Martha woke up with a start in the middle of her nightmare, damp with perspiration. In her dream, her brother Matt had been tied to a bed, surrounded by faceless demons who were armed with pointed sticks. Just as their leader's stick had arced downward toward Matt's chest, Martha's eyes flew open, and the scene of incipient mayhem was replaced by the dimly lit, sterile whiteness of her bedroom wall.
Jeff knocked on her door right then, opened it, and stood there wearing only his white jockey shorts.
"Mart, are you all right?" he asked, one hand rubbing sleepy eyes. "You were yelling."
"Yeah. Thanks, Jeff. I had a nightmare. I'm fine. Go back to bed."
The young man nodded and closed the door, the sound of his footsteps receding as he returned to his own bedroom. Martha turned on the lamp on her bedside table and pushed herself up to a sitting position against the headboard of her bed. She noticed her hands were trembling.
She had been deeply upset by Mike's telephone call to Jeff and her the previous evening, telling them that Matt had been stabbed while he was running on the beach, and that it was touch and go as to whether he would survive. Mike hadn't sugar-coated the situation.
It was difficult for Martha to believe that the attack on Matt could have happened. Matt, ever the indomitable big brother, had so seldom been vanquished by anything, in her experience, that she could hardly get her mind around it. And yet, apparently her brain had absorbed the implications of Mike's message at some level or other. Ergo, the nightmare.
Not long after she and Jeff had hung up with Mike, their dad had called them from the airport in Washington, D.C. He had tried to sound reassuring, but she could hear the worry and stress in her father's voice. He had cut the conversation short because his plane was boarding, but characteristically he had asked them to pray for their brother. Jeff had amazed her, after they hung up with their dad, by joining her in the living room of their little apartment, taking her hand, and offering for both of them an articulate and heartfelt prayer for Matt. This was Jeff! she thought to herself in amazement. The young man's lifelong, studied insouciance when it came to religion was now yesterday's news, apparently.
Martha swung her feet out of bed, put on her robe and slippers, and headed for the kitchen. She needed a cup of hot tea to help put her back to sleep. She filled a cup with water and stuck it in the microwave. When the chime sounded, she took the cup out and plopped a tea bag in the now steaming water, and sat down at the table.
Jeff came shuffling into the kitchen a minute later in his bathrobe and slippers. Wordlessly, he took a clean glass out of the cupboard and poured himself a glass of milk from the carton in the refrigerator. Sitting down across from his sister, he searched her face.
"Thinking about Matt?" he finally asked.
She nodded. "That's why I had the nightmare, I guess."
Jeff slowly turned his glass around and around where it sat on the table.
"I just don't understand why people have such hate in their hearts," he said. "What's wrong with them, Mart?"
"Well, it's reasonable to assume that anybody who's perturbed enough about somebody else's sexual orientation to want to 'off' him has a problem with his own sexuality, doncha think?"
"Absolutely. If you have to prop up your own sexual orientation by persecuting everybody who's different, you're in deep shit. I've known a lot of jocks, acquaintances more than friends, really, who can hardly get through a conversation without raggin' on gay people. It makes ya wonder why it's on their mind so much. Some of these guys are the same ones who try to pretend they don't ever look at other guys in the shower room 'cause somebody might think they're gay."
"Why do you think homophobia is so much worse among men than women, or at least it seems that way?" Martha asked, removing the tea bag from her cup to the table top, and tentatively sipping her tea.
"I'm not sure," Jeff said thoughtfully. "My guess is that it's because the sex drive is so volatile and all-consuming for men, right from puberty on, that the orientation issue gets to be crucial for some guys. I don't mean that sex isn't important to women, 'cause I know that's not true. But it's on a guy's mind all the time, especially when he's young, or so I read. Hehe. And I think the male drive to have sex can sometimes be a little gender-blind if somebody's conditioning to want a female partner is a little off, or the opportunities aren't there. Y'know, even a knot hole in the fence post will do it for a man if he's really hard up.
"I'm not saying that most guys are really gay," he continued. "I just think some guys are sorta ambivalent, if the truth be told. And a few of those ambivalent ones are the guys that do most of the ranting and raving about gay people so they can discourage their own thoughts about a close emotional or physical relationship with other men--so they're less tempted, I guess. And of course some guys who know they're really one hundred percent gay try to hide their orientation behind homophobic rhetoric."
"Have you ever wanted to have sex with a guy?"
"Jeez, Martha! Aren't you the inquisitive one!" Jeff grinned at his sister across the table.
"'Fess up, Jeffy! You'll feel better if you tell your little sister everything."
"Well...no, I can't say I've wanted to do that. That doesn't mean I don't know a good-looking guy when I see one. I may even check him out in the shower. But I don't fantasize about doing the deed with 'im, if ya know what I mean. My thoughts just don't run that way. I do think that some of the closest male friendships probably have a sexual component to them, but I don't think that means somebody's gay, necessarily. I don't worry all that much about it, to tell you the truth."
"I knew you were straight, Jeff," Martha said, smiling.
"Yeah, and enjoying it!"
They sat in silence for a moment.
"Have you talked to Andie lately?"
"Pretty much every day."
"You think she's the one?"
"I'm trying not to rush things. But she's on my mind all the time. All the time. I've never felt this way before about anybody I've dated. Time will tell, but I think I'm in love." Jeff looked down at the table, smiling.
"She must be something. I'm looking forward to meeting her. And my dream man should feel free to show up anytime now! Anyway, maybe I can go down to Chicago with you some weekend to see Matt and Mike, and meet her."
"That'd be great. I can't go this weekend, but maybe next. Unless...we hafta go sooner because..."
"Matt's gonna make it, Jeff," Martha said softly. "For a lot of reasons, among them so he can give you and me a hard time the way he always has. Let's have faith."
"Yeah." Jeff stood up and gulped the rest of his milk. "I gotta get some sleep. You okay, Mart?"
"Yes. I should be able to sleep now."
"Martha, I'll deny I ever said this if you tell anybody, but I've really enjoyed sharing this apartment with you. We probably wouldn't have had the chance to get to know each other as well as we have if it hadn't worked out this way. I'm glad we had the chance. I'm lucky to have you for my sister."
"Wow!" Martha said, obviously moved. "Thanks, Jeff. I hope you know I feel the same."
Jeff noticed Martha's eyes were moist as he bent down to kiss her check. He went off to bed
This boy has definitely grown up, Martha thought to herself. She followed him down the hall a moment later and went to bed herself.
* * *
Mike woke up before dawn the next morning after his blowout with Matt, and turned his head to look at his partner. Matt's side of the bed was empty. He listened for noises that would tell him he was in their bathroom, but heard nothing.
Climbing out of bed, he put on his robe and went next door to the boys' room. They were still sleeping quietly, with no Matt in sight.
He walked down the hall to the den, and peered around the corner into the room. No Matt. He looked in the kitchen, and then the foyer, and they were deserted. He checked the spare bedroom next to the boys' room, and when he found that empty, ran upstairs to the pool deck. He wasn't there, either.
Starting to feel a little panicked, he looked in the empty bedrooms on the end of the condo down near Stan's room and Mary's room, but the results were the same.
He went back to the den and was about to call the doorman to find out if Matt had left the building--against his doctor's orders, of course--when he glanced through the double doors leading from the den into the living room. He noticed that the drapes on the side toward the lake had been opened about five feet, and that one of the high-backed, winged chairs had been swiveled around from its normal position to face the window.
Putting down the phone, Mike walked into the living room and saw Matt in his bathrobe, sitting back in the chair, watching the sun as it started to come up across Lake Michigan. Matt glanced up at his partner as he approached, and then turned back to the sunrise without acknowledging him.
Mike went over and sat on the floor in front of his brother, legs crossed, his back to the window. Matt's robe was open above the waist, and Mike noticed that the dressing on Matt's chest was dry this morning. No seepage. That was good.
"You're mad at me?" Mike finally asked his partner.
Matt nodded almost imperceptibly, eyes still focused on the flaming ball of fire that was slowly emerging on the far horizon.
"Will you talk to me?"
"Yes," Matt said softly.
Mike swallowed hard.
"Look, I'm sorry I was so rough on you when we talked last night. I was angry, but that's no excuse for talking to you the way I did, especially when I know you're not feeling up to par. I'm deeply sorry I did that, and I apologize. But I can't apologize for the main thrust of what I said. This isn't the first time you've been less than forthcoming with me about something. Do you remember back in college when you erased the voicemail message from Jason Stelling and went over to Houlihan's and raised hell with him without telling me. And now this. What you've done really bums me out. If you'd died on the beach, I'd have wanted to die myself, except for the fact that I'd be responsible for the kids. I know all this probably sounds like whining, but what you did really sucks, Matt."
"Do you think I'm gonna argue with you?" Matt asked impassively. "I know you don't have a very high opinion of me right now, but do you really think I don't have bad feelings about the way this went down?"
"Don't you dare say I don't have a high opinion of you, Matt. You don't have a clue how I feel about you if you can say that. The way I love you and my high opinion of you are what this is all about, man. I've never known anybody--anybody--in this life, except for Mom and Dad and Jeff and Martha and the rest of our little family here, who are basically as good and decent and caring as you are."
Matt didn't respond, and continued watching the sun as it silently inched up into the sky.
"Can I ask you something?" Mike asked.
"Why didn't you tell me what Tony said about the possibility somebody might try to hurt you?"
Matt cleared his throat. "I didn't want to worry you."
"Why not? Don't you think people who love each other should worry about each other?"
"Yes. But you had, and have, enough on your plate. I should carry my own burdens if this is a real partnership."
"That's such bullshit! You frustrate the fuck out of me when you talk like that, Matt."
"Well, I'm not trying to," Matt said, glancing down at his partner. "I don't want to hurt you. I've never wanted to hurt you. I hope you believe that. But you're carrying such a heavy load right now..."
"And you're not? Get a grip, Matt."
Matt avoided his brother's eyes, and stared out the window.
"Y'know," Mike said, "if you don't understand any more of the basics about what a partnership is and how it works than this, we're in deep shit! We need help right now! Don't you think it's a little late in the game for you to keep acting like the Lone Ranger? As far as I know, we've never kept secrets from each other, at least not since I came out to you in college, and you kept the Jason Stelling telephone message from me. Why now?"
"I'll tell you why. I don't claim I love you more now than I ever did, because that's impossible. But as we've really settled into this relationship and taken on responsibility for the kids and Mary and Stan and Linda, I've gotten more, well, protective of you, I guess. I think that's how somebody acts when he loves another person completely. You try to protect them from getting hurt."
"I can go along with that to some extent. But protecting the one you love from getting hurt shouldn't mean that you keep secrets from him. In this case, keeping information from me not only didn't protect me, it nearly killed my spirit for good, Matt. It nearly broke my heart. It would have done both if you'd died. Do you call that protecting me?"
"No," Matt admitted reluctantly.
"I guess the real question is whether we can fundamentally improve the way we communicate at this point," Mike said. "I don't know exactly what to do, but something needs to change."
"Look, I honestly don't know what I'm capable of doing right now, everything has me so shook up," Matt said defensively. "I'm very confused. I don't know what to say, and I'm not sure I know what to do."
Mike looked into the face of the man he loved, a face filled with such pain and confusion at that moment that he himself felt the hurt.
"Fuck, I'm doing it again, and I'm sorry," Mike said quietly with a hangdog look. "I'm trying not to abuse you, Matt, but I'm mystified about what you're thinking, to tell you the truth. Do you want to save this partnership?"
Hearing that question, Matt gave Mike a strange look, as if his confused and scattered thoughts had suddenly come together and captured an elusive quarry. The worry lines in his face smoothed out, and his demeanor quickly changed from painful uncertainty to serene confidence.
"I think this partnership is saved," Matt said firmly, looking Mike right in the eye.
"Whaddaya mean?" Mike asked, intrigued.
"Our partnership is a fact of life, because of what we bring to it. It's a constant, as long as we're both vertical and breathing. And there's nothing--nothing--that we can really do to fuck it up. No matter how stupid I act, for example, no matter how stubborn and wrong-headed I am, in the final analysis, I can't fuck it up!"
"I mean that our partnership is based on love. It's not an infatuation, although it certainly started there for both of us back when we were college freshmen. It's not a meeting of the minds just because we happen to agree with each other about so many things in life. It's not based on physical beauty, although let's dispense with any false modesty and just admit we're both hotties. It's not based on our sexual relationship, even though that's contributed a lot to keeping what we have together fresh and invigorated It doesn't maintain itself because we have common responsibilities to the kids and our extended family, although these responsibilities are important to both of us. It's certainly doesn't exist because we're economically dependent on each other, because we aren't. It's not even based on loyalty to our common history together, which overall has been so good I'm almost afraid to think about it. And it's not based on the words we say to each other, sometimes even eloquently, that we're committed to each other...
"All these things add up and have certainly enriched what we have," Matt continued, "but none of them is the essence of why we came together and will stay together. The essence is love. I know how misused that term is. It may be the most misused term in the English language, and the most trivialized. People have the idea that love is soft, gentle, wispy and tender, and I admit that those qualities are a wonderful by-product when things are going well in an intimate relationship. But real love is essentially as gritty and tough as hell. It can be intrusive and opportunistic. It can be a blind and sometimes even dangerous force, but in the end, in its positive form, it can't be withstood. It's the essence of power. It's fundamentally life-changing. It breaks down walls between people and keeps them broken down. I know some people think that anything remotely religious couldn't possibly have much to say to modern man and his condition, but St. Paul nailed it, I think. What a tough little bastard he must have been, by the way! I don't know if I can quote him exactly... He said something like...'Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends...' Something like that..."
Mike sat there looking at his brother, wide eyed and astounded, too stunned to move or respond at first.
"I...I," he stammered, and fell silent.
"I hope we both understand what this relationship is essentially all about," Matt said. "But I do agree that we need to talk to someone as a couple, get some counseling, maybe, so that I'm not unloading my bad decisions on you anymore like so many loads of crap. Beating each other up because we're frustrated about this issue or that issue isn't really gonna get to the heart of the problem du jour, is it? And it's not gonna make us stronger as a couple. I know I need to share information with you better. So who should we talk to about this problem? Father Howard?"
"Uh," Mike said, beginning to regain his power of speech. "I think he could help us," he said slowly. "But we should decide right here and now whether we want him primarily as a counselor or as a priest who's also our friend. Personally, I'd like to have him as a friend if we can do that without stretching his professional boundaries too much. He'll be a good friend, I think, but if we get into heavy duty counseling with him, he's gonna want to maintain more of a professional distance, I suspect. And rightly so."
"Good point," Matt admitted. "What about Father Rohm?"
"He could do it. But I think maybe we should try to find a therapist who has experience counseling gay couples, don't you?" Mike asked. "I know that 'people are people,' but I think gay partnerships may have a few special nuances to them that can benefit from a counselor who's worked before with gays who are in a relationship."
"Are there any?"
"I think so. A few, I've heard. I'll try to get some names."
"Good." He paused. "I love you, Mike. In the most fundamental way. Totally and completely."
A sense of relief flushed away Mike's anger and frustration as the familiar joy and hope in his relationship with Matt reasserted itself. But there was an added dimension to what he was feeling as well: a sense of awe for his partner and what this man knew about life and what he had already grasped about human relationships.
Mike stood up from he had been sitting on the floor and turned to look at the lake so Matt didn't see that his eyes were damp. The sun, fully risen now, was beaming across the water and on to the earth, warming them. A good omen, he thought to himself.
"I love you in exactly the same way you talked about, Matt," he said, still looking out the window. "As inadequate as that sounds, coming from me."
Rubbing the moisture from his eyes, Mike turned around and pulled Matt wordlessly out of his chair, leading him back to their bedroom. Sitting him down on the bed, he took his medical bag from their closet, removed the dressing from his partner's chest, and closely examined his still angry-looking wound. It was healing nicely and didn't require any attention. Subconsciously he couldn't help admiring the stitches Dr. Landry had put into Matt's epidermis. They were beautifully sewn, so fine and identical that they would have done a gifted seamstress proud. Mike gently re-covered the wound with new gauze and tape and put his bag away.
That task completed, they lay down silently together in their rumpled bed, Matt lying on his back with Mike turned toward him, his hand placed lightly on his partner's flat stomach.
"Matt, I love you with all my heart, even when I'm pissed off at you. And the fact that you thrill me right down to my toes every time I'm near you is a bonus," Mike said softly. "Being close to you still gives me butterflies in my stomach after all these years. It's been that way since the very first time I ever laid eyes on you."
Mike untied the belt of Matt's robe, moving his hand down and under the elastic band of Matt's jockeys and into his crotch. Matt's basket slowly began to bulge more as its cargo began plumping up.
Scooting down in the bed, Mike pulled his partner's shorts down his legs to his thighs, and grasped Matt's penis, which was quickly expanding to its full length and girth. He gave it a stroke.
"I'm so horny, if you do that again, I'm there," Matt cautioned him.
Mike answered him by leaning over and fellating his dick right down to the root. Having been without sexual release since his assault, Matt gasped and tensed up. The first shot of semen was triggered almost immediately, rocketing to the back of Mike's throat. Mike pulled back to the head of his partner's cock, caressing and circling it with his tongue as Matt unloaded about ten ropes of smooth, thick, long overdue cum into Mike's mouth. There was so much if it that some ran down on to his chin and dripped into Matt's groin.
Mike continued to tongue-massage the corona of Matt's penis until Matt pulled him off. It was just too sensitive. Mike moved back up in the bed and deep-kissed Matt, sharing some of the creamy essence in his mouth with its maker.
Spiraling down from his orgasm, Matt smiled contentedly, reached over and put his hand on Mike's basket, cupping it lightly.
"What about you?" he asked his partner.
"Later. Tonight, maybe."
Nothing else was said as they gazed at each other until they fell asleep again.
Their three little boys awakened them about an hour later, and both the young men began their day anew, but in a mood of tenderness and joy for the newly healed relationship they had with each other. After Mike dressed and left for school, Matt slept again, more happy and relaxed than he had been in many days.
* * *
The group of ten hunky, young workers from the Halsted Street construction site were gathered at their usual after-work watering hole, a far northwest side tavern filled with conversation, country music and smoke. They sat around several tables which were pushed together in a far corner of the bar. A jukebox blaring its tunes provided good cover for a clandestine discussion they didn't want anyone else to hear.
Chris Russo was a tough, macho Italian boy from the "old neighborhood" on the northwest side, but nothing in his background had prepared him for the world view he was exposed to when he fell in with this bunch. He looked the part and talked a good game to fit in with his companions, because it was his job as a cop. But it was tough duty for a decent, young, Catholic boy like him to fake the requisite hatred that marked these men as real psychopaths.
Chris could sum up the credo these guys lived by very simply: if you were "Christian," white, and heterosexual, you had their permission to live. Anyone not fitting those criteria should die, the sooner, the better. They were willing to do anything to make that happen to people that failed to meet their stringent criteria. Anything.
"Fags" were very much on their minds right now. Unfortunately, their leader Cliff Pietrowski's effort to open the gates of hell for Matt Broman and propel him through them, had failed. This troubled the group. It was bad enough that they had paid good money to find out it was Matt who had put up the reward for Sean Garrity's killer. In order to get this information, they had bribed a junior member of the detective agency hired by Matt to process claims for the reward. But even worse, the fucking queer's fucking dog had bitten Cliff badly. He was still limping. And worse yet, the cops were seeking Cliff for questioning. Of course, they also relived their only recent triumph in which Cliff and two of the other guys had spotted Sean Garrity coming out of the gay bar across from the site where they worked every day. They'd been waiting, not for Sean, but for just about anybody who patronized the bar. They'd grabbed rebars out of their trucks and beaten their victim until he was a bloody mess, savoring every minute of it.
Cliff Pietrowski already had a criminal record. Six years ago he had targeted a Jewish man for his attention, and had deliberately run him off the road into a telephone pole in Skokie. The man had lived. It had just been Cliff's bad luck that there had been witnesses who wrote down the license plate number of his truck as he sped off after the "accident.". The Cook County state's attorney had charged Cliff with a hate crime as well as attempted homicide, and he had been sentenced to eight years in jail. He was out in sixty months for "good behavior," but his irrational hatreds were more firmly planted in his brain than ever.
The tight little group in the bar had no way of knowing that the cops pretty much knew where Pietrowski was any time of the day or night, thanks to Chris Russo. They could have arrested him anytime. Chris talked surreptitiously every day to the area homicide detectives and to Captain Angelo, the watch commander in the precinct where Sean had been beaten and where the Broman guy had been stabbed. In point of fact, Russo knew Pietrowski and the rest of his wacko crew were to be arrested the next morning not long after they arrived at the Halsted Street work site.
Chris hoped the arrests would mark the end of this assignment for him. He had certainly made some points with his superiors in the state police apparatus by accepting the assignment, but the virulent hatred these construction guys exhibited toward their target groups made him very uncomfortable. Repelled him, really. He was the usual macho cop who didn't have a particularly high opinion of gays, but on the other hand, he didn't like to see them victimized, either. He had never gone out of his way to put gays, non-Christians, or non-Caucasians down, at least not until his acting skills required it when he started working undercover.
Enjoy your last beer for a long, long time, asshole, Chris thought to himself as he smiled at Pietrowski. Matt's assailant was describing for the umteenth time how he had lain in wait in the rocks for his victim to show up on the beach, and had stabbed his faggy ass. He hadn't counted on the dog, of course. He wanted to go back now and kill the dog at his earliest convenience, but had been dissuaded by more rational, or perhaps more fearful members of the group from doing so. Cliff told his compadres that if only he had taken his pistol and his Rottweiler with him to the beach, the world would have one less fag to put up with right now.
The group finally broke up in mid-evening, some heading home for supper and some for a nearby restaurant. Chris made an excuse, and went home for a long shower to wash the day's crap off his body. Given the shit his co-workers were spewing, he wished there were a shower for his mind as well.
* * *
"Matt? Is that you? This is Andie," the pleasant female voice said on the phone.
"Andie! How are you? We've been missing you since Jeff went back."
"The question is, how are you? I've put off calling because I didn't want to bother you until you really started healing. I hope you got my note, though."
"I did, thanks. I'm doing fine, Andie. I should be able to start back to school next week for a few hours every day. I'm looking forward to that. I have cabin fever."
"Well, I've been thinking about you," Andie said. "I'm so sorry this happened, Matt. It makes me really angry."
"Thanks, Andie. It's just the way things go sometimes."
"It's not right. Any leads on who did it? I'd like to see him get what's coming to him."
"Nothing yet. But I think the cops may be close," Matt said.
"I hope so. Listen, I just talked to Jeff, and he wanted me to tell you and Mike that he and Martha are coming down the weekend after next, unless that's a problem. They're going to fly rather than try to drive."
"Cool! I wanna see 'em real bad," Matt admitted. "Y'know, when you have a close call, it makes you appreciate the people you really care about more than ever."
"You're right about that, and I'll pass it on. Uh...Jeff and I have been talking on the phone a lot since he left."
"I'm glad. It doesn't surprise me. I'll tell you this, Andie. In his mind, you aren't just another girl he's dated."
"No, I know Jeff pretty well. Take my word for it, he cares about you. A lot. We all do, and we'd like to see you. The kids have been asking for you. Why wait until Jeff gets here? Why doncha come up for supper tomorrow night?"
"I'd like that! What time?"
"Oh, come up about 5 o'clock. We'll eat about 6."
"Thanks, Matt. I'll look forward to it. See ya about 5."
Andie arrived right on schedule the next night, and the kids went nuts when they saw her. She obviously had a way with youngsters, and the boys dragooned her into playing one board game after another with them. Then she had to supervise their latest latest and most ambitious lego construction project.
Mike fixed the kids' favorite meal on the grill, hamburgers and hot-dogs, much to the their delight, and the condo gang had a genial and relaxed meal together. Andie helped Linda bathe the boys when it was bedtime, and then Matt and Mike read to them and heard their prayers, as usual. After the kids conked out, Matt and Mike spent several hours in animated conversation with Andie in the den, this time with no Jeff around to monopolize her. She held up her end of their wide-ranging talk with aplomb, and Matt and Mike were very impressed with her obvious knowledge and intelligence.
When she left to go home, she hugged Matt and Mike, holding Matt gently and telling him yet again how happy she was that he was recovering so well.
Matt and Mike turned in fairly early after Mike took Breakers downstairs for his outing. After brushing their teeth, they lay in bed together, naked. Matt wasn't capable of any bedtime gymnastics as yet, limited as he was to lying on his back, but after they cuddled for a while, he took some body lotion from the bedside table and greased up Mike's penis. He began slowly and deliberately jacking him off. Matt escalated his handjob incrementally until Mike began to beg as the minutes ticked by to be allowed to come. Matt was a sadist about it, bringing his partner repeatedly to the brink only to slack off again and leave Mike frustrated. Mike's dick drooled generous amounts of precum which mixed perfectly with the body lotion to create a masturbator's slick dream. The snapping and popping sound of Matt's sticky hand massaging Mike's tumescent dick was a turn-on in and of itself.
Sweat had formed on Mike's face and chest as he reached the point of threatening Matt with bodily harm if he didn't get the job done. Finally, with a satisfied grin, Matt speeded the sweet pistoning of his hand, and Mike groaned loudly and began to shoot his seed high in the air. Each cumshot rocketed upward, successively declining at its zenith until it was eventually reduced to a steady flow that coated Matt's hand. Finally it ended, and Mike lay there beside Matt in a coital fog, covered in his own semen.
"Did you feel 'The Force,' Luke?" Matt asked, grinning at his partner.
Mike merely groaned contentedly.
After sampling some of his partner's essence from his own hand, Matt went into the bathroom, brought back a warm, damp hand towel, and gently and carefully cleaned up Mike's torso and his genitals. When he was finished, he pitched the towel in the general direction of the bathroom, and lay down with his partner.
"Mike, are you relaxed?"
"I have a story for ya, then."
"Do you have to?"
"It's best that I do."
"You must have a pleasure-pain theory about the human experience," Mike said. "First I experience the pleasure, then you give me the pain."
Mike just groaned again, and Matt began.
"A young man was just about to get a chest x-ray when the
equipment slipped and his pelvic region was x-ray'd instead.
"'Oh, no!' cried the lab technician. 'Your reproductive organs
just received a heavy dose of radiation!'
"'What does that mean?' asked the worried young man.
"'It's serious,' replied the technician. 'All your children will
Mike had to laugh despite his best efforts not to.
They put out the light and lay in bed, nuzzling, their feelings of love and respect for one another strengthening and renewing after the difficult period they had been through.
* * *
The next day, work had just begun at the Halsted Street construction site when a paddy wagon, five Chicago Police Department patrol cars, and two unmarked area detective cars pulled up, and a small army of police officers marched in. They arrested and cuffed all their suspects, along with Chris Russo, just to keep the latter's cover intact. After they were given their Miranda rights, the arrestees were carted off in separate transit so there was no opportunity to manufacture any stories to throw the cops off. Cliff Pietrowski was whining and complaining all the way to the station about police brutality. The first thing the cops did was get a court order for a DNA sample from Pietrowski to compare with the blood samples taken from the beach near Matt's and Mike's condo.
Tony Angelo called Matt at the condo to share the good news after the arrests had been made. Statements were being taken, including Chris Russo's damaging evidence, and members of the cabal were to be arraigned in court that very afternoon on charges which included first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder, all with the aggravating factor of being hate crimes. Only the most cooperative, most talkative and least culpable among them were likely to get off without long prison terms, thanks to Chris Russo's patient work.
Matt was ecstatic.
"I think I told you that we had a young state cop undercover at the Halsted Street construction site," Tony said. "A guy named Chris Russo. This kid did a bang-up job. If anybody deserves credit for this bust, it's him."
"I'd like to meet him just to say thanks," Matt said. "I don't care where, really, but what I'd really like to do is to have you and him up for dinner. Do you think that's possible? I know Mike would like to meet him, too."
"Well, I'll ask him, Matt, and get back to you."
"It looks like you're gonna be able to keep your $25,000 in reward money for catching Sean's killer. As a cop, Chris can't accept it."
"That doesn't seem quite right."
"That's just the way it is."
"Hmmm. Can't I make a gift of it to the Policemen's Benevolent Association, or something?"
"I don't see why not, if that's really what you want to do," Tony said.
"That's what I want to do. Can I make out the check, and give it to you? Maybe when you're here for dinner?"
"Tony, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make all this happen, and for keeping me in the loop about what's been going on. I really appreciate it."
"Matt, you're one of the good guys! I'm happy it's all worked out the way it has, and that you're all right."
"Thanks, man. Let me know about dinner, 'K?"
"Yeah. Talk to you soon."
Tony hung up. He consulted a list of names and telephone numbers, and dialed Chris Russo's cell phone.
"Yeah?" Chris answered.
"Chris, Tony Angelo."
"Congratulations again on the bust. This was a big one, and you can take most of the credit."
"I didn't do much."
"One Italian boy to another, buddy, just take the credit! In our line of work, we don't get patted on the back all that often," Tony said, chuckling.
"OK, Cap," Chris said. "You're prolly right."
"Chris, Matt Broman, the guy who put up the reward money in the Sean Garrity murder case and got stabbed on the beach recently by Pietrowski, wants to meet you. He's invited you and me to go up for dinner at his and his partner's condo. You think you could do that? Since you can't take the money for cracking the Garrity case, he's gonna give the PBA the $25,000, and he wants to give us the check personally."
"Well..." Russo fell silent.
"Are you hesitating because you don't particularly want to have dinner with a couple of gay guys?"
"To tell you the truth, Captain, it wouldn't be a top priority for me."
"Listen, just put aside your stereotypes about gay people until you meet these guys. The stereotypes aren't very reliable anyway, but especially when it comes to these two. Don't count on any swish, and you won't get groped, either, if that's what you're worried about. Matt and Mike Broman are just about as decent as you can get. They're jocks, and tough as hell, and they're doing a super job of raising three little kids. Besides, the food'll be great. Chris, you're a good young cop just beginning your career, and I want you to get started with a little broader horizons than I had starting out. I'd consider it a personal favor to me if you'll go with me, paisano."
"Well, if you put it that way..."
"Good. Give me a night."
"Is Wednesday OK?"
"I'm sure it will be. If you don't hear back from me, count on it. I'll meet you there. Six o'clock on Wednesday. Levi's and T-shirt, if I know these guys. Penthouse floor." Tony gave him the address, and they hung up.
Wednesday rolled around quickly. Matt was still not attending classes full time, so he went shopping Wednesday afternoon for steaks, potatoes, and some late, fresh asparagus that he thought he'd try grilling with butter to see how it turned out. Mike came home a little early from school, and after they set the dining room table together and readied the food for preparation, they took the kids off Linda's hands after they had arrived home from pre-school at St. Stephen's and went up to the pool with them. The boys loved being there with their two dads, and were wild little demons in the water. Matt and Mike were amazed at how much coordination and dexterity the three kids had at their young age. Little jocks in the making, for sure, Mike thought to himself. Matt just sat dangling his legs in the water, but even that was a treat for him.
Chris Russo arrived at the condo a little earlier than he expected, about ten minutes to six, and parked his truck in a visitors space not far from the front door. Entering the building, he gave his name to the doorman, who after calling upstairs, directed him to the last car in the row of elevators. He stepped aboard, the doors closed, and a few seconds later the doors reopened on the penthouse floor.
A well-built, athletic-looking guy with a brown crew cut was standing in the foyer waiting for him, smiling, hand extended.
"Chris? Matt Broman. Thanks for coming tonight. Tony should be here any minute."
"Hi, Matt. Chris Russo. Thanks for the invite."
They shook hands. Firm grip, Chris noted. This guy doesn't look gay to me, he thought. I wonder if Captain Angelo is wrong.
That notion was dispelled when another good-looking man with a swimmer's body and blond crew cut, about the same height as Chris himself, came through the doorway into the foyer and was introduced.
"Chris," Matt said, "this is my partner, Mike Broman. Mike, Chris Russo."
"Hey, Chris," Mike said, shaking hands. Another firm handshake. "Glad you're here. Come on in and meet the family."
They led their visitor into the den, where in short order he met an older lady, Mary Bradford, a young couple, Stan Rosinski and Linda Kosco, and Matthew, Michael and Kyle, three of the handsomest little boys he'd ever seen. The kids were building something out of legos on the floor in front of a huge fireplace, which was unlighted at the moment. Mike explained that the kids had a perennial project going with the legos.
Matt motioned toward the big, leather couch, and Chris sat down.
"Chris," Mike asked, "what can I get you to drink?"
"A beer would be great," he responded.
"We have all kinds."
"Heineken's?" Chris asked.
"Comin' up." Mike walked over to a small bar in the corner, opened a refrigerator hidden behind a panel in the wall, and retrieved a bottle of beer.
"Glass?" Mike asked.
"Nah. I'm a bottle baby."
Mike brought the beer and set it down on a coaster on the coffee table in front of the couch. The young police officer picked it up and took a long pull before he put it down. Meanwhile, the boys had come over to the couch to get a close-up of their visitor before returning to their lego project. Damn, they're cute as hell! Chris thought to himself.
"Glad you got the word on the dress code for tonight," Matt said, looking at Chris' Aerosmith T-shirt and worn, comfortable Levi's. "We're not much on getting dressed up unless we have to."
"Me, neither," the young cop said. "I feel right at home. This is how I'd dress all the time if I could get away with it."
"Tony tells me that you're a state police officer, and that you recently graduated from the police academy," Matt said.
"Yeah, I graduated from U of I with a degree in criminal justice, and then went to the academy. I graduated last July. I guess I got picked for the undercover job on Halsted almost right out of the box because the Chicago Police needed somebody who looked like he worked construction. I'm relieved it's over, though. It was stressful. I've was worried all the time I was there that I was gonna make a mistake and tip off Cliff Pietrowski and his crew that I'm a cop. I'm not the greatest actor in the world. They'd have killed me without a second thought if they'd known. They aren't very nice people."
"They sure aren't," Mike agreed. "Listen, Chris, I want you to know how much we appreciate what you've done. Sean Garrity was a classmate of mine at Northwestern Medical School, and Matt and I felt really bad that he got killed just because he was gay and in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's why Matt put up the money. I'm just sorry that you can't take the reward personally for nailing Sean's killer. And of course, one of the same guys who killed Sean attacked Matt and nearly killed him. So we're doubly thankful for everything you've done."
"It's all part of the job," Chris said. He looked around at the people in the den. "If I'm not being too inquisitive, how do all you folks happen to be living here together? Is this some kind of commune?"
"Not exactly," he said, "although there are some similarities, I guess.
Mrs. Bradford, here, is my mother-in-law from when I was married to her
daughter. Sarah died in childbirth having Matthew and Michael, two
of our construction experts on the lego project over there. Mary's
our stabilizing force here. Mike and I worked with Stan one Summer
at Mother of Mercy Hospice, and he agreed to help us out with the kids
and keeping this place together while he continues school. Linda
is Stan's fiancée', his much better half, and she's in school, too,
and keeps things from going too wrong around here. The third lego
construction worker over there is Kyle, Mary's grandson by her son, Jamie.
Mike and I have joint custody of all three
"Wow," Chris said. You have a real family here."
"We have the best family in the world," Mike said. "And this isn't even all of 'em."
"Where did you meet Captain Angelo?" Chris asked.
"We met at an accident on Lake Shore Drive," Tony Angelo said, walking in the door of the den at just that moment. "Hope you don't mind, guys, but I've been here so often, the doorman sent me right up without calling ahead."
Matt, Mike, Stan and Chris stood up and welcomed the police officer warmly. Tony went over to Mary and then Linda, and greeted them cordially.
"Tony, drink?" Mike asked.
"Just a light--very light--bourbon and water, Mike. I'm on duty later tonight."
" 'K," Mike said, and went to get him his drink.
"I was just getting filled in how you met Matt and Mike, Captain," Chris said. "You say it was at an accident?"
"Yep," Tony said. "The first night they were in Chicago, before
they went to work at Hospice, they were behind a car that
blew a tire and went off the S-curve on Lake Shore Drive into the lake. These two guys jumped in the water and rescued a whole family out of their car that night. Matt and Mike won't tell you this, Chris, but they each received the Chicago Citizen of Valor award at the hands of the Mayor himself. And I've been honored to be their friend ever since."
"My gosh!" Chris said, impressed despite his young cop cynicism. "No wonder Captain Angelo thinks so much of you guys. That's outstanding!"
"It was a long time ago," Mike said modestly. "And I think that's my cue to fire up the grill. We're having steaks tonight. I hope that's all right with everybody."
Amid murmurs of approval, Mike stood up and left the room with Linda in tow.
"Chris, another beer?" Matt asked.
"Sounds good. Thanks, Matt." The young cop was obviously warming up to his hosts.
"Chris, I want to tell you again how pleased I am with the work you did on the Garrity case," Tony said, looking the young cop right in the eye. "This has given you a good boost in your career, and I'm really happy about that."
Russo looked down modestly.
"I wasn't sure the killer would ever be caught," Mary Bradford interjected. "It must be like searching for a needle in a haystack in a city this size."
"It can be," Chris said. "Matt kind of stimulated things with the reward, though. I think it kinda got the brass' attention, meaning no disrespect, Captain."
"I had mixed feelings about it when Matt told me what he wanted to do," Tony admitted. "But I agree with you. It kept the heat on the department, no doubt about it."
"Matt has a way of being right," Stan said. "From what I know about the bunch you just arrested, I would have fit in very nicely with them at one time in my life."
Chris Russo raised his eyebrows. "Whaddaya mean?"
"I was pretty much a bigoted skinhead working at the Hospice in a job I considered dead-end when I met Matt and Mike. I was meaner than...well, I was one mean dude to everybody I came in contact with, let's just leave it at that. I hated myself so-o-o much, I can't even tell you, and that made me hate everybody else, naturally. Matt confronted me one day because I did something mean to another aide, and called the kid a fag, among other things, and dumped his food on him in the cafeteria. Back then, any guy I could dominate physically was a fag, as far as I was concerned. I was a little leery about taking Matt on, though, to tell you the truth. I didn't know then he was a championship college wrestler, but he did look pretty buff.
"Anyway, Matt was relentless about confronting me all the time about my bad attitude. Just before he and Mike left to go back to school, he told me he was gay, and that Mike was his partner. That blew me away! I couldn't believe it. But some of the things he said to me that Summer had planted a seed and started me thinking. Then when Mike moved back to Chicago after college to start medical school, he kinda took up where Matt left off. Long story short: the reason I'm in college and that I changed my ways enough to meet Linda and get her to agree to marry me, the reason I'm not dead or in jail right now, is because I met Matt and Mike. That's the gospel truth, Chris!"
Matt handed Chris his beer, and looked over at Stan with a grin. "I'll pay ya later for that testimonial."
"No, no," Stan responded seriously. "Don't even joke about it. I'm telling it the way it is, that's all."
The smell of steak was wafting into the room by now, and Mike stuck his head in the door.
"It'll only be a couple minutes, folks. Matt, you wanna see that the kids wash their hands?"
"The master's voice," Matt joked. "Come on, guys, let's wash up for supper," he told the boys. "Chris, there's a bathroom right through that door if ya need to use the facilities."
"Thanks," the young cop said. "I think I will."
The group scattered before meeting back in the dining room a few minutes later. Chris was impressed with the beautiful room and elegant table settings.
As usual, they all held hands around the table, and Matt said grace, thanking God for the food, for family, and for the opportunity to make a new friend, Chris. The men seated Mary and Linda, and put the kids in their chairs on boosters. After pouring some red table wine in the adults' glasses, Matt and Mike sat down and began cutting up food for the kids so the little guys could eat. The meal was excellent, and Chris realized he was feeling relaxed and having a good time. He hadn't really counted on that.
After a simple dessert, ice cream and canned peaches that night, Matt and Mike stacked the dishes in the sink, and they all adjourned back to the den, talking about anything and everything. Tony couldn't believe how fast the time had passed when he had to take his leave to go home and put on his uniform for work. Matt gave him the check for $25,000 for the Policemen's Benevolent Fund and received Tony's profuse thanks on behalf of all the police officers and their families who would benefit from the gift.
"I'll just see Captain Angelo off," Chris Russo said. "I'll be back up, though," he added, a little surprised at himself that he was in no hurry to take his leave.
The two policemen got on the elevator to the first floor and walked out of the building together.
"Nice people, huh?" Tony asked the young cop.
"Very nice. Captain, I want to thank you for...well, for urging me to come here tonight. Uh, I didn't know what to expect. But these two guys have kind of opened my eyes to some things, uh, about my perceptions of gays. I owe you, and them, for that. Tonight has given me a lot to think about."
"Chris, take it from somebody who learned his lesson on this topic late in life. I'm really proud to call these two guys my friends. It's pretty easy for us cops to get isolated because we tend to socialize only with other cops, y'know. Since I came to terms with the fact Matt and Mike are gay and learned not to sit in judgment on people because of who they happen to love, I've been a better cop and a better person. I want you to be a better cop. You're already better educated than I was when I started out, and I want you to see society as it really is today and be ready to serve everybody who's part of it. That's all I have to say on the subject. Thanks for coming here tonight, and thanks again for your hard work on the Garrity case."
"Thank you, sir. I'll stay in touch."
Chris turned on his heel and went back inside. When he arrived back in the penthouse, Matt and Mike were down on the floor with the boys moving legos around while their dinner digested.
"Dad, can we swim again before we go to bed?" Michael asked.
"Well, I don't see why not," Mike answered. He turned to the young cop, who had sat down on the floor with them.
"Chris, you up for a swim?"
"Well, sure, if you've got some trunks that'll fit me."
"I think a pair of Matt's will do fine. Let's hit it."
Matt and Mike led the way down the hall as the kids ducked into their bedroom and starting shucking their clothes. The three adults continued on down to Matt's and Mike's room. Matt gave Chris a suit and pointed him toward their bathroom. The young officer went in, stripped and put on the suit he'd been given.
By the time Chris emerged, Matt and Mike were suited up and standing beside their bed. Mike had removed the dressing from Matt's chest and was carefully examining the wound yet again. It was looking better every day.
"Well?" Matt asked his partner.
"You can get it wet, but I don't want you playin' the big jock up there. It's far from healed inside, and you could still pull your stitches if you get too wild."
"Cool! I'll be good," Matt promised.
The three guys went to the kids' room. The boys were in their little swim suits by then, so they all went up to the roof, and were joined by Stan and Linda. Beach balls were soon flying around the pool as the young men tried to nail each other with them. The kids loved it, and the adults included them in the more gentle horseplay. Chris looked good in his suit, Matt and Mike both noticed. Very good.
They all finally got played out, and went downstairs to dry off and change into their regular clothes. Matt and Mike put the kids to bed later than usual after hearing their prayers. Chris noted it was nearly 10 p.m., long after he planned to leave. He had to report to the Chicago division of the Illinois State Police early the next morning to receive a new assignment, so he told his hosts he had to take off.
Matt and Mike walked him out to the elevator after he'd said his farewells to the rest of the family.
"Chris, thank you so much for being here tonight," Matt said, shaking hands with their guest. "It's meant a lot to us to meet the man who caught Sean Garrity's murderers, and we've enjoyed your company."
"Thanks to both of you for a great meal and good company. You don't know how good is to get away from Cliff Pietrowski and his bunch of freaks and hang around with some normal people."
Matt and Mike laughed.
"Listen," Mike said, "why don't you give us your phone number. We'd like to see you again, and I know the kids and everybody else would, too. You obviously enjoy kids."
"Yeah, I do. Got a piece of paper?"
Mike went back into the den and emerged with a pen and slip of paper. Chris wrote down his information, and they parted company cordially.
* * *
Matt and Mike had sent a limousine late on a Friday afternoon to pick up Jeff and Martha at the airport. Pandemonium ensued as the two travelers stepped off the elevator into the foyer of the condo and dropped their luggage to the floor. Breakers was barking and running around, and the kids were swarming all over their aunt and uncle, clinging to their legs and talking loudly in their piping little voices.
In addition to the usual gang, Andie Parker was there, and Father Howard had stopped by at his hosts' invitation to meet their sister, say hello to Jeff again, and to see the kids.
Jeff made a beeline for Andie first, of course, and after a long, passionate kiss, they held each other as if they would never let go. While Jeff was still occupied with Andie, Martha made her way to Matt. She embraced him, tears running down her face. She couldn't speak.
"I'm all right, Mart," Matt whispered to her. "I'm so glad you came. I've missed you."
She reached up and held his face in her hands, gazing into his eyes for a long moment, and then kissed him on the cheek. Satisfied that her brother was on the mend, she picked up the young boys one at a time and hugged and kissed them soundly before returning them to the floor.
When Jeff and Andie eventually unclinched, Jeff grabbed up all three kids in his arms at once and twirled around in circles until the boys were dizzy and screaming happily. After he put them down, Breakers jumped right up into Jeff's arms, and he did another little dance with him, repeatedly kissing the dog on top of his head before putting him down. Matt, Mike, Linda, Stan, Mary Bradford and Fr. Howard watched the scene with amusement.
Extricating himself from everyone else, Jeff pulled Matt into a gentle hug so as not to hurt him and kissed his cheek. "I've been prayin' for ya, Matt! I was pretty scared. I'm glad you're all right."
"Thanks, man! It was a close call, but I'm coming back fast," Matt told him. "If it hadn't been for Mike and Breakers, y'know, I wouldn't be here right now."
"I hear that! Commere, Doc Mike!" Jeff said, kissing Mike on the cheek and hugging him tight. "Good job with Matt, dude!"
"Thanks. It's great to see ya, Jeff," Mike said. "You're lookin' good!"
After Jeff and Martha had greeted Mary, Linda and Stan, Matt led Martha over to Father Howard.
"Father, you met Jeff last Summer, but I'd like you to meet my sister, Martha. My very best sister," Matt added. "Martha, this is Father David Howard, the senior curate in St. Stephen's Parish and a good friend of Mike's and mine."
Martha put her hand in the priest's big hand, and they said hello. Watching them, Matt thought he detected something special passing between them. Martha and the priest focused on each other and began chatting immediately as if there were no one else in the room.
"You're the priest who will be blessing Matt's and Mike's partnership?" Martha asked him.
"Yes," Fr. Howard said. "And you and Jeff are standing up with them, I understand."
"Yes, we are. I just want to thank you for doing this," she said. "They really need and deserve this kind of support. The family's really excited about it, especially my dad. He has strong feelings that the Church should support stability in gay partnerships."
"I'm looking forward to meeting him and your mother. I happen to agree with your dad. I'm sure there will be some naysayers about our blessing this marriage, but the Rector is behind me, so it's going to happen. I suspect we'll catch some flak after the fact from the Bishop, but I guess that's par for the course."
The young couple continued conversing as they gradually moved away from the chattering crowd in the den toward the living room, where they sat down alone in front of the huge window overlooking Lake Michigan. They talked for a long time, getting to know each other, until Mike came and told them that dinner was ready. Gradually everybody gravitated to the dining room.
Matt and Mike nearly fell over when Jeff asked them if he could offer thanks. They agreed, of course, and everyone held hands around the table, now covered with serving plates full of steaming food as a result of Linda's handiwork.
"Heavenly Father," Jeff prayed, "we lift our hearts to thank You for life, for love, for courage, for family, for friends, for health, and for Your bounty in all the good things You've given mankind. We're especially grateful that Matt and Mary are here with us today as visible signs of Your care for us in the face of adversity. Bless this food to the use of our bodies and us to Your service, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"Amen," the crowd responded.
Matt reached over and gave his brother a dap as everyone sat down.
"Jeff, you never cease to amaze me," he said. "And don't think I'm teasing you about your prayer. It was beautiful. You're beautiful, bro!"
Jeff blushed and looked down at his plate as Andie leaned in and gave
him a kiss on the cheek.
I said in a postscript several chapters ago that Matt's and Mike's wedding would be in the next part to be posted. I was a little premature then, but the next part to WIO will definitely, at long last, portray their big day. If you like to read about good times, this should do it for you. Sincere thanks for all the good emails on the story. They're a great motivator! firstname.lastname@example.org.