upset. Going to his truck, he drove around the block, and then systematically widened his search. Several hours later, he'd seen lots of kids on the streets, but no Brandon. He even went back to Hospice and checked under the front stairs again, but to no avail. Returning to the truck and getting in, he slammed his fist on the steering wheel and cursed himself out for letting the kid go to the bathroom alone. Not knowing where else to look, he headed home. He knew Mike would have Matthew, Michael and Kyle fed, bathed and in bed by now.
He parked in the garage, and took the elevator upstairs. Mike was sitting on the foyer floor in front of the elevator doors, back against the wall, studying, when Matt stepped out into the penthouse. Mike turned down the corner of the page he was reading and closed the book.
"Mike, what are you doing, sitting out here?"
"I was worried about you," Mike said, standing up.
Matt went to his partner and hugged him and kissed him gently on the lips. They went into the den and sat down on the couch, where Matt recounted the whole, sad story of Brandon to his brother.
"Matt, you did what you could. There are thousands of these kids, 'throwaway kids,' the social workers call them, on the streets of the big cities every night. That amounts to over a hundred thousand kids in this country with no place to stay, living hand to mouth, selling themselves for sex. Some estimate there may be as many as half a million. Gay, straight, boys, girls, it doesn't matter. They're peddling their asses for food money, and catching STDs, including AIDS, in the process. You just met one."
"How do you know all this, and I don't?"
"I don't know. Were you asleep when they presented some of the case studies in Sociology class?"
"I must have been. All I could think of tonight while I was driving around was our kids, when they get to be that age, being in the same situation as Brandon. It made me sick to my stomach," Matt said. "This is terrible, Mike. Isn't anybody doing anything about it?"
"Some are trying, but runaways and throwaways just aren't a top priority."
Matt put his face in his hands, and shook his head wearily, almost too tired and frustrated to get up.
"Matt, go in and kiss the kids goodnight, and then I'm gonna give you a hot shower and a really good massage so you'll sleep good, 'K?"
"What're ya gonna massage?" Matt asked.
"Any ol' thang you want, dude."
"Best offer I've had today!"
Matt went to the boys' room, said a prayer for them and kissed them, and then Mike led him to the bedroom and stripped him, quipping as he pulled off his partner's jockey shorts, "Consider yourself debriefed, lawyer boy!" Matt was too sad to do anything but smile weakly.
Mike put him in the shower, made the water hot, and washed Matt's body thoroughly. He then dried them both off with a big fluffy towel, and after turning down the bed, laid his partner out face down on a dry towel. Getting some body oil out of his dresser, Mike straddled his naked partner. After making sure that the oil had warmed up in his hands, he slathered Matt's beautiful, muscular back with oil, and began to give him a deep massage that made him groan with pleasure. Mike concentrated on getting the knots out of Matt's neck and shoulders before moving very slowly down his body, finally doing his feet.
He asked Matt to turn over when he was finished with his backside. There was no response. Matt had fallen fast asleep. Mike wiped his oily hands on his towel and lay down gently beside his partner. His eyes caressed Matt's glowing body, and he was suffused with love for this extraordinary, caring, wonderful man. He covered them both with the sheet and a light blanket after kissing Matt on the side of his head. Matt slumbered on, and didn't wake up until the alarm clock went off the next morning.
Three days later, Matt read in the newspaper that the authorities had found the body of an unknown boy, 12 to 13 years old, who had been sexually molested, strangled to death, and thrown into a dumpster on the north side of the city. He felt as if a knife had been plunged into his gut, wondering if it were Brandon. The boy's whereabouts and fate continued to prey on Matt's mind, so he called Tony Angelo and told him Brandon's story. Tony made arrangements for him go to the morgue.
They took him into a small room, unfurnished except for a black and white TV screen. The screen lighted up, showing an image from a camera pointing down at the floor in the morgue proper. An attendant dressed in a white jacket came within the purview of the camera, and he rolled a drawer with a body on it out of the wall. Then he pulled a sheet down off the face.
It was Brandon, unmistakably, and Matt's heart was broken. He
tried not to react, but he began crying for the young boy.
Tony told him later that he himself had looked through all the data bases on missing children, and had come up empty.
A few days later, when the medical examiners had gathered all the forensic information they could along with a sample of his DNA, and were at long last willing to release the unclaimed body, Matt had Brandon's remains sent to a north side mortuary, and bought a lot in a nearby suburban cemetery so the body wouldn't be thrown into a pauper's grave in a pine box.
Matt made arrangements for Brandon's body, when prepared for burial, to be brought to St. Stephen's Church so that Father Howard could offer the burial office and a requiem mass. When Father Rohm heard of it, he asked Matt if he might celebrate the mass for the boy instead, and Matt agreed, although not knowing the reason for the request at that point. The rector instructed the principal of St. Stephen's Parish School to have the children's choir come to the church to sing the requiem propers, and the organist played a beautiful service. Matt and Mike were there, of course, with Matthew, Michael and Kyle, each dressed in his cute little suit, Stan and Linda, Mary Bradford, Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine, and surprisingly, Tony Angelo. Father Rohm had the other parish priests and the office staff present as well. The small crowd on hand was dwarfed by the huge nave of St. Stephen's, but the service still felt right to Matt.
Clad in white eucharistic vestments, Father Rohm offered a brief homily from the altar steps, reminding the sparse congregation, among other things, that in the eyes of God, the poorest of the poor in this life is the equal of any president, king or prince in this world who comes before the Church's altar for burial.
Later at the cemetery, fanned by a gentle breeze, the priest blessed the grave and said the committal, and Brandon was interred on a grassy knoll in the bright September sun. A Bible verse popped into Matt's mind as those present walked slowly back to their cars: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me." He made a mental note to have the verse added to the headstone he was having readied for the site.
Later, Matt asked Father Howard why the rector had insisted on celebrating the requiem mass. The young priest told him that Father and Mrs. Rohm had produced four children, and had lost their oldest boy to the street life of drugs and sex when he was a teenager. They had not heard from him in many years, and didn't know whether he was alive or dead.
Brandon's death planted a seed in Matt's mind which was to germinate into concrete plans before his last year in law school was over.
* * *
The matter of Kyle's adoption was settled quickly, without a lot of fanfare, thanks to Mary Bradford's influence with her absentee son, Jamie. But there was a new wrinkle to the whole process.
Matt had begun studying for the Illinois bar exam to be given in the late Spring, and had come across an Illinois Appellate Court ruling from the mid-nineties which permitted cross adoption by same-gender parents. He and Mike immediately amended their adoption petition so that they both could adopt Kyle, and Mike could adopt Matthew and Michael as well.
With the stroke of a Cook County Circuit Court judge's pen, witnessed by Stan and Linda plus Sisters Angeline and Catherine and Captain Tony Angelo, Kyle Daniel Bradford became Kyle Daniel Broman, son of Matthew and Michael Broman. And Matthew James Broman III and Michael Andrew Broman, Jr., now had two legal parents instead of one. The papers were filed by the judge with the Cook County Circuit Clerk, and it was as official as it gets.
Everybody followed up with a celebratory, family-style meal in the condo's dining room, marked by much laughter and camaraderie. The kids all loved being the center of attention and really hammed it up, to everyone's amusement.
Mike couldn't help reflect that afternoon how much his life had changed for the good since Matt and the twins had moved back to Chicago, soon joined by Mary Bradford and Kyle. He and Matt had formed a true family, and the sterile loneliness of his previous life had been banished forever, he hoped. He felt he was, without a doubt, the most fortunate man in the world.
Matt had planned to get together with Tony sometime during the evening to discuss the issue of his and Mike's partnership further, but that proved unnecessary. Matt noticed that Tony and the two nuns had withdrawn to the living room for a time while the cleanup after dinner was going on, and they sat talking earnestly. Later he found out from Sister Catherine that they had discussed homosexuality and gay relationships in the eyes of the Church, with the two nuns hammering the policeman pretty hard during their discussion of his views. Tony was swayed in spite of himself. When they were finished talking, he kiddingly held out his hands and asked the sisters if they'd brought their rulers with them to administer corporal punishment the way the nuns in parochial school used to do when he was a boy. They laughed and gave him hugs instead.
When they parted that evening, Tony shook hands warmly with Mike and Matt, and told them he was sorry for having been a prick about their partnership. He said that Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine had given him a lot more to think about, and asked Matt's pardon for his remarks during their telephone conversation several weeks back. He also told them that he and his wife Marie would be honored to attend their wedding if they were still on the invitation list. That made the guys really happy, and they assured him they were invited.
"Y'know, sometimes the glass really is half-full instead of half-empty," Mike told his brother quietly after Tony got on the elevator.
"Yeppers," Matt confirmed, holding Mike and kissing his cheek.
The sisters stayed for a glass of wine and a little more conversation before leaving. When the time came, Matt and Mike said good-bye to them. The nuns thanked them for having them as witnesses to the adoptions and for dinner.
"No," Mike said. "We want to thank you for the generosity and understanding you've shown Matt and me. We won't forget it. You're very special people to us. You're part of our family here, and we're blessed to have you."
"We love you both," Sr. Catherine said. The nuns hugged them and then stepped into the elevator and were whisked away.
That same night at the kids' bedtime, which was a little later than usual, Matt and Mike said their prayers with the boys, and then instead of reading a story with them, talked about their family and how it was a little different from most families. This was to get them ready for any comments about family life that might come up in their pre-pre-school sessions at St. Stephen's School for exceptionally bright youngsters, for which the three boys had been accepted. They were to start there in a few days.
Matt and Mike explained that their family was a little different from some others because it had two daddies and no mommies. Michael wanted to know where his mommy was, and Matt explained that she had been sick and gone to heaven when he and Matthew were born. He seemed to accept that answer, having heard it before. Kyle asked where his mommy was, and Matt explained that she was in Connecticut with her other children, but that she wanted Kyle to have a very special home so much that she had entrusted him to his Grandma Bradford and to Matt and Mike. Once again, that answer was accepted, but Matt suspected the question was likely to arise again at some point.
"Well, who's our daddy, then?" Matthew asked.
"We both are!" Mike told him. "When we're both with you in the same room, you can call us 'Daddy Mike' and 'Daddy Matt' so we don't get mixed up, OK?"
"I thought he was 'Uncle Mike,'" Matthew said to Matt, eying Mike.
"Well, he has been up 'til now," Matt said. "But now he's Daddy, or Daddy Mike. How does that sound? That's better than 'Uncle Mike' any ol' day, isn't it!"
Matthew nodded his head solemnly.
"Are Matthew and Michael my brothers?" Kyle asked.
"Absolutely," Matt said. "You're all brothers, and Daddy Mike and I are your fathers. And we love you very, very much, guys. You're more important to us than anything in this world. We'll never let anything hurt you, ever!" Matt cringed a little inside as he thought about Brandon.
"Is Grandma still 'Grandma?'" Michael asked.
"Yes, she is. And Grandma Broman is still your other grandma, too."
The boys seemed to grasp the new terminology for the family relationships with no problem, and Matt and Mike kissed them soundly several times and tucked them into bed. The kids were soon breathing slowly and regularly, and wearied by the big evening during which they were clearly the stars, dropped off to sleep.
Matt and Mike hit the books for several hours before calling it quits. After showering together, they went to bed, making sure first that their bedroom door was shut and locked. Mike left no doubt about what he had on his mind, and began licking and nibbling on Matt's nipples, getting him all horned up. They kissed deeply. There was no turning back, as Matt put Mike on his back, raised his legs, and gave him a prolonged rimming. He loved tonguing the soft little blond hairs that Mike had in his crack and then zeroing in on his love canal. Mike's musk was the same turn-on it had been since the first time they'd had serious sex together. Then he went on to lick Mike's balls, eventually taking one into his mouth and then trading for the other. He knew from experience that they were too big for him to handle both at once. Moving to his partner's engorged cock, by now lying tight against its owner's abdomen and pulsing with every beat of his heart, he kissed it and licked it thoroughly but not roughly.
Both guys were totally horny by this time. Lubricating his own rock hard dick with his saliva, Matt placed the head of his cock against Mike's rosebud and increased the pressure until it popped past the sphincter. He watched Mike's face closely for signs of pain as he moved inside his brother with short strokes until he was home, his pubes and balls resting against Mike's ass. Once all the way in, he ceased stroking for the moment and lay down flat on Mike's body, looking deeply into his eyes.
"You're life's gift to me, Mike, I hope you know that," he said, his breath a little ragged. "I'm the luckiest human being on earth to be here with you now. I can stand anything the world throws at me as long as I have you with me and I can give you my love like this." He kissed his partner again with feeling, and they moved to a vigorous exploration of one anothers mouth with dueling tongues, as a little saliva began to dribble from the corners of their mouths..
"Make love to me, Matt, please," Mike gasped, physically and emotionally in thrall to the feel of his partner inside of him. "Your body...fills me...just like...you...fill up my life."
Licking and nibbling Mike's sensitive nipples, now standing out like pencil erasers, Matt began to thrust in and out slowly, letting the deliciously mingled pleasure of their coupling escalate ever so gradually. Matt put his right hand on Mike's backside, tracing the outline of his lover's anus with one finger and touching his own cock as it plunged very deliberately in and out, over and over, again and again. He found Mike's prostate with the big head of his penis, and Matt began to massage it with each thrust. Mike arched his back, his eyes closed from the pleasure he was receiving, confirmed by the copious amounts of precum he was expelling as their sweating bodies ground together.
"Yes-s-s," Mike groaned through clenched teeth. "I love you, Matt. Fuck me really good. I want you to..."
But Matt only nominally increased his pace, intentionally holding Mike over the abyss with no relief. He wanted to prolong this journey for both of them as long as possible.
By now, Mike had grabbed handfuls of loose bedsheet and balled it up in his fists, grunting aloud as each new thrust gave him intense pleasure. Finally Matt leaned the trunk of his body up to the vertical, locked his back, and accelerated his pace.
"Yes-s-s," Mike groaned again, reaching up to twist Matt's nipples.
Both of them were on the edge before too long despite Matt's best efforts to delay the excruciating joys of the inevitable. He lay back down on his partner to apply friction to Mike's penis, trapped between their well lubricated bodies, as he continued his rapid thrusting. When they came, they ejaculated almost simultaneously, their scrotal sacks pulled up tight against their bodies, Matt speaking Mike's name as he came. Mike could feel his partner's essence filling his insides as he himself spurted copious, thick, white ropes of cum over and over until his splooge began to run off his abs and down on to the bed, wetting it. Matt collapsed on top of him in wordless bliss when his own spasms stopped. Neither of them moved for several minutes, gulping and expelling great lungfuls of air as they returned to full consciousness again, and Matt's softening penis fell out of Mike's ass.
Mike put his arms around Matt, and crushed him to his body.
"That was so good it's scary," Mike said quietly. "You're amazing. And you're mine. I love you so much sometimes I can't stand it! I really needed that."
"You taught me well, Mikey," Matt insisted, putting his hand softly on his partner's face and caressing it. "I'd be in bed with you 24 hours a day if I could. Since I can't..." He scooped up some spunk running down Mike's side from his abs and ate it appreciatively from his fingers, grinning at his partner.
"Yum," he said.
They lay there at the ground-zero of their love-making, gently kissing and caressing as the starchy smell of fresh male sex permeated the room. Soon, totally relaxed and marvelously content, blessed by their touching, they slept entwined.
* * *
"Let's call the 'rents," Mike said to Matt as Friday night rolled around. "Mom should be in Washington by now, and I need a Mommy and Daddy fix. We need to tell them about the wedding, anyway, before Jeff lets the cat out of the bag. And they don't know about the adoptions."
"You're right. Dial 'em up, dude. I'll get on another phone."
Matt picked up the phone in their bedroom just in time to hear the last ring before their mother answered the phone.
"Hello," she said in her melodious voice.
"I'd know that voice anywhere," Mike said. "Mom, it's Mike, and I think Matt's on the other phone."
"I'm here," Matt said. "How are ya, Mom?"
"Better, now that I hear your voices," Jane Broman said. "I've been missing you two so much! We were going to call you tonight. How are the boys, and how is Mary, and how was Jeff when he left for school?"
"Before we start, is Dad home yet? I don't want to have to repeat everything," Matt said.
"Yes, he's here. Let me get him on the phone." They could hear their mother calling out to their dad, and a few seconds later there was a click as Justice Broman came on the line.
"Boys, how are you?" he rumbled. "We were going to call you tonight."
"That's what Mom said," Matt responded. "How are you?" he asked. "Do you have the other justices all whipped into shape by now?"
"I wish," Matthew Broman said. "The nine of us can't even agree on what to have the cafeteria serve for lunch, let alone agree on our cases! I don't know why some of these other guys can't see the overwhelming logic undergirding all my opinions," he added with a laugh. "But let's get to the important stuff. How are Mary and the kids and Jeff?"
"The boys and Mary are wonderful," Mike said. "The kids are all in pre-pre-school at St. Stephen's, and they love it. They have to tell us every night what goes at school. In detail. Mary's chemo is going well, and she's not even losing her hair this time. She's in great spirits, and all the medical markers are all good so far. Thanks to her, by the way, Kyle's adoption went through smooth as silk, but with a new wrinkle. Matt found an Illinois Appellate Court decision permitting cross adoption by same-gender parents, so he and I are both the parents of all three kids. In the eyes of the law, I'm a dad," he said with obvious pride. "Of course, we've always shared all the parenting, anyway. Now we've explained to them that our family is a little different from most, and the kids call us both 'Dad.' I'm enjoying the heck out of this whole thing, to tell you the truth."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Jane Broman said. "Congratulations to both of you. Of course, the formalities aside, in my opinion you've always had the qualities that made you wonderful parents!"
"I'm delighted!" Justice Broman said. "Bless you both!"
"Speaking of parenting," Matt said, "Jeff left in good shape to go back to school. And he met a girl here in Chicago he really likes. A really great girl. I think she did more to turn him back into his old self than anything Mike and I did. I'm sure you'll hear from him about her, if you haven't already."
"No, we haven't talked to him yet," Mr. Broman said. "But I'm relieved that the old Jeff is back. Your mom and I have been...well, concerned about how things were going with him."
"Don't be," Mike assured them. "He's a great kid, and he's back on track. I think drugs are a thing of the past for him. Anyway, we wanted to call you with some more of our own good news before Jeff talked to you and spilled the beans."
"Good news? More good news?" Mrs. Broman asked.
"Matt and I are being married in St. Stephen's parish here in Chicago the Saturday after Thanksgiving," Mike said.
Justice Broman let out a very unjudicial whoop of delight, and he and his wife both began talking happily at once.
When things on the phone calmed down, Mr. Broman said, "Boys, along with the adoptions and Jeff being clean and sober and Mary getting along well, this is the best news we've had in a long time. I've been hoping and praying that somehow all these things would happen."
"Matt and Mike, I'm so happy for you. This is just wonderful! I love you both so much..." Jane Broman choked up and had to stop talking.
"We want the whole family to come, if they can," Matt said. "Do you think Grandma and Uncle Jack and Aunt Judy would want to come? That would be so great if everybody could come for Thanksgiving here and stay for the wedding."
"I'll get on it right away," Mrs. Broman said. "I'm not sure about Grandma--she's pretty frail, but we'll see. And Jack and Judy were coming here for Thanksgiving, so..."
"How do you think Jack and Judy feel about our partnership," Mike asked.
"They're fine with it, Mike," Justice Broman said. "We had a long talk about it a while back. They pretty much accept people the way they are, so I don't think you need have any worries there."
"That's good," Matt commented. "We're very happy about this, but we're not trying to make the people closest to us uncomfortable, either."
"I know," Mr. Broman said. "I'll tell you what! I'm going to talk to Jack about chartering his company plane to fly us all down. That will be easier on Grandma Hagerty than flying commercial."
"Dad, I know we're kind of ruining one more holiday at home for you and Mom by asking you to come to Chicago. But if it's OK with both of you, we'll all come home for Christmas this year. It's only fair. And I'd like to bring Stan and Linda, if they don't have other obligations. And of course Mary will be with us."
"I agree," Mike said. "We've dragged you away from home to come over here enough times, that's for sure. It'll be so wonderful to come home and be with you at your house."
"Yours and Matt's house, too, Mike, and don't you forget it! We're looking forward to it already," Jane Broman said. "You know how much we love to entertain at Christmas time. This will be a very special Christmas for us, having you home again with the whole family."
Matt and Mike could tell how pleased their parents were about Thanksgiving, the adoption, the wedding and Christmas. Matt decided not to put a damper on things by mentioning anything about the deaths of Sean and Brandon.
"Are the boys still up?" Jane Broman asked.
"Yes, we were just about to give them their bath and put them to bed," Mike said.
"Well, put 'em on the phone," Justice Broman said. "I want to hear those little voices."
" 'K, hang on," Matt said. He retrieved three cordless phone extensions from various rooms, and put the boys each on one while he and Mike listened in on a fourth. The boys chattered like magpies to their grandparents, much to the elder Bromans' delight.
The group conversation wrapped up, Matt and Mike finished their conversation with their parents. Justice Broman commented that he was curious as to how Matt and Mike managed to get an Episcopal priest to marry them. Matt said he would explain everything over their holiday in Chicago. Justice and Mrs. Broman were to let Matt and Mike know when the family's charter flight would arrive at O'Hare, probably the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Everyone hung up the phone in a very happy mood.
"I think we should call Martha, too," Mike said. "I don't want her to feel we gave everybody the good news except for her."
"How do you manage to be so right all the time?" Matt asked as he picked up the phone and hit the speed dial.
"It's a gift. But it's nice to have you acknowledge it, at along last!" Mike said.
"It's tough living with perfection. You should give me credit for that."
"I do, grasshopper! You are learning my mystic ways at a record pace!"
Martha answered the phone.
"Hi, Mart. This is your best brother," Matt said.
"Mike! Good to hear your voice!" she said, knowing full well it was Matt. Mike laughed into the other phone.
"I don't understand why everybody in this family picks on me," Matt whined. "I certainly don't do anything to provoke it."
"You wouldn't be happy if we weren't giving you a hard time," Martha said. "You thrive on it."
"Man, is that the truth!" Mike interjected.
"See, that's where you're wrong," Matt said. "I do put up a good facade, but I long to be treated gently and kindly by those I love most in this world. I'm a very fragile soul, looking for love and approval. But no-o-o, all I get is abuse."
"Y'know, we have plenty of crap back here in Pennsylvania already. We aren't in the market for more," Martha said.
Matt and Mike both laughed.
"Martha, we have some good news for you," Mike said. "First of all, Matt and I are now the legal parents of Matthew, Michael and Kyle. We went to court, and the whole thing is signed, sealed and delivered!"
"Oh! That's wonderful, guys! I wish I could have been there! I'm really happy for you!"
"That's not all," Mike continued. "I hope Jeff didn't already tell you this. Matt and I are getting married in church the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We called so you would know that the whole family is invited here for Thanksgiving. Dad says he's going to charter a plane so that Grandma and Uncle Jack and Aunt Judy can come, so you have to be here."
"Well, Jeff kept his mouth shut for once, the rat!" Martha said. "I had no clue. Anyway, I'm happy for you guys. You deserve this."
"Thanks. One more thing," Mike said. "Matt and I talked it over, and we want you and Jeff to stand up with us along with the kids, if you'd do us the honor. We haven't asked Jeff yet, so don't say anything to him. Will you do it?"
There was a long silence on the other end of the line as Martha collected herself.
"I'll be so honored to do that!" she finally said. "If I couldn't have you for myself, Mike, who better than Matt! I'm really going to look forward to this!"
"Thanks, Mart," Matt said. "I knew we could count on you! Is Jeff there?"
"No, he's at the gym. Working out, I think. Are you sure you don't want me to tell him? I do know he was coming to Chicago for Thanksgiving to see his new girl. What a change she's made in that boy, by the way! I wanna meet this wonder-worker!"
"You'll like her," Matt said. "She's great!"
They talked some more, and then hung up with their sister, leaving instructions to have Jeff call them.
When she put the phone down, Martha gave way to a few tears. She wasn't a crier by nature, but she realized anew how much her brothers meant to her and to each other. She was very happy for them, and immediately starting thinking about what she knew would be a memorable trip to Chicago.
Later in the evening, Matt and Mike were feeling frisky as they put the boys in the tub before bed, and high spirits led to their both getting very, very wet along with the kids. In fact, Matt ended up completely in the tub with the boys before bath time was over, clothes and all, thanks to some fancy moves by Mike. The kids were delighted with the unexpected mayhem.
After they had put the boys to bed, saying their prayers with them and reading them a story, Matt and Mike went back to the den and sat on the big leather couch with the stereo playing softly, holding hands, not saying much, just savoring the day and the moment.
Mike studied Matt as they sat side by side.
"There has to be something wrong with us," he finally said to Matt.
"Yeah, there is something wrong with you," Matt said. "You're too cute for your own good."
"No, I'm serious."
"Whaddaya mean, then?"
"Well, we're gay partners, but we don't hate ourselves and we don't hate each other. And we have wonderful kids and the best family and friends we could ever hope for. That's kind of unusual, doncha think?"
"We've been blessed, I agree," Matt said. "But ya know what? Soul-searching about it isn't gonna change a thing one way or another. So stop it already!"
Mike acquiesced by not responding, and Matt moved over closer to him on the couch, and they went back to savoring the day, the moment and each other.
* * *
The next week there was some action on Sean's murder case. Tony Angelo called to tell Matt that a new, male recruit of the Illinois State Police, a recent and very buff graduate of their training academy, had been put in undercover on the Halsted Street construction site across from where Sean had been beaten up. His instructions were to gain the confidence of the workers there as quickly as possible to see if there was some kind of an organized group with an animus toward gays. If there wasn't an organized group, he was to ferret out any individual construction workers who seemed homophobic enough to be suspects.
Meanwhile, the posters trumpeting a $25,000 reward for information on Sean's beating and murder were flapping on every light post up and down Halsted Street. Somebody was certain to get greedy.